Arriving at the 2013 Cycling Plus Bike of the Year really has been a tough job. There’s not a single bad bike among the 40 we’ve ridden, but for us five really stood out – the Trek Domane 4.3, Storck Scenero G2, Boardman Elite SLR/9.0, Focus Cayo Evo 4.0 and Giant Defy Advanced 2.
Video: Giant Defy Advanced 2 - Cycling Plus' Bike of the Year 2013
But they can’t all win, and thanks to a pitch-perfect and intoxicating combination of smoothness, comfort, speed and handling, Giant have become the first brand to regain the title after the TCR Advanced’s win in 2009.
Ride & handling: Sportive oriented but still exciting
To look at, the Defy isn’t exactly supermodel sexy – of all the bikes in the quality quintet it’s the one that looks the most, well, sportivey. That means a more upright position and slightly longer wheelbase. Convention suggests that will result in a bike that’s sedate and relaxed with a comfortable riding position. Sensible, yes, but saucy? Book, cover, judging…
You might be thinking that – like a Volkswagen Golf or Bosch dishwasher – the Defy Advanced is a logical choice rather than a purchase you’d make with your heart. However, the Defy is the bike that got our pulse racing more than almost every other.
Taiwanese firm Giant’s designers have pulled off a unique trick with the Defy Advanced 2 – it’s one of those very rare bikes that just feels right from the moment you swing a leg over it. Hop on and you’ll feel at home – whatever type of rider you are – as soon as you start pedalling.
While it might be billed as an endurance (read 'sportive') machine, it never feels sedate or, worse, boring. Its designers have pulled off some sort of alchemy, as the Defy perfectly balances comfort with excitement. It’s like one of those Q-cars that looks like an ordinary kids-and-labrador carrier but can leave a Bugatti at the lights.
Billed as an endurance machine but still boasting an aero carbon seatpost
The all-carbon OverDrive 2 front end is superbly stiff and overall not too tall, and we like that Giant have fitted a flat headset topper below the spacers on the steerer so you can adopt a lower position if you want to. When you’re pushing hard on descents and into corners you can go as hard as your box of skills will let you.
In fact, its handling is one of its biggest pluses. While its top five rivals are all superb, they all have a bias towards either race or recreation and the Defy is the truest all-rounder in the mix.
None of this comes at the expense of comfort. The Defy smooths surfaces like a steamroller, with no road buzz transmitted to you. It’s wonderfully plush, only matched by the Avanti Quantum 2.0 and only bettered by the Trek Domane 4.3.
The Giant also scores when it soars. Because the frame on our large only just topped a kilo, climbing was (and this is relative, of course) a pleasure. This is helped in no small part by Giant’s own smooth-rolling wheelset, designed in collaboration with DT Swiss. They’re budget in Giant’s hoop range but nowhere near budget in performance.
Frame & equipment: Top carbon tech with complete 105
The Defy Advanced has a lot to live up to – especially as, for 100 quid less, you can get the Defy Composite with a better spec. But the Advanced bests that bike by rote of using lighter, higher grade Toray T700 carbon fibre.
Even though the Defy was never destined for Grand Tours, Giant have invested a serious amount of development time and cash into it. Their own carbon technology labs took that raw Toray T700 carbon filament and created bespoke weave specifications into the custom layup of this classy chassis. We’d go as far as to say that the Defy Advanced is the finest sportive/endurance frameset ever created.
Of course, you can make a good frame feel underwhelming by dressing it with componentry that doesn’t do it justice. Giant score here too – complete Shimano 105 with no omissions ensures super shifting and confident braking.
Simple things such as the 50/34, 12-28T gearing have been thought through and chosen with the end user in mind. All too often these things can be missed, giving you the feeling that a box was ticked on an order form rather than a considered choice made.
Shimano’s 105 compact matched to a 12-28T cassette is ideal all-rounder gearing
The same goes for the wheels. Giant’s collaboration with DT Swiss on their own-brand wheels means the hoops are on a par with those from Mavic and Fulcrum. We feel that the Giant’s wheels give it the edge over both the Trek and Storck. That Giant’s designers chose comfort-providing 25mm tyres reinforces the consideration that’s gone into the bike.
A number of other details sweeten the deal, such as internal routing that’s electronic drivetrain ready, including a Di2 battery mount integrated into the left chainstay. The chainstay also features Giant’s RideSense ANT+ sensor, which measures speed and cadence and will transmit to compatible ANT+ devices.
Attention to detail is also evident in the finishing kit – Giant’s own Connect SL aluminium bar is held in place with a matching stem that uses rustproof titanium bolts. It’s things like this that elevate the Defy above the competition. Add quality goods such as Fizik’s brilliant Aliante saddle on top of an aero carbon seatpost and you’ve got a bike that just keeps on giving.
The Defy Advanced 2 is the bike our testers kept coming back to, and it’s become the reference point for a £2,000 bike. A classy, light frameset that’s futureproof and superbly finished, with great kit and a ride that truly offers the best of both worlds – we’re sure it will impress you as much as it has us.