The connection between bicycles and motorcycles is intrinsic—a link as secure as bacon and eggs, the pope and robes or cake and icing, in my mind.
For most motorcyclists, our two-wheeled careers began by pedaling around with friends on 20-inch BMX steeds, eventually graduating to mountain bikes, and then, of course, to motorcycles.
For even more of us, riding our off-road or track-designated motos isn’t a daily activity, and we’ll often turn to the ye ol’ pedal bike as a quality source of fun, cleverly disguised as fitness training.
Electric bikes (aka e-bikes or pedal-assist bicycles) have come into their own within the past few years, moving from clunky commuter applications to trail-ready, battle-hardened bikes that match the performance prowess of any analog bicycle in the same class. They do all that while extending your time in the saddle. That’s precisely what the 2020 Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro is designed to do—tackle technical single-track, arduous climbs, and ripping fast downhills with the best of them.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Yes, Ultimate Motorcycling is a motorcycle publication. However, an e-bike is a motorized bicycle, which, in earnest, is what motorcycles started as. So, we have come full circle.
This review is looking at things from the perspective of a motorcyclist. If you want a report from people who spend most of their time on bicycles, there are plenty of reputable sources available—Editor Don Williams recommends his former colleagues at Electric Bike Action Magazine.
The 2020 Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro is the top-tier full-suspension eMTB trail weapon in Giant’s arsenal, equipped with its Class 1 SyncDrive Pro motor, claiming to produce 59 ft-lbs of pedal-assisted torque. Interestingly, Giant’s pedal-assist motor was developed and is manufactured in partnership with Yamaha. In case you didn’t know, Yamaha also offers its own line of e-bikes.
Boasting seriously sophisticated tech, the Giant Trance E+ 1’s Pedal Plus 6 feature essentially acts like an IMU (Inertial Measuring Unit) found most top-shelf superbikes. While you’re schlepping along, the SyncDrive Pro motor collects data from six different sensors. Information from speed, torque, motor rotation, pedaling cadence, slope-detection, and accelerometer sensors, combines to deliver an optimal and consistent amount of assistance.
At the left-hand control sits the Ride Control One module that allows you to cycle through the five available modes, ranging from 50 percent assist in the lowest mode, all the way to 360 percent assist in the highest. Of course, there is also an auto-mode that responds to all the data collected while pedaling to determine the ideal amount of help needed for any given situation.
Also displayed on the left-hand control is the remaining battery life, power, and accessory buttons, as well as the walk-assist mode to help you push the Trance atop anything that you can’t crank your way up.
In 2020, many e-bikes proudly feature stellar full-color TFT displays, not unlike a fair amount of street-faring motorcycles these days. Enduro and dual-sport bikes still opt for basic LCDs mainly because they’re more durable, while inexpensive motorcycles respond to the economical cost of LCDs.
While the Trance E+ and other full-suspension eMTB eschew the fancy TFT display in place of simple button controls, I’d argue it’s a better option for the application. If you send the Trance E+ tumbling during a high-speed get off, that TFT display would be one of the first things to get damaged.
Even in the lowest setting, the pedal assist can be felt, and here is where our story truly begins. I do not ride mountain bikes regularly. I don’t spend my afternoons humping up hills. On an analog bicycle, I’d be good for that one or two go-arounds, be gassed, and unceremoniously return to the couch. The Trance E+ 1 Pro solves that issue.
Riding the Trance E+ 1 Pro is like having the hands of whatever deity you align yourself with gently whisk you up slopes, with a subtle whirring as your background music. It is a strangely encouraging experience as it makes climbs that I would never dream of on an analog bike seem completely attainable, egging me on the whole way.
Beyond that, it undeniably speeds up the ride by making quick work of those climbs. With the five available modes, you can have just a hint amount of assistance or add a comical amount in the maximum mode; it’s up to you.
Our size medium Trance E+ weighs in at roughly 52 pounds, yet the assist function completely masks the weight. Turn it off or drain the battery, and suddenly you will realize that you’re pedaling a 50+ pound bicycle. Now, the weight also has some positive side effects regarding handling that we’ll cover later.
In comparison to a few seasoned analog MTB riders on the trail that I fell in with, it felt like I was tearing up the mountain as if I were Lance Armstrong loaded up to the gills on the finest performance aids money could buy, as I left them in the dust. Alas, I was just some guy with an e-bike. Throw all the shade you want analog bike riders, and you’re still pedaling up hills under your power like a rube. The future is now, old man.
The difference in climbing rates is blatant, but don’t think for a minute you aren’t breaking a sweat. I often opted for the auto-mode, which seems to default at what feels like level 2 when pedaling on flat ground. Generally, I never felt the motor max out during slow, strenuous climbs, where I’d be inch-worming my way over rocky technical sections, either.
The joy of the e-bike platform is that I always managed to keep my muscles at a point one step back from failure—something that an analog bike can’t do. Yes, I could shift into the lowest granny gear on an unassisted bicycle, but on monstrously long ascents, even that isn’t enough for a schlub like me.
Due to that, I was tackling climbs that would have burned me out repeatedly and extending the distance considerably. With an e-bike, I seem to always be in the zone and getting a decent workout, while never overexerting myself.
One observation I did make is that due to the torque produced, you will have to shift your body weight over the front wheel to avoid lofting the front end and losing drive when negotiating certain steep inclines. Off-road motorcycle riders will be no stranger to those techniques. Still, in extremely tight, slow, technical situations, you could crank down and unexpectedly lift the front end, something that rarely happens on an analog bike.
With all-electric powered platforms, battery life is a topic of discussion, and Giant doesn’t claim any distance numbers. There are too many variables to consider when attempting to calculate battery life; it will be utterly dependent on the mode the Trance E+ 1 Pro is in, rider output, and terrain.
The Trance E+ 1 Pro is equipped with the Giant EnergyPak Smart 500, 36-volt, 13.8 Ah integrated lithium-ion battery that’s cleverly integrated into the downtube of the bike. On a two-hour-plus, 18.5-mile ride with 3150 feet of climbing, I drained about 75 percent of the battery. Meanwhile, I felt about 150-percent drained.
On an 11.8-mile ride with 2161 feet of intense climbing, I managed to use about 50 percent of the battery life in a little over an hour. During a longer, faster, more downhill focused ride, I covered 12.5 miles of distance, climbed 1725 feet, and spent 90 minutes in the saddle, using up only 30 percent of the battery. For those rides, I made sure to stick with auto-mode.
The takeaway here is that each situation and each ride yielded many different range results.
With the standard Giant EnergyPak 6A Smart Charger, you’ll be able to recharge the Trance E+ to 80 percent in a little over two hours. Also, the charger features a storage mode that keeps the battery at a 60 percent charge. Unlike lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries do not like being held at a full charge for extended periods. If you’re packing up for the winter, make sure you keep it plugged in with storage mode engaged.
Moving to the chassis, the Trance E+ 1 Pro’s frame is constructed out of 6011 aluminum that relies on Giant’s proprietary Aluxx SL construction methods that involved hydro-forming, press forming, and smooth double-pass welding. The rear suspension has 140mm (5.5 inches) of linkage-assisted travel in the rear, thanks to Giant’s proprietary Maestro suspension system.
The Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro has a fully-adjustable Fox 36 Float Performance fork, optimized for e-bike use with 150mm of travel (5.9 inches), plus a fully adjustable Fox Float DPX2 Performance shock. In either case, you’ll have a good range of compression and rebound damping adjustments to get it right for your needs.
Before setting out, all you must do is set the sag with your handy-dandy air-pump—no springs. Dial-in your desired settings, and hit the trails.
In practice, the 2020 Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro is an extremely balanced, poised, and stable bike in virtually every situation that I could throw it at. The medium frame’s trail-minded geometry—available in S, M, L, and XL—with its 47.6-inch wheelbase, remained steadfast over harsh, rocky terrain. Thanks to the added weight, the whole package feels far more planted than any analog bike I’ve ridden, especially when blasting through downhill single-track. It’s tough to think of a time when the Trance E+ started to swap out or become unruly, even when rolling through loose rocks.
A key aspect of the Maestro suspension system is that it prevents ‘rainbowing out’. A typical swingarm pivots on a fixed axis and, were you to move the swingarm through its entire range, it would do so in an arc. The Maestro suspension design eliminates that arc and helps the swingarm move vertically only.
On a motorcycle, that ‘rainbowing’ effect isn’t a huge issue, as we have propulsion to get us over obstacles. Unless you’re pedaling a bicycle, you don’t have any propulsion. By having the swingarm move vertically, the rear wheel can clear obstacles more efficiently, giving a much more planted feel.
It’s no secret that the Trance E+ is big-boned. Fortunately, its weight is hidden quite well, as Giant engineers have worked hard to keep a low center of gravity, while also distrusting weight as evenly as possible to each wheel. The weight bias seems slightly towards the rear, though once in the saddle, you are hard-pressed to feel it. Analog bicycle riders might lament that slight difference in the effort to whip it around, but as someone who rides motorcycles regularly, it isn’t a concern.
Another keen benefit of the additional weight is how the 27.5-inch wheels have a far easier time digging in. Not only do the 27.5s help roll over obstacles, but the beefy Maxxis Minion DHF 2.6-inch front and Maxxis MaxxTerra 2.6-inch tubeless tires dig in superbly, offering excellent edge grip. They are an impressive combination of rubber.
On an e-bike of this caliber, you’ll struggle to find any flimsy components. The drivetrain is a high-end Shimano Deore XT 12-speed setup with Deore XT shifters. Shifting is excellent, although, because this is an e-bike, you’re limited to shifting through each gear individually. Dumping several gears at once is especially hard on all components with the added power from an electric motor. Additionally, the gearing ratios offer up something for every situation.
The Praxis Wave crankset is more than up to the challenge. The 2020 Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro is a BYOP (Bring Your Own Pedals) eMTB. There are none in the box.
When it comes to braking, once again, Giant hasn’t pinched a single penny. It has ponied up for radial-mounted hydraulic Shimano XT four-piston calipers, clamping down on 203mm rotors. Combined with the adjustable levers, you’ll get the Trance E+ stopped on the proverbial dime, with an aggressive bite to match.
Rounding out the fancy bits is a Giant Contact Switch dropper seat. Now that I’ve used one, there is no going back. Being able to lower the seat post at the touch of a button during descents is nothing short of fantastic. Better yet, popping it back into place when you need to start cranking up a climb is equally impressive. It pairs well with the aggressive riding position, which is perfect attacking anything in sight. A casual commuter bike it is not.
Coming in at $5600, the 2020 Giant Trance E+ 1 Pro is an eMTB that a person of my skill level cannot discern any significant flaws. I would have been disappointed with anything less, as its MSRP can buy a Kawasaki KLX300R trail bike. The suspension, chassis, shifting, and brakes are superb, delivering an experience far beyond my abilities. Sure, if the battery is drained, you’re left lugging a 50+ bicycle around, but running out of fuel out on a trail on a motorcycle is much worse.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Alpinestars Tech Polar
- Jersey: Alpinestars Alps 4.0 SS
- Gloves: Alpinestars Aspen Plus
- Shorts: Alpinestars Rover Pro
- Knee protection: Alpinestars E-Ride
- Socks: Alpinestars Winter
- Shoe: Giant Shuttle Flat