Giant did an amazing job with bringing their expertise in forming aluminum alloy to this $1,000 bike, and they did it in a frame with geometry that will gently coax a new rider onto the road, comfortably.
While the frame and geometry are spot on for the newbie or less flexible rider, this bike isn’t as versatile as some in the category, when it comes to accommodating an aspiring racer. The long head tube is the main issue here, but the bike’s chainstays are also quite long.
What’s amazing, however, is that an aspiring racer can get into a carbon TCR frame with the same geometry as the Rabobank World Tour team uses for just $1,850 — and that fact makes the Defy’s package that much more sensible, it’s simply Giant’s best bike for introducing a new enthusiast to the sport.
Ride and Handling: goes down well, up… not so much
Generally you have to get to the top of a climb to enjoy the descent off of it, and enjoy we did on Giant’s Defy 3, however, getting the thing up the climb may prove down right discouraging to a new rider. So in this case, we’ll start with the bad.
As with all the bikes in our “Best Road Bikes Under $1,000” test, we started on the Giant with a massive climb up Flagstaff Mountain, a climb with 2,500ft elevation gain in 6mi that’s a grunt on any bike, but it seemed extra tough on the Defy 3. We attribute this added suffering to the heavy wheels and not-so-low gearing.
We even had an interaction with a local ‘fast guy’ whom we did not know. In seeing us struggle up the climb he dispensed some advice about looking into a lower gear. When we offered that the bike already had a compact chainset, he explained that a shop could also swap out the cassette — we really must have looked like we were struggling.
Things turned around quickly, and impressively, once we pointed the Defy 3 back down the hill. While the head tube is tall lending to a more comfortable upright position it does take a different riding style, since you have less weight over the front wheel for hard cornering — make no mistake this is no crit bike.
The long chainstays and incredibly well put together frame — in terms of stiffness and ride quality characteristics — make for a very stable ride, even at high speeds. The Defy 3 carried us confidently through the same ‘speed trap’ we use when testing pro-level race bikes, albeit at just a few kph less. In the end we came away from our up down test feeling that Defy 3 offers a confidence inspiring chassis to a new rider.
Frame: impressive aluminum construction
Being the industry’s largest bike manufacturer, Giant has greater capabilities than most when it comes to forming aluminum especially for specific, economical, price points. Long and the short, the technology found in the construction of the Defy 3 is superior to those bikes available during the aluminum boom in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
The Defy frame is made from Giant’s Aluxx SL aluminum alloy, and it offers both a smooth ride and stability as speed. We’d venture to guess the geometry — i.e. long chainstays — play a role in the former attribute, but the latter performance feature can be attributed to the material and its shaping. Much like their Advanced carbon bikes, Giant use radical shapes to eek more performance from the material.
All of these attributes combine into a chassis that’s really top of the game. And this opinion — our opinion — especially holds true when you narrow the category by price and geometry style; and the Defy frame simply rules the relaxed performance category.
Equipment: solid drivetrain, held back by heavy wheels, cockpit, and high gearing
Giant equip their Defy 3 with a nine-speed Shimano Sora drivetrain, including the Sora crank. The Sora shifters are, in our opinion, ergonomically inferior to the alternative (in the category) from MicroShift, are technically superior in feel and operation. Giant have spec’d the best available here.
Along with the Sora drivetrain, the Sora brake levers seem to match up to the Tektro brakes well, offering acceptable performance with both decent power and modulation.
In terms of performance the wheels start to come off, pun intended, with the heavy wheels; high gearing, which led to the friendly advice we received on Flagstaff; and generally heavy and chunkier Contact Sport cockpit components bearing the Giant name.
To be honest, it would have been easier to overlook the wheel and cockpit weight, if Giant had simply given us a lower gear. That idea actually dawned on us on Flagstaff, as part of this thought: the best way to discourage a new rider may be to send them up Flagstaff on a 20-some-pound bike with a gear ration that produces a cadence of 40rpm or less.