PITLOCHRY, Scotland (VN) — Giant Bicycles can seem conservative at times. Quiet, cool-blue graphics and subdued marketing combine with an unmistakable omnipresence — it’s the largest bike company in the world by a fair margin — to produce an air of traditionalism.
But a closer look reveals something far more dynamic. Giant rarely moves first, but its heft can, and has, swung the pendulum forward for technologies on the brink of widespread adoption. Its wholesale swap to 27.5-inch wheels on its mountain bikes is just one example.
This week, Giant launched the latest version of its Defy endurance road bike. While many manufacturers, from Trek to Specialized to Bianchi and beyond, offer disc brake versions of their endurance road frames, Giant is removing the option. Its carbon-framed Defy models will only come with disc brakes.
The biggest bike brand in the world is putting its foot down. Disc brakes are the future, at least for this type of bike, it says.
Of the 13 models in the Defy line, eight use carbon frames and disc brakes; the other five are aluminum frames with rim brake calipers. Every model has been redesigned from scratch. Read on for the details.
The new Defy
The Defy hasn’t seen much change in some time. Until now, it shared the same seat mast design as the TCR, which is more of a foiled shape, and didn’t offer much in the name of compliance. But Giant’s on-road category manager, John Swanson, didn’t want to just swap out the seat mast. Instead, he asked the Giant engineers to start from scratch, building a disc brake road bike using nothing from the previous Defy, aside from its geometry.
With that, Giant engineers — who happen to work above the production floor that produces carbon frames for Giant and many other brands — sought to design a disc brake Defy frame that weighed the same as the 2014 model.
They succeeded. The new Defy disc frames are 40-50 grams lighter than the current rim brake model, according to Swanson. The new Defy Advanced SL frame will weigh under 900 grams, making it the lightest disc brake endurance road bike on the market.
“Some of our competitors simply take an existing frame and add disc tabs to them,” he added.
Not Giant. Every tube of the Defy has been completely redesigned. The seat tube, which Giant refers to as a “D-Fuse” post, was first used on Giant’s cyclocross frame, the TCX.
“We first stole the D-Fuse post from our cross-country-bike range, trimmed it down, and used it on the TCX. We wanted to prove its effectiveness in ’cross, and now we’re launching it on the Defy,” said Swanson.
Like its Propel, TCR, and TCX frames, Giant’s top-end Defy Advanced SL models use a seat mast rather than a traditional seatpost. Seat masts are a nuisance for shop mechanics, test rides, travel, and eventually resale value. However, Giant stands behind seat masts, claiming they allow engineers to fine tune ride quality and of course, save weight.
One thing that some may think is missing from the Defy is any sort of thru-axle system, which Swanson says is still a “wait and see” move.
“I think the thru-axle systems that are currently available are overbuilt for road riding, and there’s still no true quick-release option,” he said. “There still aren’t many options from aftermarket wheel companies in the way of thru-axle road wheels. There’s still nothing out there from brands like Mavic, Zipp, and Shimano, and I don’t want someone buying this bike to feel like they’re stuck with the wheels, that they’re committed to these wheels and this thru-axle design.
“When we put thru-axles on the TCX, I didn’t worry about it as much, because ’cross bikes are basically hardtails with drop bars. People can just run 29er wheels. There are even tubular options out there, like the carbon XTR wheels.”
While we would prefer to see some sort of thru-axle on all bikes that sport discs, we understand Giant’s hesitation, especially on the road side, where the UCI and the industry are still trying to figure out what the standard will be. Swanson said he expects an official announcement at Eurobike, but was not sure about when standards would be decided.
Giant’s sister company, Liv, is a separate brand, but reaps the benefits of Giant’s carbon frame technologies. Giant and Liv have made a habit of launching bikes together. When the Propel launched, so did its sister frame, the Envie. Now, alongside the Defy comes the Liv Avail, using the same technologies.
There are 23 models in the new range — 13 belong to the Giant Defy, and 10 to the Liv Avail. None uses a SRAM drivetrain — Giant has a cozy original-equipment relationship with Shimano. In the full range, drivetrain components come from Shimano exclusively while braking power is provided by Shimano and TRP. Across the line, Giant uses TRP disc rotors with both Shimano and TRP brakes.
New Giant disc road wheels
Along with the new bikes, Giant is bringing to market a new line of road disc wheels. The three wheelsets all have six-bolt hubs and tubeless-compatible rims.
The SLR 0 is the flagship, with carbon rims, Swiss-made ratchet-star hub internals, and Sapim CX-Ray hubs. The SLR 0 wheels are spec’d on the Defy Advanced SL 1 and the Liv Avail Advanced SL 0.
The Giant SL 0 wheels sport the same hubs and spokes, but use an aluminum rim. The third wheelset, the Giant SL 1, uses a lower end aluminum rim and does away with the star-ratchet hub.
The SLR 0, SL 0, and SL 1 will retail for $2,100, $900, and $300, respectively.
I got out for two rides and more than 100 miles of winding and rough roads near Pitlochry, Scotland. Journalists attending the launch event rode the Defy Advanced SL 0 with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, R785 hydraulic brakes, Zipp 202 Firecrest carbon clinchers, and a carbon Giant cockpit. This model retails for a blinding $10,300, though we’ve come to expect that sort of price tag for top-of-the-line road bikes.
Dialing in seat height was easy, despite the use of a seat mast, as Giant supplies shims for fine-tuning ride height. Using these shims, riders can adjust a saddle several millimeters upward after cutting the seat mast. Once installed, there are no worries of a slipping seat post. I did struggle getting my position low enough on the front end, a frustration I often have with endurance road frames. Professionals blatantly break UCI rules by riding non-stock geometry bikes in the cobbled classics to remedy this very problem — they run sponsor frames with special, lower head tubes.
The Defy was no slouch out on the road. I was impressed by its efficiency, especially when we pointed it uphill. It even reminded me of Giant’s TCR, one of the better bikes I’ve been on in the last year. The redesigned seat mast smooths out the road vibrations quite well.
That same seat mast design was not without its mechanical quirks. The internal Di2 battery, which fits into the mast’s topper, had a knack for shaking itself a little loose and then knocking against the inside of the mast, which became quite annoying. I was able to secure it again, which kept it quiet but only for 10-20 miles. It’s certainly something that could be remedied with a bit of foam pipe insulation.
The handling was predictable, something we’ve come to expect from endurance road bikes with a long wheelbase. It didn’t carve the descents like some other race bikes with more aggressive geometry, but the front end was still amply stiff and the bike tracked well.
The Defy Advanced SL is stiff, there’s no denying that. We wish there were a geometry option for those who prefer a more aggressive position, but still want a compliant ride. But in reality, most riders interested in this frame will be perfectly happy with the slightly higher position.
Editor’s note: Giant Bicycles paid travel expenses for media attending this event in Scotland.