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Giant VT 2
by Lester Lin

I never was a great fan of Giant bikes until I bought my XcX frame on the cheap from John McHale. This has turned out to be one of my all time favorite bikes, and incidentally, loved dearly by many members in our "Maokong Riders" group. I also own a "family" mtb with fenders, baby seat, and no suspension that has served me well, but it is this Xcx bike that has warmed my heart to Giant immeasurably.

When given a chance to try the Giant VT prototype by Giant Rep., Rory, on a rare visit from Giant Headquarters in Taichung, I was willing even to get up at 5:30am, (or at least try to) to put this bike through the paces on the Gas Plant Trail, needing to guarantee it's return to where Rory was staying up at Patrick's up on the mountain above Cheng Da University by 7:30am and early enough to get to church on time..

My understanding is that the Giant VT is their challenge into Specialized's highly successful Enduro series market niche. To do this, they have designed an all around trail/freeride type bike, using a single pivot rear triangle connected to a suspension labyrinth like structure. This contraption gives you an adjustable 5 to 5.75 inches of rear travel.

When rating a bike that is designed for "all around riding", able to everything from fast single track to terrain that would give your mother nightmares, there are a few basic design criteria that I look for. I will list these and explain why it is important to me.

1. Seat Adjustability: How adjustable is the seat? The ideal bike should let you get full extension of your legs when your seat is in the "road riding" position, yet be able to be adjusted way LOW for the times you are going down really steep technical terrain. I am not ashamed to admit, that when the going gets tough, I like to have my seat down LOW LOW LOW. I am not one of those super riders that never have to adjust their seat post for the terrain. I have ridden too many stellar Full Suspension bikes that fail in this important area.

Giant VT seat adjustability: It seems like Giant's designer came close to a 5 star rating in this area. HOWEVER, it seems that later, as rumor has it, they were unhappy with the amount of bobbing experienced on the bike and added the Manitou Swinger (shock with a brain) to give you a virtual automatic lockout when climbing. Unfortunately, the space which the oil reservoir and "brain" of the shock occupies is right where the seat post comes down. This brings down the 5 star rating down to a measly 3 flaming turds, about on par with the Specialized Enduro. For my 5ft. 8 height, The seat post was cut too short to let me get adequate height for super efficient pedaling. Despite the short seat post, I could not get the seat down far enough

You can get the seat down enough to give you more confidence, but not enough for the ultra steep terrain for the best descending position (for my 5'8" height on their small frame).

VT compared to other bike's seat adjustability: Giant's venerable AC had one terrible shortcoming until this year: The limited amount of seat travel caused by the curved seat tube. They finally fixed this problem by introducing a neat "pass through" design, allowing the seatpost to come down past the curve in the tube, giving you that all important extra seat travel downwards. The Specialized Enduro is a slight improvement over the FSR XC series in this department, but could still use another 1.5 or so inches of downward adjustment. The extinct Giant Xcx gets an A plus in this area. Their designer really had their act together on this bike. You can ride it high, or ride it low, Xcx is the way to go...... The new Azonic Xtension series also gets an A plus in this area due to their straight seat tube. The only draw back is that your head angle and seat tube angle is not the same, and the higher you put the seat up, the shorter the cockpit length becomes (although compensated by the extra height).

2. Carry-Ability: Where I am from, off road riding invariably puts you in some places that you need to carry your bike. Nobody likes to carry their bike. It is just one of those necessary evils of Mt. Biking life.

Therefore, I always check to see how well this bike carries. The macho guys like to grab the nose of the seat and hike the bike over their shoulder. In this case the lower the top tube on the more room you have for a comfortable carrying position.

Some of us weaklings like to carry/drag the bike by the top tube. All bikes have a balance point on the top tube that is the most comfortable hand hold position for carrying, (or dragging) your bike. In this case, the cable placement and stays to hold the cable are very important. Are the stays right at the balance point, causing discomfort to your hands or shoulders?

In the case of the Giant VT, the stays are right at the balance point making it very uncomfortable for your hands. Also the cables running on the underside of the top tube also makes for a less secure grip when carrying.

3. Bottle-Ability: On the VT, you can't fit a water bottle on the inside of the triangle. It goes on the underside of the downtube right where the mud gets kicked up most from your tires. Exclusive Hydropack users need not worry. All you other bikers that are still sucking on bottles better beware.

4. Standover Height: If you are a conservative wanna be freerider like me, you will find yourself on the middle of a difficult hill, trying to get the nerve to do that hairy stretch in front of you. This is when a low standover height make the difference in being able to get up the nerve to go for it, or being so distracted by the pain coming from your groin that you walk it instead. The Giant VT scores very well in this area.

5. Weight: 14kgs. Quite acceptable for this type of bike. A bit heavier than my Xcx with Black Comp fork and Hayes disks at 13.4 kgs.

OK Lester, skip the boring details: How does the bike ride???

Well before telling you, I have to give you a few more boring details. I intended to get up at 5:30, and take a leisurely ride, and play with all the adjustments on the Swinger shock, ie: adjust the threshold where the shock locks or unlocks, and play with different air pressure. Well, somehow I dozed off after my 5:30 alarm, and jolted awake at 6:10. That already put me 40 minutes behind a tight schedule. My mission quickly changed from leisurely inquisitive test ride, to a mad rushed "GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME" ride.

No time to adjust the shock, and no time to change the semi platform Shimano pedals over to wide platform pedals.

With that in mind:

Climbing: On road climbing gave a rock solid ride going up hill. No visually noticeable bobbing. This portion is on par with the best of Specialized 4 bar Horst linkages. Only when you reach down and put your finger on the junction of the body of the shock and the piston side can you feel a faint pulse as the shock moves ever so imperceptibly.

As the trail turns off road and much steeper, then the bob was noticeable. The combination of uneven terrain and hard hammering pedaling seemed to over come the brain's ability to control the bobbing. Or..... maybe that is just the way it should be. I regret not having the time to play with the air pressure on the threshold on the Swinger to see if it would make a difference. Maybe sometime in the future, Giant would be nice enough to leave the bike with me a bit longer sometime.

Fork: The VT-2 is outfitted with a Psylo XC fork. Everybody was telling me how crappy this fork was, however, it suited me just fine. U-Turned to max travel or down to 80, it seemed predictably stiff with good rebound control. The springs are soft, but I like it that way for my 75kg weight. Note: I am definitely a suspension weenie and go for the softest ride that I can get without constantly bottoming out the suspension. I like the springs much softer than the average rider. My philosophy is to let the springs take as much of the punishment as possible, and use up as much of the travel as you can for the particular ride you are on.

Frame: Although when torquing the rear wheel manually seemed to show the frame no stiffer torsionally than the Xcx, the VT seems more solid on the trail. It seems to have a stiffer feel. Give the handlebars a quick shake back and forth, and not much flex is detected.

Rear suspension: Some of the stiffer feeling on the VT also seems to stem from a harsher ride. At 5", I don't find the VT plush when it comes to small bump compliance. The suspension design seems to have an inherent "Q" factor. Q in Chinese is like the feeling of biting into a bagel as opposed to a cracker. That chewy Q feeling translates into a suspension that isn't extremely lively. Great for the trail ride, but don't expect it to pogo you into any altitude with that Q feeling rear end. Even without any rebound control dialled in, the rear end behaved surprisingly well. Add a touch of rebound, and it is great! I question if the Swinger "Brain" plays any factor in the rear suspension's. Over the fast small bumps it doesn't seem to float over this kind of terrain on par with the Xtension Xplore, or Xcx

Brakes: The Avid mechanical brakes are a sore point for me. Although loved by most reviewers that I read, I have not had such good luck with these brakes, and the VT was no exception. The rear brakes were just on the edge of being functional. There were only two types of modulation that I could do. Hard, and Harder. I would pull on these brakes with a superman grip. Once in awhile the tire would skid, but generally it would act like it was hooked to an ABS anti-skid system. Although I was able to clear all the steep technical sections by death gripping the rear brakes and feathering the front brakes, it was not a pleasurable experience at all. Maybe somebody got oil on the brake pads or something, because this was worse than any other AVID brakes I have tried to date. Being spoiled by the flawless performance of Hayes hyd. disc brakes, it is hard to go back to Avids when they are working well. Excruciating when they are not.
(Note: Rory told me later that he probably got some oil on the disc when he was spraying some WD-40 elsewhere, without the little red tube on the nozzle) Sorry Avid, I guess it wasn't your fault.

Sizing: The VT seems to have a relatively long cockpit similar to the AC. A small frame didn't give me a cramped feeling for my 5'8" height. I have a med. Xcx, and a Large Specialized M4.

Pedals: The cheap semi platform pedals aren't a mt. biker's dream, but despite riding without cleated shoes, I was able to bounce over the rough terrain with my feet reasonably secure on the pedals. However, I would definitely prefer to have either cleats, or a normal platform pedal.

Tires: The Hutchinson Scorpions: They seemed to do fine. They rolled, they didn't go flat, and had enough traction to climb, and more than ample traction for an Avid rear brake with some oil oversplash.

Conclusion: This is the 23rd different bike that I have test ridden on the gas plant trail. In general, it is a well packaged unit which is a pleasure to ride. Consider it if huge seat adjustment and some of the other small details are not high on your priority list. Go for the better spec'd VT1 if you can afford it if only for the hyd. disc brakes over the Avid brakes.