Giant Talon 0 Review

by FatBob on June 12, 2012

One of the most interesting parts of our $1,000 tests was seeing what bike arrived when I asked the companies to send the least expensive bike that could be ridden as a full time, real mountain bike. The Talon 0 (said zero) is what Giant sent. As with all our reviews, we spent 100% of the time with the bike in dirt, riding trails. We rode in rock gardens, raced it, rode buffed out IMBA machine cut singletrack with lots of opportunity for air, the opposite extreme of rutted out boulder strewn, loose climbs and descents, and tight, twisty, rooty singletrack. From the heavy hands of Jamie to the light hands of Camye and including beginners, intermediate, and experienced riders, the Giant saw lots of riders. Of all the bikes in our $1,000 bike test, this one was ridden by the largest number of people, with 9 riders giving feedback to complete this review.

The Giant Talon 0 has an MSRP of $1,100. Some shops are higher, others are a little lower. An online search yielded a range between $899 and $1,049. Obviously, the out the door cost will likely be a little over $1,000. If you plan on getting into the sport and have read our recent gear article, you can see that you will go above $1,000 for all you need. I recently interviewed All-Star Bikes in Raleigh NC and, while staying true to the $1,100 MSRP, they offer one year of free tune ups and a 10% discount on accessories at the time of purchase. So, forgiveness is asked from readers on a tight budget - $1,000 turned into a generalization with the Giant Talon 0. The good news is, if you come to the this sport with a helmet, a bike shop like All Star bikes can keep you on the trail for the most part for the first year. It is also advised to utilize your local shop as a well maintained bike will last longer and ride better.

 The Giant Talon 0 is a value driven 29er that is focused on the “sport” level rider. Compared to Giant's “performance” offerings, this bike has slacker, more relaxed geometry. This is by the numbers and, in our usual style, we won’t continue on this comparison because we base our conclusions on how bikes feel when ridden rather than how the numbers say they should feel. Just as numbers don’t tell the story, terms like “sport” really need defining. So, let’s leave jargon and and numbers aside - here is how we feel the components stack up, how the Giant Talon 0 rides and how the overall package works on the trail.

Parts: The Giant has a solid mix of parts, for the budget. We classified performance of the group about even with the other bikes in our test. The drivetrain is a real SRAM X5 kit. This is a 3x9 drivetrain that runs very well, with little maintenance. While not as crisp as SRAM’s high end offerings, in this price point, it’s hard to go wrong. In the videos and pictures, a discerning eye will notice that, in fact, some parts are changed. To name them, rear derailleur, rear shifter pod, and one or both brakes, depending on the fork (faster switch to have the other fork ready to go). What can I say, we broke a bunch of parts. Really, this is completely due to rider error (also known as crashes) and therefore, it is clearly not the fault of the original components. This brings up another point. If you push a bike, you will brake parts or wear them out. When you do, you earned an upgrade. We feel the quality of the Giant Talon frame is worthy of buying quality upgrades.

Broken shifter, broken deraileur hanger and the X5 rear (left) compared to a XO

Speaking of the brakes, the Giant comes with Avid’s Elixer 1 brakes. They are full hydraulic models. All of us at 29erOnline agree, these are truly a must for any bike that will see real trail time. The Avid Elixer 1 brakes have a good feel at the lever, but lack the refinement that even the Elixer 3 brakes have (I’ve never seen an Elixer 2, 4 or 6, so I guess its one step up to 3) We never even made it to the point that we needed a pad change. On a particularly bad crash, we bent the levers badly enough that the brakes no longer were usable. All attempts at bending them back to a usable point were barely worth the effort. The brakes on the Giant evidently had a little air in them, as they were soft from the outset of our test. This really illustrates the value of a good working relationship with your local bike shop. The soft brakes would have been taken care of before the bike left the shop or, if a problem arose a reasonable time after purchase, a good shop would take care of this for you. As a whole, and from our experience with other bikes that have them, they work fine. Better than mechanicals, but nothing to get excited about. In addition, through your local bike shop, you can get replacement levers to fix the Talon 0 should your brakes suffer the same ill fate as ours.

The Avid Howitzer crankset is an outboard bearing set up. They are stiff and the bottom bracket is smooth. Of all the crank sets in the test, this is the best set up. We have had no problems with them. They are a great set of cranks for the money.

Most cockpit parts are plugging away. The Giant Connect handlebar and stem are good quality and have received no negative feedback. The Giant Connect seatpost has a single bolt that clamps a serrated clamp head. This, unfortunately, started slipping despite torquing the bolt as far as I was brave enough to go. I actually started to get flex in my T-handle Allen key. After the ride, the nose of the saddle was pointing down 10 degrees according to the markings on the seat clamp and had slid all the way back on the rails. The tester for the day was complaining about climbing and poor cornering. I switched the seatpost, repositioned him and, after riding further, he came back with a different verdict. Body position is very important. The seatpost clearly failed the Giant Talon 0. It is noteworthy that the Talon is the only bike in our test that came stock with lock on grips. Very comfortable lock on grips, I might add. Big bonus points for that.

The wheels - testers complained of some wheel flex with the stock Giant wheels. I am particularly sensitive to side to side wheel flex and I noticed no negative traits. As a matter of fact, after changing the fork during our tests of component upgrades, our riders stopped complaining of wheel flex with the stock wheels and were content to leave them alone. The hubs were the smoothest of the group and needed no maintenance. In contrast, the other bikes’ wheels all needed maintenance over the course of the test. The Kenda Small Block 8 tires are a use specific tire. They are fast and roll very smoothly and quietly. They are very good for their tread size at grabbing dry roots, and finding traction while pedaling on dry hard pack. However, add any moisture and we have a problem! It bears repeating that these style bikes have a broad audience. In addition to riding trails, they are designed to commute, ride bike paths and gravel / dirt roads. It is hard to fault a company that has so many rider types to cater too. For singletrack riding on the east Coast, the Kenda Small Block 8’s are not quite enough. They may be perfect where you live or for how you ride. We remain neutral here.

The Rock Shox XC 28 TK is a budget choice. For a true mountain bike capable of years of off road riding and under the hands of an enthusiast rider, it is just not enough fork. All of the test crew gave the Giant very average marks until we switched to a stiffer chassis fork. Corners became fun, with riders reporting not being able to find the limits of the bike when cornering. They also reported being able to charge sections that they had been forced to tiptoe through with the stock fork. What it came down to is that the testers couldn’t get past the fork to find out how well the Giant actually handles. The Talon needs a new fork to really come alive. When you do make the switch it’s hard to find the bike limits. With the stock fork it’s hard to see past its limits. For real trail riding lose the fork. The only exception is a light rider who is not heavy enough to max out the fork’s chassis. This is the only rider that I would recommend swapping out the fork’s spring for. Rock Shox sells different spring kits and a dealer can get a spring and install it for around $65. This is an area on which you have to educate yourself, as some shops are resistant to doing this, instead recommending a different fork.

Upgrades: Take a guess? Of course, the fork. Really, we universally felt like the Giant gains the most from a fork swap. The frame is definitely worth upgrading. It is a great quality, clean frame that can deliver years of good service. After riding it for months, the Giant Talon 0 frame is no worse for the wear. While the higher end offerings may handle quicker, not everyone wants quicker handling. Slap a nice high quality fork on it like a Marzocchi Corsa SL LR, a Rock Shox Recon Gold, or a Manitou Tower Expert ( and see just how good this bike becomes. To be fair to the Rock Shox fork, it is an entry level fork and will get you through the learning stages of riding or until you can save up for the fork of your choice.

Clipless pedals are high on the upgrade list. None of our $1,000 bikes came with clipless pedals. Better pedaling efficiency and the ability to stay connected on a hardtail over rough terrain make this an upgrade worth making. There is a learning curve to clipless pedals. Ride in a field and practice clipping in and out of the pedals until you feel comfortable. Better yet, do this in a trainer to completely eliminate the chance of falling. Your local shop should be able to help with this. Most of us use Shimano SPD pedals, Jamie and Paul use Time.

The seatpost is another part to trade out. Unfortunately, I would do this sooner than later as we had reliability issues. You may get a few months out of it, but seatposts can be found for pretty cheap, or, if you have the budget, it’s hard to go wrong with a Thomson for reliability. Incidentally, when we tested carbon seatpost on the Giant any differences were barely noticed. In this case, a carbon post makes incremental gains in comfort and, unless you must have a carbon post, the money is better spent getting a new fork.

The only other potential part swap would be the tires, if you live in a wet climate or are going to spend the bulk of your time on singletrack. Check with your local bike shop for recommendations.

So, we have covered the pieces and parts. How does the Giant ride?

Climbing: As a collective group of testers, the conclusion is that it climbs very well. We would not say awesomely, but very well. It kept its line, but the body positioning wasn’t an attack body position. For our aggressive pedalers, the positioning was a little more relaxed than what they preferred, but nothing to dislike here either. It is a very good climber, just not the best climber.

Descending: As a collective, again, the Giant rated as very good but it was not as playful and fun as others. No complaints, but no hoorays either. This is where I differ from the collective opinion of the group. I felt like the Giant needed some speed to show what it was all about. With speed, it reacted very well to input, was stable, and had excellent descending manners compared to the other bikes in the group. If you are not a confident descender, the Giant will serve you well. If you love jumping, pumping and playing, it may disappoint, as the Giant is a much more decided, purposeful descender. I am, personally, a fan.

Cornering: With a stiff fork and good body positioning the Giant is excellent. Low and stable, it takes body english to squeak out the Giant’s full potential. The stock fork will never allow you to find out just how good the Talon 0 is in the corners.

Conclusion: if you compare geometry between the Talon 0 and Giant’s XTC, it seems like the Talon 0 would be overly relaxed. In practice, I personally had a blast. It feels low and responsive. This is the only one of the $1,000 test bikes that I noted the “in the bike” feeling that 29ers are known for. To me, the Giant exemplifies putting the rider low in the bike, deep below the wheels’ axles. It is very confident and begs for a solid fork. With a solid fork, you can feel the stiffness of the AluxX hydroformed frame. It has excellent response to its rider but it never felt nervous. You do need to pay a little attention to pedal placement, as the bottom bracket is low. The Giant needs speed to wake up. At speed, it is very easy to put the bike where you want it. Confident, businesslike, with enough play to make it super fun! The other riders in the test felt it did everything well, but nothing perfectly. It is equally good at climbing and descending. While maybe not for everyone, the right rider, after a couple of critical upgrades, will find lots to love about the Giant Talon 0.