I'm looking for a new bike specifically for racing the Tour Divide.
I have a single speed, but can't fathom riding that far without gears. I just don't see how people do it. I also have a full suspension bike with gears. This is clearly overkill for 2800 miles of dirt roads. Plus it weighs a ton. Both are 29ers so I was pretty convinced that 29" wheels were a must for the new ride as well.
Enter Giant. They were putting on a demo day at Duthie Hill Park, a local mountain bike playground. I thought it was a great opportunity to check out their 29ers. However, it turns out that they have all but abandoned the big hoops in favor of 27.5 wheels (AKA 650B).
Reluctantly I hopped on the Giant XTC Advance SL to take it for a spin. On the tight and twisty trails the bike handled like a dream. Everyone says the smaller wheels handle better when things get tight so this was not a surprise. However, as I opened it up in climbs, gravel roads and even pavement I found that I didn't miss the bigger wheels at all. This bike is hands down the fastest bike I have ever ridden.
The speed wasn't imagined either. I uploaded my ride data to Strava and obliterated all my old PRs. I even snagged a few top 5 overalls which is amazing for such a heavily ridden area.
Fortunately, everyone was eager to ride Giant's full suspension rigs (which are a blast) so I was able to play on the hard tail all day. It descended like a dream and climbed like it was jet powered.
The bike is clearly a blistering fast XC racer rig. But is it right for the Tour Divide? I think so. I've never done anything like the Divide so all I have is my gut feeling. The bike feels great and absorbs bumps amazingly well. It has the 1x11 drivetrain that I want for it's weight savings and simplicity. I'm old so I need a suspension fork, but it has a remote lockout which will help on the climbs. Plus it feels good locked out. It felt just at home on gravel and paved roads as it did on technical singletrack.
I'll need to replace the handlebar with an alloy bar so I can put on aero bars. I'll also want to replace the brakes with some Avid mechanical brakes. Hydraulic brakes are great, but mechanical brakes are much more repairable should something go wrong. Lastly, I want to replace the front hub with something that has a dyno so I can run lights or charge electronics.
My only complaint is that it made getting back on my old single speed very hard. It just felt slow and unresponsive in the corners. What kind of Voodoo is Giant pulling? I loved my single speed just a few hours earlier.
If it wasn't clear already, I absolutely fell in love with the XTC. I can safely say there is a new bike in my future. Special thanks to Peter at Woodinville Bicycle for recommending I give the 650b a shot.