When we get our grubby little mitts on a new bike, the first thing most of us do is lift it up to suss out its weight. The Giant Contend 2 felt light. A typical £500 road bike weighs around 10kg, this Giant nudges 9.5kg, which is roughly five percent lighter than the Mekk Pinerolo SE 0.1 and nearly 10 percent lighter than the Merlin PR7, which is a difference you can really feel.
The Contend also looks much better in the flesh — or the metal — than it tends to in pictures, the colours more vibrant, the overall look neater, swankier and more expensive. Still, when you are the world’s biggest producer of quality bikes, even manufacturing some of your competitors’ bikes for them in your spare time, you should know what you’re doing.
Getting the weight so low is an impressive achievement as it has an aluminium frame, carbon fork with an aluminium steerer and mainly Shimano Claris kit and Tektro brakes — pretty much the same as the other bikes. But Giant has as much experience as anyone when it comes to producing frames, pioneering the compact aluminium TCR frame in the 1990s, and over the last few years it has also started to produce its own wheels and tyres, allowing it to have even more say over the finished bike.
Giant describes the Contend as an ‘all-new’ bike, but it has much in common with the lower-end Defy bikes it has replaced. The geometries of the Defy and Contend are virtually identical, including the frame angles, top-tube length and head-tube length. The only exception is that the Contend’s chainstays are 1cm shorter, with a similarly tightened wheelbase, which should liven up the handling.
The Contend’s geometry is also very similar to Specialized’s Allez, both having the same length top-tubes and similar frame angles, around 73 degrees in most sizes.
One advantage that the Giant has over the Allez is that it has fittings for front and rear mudguards, and mountings for a rear rack too, opening up the Contend more for commuting and day-to-day riding. And there’s really very little this bike can’t do. Over long commutes and day-long rides it proved efficient, comfortable and a joy to ride.
When it came to our local hills, the Giant’s 32-tooth bottom gear, its lack of weight and its lightish wheels meant that it edged most of the opposition on climbs, and though the handling and the tyres coped with the descents we’d still have preferred cartridge brake blocks. Yes, we know we sound like a stuck record, but spend a few quid on upgrading to decent cartridge brake pads and you won’t regret it.
But the braking is pretty much the only area where costs have been trimmed. The own-brand bar, stem, seatpost and saddle are all decent kit, and much as you’d expect at this price, but Giant’s wheelset is the equal lightest here and feels a cut above those on most of the other bikes, with the possible exception of the Specialized, which also has the advantage of its own extensive component range.
The 11-32 cassette gives you the maximum gear range you’ll find without a triple, and if you want to up the speed on a sportive or training, you’re unlikely to spin out on the hefty 50x11 top gear.
The entry-level Defy may be no more, but Giant has created yet another very serious contender for the title of well-priced all-round road bike champion.