Like the Canyon, Boardman and others, Giant’s Contend SL 1 is making an appearance in the upper reaches of our Bike of the Year awards for the second year running.
And, as with some other of the bikes on test, the changes between the 2019 and 2020 Contend SL 1 models are pretty minor – though there is a slight air of contradiction about some of the tweaks.
That said, these don’t stop the Giant being one of the best all-round road bikes out there if £1,000 is your maximum spend.
Bike of the Year 2020
The Giant Contend SL 1 is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.
Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.
The 2020 Contend has the familiar-looking compact Giant frame with its small main triangle, dropped seatstays and the long, exposed length of Giant’s own composite D-Fuse seatpost that ensure it’s pretty comfortable.
Giant first developed the D-Fuse design back in 2014 for its professional-level cyclocross bikes, since then it has trickled down to more affordable bikes.
Its rounded front and flattened rear, which resembles a letter ‘D’, is designed to be more compliant than a round post. And it’s always good to see a carbon post on a bike at this price.
But in spite of looking the same, the frame’s geometry has been tweaked slightly, becoming even less aggressive and getting even more of an endurance bias.
The chainstays are 2mm longer and the wheelbase has gained an extra 5mm, which will make the bike more stable and slow down the handling, ideal for day-long non-competitive rides.
However, this is paired with a head tube that, at 178mm, is now 12mm shorter than in 2019 – for a lower, more aggressive riding position; in fact the stack has gone down from 586mm to 577mm. This shorter head tube is backed up by gearing that’s higher than last year’s.
Giant Contend SL 1 kit
The 2019 Contend had a compact 50/34 chainset – pretty much the norm at this price on all but gravel bikes – while this year’s has gone to the pro/compact 52/36 version, more commonly seen in the professional ranks but making a few appearances in 2020.
The result this year is a gear range from 32-126in compared with 27-121in, which will suit the sprinters among us but make climbs that much harder – a 36×30 bailout gear is noticeably harder than 34×11 when you hit an 11 per cent incline.
At a shade over 9kg, it’s slightly heavier than some of its competitors including Specialized’s Allez Elite – and around 700g weightier than the Canyon – but a few hundred grams make no discernible performance difference and the same is true of the Giant’s Shimano’s FC510 chainset rather than 105.
The only other deviations from Shimano 105 are the Tektro brakes, but with their “better finish, cartridge brake shoes” these are effective – if not quite equalling the power of 105.
Giant Contend SL 1 tyres
Giant is continuing with its tubeless-ready wheel and tyre pairing, which is very good to see on a bike at this price, especially because the tyres are 28mm wide.
Finally, road tubeless – after years of promise and hesitation – seems to be gaining some sort of presence.
The Giant’s P-R3s are decent tyres too, better than a lot of rubber found on £1,000 bikes, reasonably supple and grippy and with FlatGuard puncture protection.
These add extra comfort over 25mm rubber and will contribute even more plushness if you make the transition to tubeless.
Giant P-R2 wheels. David Caudery / Immediate Media
What really impresses with the Contend SL 1 (as you’d expect from Giant) is the handling. It’s not ultra racy like Giant’s TCR, but even with its just-over-a-metre wheelbase and 28mm tyres you can throw it into corners with absolute confidence, very much like a race bike.
If you generally ride up to 20mph or so this will get you up to speed smoothly and effortlessly, even with its 9kg weight, which is one of the few downsides to the Giant, and even that’s one that you rarely notice until you hit the climbs.
What you do notice, though, is this Giant offers exceptional comfort as well as excellent control and that’s down to all of the Giant’s components working as one, the frame at the heart of it, with the excellent vibration-damping seatpost soaking up road buzz, those wide tyres and even Giant’s own-brand saddle.
The super-comfortable Contact saddle and D-Fuse seatpost. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Giant Contend SL 1 bottom line
Giant’s Contend SL 1 is still one of the go-to £1,000 road bikes: smooth, compliant and comfortable.
Maybe not as racy as Cannondale’s CAAD Optimo 105 or as light as Canyon’s Endurace, and it’s not the most exciting-looking bike at this price, but the all-round appeal of the Contend is alluring and it’s a superb day-long cycling companion, sharp long-haul commuter, trainer or sportive-type bike.
Its excellent handling, good climbing and controlled descending deliver fantastic all-round fun. If it could just lose a few grams in its next incarnation it could be the winner…
Giant Contend SL 1 geometry
Size (*tested): S, M, ML*, L, XL
Seat angle: 73 degrees
Head angle: 72.5 degrees
Seat tube: 51.5cm
Top tube: 56cm
Head tube: 17.8cm
Fork offset: 5cm
Bottom bracket drop: 7cm
With thanks to…
BikeRadar would like to thank 100%, Q36.5, Lazer, Garmin and Facom for their support during our Bike of the Year test.