Alright, we’re back at it with the Giant Trance X. This time, we’re on the special edition build kit with RockShox Flight Attendant. So part bike review, part Flight Attendant review, and hopefully 100% entertaining and informative.
If you’re new here, go back and read the original Giant Trance X review. That’s going to lay the groundwork for this entire article. I’m only going to go over high-level stuff here as well as how Flight Attendant affects the ride quality of the bike. Also, go read the Fox Live Valve article because we’ll be comparing the two today.
Giant Trance X Advanced Pro 29 SE
Really quick numbers before we take off. The Giant Trance X is a mid-travel trail bike with 135mm of rear travel and 150mm up front. It has 2 29” wheels and a trail/all-mountain components spec. In the case of the SE, it has a Lyrik Ultimate to handle fork duties and a Super Deluxe Ultimate for the rear. Both of these are equipped with RockShox’s automatic suspension controller, Flight Attendant. Of course, the bike comes with a Sram XO1/GX AXS drivetrain and, to my satisfaction, TRP Trail Evo brakes. The wheels and cockpit are Giant carbon house brand. All-in-all, it offers a hell of a value at $8,500. I can’t believe those words just came out of my mouth but considering it’s got all the bells and whistles and that the average retail price for any other Flight Attendant-equipped rig is over $11k, Giant has done a great job here.
The Trance X is one of those bikes that blurs the lines between a trail and an all-mountain bike. It pedals like a rocket ship and has a very fun, lively quality to it. In fact, the number one word I used to describe it in the original review was “boingy.” That holds true today, especially with the Flight Attendant system. I couldn’t get over how poppy and playful the Trance was on my test rides. It’s not the kind of bike you’ll want for pushing the pace on the roughest descents, but it’s a plenty capable bike for most trail riding. It rewards an active riding style by offering quick handling and a suspension platform that supports pumping and jumping efforts nicely. It corners with the best of them, long enough for some mid-corner stability but not so long that it feels like a school bus. It strikes a nice balance on most fronts to offer a versatile ride that certainly doesn’t sacrifice on climbing performance or handling characteristics.
RockShox Flight Attendant Overview
We’ll start with a brief overview of Flight Attendant before we dig into the nitty-gritty here. Flight Attendant is an electronic suspension controller that makes compression adjustments on the fly based on feedback from various sensors on the bike. Basically, it’s an automatic lockout switch that detects what’s happening on the trail and bike to make adjustments to your suspension. The idea is that you’re able to increase efficiency and improve the riding position on mid to long-travel trail bikes. At the moment, it’s not really designed with XC bikes in mind, as it’s not offered stock or available as an aftermarket upgrade for any bikes with less than 130mm of travel. There are multiple sensors on the bike, including inclinometers, accelerometers, and pedal sensors. All of these work in conjunction to help the system decide whether to remain open (default position) or firm up the compression to offer a better pedaling platform and riding position. The idea is great in theory, but how does it perform out on the trail? Let’s get into it.
Flight Attendant Review
I’m pretty happy it’s worked out that every time I’ve ridden electronically controlled suspension, it’s been on a Giant Trance X. It removes one more variable and helps highlight the pros and cons between Fox Live Valve and Rockshox Flight Attendant. As with when I rode Live Valve, my criteria are the following: I want the bike to feel more efficient and have better body positioning on the climbs without the system interfering with how the bike feels on the descents. On the flat/rolling bits of trail, I want something in the middle.
We’ll start this section with Flight Attendant setup. I was able to set the bike up fairly easily using the Sram app, although I had a couple of struggles. I’ll qualify this by saying I’m the world’s worst millennial, and I’m pretty bad at technology. I only recently learned how to merge two calls into one on my iPhone. There are a lot of sensors and parts you need to sync with FA, but once you’ve accomplished that, everything else goes smoothly. The calibration process was very easy. After the initial setup, there was very little to fiddle with. It probably took me about 20 minutes in the parking lot before my first ride.
Once I started pedaling, it quickly became apparent that Flight Attendant is more noticeable and stark than Live Valve. For better or worse, there’s a big difference between open and lock. It’s not as subtle as I was expecting. The desert is probably a tough place for automatic suspension systems to work. It has a lot of ups and down, with not too many smooth sections mixed in. The first part of my climb, however, was pretty smooth and open fire road. The system quickly recognized this and shifted into the “lock” setting. The suspension firmed right up, and my body position became more upright and over the front of the bike. As I started encountering bumpy sections, the controller would shift into “pedal” and “open,” depending on how severe the bumps were. I struggled to find what exact criteria would get the system to open up or close. For the most part, though, if I was on the pedals and the bike was pointing up, it was in either “lock” or “pedal.” I found that the system was a little slower to react than I would like, especially when it came to opening back up to the default setting. While the sensors may be interpreting data incredibly quickly, it seems that the controller is a little more reluctant to make a change than Live Valve. For example, if I was on a smooth steep climb and the bike was locked out, it would take longer than I wanted for it to open up a touch when I encountered bumps. It makes me wonder if this is by design or some limitation of the wireless system.
As most of my climbs were on the bumpy side, I ended p changing the bias settings in the app. The bias setting will affect how frequently the bike will shift into the firmer compression modes. The less bias, the more often the bike will remain open. By default, the system is set at 0. I experimented with both extremes on either side of that. I ended up preferring -2 to -1, depending on the trail I was riding. For the smoother trails, I liked the -1 setting as it kept everything feeling a bit faster and firmer more often. On the bumpiest trails, I had to change to -2 just for the sake of traction and control. For those with really smooth trails wanting to eke out all the efficiency, the 0 to +2 settings would make the bike feel even faster.
On the descents, Flight Attendant remained open pretty much all the time, even when the trails weren’t always pointed steeply downhill. I suspect that the pedal sensor is to credit here. It knows when you’re on the gas or when you’re coasting. I think that’s a bit of an advantage over the Live Valve system. I even spent some time watching GoPro footage zoomed in on the controller atop the Lyrik. The green indicator light all but confirmed that any time I was coasting, the system was open even on flatter sections of trail. If I was pedaling on chunky flats or gradual downhill sections, the controller bounced back and forth between “open” and “pedal.”
So does Flight Attendant stand up to my judgment criteria? I’d say that 95% of the time, it’s perfect. It helps keep you higher and more forward on the bike while maximizing efficiency to keep overall speeds high. I have two minor bones to pick. I would like the controller to react a little faster to changes in terrain. The only reason I can think of to make the system slightly more hesitant to make changes would be for better battery life. If the little servos were constantly opening and closing valves, the batteries wouldn’t last quite as long. It could also simply be a limitation of the system. Either way, I want it to move a bit quicker. The second thing I’d change would be to allow for independent tuning of the fork and shock. Personally, I don’t dislike what Flight Attendant does at the shock. It firms things up when needed and helps make the bike climb better. I don’t really care for my fork to ever lock out, especially when we’re talking about trail to enduro bikes. It leads to hand fatigue and arm pump. Especially since Flight Attendant reacts a little slower, you’re going to feel more of those bumps through the fork in the firm/closed mode. You start adding up a bunch of those impacts over the course of a long ride; you’re going to feel it in the hands.
How does rockshox Flight Attendant improve the Trance X SE?
Overall I’m very happy with how Flight Attendant improved the ride quality on the Trance X SE. I’ve ridden the bike a fair bit without automatic suspension and a fair bit with it. Is it better with FA? Some things certainly are better. I think Flight Attendant offers a bit of an advantage over the pure analog version, especially for those looking to improve the climbing characteristics of the bike. The climbing position certainly gets better as you stay higher in the travel more often. One of my minor complaints about the analog Trance X was the number of pedal strikes I noticed—and pedal strikes aren’t something I have too big of a problem with in general. With FA, those happen way less as the BB tends to sit higher and out of the way of obstacles. While the analog version is a very efficient climber, the FA-equipped build kit does see some improvements. On the descents, they feel mostly the same, as Flight Attendant does a great job of remaining open, as that’s its default setting. I wouldn’t say that the analog version is any better there.
Let’s look at it this way. If I’m spending my hard-earned cash on a Trance X, and my options are the $5k analog version or the $8.5K FA-equipped build kit, I’m going with the Flight Attendant one. It’s not only the Flight Attendant you’re getting for the extra money; you’re also getting a wireless drivetrain and top-tier suspension components. All this coming from the guy who almost always ends up buying the cheaper bike.
Flight Attendant vs Live Valve
Let’s start this off by saying both systems are pretty slick. They can help turn a good bike into an incredible one. Which system is better? Depends on who you’re asking, but I think they each take home some wins. Let’s just break this down into a pros and cons list to make it easy.
Flight Attendant pros
- Sleek integration into the AXS system
- User interface is nicer and wireless
- Becoming available on more and more bikes, even aftermarket
- Stays open on the DH better
- More noticeable changes in compression
flight attendant cons
- Setup takes longer and is a bit more finicky
- Slower to react to changes in terrain
- No independent fork and shock tuning
Live Valve pros
- Quicker to react to changes in terrain
- Quick and easy setup
- More subtle changes in compression
- Multiple rider profiles/ride settings within app
- More noticeable changes in compression
Live Valve cons
- Wired interface adds clutter
- No pedal sensor (gets confused more on the DH)
- Even more limited availability
- No independent fork and shock tuning
Who is rockshox Flight Attendant for?
I see Flight Attendant as a great option for a couple of different rider groups. The first is the climbing freaks. They are the folks who love ripping their friends’ legs off and getting to the top of the hill first. They have calves that look like most of our thighs. Except they’ve now found themselves on a longer travel bike for whatever reason—more confidence, comfort, or they’re expanding the trail difficulty they enjoy riding. Flight Attendant lets them have their cake and eat it too. They get the efficiency and climbing characteristics of the short-travel and XC bikes they love in a longer-travel package. It allows them to crush the climbs and rolling terrain with the stupid speed they love while having a little extra give on the descents.
Another group of folks who I think will love Flight Attendant are the set-it-and-forget-it riders. They don’t want to be bothered by lockout levers, compressions settings, and pedal modes. They just want to get on their bike and have it offer everything it can. Flight Attendant is designed for exactly this. It does all the computing and math for you, so you can just ride your damn bike.
The last group of folks who I think will enjoy Flight Attendant are the long-travel riders who end up doing stupid climbs to get to the top of those gnarly descents. This statement surprises me a bit, but after spending more and more time on FA, I think it would be an awesome addition or those riders. I see it more as a body position benefit rather than efficiency. If you take a heavy, sluggish 170mm bike and make it 10% more efficient, it’s still going to be slow uphill. Where Flight Attendant comes into play is in the body position, though. Those long-travel bikes have a lot of squish to sag into. All that does is pull you further and further off the back of the bike. With FA, you’d sit up higher, giving you better traction and control over the bike. The efficiency becomes a secondary benefit at that point.
The Bottom Line on rockshox Flight Attendant
Both RockShox Flight Attendant and the Giant Trance X SE are pretty rad. The combination of the two is even better. In fact, this bike surprised me as being one of my favorites of the year. I couldn’t get the ear-to-ear grin off my face out riding this thing.
Want the lightweight, electrified version of this bike? Check out the Giant Trance X E+ Elite review.