Liv/giant – the women's-specific arm of Giant Bicycles – has introduced a new Avail Advanced SL road flagship for 2013. Far from rebadging the Defy Advanced SL with a pretty coat of paint and pastel accents, the targets are performance, comfort, and proper fit for the discerning female customer. It looks as though it's ready to take on the boys.
Lighter weight and revamped geometry
Hold the Liv/giant Avail Advanced SL up to the standard Giant Defy Advanced SL and the geometry is distinctly different. Designed with a sharper slope to the top tube, the Avail uses more compact geometry, to fit all heights, while keeping the four standard women's sizing options of XS, S, M and L (men get six).
To accommodate women's relatively longer legs and shorter torsos, we see shorter, more sharply sloping top tubes, longer head tubes, and slightly slacker head tube angles. Plus increased fork rakes to keep handling feeling similar to the Defy but without toe overlap.
Borrowed from the Defy Advanced SL design is the extra-oversized OverDrive 2 front end. A 1 1/4in to 1 1/2in steerer tube is included to improve handling precision and confidence, especially at higher speeds, while a wider bottom bracket with press-fit bearing cups lends a stiffer and more efficient lower end.
The OverDrive 2 front end should inspire confidence
Fully internal cable routing will work with mechanical or electronic drivetrains, and there's a built-in pocket for Giant's RideSense wireless speed and cadence sensor for use with ANT+ compatible computer heads.
The Avail is also the first women's frame to come out of the Giant corporate umbrella with an integrated seatpost, topped with the same low-profile, cleverly convertible head as on the company's other ISP-equipped road bikes. According to Liv/giant, this not only saves weight but gives a more refined ride relative to a standard telescoping post – stiffer under power but more comfortable on bumps.
Given the ISP's cut-to-fit nature, buyers will obviously want to exercise care that they're purchasing the proper size bike - measure twice (or more), cut once. Nevertheless, even after the seatpost is cut there are still spacer options for height adjustment, and even an extra-tall seatmast head option if you get it wrong.
Built with Giant's highest-grade carbon fiber (which is still fully produced in-house) the Avail equals the lightest frame in the corporate quiver, with a claimed weight of just 799g (1.76lb) in the smallest size.
Liv/giant will offer the Avail Advanced SL in two build kits, both using the same frame. The US$6,900 (£4,999) SL 0 will have Shimano's latest 11-speed Dura-Ace mechanical group and Giant's lightweight, tubeless-compatible P-SL0 wheels. The US$5,350 SL 1 will have a Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic group and Giant P-SLR1 wheels. Both will come with compact 50/34T cranksets and wide-range 11-28T cassettes as standard.
First ride: Smooth and intuitive
We sampled an Avail Advanced SL 1 for two days on familiar terrain surrounding our Colorado office. As is usually the case with 'endurance' bikes, some women might not find the SL 1 to be raw and visceral enough for crit racing, but it's still plenty fast, with confident cornering manners and a comfortable, surefooted feel.
Handling strikes a good compromise between twitchy and lazy – it's not so fast that the bike overreacts but is quick and responsive, going exactly where you want and not beyond. Overall, we found that the Avail felt natural and intuitive straight out of the box. In other words, there was no question that we were taking it out for a ride and not the other way around.
The relaxed position eases you into a mellow ride, and the bike doesn’t respond to accelerations the way a model with more aggressive geometry does. If the gap between you and your riding partners opens up you might not jump up to speed immediately, as you would on a more unforgivingly stiff bike.
However, the Avail Advanced SL isfast – it's just that it reacts better to being wound up steadily. Once it gets going the frame feels pleasantly efficient, and we even accidentally rolled past our riding partners occasionally, instead of just gently easing up to the rear of the group.
The stiffness of the frame does create micro-vibrations in the handlebar, though, so while the steering is solid you might feel irritated after a couple of hours. However, we never felt any numbness in our hands, even after several hours on the road.
The Ultegra Di2 shifting has a lovely, futuristic feel and is ideal for smaller hands, with the ultra-short button throws and adjustable brake lever reach. Added bonuses are the automatic front derailleur trim, which lets you focus more on pedaling instead of adjusting for cage rub, and the fact that you no longer have to worry about cable stretch or housing compression.
Internally routed cables provide a clean look
The downside, however, is the added weight of the bulky motors. Plus, you have to remember to keep the battery charged, although in fairness our testing has shown that most users will only have to plug the battery in a handful of times per season.
Liv/giant has smartly equipped the Avail Advanced SL 1 with compact 50-34T chainrings and a wide-range 11-28T cassette, providing a gear range broad enough for flats, steep climbs, and fast descents without having to resort to a triple. Combined with the 7.4kg (16.3lb) actual weight of our medium-sized loaner (without pedals) we were able to climb a local nine percent hill at conversation pace – quite the treat.
The toned-down handling also helped keep the front wheel straight when things got really steep, instead of us weaving paperboy-style.
That confident handling was especially noticeable once we crested the climb and began rocketing down the other side. We found ourselves easily pushing the limits of our comfort zone at high speed, beautifully carving what are typically white-knuckle corners. In fact, we even hit a personal record on the descent without even trying – not bad for a maiden voyage on an unfamiliar machine.
Finally, we hit the plentiful dirt roads on the surrounding plains to see how the Avail Advanced SL 1's comfort held up on more demanding surfaces. Not only did it not rattle our teeth out on nasty high-speed washboard, we eventually started attacking those sections with glee.
Even cornering on banked washboard, the bike held its ground and complied with where we wanted to go. Thankfully, the handlebar vibrations we noted on the road didn't amplify on the dirt, although we'd still be tempted to switch out the stock tape for something with more cushioning.
Overall, we found the Avail Advanced SL 1 to be a good all-day machine, with solid handling, light weight, and a smooth feel at speed that should make it suitable for Roubaix-style racing.
Assuming the women's-specific design works for you, the more relaxed geometry will help your body hold up under long hours in the saddle, while cushioning the blow of less-than-ideal pavement and allowing you to find that sweet dirt country lane away from traffic.
We'll be looking forward to riding the Avail Advanced SL more, so keep an eye on BikeRadar for a star rating and more details.
For more information, visit the Liv/giant website.