Mountain bike companies are constantly shooting at a moving target, trying to build the bike that riders want (or can be convinced to buy). Over the last decade and a half, that target has been moving one hell of a lot. Light. Fast. Efficient. Capable. Durable. Things sort of peaked with indestructible, but then somebody got smart and realized that indestructible wasn’t necessarily a lot of fun, especially while you were pedalling up the mountain.
Over the last two years or so, bike companies have started building bikes with about 6″ of travel that weren’t a complete pain in the ass to ride uphill. Marketing hype being what it is, the all-mountain craze was born. It was an interesting concept, but it was a little rough around the edges. There seemed to be a trade-off on either the climbing or descending side of the equation: either the bike was heavy and didn’t climb very well but ripped the downhills, or it was light enough to climb easily but wasn’t good for much more than a cruise down a well-groomed gravel path with a slight grade.
Giant Bicycles has been making its Reign line of all-mountain bikes since it introduced the Maestro floating pivot suspension design in 2005, and while the bikes have been fairly popular, there were no shortage of voices crying out that the bike was too heavy. That all changed in 2008, though, as Giant set out to address both the weight and technical abilty issues at one time.
The 2008 Reign 0
The big thing for Giant in 2008 was the introduction of a new 5” bike, but the Reign also got a significant makeover. Giant used the new frame design developed for the Trance X and applied it to the Reign line of bikes as well, putting them on a serious diet and lopping more than a pound and a half off of the frame weight – 738g to be precise.
A large portion of the Jenny Craig-esque makeover is due to the fact that the pierced downtube was given the boot in favour of a sweeping, hydroformed downtube that incorporated the lower shock mount. Not only does the revamped design facilitate a new position for the lower shock mount, it also requires considerably less material to construct. The result is a slick looking bike that is lighter but doesn’t compromise the Maestro floating pivot suspension design.
In addition to the new shock mount, Giant changed the shape and orientation of the other tubes in the front triangle. The top tube is heavily manipulated at both the headtube and seattube ends, and the brace that used to connect the toptube to the seattube is gone entirely in favour of a tube that flares dramatically at the seattube end. The downtube is also reshaped at both ends. One of the places this is most noticeable is where it joins the headtube, which is measures out at a rather substantial 7.5″ for the XL frame I was testing. That aside, the new Giant frames are visually striking and very aesthetically pleasing.
The 2008 Giant Reign 0, muddy but none the worse for wear. The new downtube shape leaves a lot of room for a bottle cage, and makes for very clean lines. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan
There are three different Reigns to choose from this year: the 0, the 1, and the 2. The top-of-the-line Reign 0 I was testing comes spec’d with a 140mm Fox TALAS RL fork and Fox DHX 4.0 rear shock, Hayes Stroker Trail disc brakes with 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors, Race Face Deus XC 31.8mm bar and stem, seatpost, and cranks, SRAM X-9 trigger shifters and 11-34 cassette, an X.0 rear derailleur and XT front derailleur, a WTB Devo saddle and a WTB LaserDisc wheelset, and single-ply Kenda Nevegal 2.35″ tires. Total weight for an XL bike out of the box (minus pedals) was 28.6lbs. on the official nsmb.com scale.
Fox forks are showing up on an increasing number of bikes these days, and they’re the fork of choice for Giant on almost all of the company’s mountain bikes. The Fox RL (RL for Rebound and Lock-out) on the Reign 0 has 40mm of adjustable air-cushioned travel. Move the lever on the top of the left fork leg clockwise until it stops to get 140mm of squish, then turn it back 45º counter-clockwise for 120mm, and another 45º to drop it down to 100mm.
Compression adjustments are limited to a lock-out lever on the top of the right leg: the fork is either locked or it isn’t. Rebound is also located on the top of the right leg. For those of you not familiar with Fox forks, they’re quality through and through – all metal parts that are finished more like jewellery than something designed to be punished on the trail.
TALAS adjustment on the left and compression / rebound on the right. The fork is set at full travel and locked out in these pix. || Photos: Stuart Kernaghan
On the back end of the Reign, the Fox DHX 4.0 rear shock loses the bottom-out and compression adjustment of the high-end 5.0, but it does have both main chamber and boost valve air pressure settings. The shock also has rebound adjustment and a two-position ProPedal switch that lets you choose between maximum and minimum platform damping.
Being the dedicated bike tester that I am, I made as few modifications as possible when I first hit the dirt with the Reign. The 44T chainring was replaced with a bashguard, though, and a set of Shimano 545 platform SPDs was added, as was a Lizard Skins chainstay protector. I ditched the stock bolt-on grips, which were quite thin, for a set of ODI Rogue lock-on grips. Once the changes were made, the Reign weighed in at 30.07lbs.
Riding the Reign
The first thing I noticed when I hopped on the Reign was the weight. Or to be more accurate, the lack thereof. I had been using an older Giant Trance as my all-mountain bike for the last few years, but with a comparable build, it was still almost 4lbs. heavier than the Reign. My Shore bike is close to 39lbs., so climbing on the Reign was a whole new experience.
Cross-country rides around B.C. generally involve a mix of gradual, sustained hills with short, intense climbs thrown in for good measure. Hills that had previously left me gasping for air at the top weren’t exactly obliterated, but I was less spent by the time I got to the top. And more often than not, I was able to keep going at the top rather than having to stop and catch my breath.
The light weight made climbing the Reign less work, but the Maestro suspension design is really what makes it an efficient climber. Maestro is Giant’s floating pivot point design, which joins a one-piece rear triangle to the front triangle with two sets of rockers. Giant launched Maestro in 2005, and believes that it’s the best solution for minimizing pedal bob, keeping the suspension active in all situations, and isolating braking forces. The company believes in the design so much that it’s used in all of its full suspension bikes.
I have to agree with Giant’s claims about Maestro. The rear suspension worked well regardless of whether I was climbing up rocky singletrack, hitting smaller high-speed drops, pedalling through the chunder, or braking over an extended series of stutter bumps. The back end never felt like it was skipping around under hard braking, pedal bob was very minimal, and there was no noticeable pedal feedback at any time. In other words, Maestro was able to pull together all of the benefits of other suspension designs without any obvious shortcomings.
Cruising along a sweet section of trail in Squamish, letting the suspension do its thing while I enjoyed the ride. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan
It was also nice that I didn’t have to jack up the pressure in the rear shock for the suspension to work properly. I spent several months last year riding a bike that uses the VPP rear suspension design, and was forced to crank the pressure in the rear shock up to almost 300 psi to keep the bike from sitting in the middle of its travel. And I still wasn’t very successful. I generally ran about 220 psi on the Reign’s rear shock, and adjusted the boost valve pressure up or down by about 10 – 20 psi depending on the terrain.
It didn’t take long to figure out that a bike with 6″ of travel and a very capable build was fun to ride on technical trails. I’ve been beating on the Reign for several months now, and in that time, I’ve hit the trails all over the place. This bike has been on both Fromme and Seymour, all over Squamish, riding spots in the Lower Mainland, and even up to the Interior.
A 690 head angle and the 140mm fork make it possible to fly along singletrack as quickly as you’re comfortable, and the 180mm/160mm rotor combo allow you to slow the bike down when things get scary. The XL Reign has a 46″ wheelbase, which sounds long, but is actually the same length or shorter than comparable bikes from other companies. It adds to the stability factor at speed, and helps in keeping both wheels planted on the ground. Although the bottom bracket seems a little low on rocky trails, I was able to minimize pedal / crank strikes with careful pedalling on seriously uneven ground.
As Cam recently mentioned in a Gear Shots write-up, you really discover what a bike is capable of doing when you take it on trails you know well. The first weekend that I had the Reign, I headed out for some of my favourite trails to put the bike through its paces. What really sold me on the new Reign was cleaning a 15-minute section of trail that had been making me work very hard since I discovered it. The first time I tried it on the Reign. No stops, no stumbles, no missteps. Top to bottom in one go. And I’ve been hitting it faster and having more fun on that section of trail ever since then.
There were a few quiet, reflective moments on the Reign, riding over babbling brooks and such. They didn’t last long, though, because I was having too much fun ripping it up. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan
The place where the Reign performed best was on classic B.C. cross country trails: rooty, twisty, slightly rocky ribbons of singletrack through the woods. Trail noise virtually disappeared under the Reign, I was able to get the bike up to speed and keep it there without having to kill myself, and it handled very, very well – once I made some adjustments to the cockpit (more on that below).
I also found that I used the ProPedal setting on the fork quite regularly. Switching from minimum to maximum efficiency ensured that there was very little, if any, wasted energy on climbs. It didn’t make the rear end of the bike feel dead, though, and there was more than one occasion that I left the bike in the maximum ProPedal setting after the trail started heading down, only to realize I’d done that when I stopped for a break.
It’s not all gravy
As much as I’ve enjoyed riding the Reign 0, there have been a few issues. Thankfully, most of them are minor and relate to spec. And admittedly, some of them are personal issues that riders on a size M or L frame, or riders who live in a less technically demanding region, may not experience.
The first issue I had was with the 680mm-wide bar and 100mm-long stem. The bar was too narrow for a bike this size. Larger bikes mean larger riders with wider chests and shoulders, and that should also mean a wider bar. Cutting a bar down is fairly simple, but it’s hard to make one wider. The 100mm stem was too long for technical cross country riding in B.C., and made me feel like I was dangerously close to going over the front on steeper terrain. I replaced the stock bar with a 710mm wide bar, and after trying several different options, settled on a 70mm stem with an 8º rise.
Second, I had supply my own chainstay protector. Sure, it only cost $15, but the last thing you want to do after dropping $3,600 is shell out more on something that the bike should come with in the first place.
The third thing that I ran across was the Shimano chain. Not a problem in and of itself, unless you want to take off the chain and clean the drivetrain really well. A SRAM chain with a removable master link would have been much more convenient.
Fourth, the single-ply Kenda Nevagals are prone to pinch flats on rockier terrain. They’re great on loamy singletrack or fire roads, but forget bombing down a trail filled with baby heads. I assumed that this was only going to be a problem for larger riders until a friend of mine who’s at least 80lbs. lighter than I am got a flat with the same rubber. Switch out the rear tire to something with a double-ply sidewall if you’re riding in the rocks.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, was the fork choice. The bike itself, with the aggressive tires, confident ride, excellent rear suspension, and the right bar and stem combo, begs to be ridden hard. Around here, that means steep, technical terrain with lots of rocks, roots, small to medium sized drops, and fast corners – even on cross country trails.
The 140mm Fox RL fork and corresponding standard quick-release front wheel did an admirable job of handing pretty much everything I threw at it, which was quite a lot in retrospect considering that I weigh about 240lbs. all geared up, but there were a several times on the trail when I wanted more. More stiffness and more travel (and the slacker head angle that could come from a longer fork) would have been welcome in steep chutes, larger roll-overs, rockier lines, and more technical terrain.
Steep lines like this left me feeling as though I was tipping forward, in spite of my long arms
and a shorter stem. || Photo: Vicki Cunningham
Always one to experiment a bit, I swapped out the stock 140mm fork with a standard quick release for a 160mm fork with a 20mm thru axle. That one change transformed the Reign from a bike that is very capable in most situations to one that can be ridden anywhere.
Doing so combines the benefits of the Reign’s light weight and everything that comes with that with a slacker head angle, a taller front end, and a stiffer front end. Things that I would have ridden around with the stock fork were a non-issue.
Yes, you could go with the Reign X, Giant’s freeride bike, and get a long-travel fork out of the box but you’re also adding some serious weight to the package. A size M Reign X 1 is more than 37lbs – seven pounds heavier than the XL Reign 0 – and that defeats the whole idea behind a lightweight all-mountain rig.
Adding a beefier fork to the Reign 0 made it possible to take on things like this. || Photo: Vicki Cunningham
Light weight was the underlying mantra when Giant built the Reign, and that goal was accomplished. In spades. Without a doubt. Giant deserves big props for building a very capable bike that weighs just a hair over 30lbs. with pedals. I won’t argue for a second that the bike meets the objective of being light, or that the majority of people who are buying Reigns are going to have a ton of fun on the bike with a 140mm fork.
But – playing devil’s advocate here – it would be possible to switch the 140mm fork with a standard quick release wheel to a 160mm thru-axle fork and wheel with a 20mm front hub with only a 1lb. weight penalty. Make it a travel-adjust fork, and you’ve got an awesome ride for all types of terrain.
Lighter or smaller riders or people living in less technically-demanding areas will be more than happy with the stock fork, but I for one would be willing to add one more pound to the package in exchange for the benefits that would go along with the weight gain. Hopefully, Giant will step up in 2009 and address the issue with at least one Reign model with a thru-axle fork.
I think it’s pretty obvious that I really enjoyed riding the Reign 0. Over the last several months, I’ve cleaned more than a few lines for the first time, gotten to the top faster, back down to the bottom more smoothly, been less tired at the end of the ride, and generally enjoyed technical XC riding more than I have in a long time. Giant did succeed in its goal of building a bike that can climb and descend very well, in almost all situations
There were also a number of small details that I appreciated about the Reign. Things like a water bottle mount, and the ability to actually fit a bottle into the cage. Yes, most people (myself included) use a hydration pack but sometimes you want to carry a bottle of Gatorade as well.
Cable routing is very clean compared to some of the earlier Reigns and many other bikes. It’s easy to pick up the Reign and carry it if necessary, and the routing leads to a very minimalist appearance.
Taiwanese bikes often get a bad rap for poor workmanship, and while that may have been the case 15 or 20 years ago, it’s total crap today. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the welds on the Reign; they were consistently clean and even throughout the bike, something that can’t always be said for bikes that are made in the U.S. of A.
Clean and even welds like the ones at the headtube / downtube / toptube junction inspire confidence in the frame. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan
I mentioned the tall headtube at the beginning of this review. That may be an issue if you’re swapping out the stock fork for one with a steerer that has already been cut, but there aren’t any real shortcomings other than that. The Reigns come with a stack of spacers under the stem, so it’s easy to find the correct bar height with a little trial and error.
The bike itself performed very well over the course of the test, and aside from the parts that were swapped out, all of the other bits and pieces did just what they were supposed to do without issue. The wheels stayed true, the cranks didn’t bend and the bottom bracket didn’t seize, the shifters shifted, and the brakes braked.
And that brings me to another point – value. Giant bikes, across the board, are an excellent value for the money. Do a side-by-side comparison with any other all-mountain bike that has the same spec, and you’re almost certain to be paying more money for that other bike.
So, at the end of the day, what does all of that mean? Well, I think the lack of a thru-axle fork keeps the ’08 Reign from being a true all-mountain bike – in B.C., at least. Most-mountain would probably be a more accurate description. B.C. is a unique testing ground, though, and a bike that’s capable of tackling all but the steepest, roughest lines this province has to offer will likely be an excellent ride in most other places.
Bottom line – riders who aren’t afraid of technical terrain, who like riding at speed, who are going to hit small to medium drops, who want to be able to climb hills without killing themselves, who expect a bike that is capable of handling pretty much anything they can throw at it short of a slopestyle contest, and who want a great parts spec for a very competitive price should take a long, hard look at a Reign when they’re shopping for a new all-mountain ride.
The 2008 Reign 0 is available in five sizes: XS (15″), S (16″), M (18″), L (20″), XL (21″) in the Brushed Olive anodized finish. US MSRP for the Reign 0 is $3,100 and on this side of the border it’s $3,589.
Anything to say about this review? Is this the bike for you? Discuss here…