I must admit this first…I am a Giant fan-boy! The reason is simple. I grew up riding a Giant mountain bike….and I still have it! The bike is almost indestructible!! It is an old Giant Yukon that is probably close to 20 years old…but it still rides like the day I got it. Ever since I have been a big fan of Giant bikes. In fact, when I was recently in the market for an entry-level XC bike and looking at a bunch of bikes, I decided to get the Giant Fathom 29er 2. And I have not regretted it for one second! I got the 2018 edition, but the 2019 edition is now available.
If you are in the market for a mountain bike in the region of USD 1,000 and are looking for a bike that’s a more racy and less recreational, the Giant Fathom 29er 2 would most likely have come up in your searches. How does the 2019 Giant Fathom 29er 2 stacks up in the competitive entry level performance XC market?
Firstly, you get the peace of mind that you will be buying a bike with the backing of arguably the largest bike manufacturer in the world, with all the product guarantees (Giant offers a lifelong guarantee on all their frames), scientific research, distribution support etc. etc. that the company brings.
Moving on to the bike itself, on first impressions you get A LOT of bike for your money. How much money exactly? The bike currently retails for USD 1,100 (you can double check the latest MSRP for the bike on the official product page here). You may also consider the 2018 model with retails for USD 30 less (and you might well be able to pick one up for less, with the clearing out of older stock). The differences between in the 2018 v/s 2019 models are specified in the specs discussed below.
|Crank||Praxis - Cadet Boost|
|Wheels||Giant XCT 29|
|Hubs||Giant Tracker Sport - Quick Release|
|Tires||Maxis Ikon 2.20in tubeless wire-bead|
|Brakes||Tektro HDM 275|
|Fork||Suntour Raidon XC LO-R|
Commencing with the “features”, one of the first items people tend to look at are the gears. In the 2019 model, shifting is taken care of by Shimano’s trusted Deore setup (in 1 x 10 guise) which obviously includes the Deore rear derailleur, Deore 10 speed cassette (11 teeth on the smallest cog up to 42 teeth on the largest cog), and the Deore 10 speed shifter. The crank is from Praxis, the Cadet Boost (http://reviews.mtbr.com/praxis-cadet-crankset-review) with a 30 teeth chain-ring (if you don’t know what all this means check out our article “decoding the gears” [Article to be written soon]). The 2018 model is specked with a combination of Shimano Deore and Alivio, in a 2 x 9 setup with Deore rear derailleur, Alivio Shifters and FSA Comet 26/36 crankset.
Wheels are an in-house affair, with Giant XCT 29, tubeless ready rims and Giant Tracker Sport quick release hubs (“Boost Standard” at the rear, which means a wider hub for greater stiffness in the wheel). The rims are shod with Maxis Ikon 2.20in tubeless wire-bead tires. The 2018 model also comes with Giant Factory wheels, although not in the Boost spec at the rear. However, the 2018 wheels come shod with the slightly lighter folding bead Maxis Ikon 2.20in tires, instead of the wire-beaded versions found on the 2019 model.
Braking is taken care of by the ever reliable Tektro HDM 275 brakes applying its stopping force to 180mm rotors at the front and 160mm rotors at the back. The 2018 model sported Shimano M315 brakes mated with the same rotors as the 2019 model.
Two of the standout features for the price that deserves a mention are, the dropper seatpost with remote lever (30.9mm) and, the adjustable air fork (Suntour Raidon XC LO-R, 100mm travel, tapered steerer, QR 9×100), with external rebound control and a firm lockout. These are features you would ordinarily see on bikes costing USD 400+ more than the Giant Fathom 2. The 2018 model also boasts these features.
I must admit though, that as yet I have not actually used my dropper seat. However, I usually only ride medium intensity trails with little to no steep downhills. If you plan to do some downhill riding, then you will love the remote dropper seat option.
The build and geometry
Significant features of the frame design include
- Complete internal cable routing, which helps prevent cables being snagged or getting tangled when riding.
- The aluminum composite alloy, which is Giant’s highest grade for their aluminum frames, the “ALUXX SL Aluminium Technology” which according to Giant, delivers best-in-class strength-to-weight ratios; and
- The tapered head tube with oversized headset bearings.
Giant has, as is now the general trend, given the frame a longer, slacker geometry. The Fathom 29er’s head tube angle at 69.0 degrees, sits exactly between Giant’s more sport / recreational Talon (at 68.0 degrees) and the hard-core XC racer, the XTC Advanced (at 70.0 degrees). The rear end is also a bit shorter than older generation 29ers (with the chain stay now measuring 442mm). For me, when I first started riding the Fathom 2, I felt very upright in my riding position. However, I actually prefer it and quite like it as I feel I have better control over the bike.
A minor criticism of the frame design from an independent review of the 2017 model is that the internal cable routing exit point for the front derailleur is situated where it is prone to receive muck kicked up from the rear tire. On the 2019 model, this is obviously no longer an issue as the 2019 Fathom 29er 2 now boasts a “one-by” setup, like the slightly higher specked but more expensive Fathom 29er 1 (retailing for USD 1,400).
The bike behaves admirably on the trails and really punches above its weight (price) in its ability to carve up the trails, yet feels exceptionally stable and solid. If you dial in the air-fork correctly (which may take some time) the bike feels relatively smooth over the bumpy stuff too.
The changes in the bike geometry have definitely lead to a bike that feels nimble, particularly on tight singletracks and with the lower stand-over height and lower bottom bracket which drops the center of gravity, gives the rider more confidence in tackling technical obstacles and descents.
However, you have to keep in mind that the bike was designed for cross country single-track riding and the fast-rolling Mixxis Ikon tires are better suited to smoother hard-packed trails. For muddy and/or loose rocks you may want to swap out the tires. If you prefer bombing down technical descents, the more trial orientated Giant Fathom 27.5, with 120mm travel fork and more trail-tuned geometry may be a better option (the 2019 model also retails for USD 1,100).
One of the Fathom’s main assets is the comfortable riding position. Almost all of the testers have commented that without much effort they have been able to set up the bike to fit like a glove. A well-fitting bike inspires more confidence, is more comfortable for longer and allows you to put your power down more efficiently. Like I said earlier, I can agree that I too like the ride position of the Fathom 2.
An observation from an independent bike test on the 2017 model was that the bike can feel slightly cramped and upright when tackling longer steep climbs, with the riser handlebars being narrower than average (at 680mm) being the main cause. On the 2018 and 2019 models, this has been addressed, since the Fathom is now fitted with a wider (and flatter) 730mm handlebar. The wider handlebars have made all the difference, with the nose remaining well planted over the longer steeper ascents.
Talking about climbs, here the Fathom’s “best-in-class” weight and stiffness shine through. How much does the bike weigh exactly? You will be hard-pressed to find any precise figures posted anywhere, as frame size, pedals, add-ons like bottle cages etc. are variables that can make a material difference. A medium framed test bike was weighed at 12.9kg/28.4 pounds. However, weight by itself means nothing if your bike has the stiffness of cooked spaghetti. Here again, the Giant delivers as the bike feels very stiff and responsive to pedal input.
Conclusion – I Would Buy It (and have)
If your budget allows for about USD 1,000 to USD 1,200 and you would like to ride faster for longer over cross-country tracks, the Giant Fathom 2 29er offers a great value-for-money proposition which is hard to beat. I personally love my Fathom 2 and have not regretted buying it for a moment! The 2019 version offers excellent value for money that you will struggle to beat at that price-point.