When this bike came out I was really, truly happy for about fifteen minutes. When I was looking this bike over, I thought it was the answer to all my problems. I thought it was the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought it was salvation from a world of mediocrity. Let me explain.
There’s a wide gap between the needs of advanced riders and intermediate riders, or as I like to call them “the people who actually ride bikes” versus “the people who design them.” With the exception of maybe Duncan Riffle, Lars Sternberg, and Ben Walker, the people who work to design bikes and bike parts in the industry do not destroy bikes. They are bike riders, they may even get rad from time to time, but they don’t destroy rims when they look at trails, they don’t crack frames like they’re cracking open beers. What I’m trying to say is they’re kinda slow. Typically, a lot slow.
And if engineers or bike designers leave something to be desired in terms of speed and rowdiness, they still look like Sam Hill compared to the average consumer. Uhhh, I got sick a little in my mouth just thinking about the average consumer.
In 2015, this is your average consumer looking to upgrade to a Reign Advanced. “Yeah, I heard the 65 degree head angle and 27.5″ wheels are really going to help me at more downhill-type trail spots, like Sandy Ridge, or the Tamarancho flow trail.”
Engineers and bike design people are slow, and subsequently they design bikes for slow people. If you don’t think this is true, it’s probably because you yourself are either an engineer, a designer, and(or) slow.
But the disparity is real, and because of this disparity in ability and speed there’s a constant tension in the design process at all mountain bike companies, and it goes something like this:
Athlete: “We need a 65 head angle. I’m dying out there on this 67 or 68 head angle, this is horse shit. Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway.”
Engineer: “We can’t do a 65 head angle. That’s impossible. No one has a 65 degree head angle, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current head angle. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 68 degree head angle shouldn’t affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn’t reflect reality…”
Marketing: “We don’t actually care about our athlete’s input. He should just win races on whatever bikes we, the big boys, design for him. Dance monkey, dance.”
Athlete: “We need a longer top tube. I’m 6’3″ and I’m dying out there on this 420mm reach, this is horse shit. How is this an XL? Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway.”
Engineer: “We can’t do a 460mm reach. That’s impossible. No one has a 460mm reach length, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. And the wheelbase length, think of the wheelbase length! Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current top tube. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 420mm reach shouldn’t affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn’t reflect reality…”
Marketing: “Okay, so maybe the athlete was right about the head angle thing, but this time he’s way out in left field. It seems like a big risk, and the engineer sounds sooooooo smart when he cites theories he learned sophomore year of engineering school in between four day Modern Warfare III binges. We’re going with the engineer again.”
Athlete: “We need a lower bottom bracket. I’m dying out there on this 14″ BB, this is horse shit. Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway.”
Engineer: “We can’t do a 13.2″ BB. It would be impossible to pedal a bike with a BB that low. No one has a 13.2″ BB height, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current BB height. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 14″ BB shouldn’t affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn’t reflect reality…”
Marketing: “Okay, okay, so the athlete is two for two now, but man, that engineer is going to be a huge pain in the ass to deal with if I vote with the athlete on this one. Plus engineer guy uses lots of big smart words I don’t understand and graphs I can’t argue with, and besides, I have to work with this guy day to day. I’ll just tell the athlete that I went to bat for him and got shot down, that way he’ll still think I’m his buddy even though I didn’t back him up at all and totally let his idea die.”
The perennial message to athlete’s from marketing: “Sorry bro, maybe next year.”
So in 2015, bikes are pretty good. We’ve sorted out a lot of details in regards to head angle, bar width, stem length, top tube length, chainstay length, and wheelbase. The modern 2015 geometry chart makes the bikes from four years ago look unrideable by comparison.
Here’s the geometry chart for that 2015 Giant Reign:
In short, totally dialed. There’s not a thing I would change on there, and anything you might want to change is basically down to personal preference, ie lower BB height vs. clipping pedals, shorter chainstay length vs. high speed stability, etc. What’s even better, these numbers are fairly commonplace now. The Giant Reign is a great example of geometry done well, but it’s not crazy or unique for 2015. It’s the new standard. There are lots of bikes available in 2015 with numbers like this, and in 2016 almost every bike company will have a bike very similar to the Reign. More than ever, bikes are designed for people who want to go fast. Everything is great, right?
No. Everything is not great. Remember the final scene in “Carlito’s Way,” when Al Pacino is finally getting on the train to head out of town? He’s done with his mob dealings, he’s leaving behind a life of crime forever, he’s done his last favor and he’s finally square, and just when it looks like the coast is clear that one punk kid he’d forgotten about shows up right at the last possible moment and ends the whole dream.
That’s what it’s like.
“Remember me? I’m from engineering and I want to put a 57mm stroke shock on this 160mm near downhill bike.”
That’s right, the 2015 Giant Reign Advanced features a 57mm shock. There are lots of reasons that engineering might give for this, “oh, the shorter shock gave us extra freedom to design the linkage and frame tubes,” or “oh, the shorter shock saves so much weight.” Invariably the short shock justifications ramble on and on until they land on the single, critical piece of BS that the whole problem pivots on:
“We believe the shorter shock shouldn’t negatively affect handling.”
No one in engineering is going to claim that the shorter shock is better. No one. No one is going to claim there is any handling benefit to the short shock itself. By even uttering the words “shouldn’t negatively affect handling” they guarantee that, yes, clearly, a longer shock will be better. With the same sentence they concede that it’s clearly not better, but then they hope we won’t realize it’s also worse. There’s really no argument here: the Reign should have a 63mm shock.
And this isn’t about heat. Any online forum dork warrior armchair engineer is going to claim that the shorter shock will heat up faster, leading to an inevitable “decrease dampening performance.” I don’t care about heat at all.
That’s too strong. I guess I care a little bit about heat in the damper. Let me revise that statement to, “I almost completely don’t care about heat in the damper, only because it’s never been a major problem in my experience, and there are much more prescient problems that the short little baby shock create.” The above heat map image has nothing to do with bike dampers, either, I just needed an image of a heat map for my argument.
What is a problem for me is that I already have to run 255, 260, or sometimes up to 285 psi in my shocks to get the sag I want. And that’s with a Fox shock that runs lower pressure than a Monarch Debonair. You have to run a lot more pressure with a Debonair can. I’m just ballparking here, but if I were to set up a 2015 Giant Reign for my weight and riding style, I’d probably be running 400 psi in the rear shock.
WARNING: UPCOMING BLATANT
SHAMELESS SPONSOR PLUG
Here’s my current bike, a prototype Felt Compulsion. It’s sweet, duh, but see if you can spot the low speed compression adjuster on my Fox Float X shock. Oh wait no, trick question, it doesn’t exist. I can sort of tune my low speed compression setting with the “trail” knob, but that’s not exactly ideal, and Fox would tell you not to do that. It’s even worse if you have a Monarch Plus Debonair, because you don’t even have three “trail” settings. You have one, and it’s waaaaaaay more damped than the Fox “trail” settings.
The other big problem is shock tune. First of all, stock shock tunes are always designed around the lowest common denominator, aka not me. I’m bigger, I like to run less sag and a stiffer bike, and I’m an advanced rider. That’s three strikes against me, so bikes with stock shock tunes always feel like underdamped trampolines. Second, you can’t adjust your compression setting on a Monarch, or a Fox, or any of the air shocks I’d run on a trail bike. Cane Creek’s are unrideable, so please don’t bring that up. So if I got a 2015 Reign or Canfield Balance that gets 160mm travel out of a 57mm shock, I’d either have to get the shock custom tuned out of the box, or accept the fact that my bike bounces up and down like a trampoline.
400 PSI + base shock tune for beginners and engineers = effectively no damping. And no matter what any engineer says, the bike would be better with a 63mm stroke shock. It just would be.
So when I saw the Giant Reign I was happy. I was really, truly happy for about fifteen minutes and then I saw the shock length and realized that the engineer will always have his way. He’ll always jump out at the last second and shoot me in the guts and ruin my dreams. Always.