The world’s biggest bike maker has always served the entry level well and the new Contend range offers bikes for a wide range of budgets, taking the place of the old aluminium Defy. The Contend SL is one up from the base model and the SL 2 offers hydraulic braking and Shimano Tiagra shifting for a penny under a grand.
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Giant doesn’t need to prove it can make top-notch aluminium. The brand’s metal frames are up there with the best and it’s worth remembering that the company actually manufactures for numerous other brands. The Contend’s glossy paint job isn’t the most luxurious looking but the finish is decent. The Aluxx-SL frame bears obvious similarities to its predecessor, but with some subtle refinements.
The gear cables and the rear brake hose now run inside the downtube for a cleaner look and the seat clamp has been replaced with a wedge, the bolt for which nestles under a rubber cover. Other features have carried over, such as the seatstays that are dropped down and the seatpost itself, which is squared at the back for maximum rear-end compliance.
Hang on, what’s the big lumpy thing in front of the stem? You’ll note that the Contend has both standard Shimano Tiagra levers and hydraulic disc brake calipers. That growth on the handlebar is the Giant Conduct mechanical to hydraulic converter that lets them work together.
The brake cables enter either side of the converter to operate the master cylinder, and hydraulic hoses emerge from the bottom. As a bonus, a range of accessory mounts for Garmins and suchlike can be attached to the front of the unit.
Giant is quite upfront about the fact that this system was chosen for reasons of budget, as full hydraulics would make the bike a good bit more expensive. The idea is to provide the main benefits of hydraulics (power, feel, self-adjustment) with a price tag more like that of cable discs.
The downside is that this does make for a more complex system and it’s one that feels like a bit of a stop-gap measure while we wait for hydraulics to get cheaper.
It’s not the easiest thing for home mechanics to fettle either — if you do have to fiddle with the cable end of things, you’ll need a relatively unusual T15 Torx key to undo the awkwardly-accessed clamp, and the scope for adjustment is limited. The system works well on the road and lever feel is pretty close to that of pure hydraulics.
The Contend is no racer thanks to moderately upright geometry, but it’s extremely well balanced. The efforts that have gone into rear end compliance have been very successful, and there’s enough stiffness to keep things fun when you put in a dig or tackle a tough ascent out of the saddle.
It’s a likeable, neutral bike that’s well suited to putting in big miles, but the middling spec means it’s not light enough to be a real live wire. The finishing kit and wheels are fine if not very noteworthy apart from that funky seatpost and a saddle that’s nice and supportive.
I'm still in two minds about the braking system and I’d be tempted to opt for the otherwise better-specced rim brake version, but the new Contend is a solid performer that lives up to the standards set by the old Defy.