Here I am with Philip Puzzo, owner of Texas Cycle Werks in Austin, Texas, picking up my new Giant Anthem X0 29er. TCW is the exclusive Giant Bicycle dealership inAustin,Texas.
Unlike other shops around Austin, Texas Cycle Werks is wearing the Giant label on all its bikes, accessories and clothing. This is common in the car business, but less so for the bicycle business in the US. Historically brands such as Schwinn had exclusive dealers but their product line was limited and ultimately contributed to their decline. Today, bike shops have to carry a variety of brands to provide a variety of products demanded by a cross-section of buyers. TCW has you covered, Giant does it all.
There are approximately 30 bike shops in Austin, selling different bike brands and also competing with each other with the same products. TCW is alone in its Giant exclusivity, but secure in marketing a comprehensive line of bicycles that meets each segment of the market, including kids, woman specific bikes, and road and mountain bikes. Several of Giant’s high tech road bikes were recently selected by Bicycle Magazine as their “best in” category and Giant’s mountain bikes are consistently rated among the best in the mountain biking press as well.
Giant really is the giant of bike manufacturing in the world, producing approximately 2 million bicycles a year. Their manufacturing prowess includes state of the art light-weight formed aluminum and carbon fiber bikes. Giant provides frames and complete bikes for many other bicycle companies, but this is not well known.
If you were to visit Taiwan, the home of Giant, you would find exclusive Giant shops all over the island, with only a handful of independent dealers. This is true in other countries as well. Their presence in the US has been growing in recent years and that is what brought Texas Cycle Werks to southAustin.
When I was in Taiwan recently, I was given a tour of the Giant factory in Taichung and met with top officials of this efficiently run company, including King Liu, the 73 year old founder and chairman. I learned about company philosophy and how Giant got its name (that’s another story). It is no wonder Giant is as successful as it is, owing to the warmth, wisdom and charm King Liu displays to his employees and friends, even if you just met him, like I did.
His stated goal is to makeTaiwan, a “cycling paradise” and from my two weeks riding around the country it is entirely possible.Taiwanhas made huge infrastructure investments in bike lanes and separate bikeways. InTaipeialone there are about 150 miles of exclusive bikeways, many lined with shops, bike repairs stations, work-out equipment and even tennis and basketball courts. All completely separate from the road and pedestrian system.
I was so taken by the Giant people and very impressed with their bicycle engineering and manufacturing facilities that I thought my next bike could be a Giant. The economies of scale Giant possesses is passed along to the consumer when buying one of their state of the art machines, in quite considerable savings over comparable competitive bikes. There is real “value” in the Giant brand for the buyer.
Until recently Giant was not a serious contender in the upscale bike world, but as the manufacturer of some of the world’s top brands and its own line of high-tech, high end road and mountain bikes its star has ascended. While it would benefit from a stronger marketing campaign in the US, there is no getting away from the “best of” awards Giant has garnered helps promote the brand. Also their racing teams have helped galvanize the Giant name on podiums around the globe. For me purchasing a Giant bike meant real value and no compromise. It is also nice to know the chairman of the board!
I had been happily riding my Turner 5 Spot for 5 years and it was time for a change. I’m not a collector; I buy a great bike and ride it, a lot. If I don’t love it, I replace it. Thus far I’ve been lucky in my bike choices, including my brilliant 25 year old road bike built by Seattle’s Bill Davidson. My new Anthem 29er is another keeper. The Turner was a good bike, but I believe the Giant Anthem handles and climbs better.
When it came to picking out a new 29er, the 4 inch, dual suspension Anthem X0 stood above the crowd. I looked at the top competitors in this category and it was easy deciding on the Giant with it’s compliment of near top-end components that belies the list price of about $3,800; including the Rock Shock Sid fork, Rock Shock SID shock, SRAM X0 drive train, Avid Elixir brakes and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. All I added were pedals and the bike was race ready at less than 28 lbs.
Phillip, TCW’s owner and Steve, the shop’s master wrench, both ride the same model. They were instrumental in helping with my decision from actual user experience. This is important to all riders and potential bike buyers. At other shops, odds are that the sales guy isn’t riding “your” bike or brand, as he has many different brands to choose from and may not even like the bike you are thinking about. Phil and Steve are wild about their bikes.
In addition to being well equipped, Giant obviously gave some thought to making the Anthem 29er user friendly. This is an easy bike to set up. No guess work, rulers or calipers needed. There are calibrations for setting sag and travel right on the fork and shock. Just put in some air according to your weight and you see the results. You will make adjustments, but the start point is a “no-brainer.” (You don’t have to read the instructions, but I recommend it for learning the finer points of ride adjustment and safety.)
Need to know where to set your seat height, there’s markings on the seat post. Seat angle, same. Even the angle of your handlebars are delineated. The SRAM shifters and Avid Elixir brakes have adjustments to obtain the best ergonomic position of your wrist and thumbs. Frame design allows easy access to the water bottle mounts for a cage.
The Anthem XO is a sleek and handsome machine. Giant’s special tube forming technology tweaks each curve for maximum strength and look. The charcoal gray paint with dark blue highlights gives it a fast, stealthy look. Everything is in the right place with accessible cables, thick protective tape on crank arms and chain stay. The cables rub on the frame so it’s a good idea to apply the small plastic protectors Giant thoughtfully includes in your kit.
Some riders say the bottom bracket is too low. I don’t know about that, but I do know my pedals hit rocks more than they did on my old 26 inch bike, especially with the shock set in the active position. I think the crank arms are too long. All Anthem 29ers come with 175mm crank arms, which may be too long under all conditions. I checked my Turner 5 Spot, which has the same bottom bracket height, but has 170mm cranks, and I rarely hit the ground with my pedals.
Another complaint I’ve heard is about the wheel set. The Giant wheels are not the lightest but are tough enough to get you through anything. The rear hub Giant chose feels more low line than a bike of this caliber deserves. Pedaling response is slower than I was used to with the Chris King hub on the 5 Spot, and pronounced “gaps” are noticeable in rotation.
Clearly the OEM tire/wheel combination was not meant to be run tubeless. Despite all of Steve’s considerable efforts at tubeless conversion, the Schwalbe tires would not stay on the rims. One or both tires would suddenly lose air, leaving a huge mess of Orange Seal on the garage floor. At this price point the wheels should have been tubeless ready, so those of us wanting to go tubeless could do so. Or maybe it was the tires?
I have since changed to tubeless riding again using Kenda Nevegals. They hooked up and worked immediately, using tape, valves and sealant from Orange Seal. After a month of intense riding they continue to perform flawlessly. Guess it was the tires. (FYI - I was forced to change tires because the rear Schwalbe Racing Ralph wore out in only 2 ½ months! While a light and sticky tire its soft compounding could not take the kind of abuseAustin’s Barton Creek Green Belt dishes out.)
Initially skeptical of the 2x10 drive train, I’ve grown to love it. When first discussing 2x10 with Steve, he told me I would probably ride in the small chain ring most of the time, and except for long downhill’s or street riding, he is right. I rarely use the front derailleur. On the trails the 10 speed 11 – 36 freewheel with the front 26 tooth chain ring is a versatile combo. I struggle on very steep, short climbs and would appreciate a smaller front chain ring. Giant seems to believe this too as the newly introduced Giant Trance 29er has a 24 front chain ring.
I’ve been riding the Anthem XO for about 5 months and find very little to complain about. It’s not perfect, but I really like this bike. It is a solid performer and yields a confident ride over almost every type of riding. It loves going down hill and running over rock gardens, but its ability to do big drops is limited by the 4” fork. I might have to trade up to the newer 5” Trance 29er.
Mechanical issues have included bleeding the front brake twice to get it right. Initially, both brakes howled and was only resolved by buying new softer brake pads. While I was spoiled from years of XTR equipped riding, the SRAM pieces do an adequate job. Shifting became difficult way too frequently until better cables replaced the originals. The fork and shock are sensitive so small adjustments bring big changes. That’s a good thing. So far this bike has been a delight. I especially love the way it climbs and handles.
Giant has mastered the 29er build. They came into the market a little late but have more than made up for it with the Anthem 29er and now the longer travel Trance 29er. I ride 3 – 5 times a week and find the bike extremely comfortable, especially on long (over 20 miles) rides. Buy one and you will be as happy as I am with it’s competence, durability, appearance and value.
PS – Service with a smile continues to be the motto of Texas Cycle Werks. They spent considerable time and effort working on the tubeless tire troubles and brake issues. Most local bike shops love to sell bikes, but don’t always provide the support and handholding some customers need to get their bike “right.” Phil and Steve do. TCW is open 7 days a week to make sure you’re happy. I am sure Giant’s Chairman King Liu is pleased.