Giant Contend SL1 review

The same fine frameset as last year with updated components

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5
GBP £999
side view Giant Contend SL on white background

Our review

Wider tyres and lower gearing — but the same great all-round ride
Pros: Lovely smooth, comfortable and versatile all-rounder with a great ride
Cons: A little heavier than some and the looks don’t appeal to all
Giant’s Defy-replacing Contend has been a contender for top bike test honours for the last few years, and the 2019 incarnation looks like following in its predecessors’ tyre tracks.
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The Giant Contend SL1 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2019. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.

On the surface, it appears similar to last year’s model, barring the new colour-scheme Giant calls ‘matte carbon smoke’. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll see Giant has made a few changes that potentially add to its comfort and climbing qualities, plus it has the new R7000 version of 105.

Giant Contend SL1 frame and kit

The heart of the bike remains the same. The compact lightweight frame is neatly made in Taiwan from Giant’s own SL aluminium with full internal cable routing and it comes with Giant’s D-Fuse carbon seatpost, which takes its name from its D-shape profile.

The carbon fork has an aluminium OverDrive steerer, which handles beautifully, but is a little weightier than the full-carbon version. What has changed are the gearing, brakes, wheels and tyres.

There’s little noticeable difference between last year’s brakes and these, Giant having swapped one set of Tektro calipers for another. These are okay but I’d still prefer Shimano’s excellent 105 units and I would upgrade the pads to Shimano R55s or SwissStops.

The cassette has expanded from 11-32 – itself an improvement on 11-25 – to a wider-still 11-34. It’s not a huge change, but every little helps on the hills when you’ve got 55-year-old pins…

The chainset is Shimano’s RS510, which resembles 105 in looks and performance, but is a little heavier.

Another welcome change is the move from 25mm tyres last year to 28mm-wide rubber this year. The difference sounds minimal but actually represents a nearly 20 percent greater volume of air in the tyre – and this is virtually 50 percent greater than the volume of a 23mm tyre that was standard a few years ago.

When I got out the Vernier caliper, I found they were closer to 30mm wide. Ride over rutted roads and pock-marked tarmac and, along with the exposed carbon seatpost, these tyres take a lot of the sting out.

The wheels are the same PR-2s that were on the Giant TCR Advanced 3, our 2018 Bike of the Year. Although their wide-ish rims are strong and comfortable, the whole wheelset package isn’t especially light.

The ride is where the Contend excels
The ride is where the Contend excels, hitting the sweet-spot between performance and endurance
Robert Smith

Giant Contend SL1 ride experience

The ride is where the Contend excels, neatly hitting the sweet-spot between performance bike and endurance machine.

Frame angles are steepish and the wheelbase just under a metre, which is quite racy — get out of the saddle and sprint for your chosen finish line, and there’s a great sense of poise, power and precision.

Helped by the wheel and tyre combo it also smooths out cobbles well and hard-packed grit and gravel. The low bottom gear meant I could stay in the saddle even on the 10 percent-plus climbs that hide in the Mendips.

Giant Contend SL1 verdict

The Contend was never less than assured at all times, uphill and down, over rough roads and smooth. It’s ideal for fun-filled rides over rolling countryside, as you sit in the saddle and spin along at 15-20mph or so.

It would make a nifty commuter bike too, as there are front and rear mudguard fittings — though space is tight with 28mm tyres — and Giant also makes a neat D-Fuse-specific clamp for a rack, upping its all-round credentials even further.

Giant Contend SL1 specifications

  • Sizes (*Tested): S, M, ML*, L, XL
  • Weight: 9.32kg
  • Frame: ALUXX SL-Grade Aluminum
  • Fork: Composite, alloy OverDrive steerer
  • Chainset: Shimano RS510, 50/34
  • Bottom bracket: Shimano press-fit
  • Cassette: Shimano 105 11-34
  • Chain: KMC X11EL-1
  • Mech: Shimano 105
  • Shifters: Shimano 105
  • Wheelset: Giant PR2
  • Tyres: Giant P-R3 front and rear specific, 28mm
  • Wheel weight: 1.38kg (f), 2.07kg (r)
  • Stem: Giant Sport
  • Bar: Giant Connect
  • Headset: FSA/Giant
  • Saddle: Giant Contact Forward
  • Seatpost: Giant D-Fuse carbon composite
  • Brakes: Tektro TK-B178 dual calliper

Giant Contend SL1 geometry

  • Seat angle: 72.5
  • Head angle: 72
  • Chainstay: 41cm
  • Seat tube: 49cm
  • Top tube: 55cm
  • Head tube: 19cm
  • Fork offset: 4.5cm
  • Trail: 6.4cm
  • Bottom bracket drop: 6.5cm
  • Wheelbase: 1,010mm
  • Stack: 58.6cm
  • Reach: 38.1cm
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BikeRadar would like to thank Stolen Goat, Lazer, Northwave and Effetto Mariposa for their help and support during our Bike of the Year test.