During mountain biking's freewheeling formative years, there were two types of bikes: Those that went uphill fast and those that went downhill fast. Full-suspension rigs were a blast when bombing rocky single track descents, but a bitch to pedal up anything steeper than a speed bump; while cross-country hardtails climbed with aplomb, but induced spandex-soiling spasms of fear the minute the trail tilted down. Thankfully, in the ensuing years, bike builders have bucked that trend by marrying the strengths of both – namely, plush rear suspension and aggressive, lightweight frame designs – to create a whole class of can-do rides capable of handling anything the mountain throws at them.
New for 2013, the Giant Trance X 29er 0 might well be the apotheosis of this movement. After former Olympian Adam Craig pedaled it to his second national Super D title (an event combining the thrills of downhill with the fitness requirements of cross-country), the Taiwanese company quickly labeled it its number one bike for next year. And when the world's biggest bike brand makes such a bold statement, you tend to listen.
At initial glance, the Trance X 29er is striking – curved tubing evokes the muscular exhaust pipes of some tricked out Harley, while the rear triangle is composed of a suspension system worthy of an Autobot. It's also – due to a set of colossal 29-inch wheels – a big bike, more clydesdale than thoroughbred. Or so we thought. Thanks to some subtle design tweaks, it turns out that this steed's towering size belies its nimble nature. In the case of the curved seattube, dramatic angles allow the rear wheel to be pulled in tighter underneath the rider, improving handling without sacrificing stability, while on the front end, an oversized steer tube improves stiffness and responsiveness. Add slightly laid-back geometry, five inches of front and rear travel, and stop-on-a-dime hydraulic disc breaks, and you've got the most versatile all-mountain machine on the market.
Pretty impressive specs, but we stopped all the chin stroking the minute we straddled the Trance X and realized the only way to ride this fun machine (sorry, the name stuck) is with complete, child-like glee. During a recent trip to Vermont's southern Taconic mountains, we easily ascended steep, nose-to-handlebar climbs, thanks to its adjustable rear suspension, which soaked up all obstacles in our path with nary a power-sapping bob. And by flipping the Fox switch to "wide-open" (thereby slackening the rear travel), descents – even those whose knotty root and jagged rock beds were blanketed by fresh snow – felt twice as good as we floated, leaped, and hauled ass over, well, everything. You see, astride a bike this fully loaded – there's a dropper seat post, too, though with a suspension system this dialed-in we doubt you'll need it – nothing's tough.
Until, like any toy, you have to take the Trance X 29er home and put it away. But before you do, make sure to warn your wife: The mud and sweat stains are only temporary, but your stupid new grin might be permanent. [$4,250; giant-bicycles.com]