In nature, ecologists say the interesting stuff happens on the edges. The same can be said for mountain bikes, where finding the limits of speed and traction are often the most rewarding parts of riding. Giant’s Trance 2’s edge of control isn’t a razor blade, it’s more like a plateau. And that’s a very good thing.
Giant Trance 2 highlights
- Frame: Aluxx SL aluminum, Maestro rear suspension, 140mm travel
- Fork: Fox 34 Rhythm, 150mm travel
- Shock: Fox Float Performance
- Drivetrain: Shimano SLX 1x11-speed
- Wheels and tires: 27.5in Giant XC-1 with Maxxis High Roller II tires
- Sizes: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
Smart, money-wise spec
Bikes in this price bracket are typically a balancing act when it comes to components. The spec has to work well, but it also has to come in under budget — welcome to a product manager’s nightmare.
As one of the biggest bike factories in the world, Giant has a bit of an edge though, and it shows on the Trance 2.
Standouts on this bike are the 150mm travel Fox 34 Rhythm fork, Float DPS Evol shock and the full Shimano SLX drivetrain and brakes.
Compared to the more commonly spec’d RockShox Revelation at this price point, the Fox Rhythm 34 fork has better performance everywhere. Even though it sits as Fox’s base-level 34, it was stiff, easy to adjust, and most importantly smooth from the top to deep in the stroke.
It kept its composure better when worked hard on steep terrain, where the Revelation can sometimes feel overworked with inconsistent damping.
Out back, the trunnion-mounted Float damper did its job with zero complaints. It was largely forgettable with smooth, predictable bump swallowing.
On brake and drivetrain duties was a full Shimano SLX kit, including cranks and cassette, two spots where most companies cheat the budget a bit.
For Shimano, mixing component levels is allowed, but the Japanese giant rightly builds its components to work ideally with one another. On the Trance 2 it could be felt, every shift was dead accurate.
The SLX brakes pinching 180mm rotors proved to be decently powerful with good modulation as well. There’s just something nice about a matching group instead of the standard mix/mash of components on a bike. It seems more complete, at least to my eye.
Giant’s house brand makes up the remaining spec and everything performed dutifully. The XC-1 rims’ graphics were matchy-matchy with the bike but not in a gaudy way. More importantly, they set up tubeless with zero fuss, and remained straight despite a serious flogging.
As for the dropper post, this too was Giant’s own Contact Switch. It never missed an up or down under me, but the over-the-bar remote and big loop of cable over the front of the bike looked a bit dated. I didn’t mind the remote’s ergonomics, but an under-bar lever would look and feel more modern.
And, thank you, Giant for the 31.8mm clamp stem and bar, along with the grips with a bit of rubber. That package kept the front end a bit softer and much easier on my tired hands.
Built for fun over speed
For a bike that’s solidly under $3,000, the Trance 2 really liked being ridden aggressively out in the woods. Kudos go to not just one component, but rather the whole package.
Starting with the frame, Giant’s Maestro rear suspension is a dual-link set up that typically flies under the look-at-me radar. It shouldn't though; it pedals well, handles all sorts of hits and has proven to be a durable, robust design.
Geometry for the Trance 2 was on the mild side of today’s low-slung rigs with a 448mm reach in large and 1,183mm wheelbase — anything but long. But it should be noted that for the bulk of trails its 67-degree head angle is a happy medium, decently stable yet willing to slice and dice through trees.
Likewise, the 73.5-degree seat angle isn’t bolt upright, but the Maestro rear end did a good job at resisting squatting, so while your hips aren’t sat over the cranks so much, pedaling response still feels good for an efficient climbing platform.
Uphill, outside of my nagging brain, there was simply no need for the shock’s compression lever. In fact, toggling the lockout even to the ‘pedal’ position was a detriment on rocky, loose climbs as traction was lessened. Even on pavement, there’s not much monkey motion out back. Bikes and rear suspension systems are amazing now, so can we get rid of the silly lockouts already?!
On the downs, bumps of all size were handled with equal competence. While the shock’s O-ring told me I used all 140mm of travel, my ears and ankles never knew it thanks to a nicely progressive stroke.
Mid-stroke support was excellent, too, as the Trance liked being pumped and pushed into backsides. Happily there was no wallowing, which can plague lesser rear shocks and suspension platforms.
The stiff aluminum frame and aforementioned Fox dampers lead to the bike’s confident disposition. It was relatively easy to get everything working in harmony, so slamming into corners and rebounding-out felt natural.
That confidence in the chassis really allowed the 2.4in High Roller II tires to do their thing, with both wheels being shod with the exact same rubber. That made cornering easy, with setting up for turns a solid feeling affair and predictable drifting before the big side knobbers bit in.
That overall balance translated well to loving the back wheel, manualing and steering from the bottom bracket, but also lent itself to weighting the front and carving. It’s a predictable bike no matter which wheel you choose to make do the work.
All in all, the Trance 2 rewarded playful riding, sliding around, boosting off of and over trail obstacles, and squaring off turns with a balanced, controlled feel. It never felt on a razor’s edge, as some bikes do at the limit,. Rather, it was easy to slip into that loose, edge-of-control range while still having a ton of room to confidently play around.
Tall front end and not a plow bike
I tagged the tall head tube in the negative column above as some riders prefer a lower front end for climbing and better front wheel control.
But for me with my gangly arms, I like high front ends and riser bars. With my style, I found it to be a plus. Having the bars up high made the Trance 2 eager to launch over rocks, roots and basically whatever I didn’t want to ride through.
And it should be noted, the tall head tube is likely just an X-Large size frame issue, Medium and Large Trances actually saw the head tube length shrink in 2017.
Having that playful and poppy attitude was a benefit because the Trance 2 felt a touch out of its element when straight lining through rock gardens. In the chunky stuff I could feel the smaller 27.5in wheels getting hung up and the speed getting pulled down.
Since Giant recognizes that no single wheel size rules them all, Giant marketing man Andrew Juskaitis mentioned, "the Trance lineup may see wheel size expansion in the near future."
Giant Trance 2 vs the competition
Bikes slipping in under the $3,000 mark are seriously good lately, consisting of legit full suspension rippers with decent parts. And gone are the days when entry-level locked a rider into strictly XC-style bikes.
The middle ground is where the Trance 2 slots in and it's a dang good mountain bike.
Trek's Fuel EX 7 29er has bigger wheels, a bit less travel and more XC demeanor. On the opposite side, Commencal's Meta AM V4.2 is a 27.5in wheeled bruiser, built low and slack for smashing jagged, steep terrain.
Bottom line: a 27.5in mountain bike built for fun first
With a thoroughly dialed rear suspension and impressive specs for the money, Giant’s Trance 2 is a super fun bike ready for the trails.
It goes uphill with loads of traction and is ready to work with most riding styles on the way down. On top of that, out of the box there’s not a single component that needs to be swapped out.
If you like a low bar height you might have to slam the stem or run a flat bar. And if your riding style resembles the just-hang-on-and-pray style, there are better options, particularly some of the new-breed long-travel 29ers.
If your riding is all about fun and getting rowdy, the Giant Trance 2 is certainly worth checking out.