Giant’s aero road machine the Propel was launched last year, but the range was was limited and pricey – the Advanced SL 3, for example, was four-and-a-half grand with an Ultegra groupset. We loved the bike, but we weren’t so enamoured of the price.
For 2014 Giant has increased the range and reduced the prices of the Propel bikes and really has hit the sweet spot. In fact, the new Advanced 3 won the 'best aero' accolade in Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year Awards 2014.
Video: Giant Propel Advanced 3
The Propel frame's aero properties didn’t come easily to Giant’s designers. During its development, they went through more than 80 iterations of the design as well as plenty of prototyping, riding and wind tunnel analysis. Were their excessive efforts worth it? The simple answer is yes, but maybe not for the reasons you’d imagine.
We’ve seen the data, visited wind tunnels and ridden plenty of aero road bikes, but what really makes the Propel Advanced 3 stand out for us is its ride quality.
The bike's geometry is based around the race-ready TCR, and its close cousin the Defy. Our large test bike had a 58.5cm long top tube, with a tight 100cm wheelbase, a 73-degree head angle and a seat angle that's half a degree slacker. This results in a fast-handling bike that keeps things exciting without being twitchy or nervous.
The slender aero down tube changes shape midway along the down tube. This isn’t a styling exercise – it’s designed to incorporate a standard bottle cage and round bottle in. The second bottle cage mounts are lower, so they stay in line with the down tube bottle. In hindsight it seems like an obvious design, but that doesn't make Giant any less clever for having done it.
For a model with Shimano 105 and alloy kit, its overall 8.2kg weight is also impressive, and shows just how light the frameset is.
The ride quality is easily as good as the excellent TCR's, the frame and fork soak up enough high frequency vibrations to keep fatigue at bay. It can’t quite match the Defy for absolute comfort but that’s not the Propel's intention. For a full-on race-ready aero machine, its smoothness is pretty much peerless.
The Propel Advanced 3's component package is based around Shimano 105, exactly what we’d expect of a bike at this price. The shifting performance is spot on and the cable routing is all internal, routed through ports behind the head tube, which gives it a very clean look.
The V-brakes are designed by Giant but built by TRP. Both the front and rear are shaped to match the frame; the front fits behind the fork crown and the rear follows the shape of the seatstays. The design is based on a mountain bike style V-brake, with two arms joined by a solid ‘noodle’.
They have shorter travel than a calliper brake, which takes a bit of getting used to, but offers plenty of power. That said, the Propel is not a bike where dragging a brake on descents comes naturally, but it feels stable and stiff, and we were forever trying to descend with minimal braking to fully exploit the rapid nature of the Propel. This bike a fine companion for going downhill fast.
The wheels are new to us, but we’ve been impressed with Giant’s hoop offerings so far. The P-A2 wheel uses a sealed cartridge hubset from Formula with bladed stainless steel spokes. The new rim is 35mm deep and shaped similar to Zipp’s alu 30s, so it’s wider than a standard rim and gives Giant’s impressive PSL-1 23c tyres a rounder, broader profile. The wheels will be at the more budget end of the Giant range, but we are impressed with the modern design and stiff construction, as well as how good they felt on the road.
The cockpit comprises a stem and ovalised bar from Contact, which is good for the money. The Fi'zi:k Arione saddle and bladed carbon seatpost are other highlights.
It has a 53/39 chainset and a wider 12-28 cassette that’ll appeal to strong sportive riders – for whom the Propel is a great choice – but a 52/36 chainset would have been perfect. Ultimately though, Giant has created much more than an aero race machine. It’s a brilliant all-rounder with a boundless enthusiasm for speed.