Not everybody can afford or has room for more than one bike. Though not the raciest on test, the Giant Avail 2 is versatile enough that it could also take on the hardships of the daily commute or some light touring duties.
The iconic compact geometry pioneered by Giant in the late '90s is still clearly visible in the design of the Avail 2. The understated pearlescent paint job doesn’t scream fast but neither is there anything offensive about it. The AluxX SL (6000 series) aluminium frame is cleanly welded and comes in at a similar weight compared to the other aluminium frames on test.
The straight bladed carbon forks with aluminium steerer, at 525g, are on the heavy side but do add to the stability of the ride. There are eyelets for mudguards and rack, good for winter training, commuting or touring – which is useful if you are looking for more than just a race bike. However, the brakes supplied are short drop and there is not a huge amount of clearance, so skinnier tyres would need to be used before mudguards would ﬁt.
The frame takes an oversize seatpost, which will stiffen the already-hard ride but won’t help soften the harshness of the road that is transmitted through the frame.
The Giant is the cheapest bike on test and this is reﬂected in the ﬁnishing kit. We had some initial reservations over the stopping power of the Shimano Sora brakeset (there appears to be some ﬂex in the calipers), but out on the road our concerns proved unfounded.
The remainder of the groupset comes courtesy of nine-speed Shimano Tiagra – common for a bike at this price point. Supplied with a 50/39/30 triple chainset and 12-25 cassette, there are plenty of gears to choose from; though this comes at the cost of an increased weight compared with a compact or standard double and the loss of some crispness when shifting.
Also, don’t be fooled into thinking a triple set-up automatically means signiﬁcantly lower gearing – with a ratio of 30:25, the lowest gear is very similar to the 34:28 gear ratio available with many compact set-ups.
Shims in the top of the short-reach STI levers bring them close to the handlebars to reduce the reach for small hands. The sturdy Mavic CXP 22 rims and Giant forged alloy cartridge hubs proved to be a solid wheelset, showing no signs of ﬂex, but again this is at the cost of weight.
The combination of a particularly long head tube (15cm on the size small tested) and a short stem leads to the Avail 2 having a very upright riding position – so if you are used to getting low on the bike when racing you might want to think carefully before considering it. When we got down on the drops we found that although we decreased our frontal area, the reasonably slack head tube angle meant that this bike still didn’t feel super racey.
On the ﬂipside, if you are planning to spend long days in the saddle, this position should relieve pressure on your back and neck and if you are commuting in an urban environment the added height will help increase visibility in heavy trafﬁc.
This set-up makes for a stable ride. It’s not as sharp or responsive as some of the other bikes on test, but point it in a direction and that’s the direction it will go. If it’s your ﬁrst road bike you may ﬁnd this helps you adjust to the handling of drop-barred bikes. The narrow width of the handlebars kept our arms parallel when on the hoods or the drops, adding to our sense of control when steering and helping us pull on the bars if sprinting or climbing.
With the heaviest wheels and the highest overall weight of the bikes here, the Giant struggles a little ascending the hills and when trying to accelerate out of corners. The gears were there to get us up the hills, but as with the upright position, the weight just took the edge off our speed.
On rolling terrain we found we were shifting the front more than we would normally with a compact or standard double chainset to ﬁnd the right gear – but on the ﬂat it was simple to ﬁnd the right gear and just sit there.
The Kenda Kriterium tyres are nominally 25mm wide, but in reality they actually measure a little wider than this; this means they are a bit heavier, but on the other hand they do help smooth out the bumps in the road. The solid-feeling frame is pretty stiff – stiffer than most women would need; but when it came down to it, it rarely inspired us to stamp on the pedals and push up the tempo.