As their name suggests, Giant are one of the world’s largest bike manufacturers, producing bikes for many other ﬁrms as well as their own. They’ve certainly kept the best of their carbon expertise for themselves to create the outstanding ride quality of the Defy Advanced, though.
Super-stiff, it has an appetite for altitude gain that gives you the legs of a pro on every climb. The fact it'll cruise comfortably with luxurious poise all day is recommendation enough, but when the hammer goes down, it's simply in a different class to other bikes at this price.
Ride & handling: Superb smooth yet speedy ride from the state-of-the-art frame
We got a shock when we pulled out the Defy Advanced 1's fork to weigh it. Instead of a tapered steerer, Giant have used a slim centre tube, with a separate sleeve bonded in place over it to take the lower race. The crown is also alloy rather than carbon which makes it disappointingly heavy for the money. Combined with the skinny tips, we thought we'd unearthed a real Achilles heel.
Given how boringly competent most modern bikes are, we never miss a chance to put the knife in to an exposed wound. As a result, we threw the Defy straight into the most evil, rippled, switchbacked, tightening turn descents we know to try and unsettle it. The result was an occasional wide line and a slightly less accurate, more approximate feel than the fatter-bladed race forks used on Giant's TCR bikes, but certainly nothing nasty.
Our disappointment was doubled by the fact there was no trace of the extra fork weight in the Defy’s appetite for altitude gain. On the contrary, this bike climbs with a muscular authority that none of the price rivals we rode it alongside could match. Its stiffness seems to always keep you over the front of the gear and accelerating rather than struggling to get over the top. The result is a sense of real depth to its speed and potential, which everyone who rode it tapped into straight away.
On bad days it was enough to keep us from being dropped out of the back of the test pack, on good days it was like someone had lent us a set of pro legs to play with on every climb. Given that the weights of the wheels and frame are at best on par with other bikes at this price, we can only presume that this undeniable and quite clear performance advantage comes from the construction of the frame and the top-quality wheel build.
As well as propulsion, the Defy frame also demonstrates its class in sheer ride quality. It’s hard to characterise, and unless you ride the Advanced 1 back to back with the competition, you might think we’re being really 'princess and pea' about this. But there’s a properly luxurious feel about the Giant. It’s no spongy limo ride and rough sections and holes can still be felt clearly, but the way it interacts with you and the road just feels fantastic.
Frame & equipment: High price for a Shimano 105 bike, and not particularly light
While the tall head tube and fairly long wheelbase mark this bike out as a comfort-oriented cruiser, the Defy uses exactly the same ‘Advanced’ carbon ﬁbre blend and construction techniques as Giant's TCR race bikes. This includes the ‘OverDrive’ tapered 1.125-1.25in head tube and fork construction, and the press-ﬁt ‘Powercore’ oversized bottom bracket. The triangulated down tube and seat tube also swell at the bottom bracket for maximum stiffness. The seat tube rapidly slims to a teardrop section with a wheel-hugging cutout at the rear.
A matching aero seat tube slots into the red anodised twin bolt collar on top. The broad, ﬂat top tube curves subtly towards the seat cluster with a stout-looking wishbone box section leading into subtly curved triangular seatstays. Tapered rectangular chainstays complete the buff-looking frame circuit. Detailing is good too, with lightweight red anodised bottle bolts and top cap matching the seat collar and slotted cable adjusters on the head tube, stopping cable rub.
On paper the Defy Advanced 1 is relatively expensive for a Shimano 105-equipped bike and heavy too, although we’ve no complaints about the performance. DT Swiss R1800 wheels and big volume Michelin tyres underline the impressively tight and responsive, but not overly rigid, ride quality. Fi'zi:k’s Aliante saddle is super-comfortable, however far you ride, and Giant’s bar and stem are good quality gear too.