One day after work, before dinner was on the table, I check my email to see that Tio Gomez sent a call out to the Bike Black Ribbon Test Squad asking if anyone wanted the opportunity to test out the Giant Yukon, why, and what size. Knowing that the Yukon rolls on 27.5 wheels is what interested me the most, being vertically challenged as I am. Boy was I surprised when I got a text to be on the lookout for a big box being delivered to the house!
Since Giant entered the fat bike game last season and followed the trend of 27.5 fat wheels on their bikes, I was intrigued and nervous. Short people and fat bikes are tough to match up at times, so going from a 26×4.8 wheel to a 27.5×4.5 wheel could be a deal-breaker for a person of my stature. Ya need some standover clearance Clarence when there’s 6-8 inches of fresh snow on the ground. The larger wheel size can also be an issue on small frames. I know when I bought my ’11 Karate Monkey, I loved the ease of rolling over and through roots and rocks with the wagon wheels, but I would randomly catch my toes with the front wheel (large wheels/short wheelbase). It drove me nuts. I hoped this would not be the case with the Yukon.
It wasn’t long before Giant’s 2020 Yukon 1 (henceforth designated as Y-1) was delivered to my door. Here’s a link to the full specs.
A couple of highlights to the Y-1 build, and a few of my own observations while the unboxing and building happened –
- The color is called Wine Red. The frame color is amazing! Most pictures don’t do it justice. More Deep Sparkly Purple than Wine Red.
- Giants ALUXX SL-Grade Aluminum Frame with horizontal Dropouts, and internal cable routing. I like that the Yukon 1 has adjustable dropouts with set screws to adjust each side evenly. The brake caliper and derailleur hanger slides with the axel when moving it. (I haven’t ridden an aluminum frame in a long time, should be interesting.)
- Rigid Composite fork with alloy steerer and low-rider rack mounts, also with internal cable routing. Wait a gosh darn second, this steerer tube is composite NOT alloy!!!! Crap, now I need to worry about torque limits!!! Thanks for the torque wrench loan Joe!
- Thankfully all the cable housing was pre-installed from the factory!
- Touchpoints are all in house Giant components and a DROPPER POST! (This will be my first time using one. Exciting!)
- SRAM NX Eagle drive train
- SRAM Level T brakes
- Giant 27.5x90mm wheels (I measured 92mm external and 87mm internal rim width) and 14g spokes on Giant hubs with Maxxis Colossus 27.5×4.5 120TPI EXO TR tires. The wheels look huge, big tires on wide rims will do that. The width of the rims really squares off the tire tread. The rims are drilled for Presta and Schrader valves. The Y-1 comes with Schrader tubes already installed, it also came with rim tape and Presta valves in the box to go tubeless.
- A $2100 price tag (FYI the Yukon 2 comes in @ $1630 with a lower spec BUT the same frame, fork, wheels, and tires)
Built-up, with tubes and no pedals the Yukon 1 weighed in at 32lbs 2oz.
Looking at the numbers, my ICT and the Yukon 1 is not too far off from each other. The biggest difference being the wheelbase and wheel size. I ride a tall, backswept bar on my ICT, so the stack felt ok on the Yukon 1, but boy could I use some sweep on them Giant bars. Am I gonna notice that 5/16” difference in Q-Factor between the 2 bikes?
While getting ready to hit my local trails, I was mounting my water bottle cage to the fork and noticed that the bolt hole spacing looks odd. The top 2 holes on each side work for a water bottle cage, no problem, but the 3rd hole is too far down for my anything cage. So how am I gonna carry my full growler home from the Taproom? The lower spacing is for a low-rider rack to carry panniers, which to me seems odd for a fat bike, but I can understand it for those who do a lot of bike packing, fits more stuff and keeps the weight lower. There is a 3-bolt mount within the front triangle, and thankfully my anything cage can fit both my glass and stainless-steel growlers.
The first few times out I left the rear axle all the way back in the dropouts. With the long wheelbase, the Yukon felt a bit sluggish on my home trails. They are quite tight and twisty but going over exposed roots and log jams was a breeze. On my way home I usually hit up the local sled hill for some climbing. WOW, that was easier than normal! Between the bike being a few pounds lighter than mine and the SRAM Eagle gearing, climbing was a piece of cake. One thing I did notice on my first few rides, I wasn’t hitting my feet on front-wheel like I used to do on my 29er, but I did keep catching my pant leg and heal on either the seat stay or chainstay. It took a bit before I realized my pant leg was rubbing on the rear tire and the heal of my shoe would hit the seat stay. This was a random occurrence throughout my testing, could be a bigger issue with winter boots on. I think it’s because of the narrower Q-Factor.
The seat didn’t feel too bad, not as comfortable as my Ergon but not bad at all. The dropper post is a game-changer for me! Being able to keep the seat up a bit higher on my way to the trails and then drop it once there is awesome! Also, being able to lower the seat when getting on and off the bike helps those of us with short legs. The OE grips were ok at first and felt better as time went on.
Once the wheels got rolling it was very easy to keep my momentum, and it really didn’t take much to get them up to speed. For everything I rode, which was quite a mixed bag of conditions, the Maxxis tires did a fine job of keeping me upright and rolling.
The NX Eagle is the first Eagle drivetrain I’ve had the opportunity to try, and I had no idea what to expect. I am impressed. I always felt like I was in just the right gear with shifting being pretty smooth and responsive. I ride 11sp XT and I always seem to be a gear too high or too low, maybe the momentum from big wheels helped with that feeling of being in the right gear. If NX is this good, XX1 must be like budda!
Since the Y-1 came with rim tape and valves, I decided to try to set the wheels up tubeless. Long story short, the provided rim tape was difficult to work with and the tires are a bear to seat on these rims. I added ¼” backer rod to the inside of the rim and was able to get the tires to seat and then seal, but my tape job was bad, so it didn’t last. Backer rod and the split tube method or maybe fatty stripper would be the easiest way to go tubeless with these rims.
The next time out I shortened up the wheelbase all the way. This doesn’t leave a lot of space between the wheel and the seat stay. That quickened the Y-1 up and made it more responsive on the tight and twisty single track of my home trail. I did notice my pant leg rubbing on the tire a bit more than normal, but I can deal with that.
There were more than a few times when I was asked “what kind of bike is that?” “where are the logos?”. I like how Giant is subtle with their graphics on the Y-1.
A few weeks into my time with the Yukon 1 my real job was getting to me, so I decided to take a personal day. After an early morning meeting, I told the boss that I had an experiential therapy session that afternoon, and my therapist insisted I meet him at CamRock. After a bit of location confusion, I met up with Dr. Gomez for our afternoon session. The trails were a blast and really let me push the Yukon 1. I would just point the bike and it would follow my eyes, carrying speed through turns, stable when things got a bit lumpy. As the ride went on, I felt my confidence with the bike growing. The Y-1 felt very stable at speed. There was a gyroscopic effect with the big wheels and wide tires, I could carry momentum and easily hold a line through the twists and turns. The climbing was also fun with the bike easily popping up, over and around roots and rocks. It was a cathartic day. Chatting with my mom a couple of days later, I told her that I haven’t felt that good and confident riding in over 10 years.
The following week I had to go out of town for work, so I took the Y-1 on a road trip. As a result, I had the pleasure to sample the trails at Sugar Bottom Recreational Area just outside of Iowa City, IA and Landahl Mountain Bike Park just outside Kansas City, MO. Both were amazing, well-maintained trail systems. I normally don’t like going out of town for work, but it worked out for the best this time.
I’ve been riding steel-framed bikes for a while now, my last couple aluminum bikes were starting to beat me up, but the Y-1 was very comfortable and seemed to dampen some of the trail chatter that I would normally expect from an aluminum frame. I was also afraid the carbon fork would rattle my teeth, but it wasn’t a harsh ride at all. If it had been, my neck would have been screaming at me to stop. I’ve been wanting a set of 27.5 wheels for my ICT, but I’ve been holding off wondering if I would just go 40-50mm wide rims for 3” tires, but now I’m sold on 27.5 fat for a 3-season wheel. Still not sure about it for a short guy like me for the winter but for spring/summer/fall I’m in. Add to that my new-found love of the dropper and how much I enjoyed NX Eagle, my ICT may be seeing A LOT of love this holiday season.
At the end of it all I could nitpick a few little things about the Yukon 1, the fork mounts bug me a bit and going tubeless was a pain and the bars could use more sweep, but IMHO it comes down to the ride. I rode this bike bone stock for 2 months, in 4 states, and it put a smile on my face every time. The 27.5 wheels made for such a stable ride, that me…..an overfed (once) long-haired leaping gnome, felt confident to push myself harder on a bike than I have in a long time. I think Giant did a great job with this bike. I didn’t think it was possible for an aluminum frame to have a soul, but this one does and for that….I have to give the Giant Yukon 1 Five out of Five Grape Apes with a Beegle Beegle kicker! Cheers!