Ah yes, Taiwan’s Giant, the world’s largest purveyor of high-end bicycles. Giant may have started out making bikes for other companies such as Schwinn back in the 1970s, but the tables have long since turned and Giant now makes bikes under its own name as well as other major bicycle brands.
And representing one of the major road bike trends of the last few years, the 2018 Contend SL1 is also a two-wheeled billboard for the company, with the Giant name etched and emblazoned on everything from the handlebar, stem, seatpost and saddle, to the Giant-badged wheels and tyres, both of which it now sells separately, too.
- The Giant Contend SL1 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. 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.
The Contend SL1 really is another impressive all-rounder that hits the heights. It weighs in at under 9kg and its compact frame allows a good deal of the carbon composite D-Fuse seatpost to be exposed for extra rear-end plushness.
It doesn’t have quite the cushioning effect of the IsoSpeed decoupler in Trek’s Domane ALR3, but it’s always good to get a carbon post on a bike at this price and it certainly takes the harshest edges off of the worst ruts, bumps and cobbles.
The Contend SL1 is available in five sizes, designed for riders from 5ft 3in to 6ft 5in / 160–195.5cm, making it easier to get the correct size without component compromises. Weight limit for bike and rider is a reassuringly hefty 129kg.
The frame has all the features we’ve come to expect on a modern road bike: internal cable routing, an oversized down tube and bottom bracket shell — and a love of technobabble names to describe them all. So, this Contend’s rectangular down tube is ‘Megadrive’, linking the ‘Overdrive’ front end and ‘Powercore’ bottom bracket.
You’re getting a lightweight ALUXX 6011 aluminium frame, albeit with very visible welds, with the stiffness where you want it — in the head tube and steerer for accurate handling and in the oversized bottom bracket area with its 86mm press-fit bottom bracket for maximum power transfer.
Giant Contend SL1 ride impressions
While the geometry sits at the endurance end of things, it is a little more aggressive and slightly lower than some sportive bikes, and with a longer stem you could make it a little racier still.
The wheelbase of my M/L model is a tad shy of a metre, and with frame angles is very close to 73 degrees and a sub-9kg weight, the acceleration is decent if not astonishing.
It climbs steadily and descends pretty decently too, and I appreciated the slick Giant P-SL1 tyres, with the softer, grippier front and harder-wearing rear. They’re nominally 25mm but measure closer to 27mm on the widish Giant PR2 rims.
The wheels themselves aren’t especially light or aerodynamic, but their extra width does let you make the most of the very good tyres.
The Contend also comes with very neat front and rear mudguard fittings and clearance to run full fenders with the 25mm tyres, though given the width of the rims I’d also be pretty keen to experiment with 28mm rubber without mudguards for slightly more adventurous riding.
The facility to fit mudguards also contributes to the Contend’s commuting credentials, and if you’re looking for a composed commuter for high-speed work runs this would do the job nicely.
Cost-cutting is evident in a couple of areas: it has a Shimano R510 chainset rather than 105, though at least it matches Shimano 105’s smooth aesthetics, all-black colour and five-arm design, unlike the more basic-looking R500 on last year’s Contend SL1; and it has Giant-specific Tektro R540 brakes.
Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference between the 510 and 105 chainsets, though I’d have preferred Shimano 105 brakes and would consider upgrading to Shimano brake pads.
The Contend’s gearing covers all the bases, from the thigh-bursting 50x11 top gear to the knee-friendly 34x32 bottom, which should let you stay in the saddle on all but the very steepest climbs.
Handling from the Contend’s OverDrive steerer is perfectly controlled, and the bike is pretty much ideal if you’re looking for a single machine to cover virtually every base when it comes to road riding.
This will comfortably encompass fast, long-distance commuting over all sorts of surfaces, speedy sportives, general fitness and leisure riding, winter training with full-length mudguards and perhaps even more adventurous days out with wider tyres. This is one super-serious contender (obvious pun intended) to take for a test-ride.