The Best $1,500 Mountain Bike: Giant Trance X4

Jun 27, 2012
Outside Magazine

We’ve long said that buying a full-suspension mountain bike for less than $2,000 is a waste of money, but the Trance X4 ($1,550) proves us wrong. This is hardly the most supple or nuanced bike, but given its pedigreed geometry and more-than-adequate-for-the-price suspension, it ripped up the trails—especially downhill.

A carbon copy of the frames used in its higher-end siblings (including the tapered head tube), the aluminum X4 has five inches of travel in both front and rear. Combined with 26-inch wheels (perfect for this trail riding application), a relatively slack 69.5 degrees, and a good amount of stand-over height, the frame is built for stability on tricky trails and descending. Indeed, we launched down rocky singletrack peppered with boulders and jumps and the X4 took it all in stride. The rear Giant Air-R shock has both an air intake for adjusting the pressure and a dial for rebound rate, both of which worked fine, though tuning proved tricky: We could either set the pressure soft for slamming descents or firm for efficient pedaling—but not both. Similarly, the preload and rebound settings on the fork also worked well, but no amount of tweaking provided the plushness on small bumps that you get with a more expensive setup. Still, this is the most hardworking and agile setup we’ve found at this price.

Giant’s massive buying power allows the company to build bikes with nicer parts than you’d expect, including the choice stem and riser bars, identical versions of which we’ve seen on bikes that cost twice as much as this, and the burly, though heavy, house-branded wheels, which are built by DT Swiss. The Avid Elixir 1 brakes have plenty of stopping power, thanks especially to the 180mm rotor up front, though they were quite squawky and did go a little soft as they heated up from use on longer descents. The Shimano drivetrain is good quality, and we especially like the trigger option on the shifters, a trickledown from the company’s higher-spec components. The one big miss were the Schwalbe Knobby Nick tires: Not only did the sidewalls get beat up quickly, but the tread pattern seemed all wrong on almost every terrain and we were constantly slipping out in places we shouldn’t have been. Of course, tires are location-specific, and an easy change once you’ve determined what works in your area.

Giant has leveraged its know-how and manufacturing prowess to build a (relatively) inexpensive bike that rides admirably well. Wildly versatile, the X4 easily serves total novices and capable trail riders alike on trails ranging from manicured singletrack to harsh rock gardens and even terrain parks. We took it on our local downhill run, a 30-minute high-speed descent with a broad range of obstacles from loose, dusty gullies to shin-deep stream crossings, and not only did we enjoy the ride, but we set a new Strava time record for the segment. It’s not the most supple bike, but out of the three in this review, it's the one novice riders are least likely to outgrow anytime soon.

Filed To: Mountain Biking

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