The Giant Defy is a bike the BikeRadar team knows well, and for good reason. Given the brand is the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, it’s not surprising to find the 2016 Defy 3 as one of the highest scoring bikes in our best entry-level road bikes grouptest.
The Defy is a bike that makes no claims to being the fastest, lightest or stiffest. Instead, its design focuses on ride comfort, control and being a bike to suit the ‘everyday’ road cyclist.
The 2016 Giant Defy 3
A smooth, confident and controlled experience
Getting set up on the Defy 3 is a straightforward affair. The size range is made simple, and unless you’re extremely tall, you’re likely to find a bike that fits well.
In its stock setup, the handlebar height is reasonably upright and comfortable, without being so high to cause nervous wobbles or loss of pedaling efficiency. This position is something that should make newer riders feel right at home, and in control of the road ahead.
Riding at speed, the Defy hums along with a smooth and stable ride. Even on rougher roads, it rarely feels nervous and its handling is rather neutral – taking you where you desire without undue fuss.
A wide, flat down tube resists flex under power
Hit a rough patch of road and you’ll be reminded that this is no couch, but it’s absolutely one of the smoother riding alloy frames out there. With this, Giant has worked some trickery into creating flat frame shapes that resist twist, but still offer some give on vertical hits.
The Defy does everything it should, camly and competently; but with this, it can also be a little boring to ride. Compared to something like the Cannondale CAAD8 we tested at the same time, the Giant can dull the road a little too much, whereas the Cannondale remains lively and communicative as to what the wheels are doing beneath you.
This dull feeling is perhaps most apparent during sprints: where other comparable bikes would feel lively and spring forward, the Giant takes a pause before relaying your power to the road.
Square tubes laugh in the face of alloy's former limits
Looking over the Defy’s square-profiled frame, Giant has clearly lit the old round-tube rulebook on fire and thrown it out the window. Where past aluminium frames would rely on large diameter round tubes, this Defy uses rectangles for its tube shapes.
A tube shape like this isn't common in an alloy frame. Giant is clearly flexing its manufacturing muscle here
Much of this has come through manufacturing innovation, where metal tube shapes can now be shaped with the aid of high-pressure liquids. Such square shapes were first seen on Giant’s upper end carbon Defys, and have since been reverse-engineered into cheaper metal relatives.
Aesthetically speaking, this modern blocky look divided our test team like no other. Some loved the carbon lookalike edges, while others argued it seemed cheap within its matt paint. Certainly, this is an aspect to make your own judgement on.
One of the few round tubes on the bike is the head tube, which houses a tapered-steerer fork. With an alloy steerer tube adding a little weight, the fork isn’t anything too fancy, but the carbon blades do help to reduce road chatter.
Rack mounts are given on the frame
For those seeking a bike to ride to work during the week, and explore on weekends, the Defy is likely to be up for the challenge. Mounts for fenders (mudguards) and panniers have been purposely added to the rear of the bike, with eyelets for fenders at the front too.
With Giant being the bike-manufacturing powerhouse it is, the components ought to represent great value for money. This holds true for the most part, but there are a couple of areas where improvements can be made.
Shift quality is as Shimano intended
Starting with the parts that do showcase value, the Defy 3 offers a Shimano Sora nine-speed transmission. With this, the Sora 50/34t crank up front offers great shifting performance, while its companion sprockets at the rear are equally trusted.
Giant has done well here and equipped a large 11-32t cassette at the back of the bike. This creates an incredibly low climbing gear for tackling the hardest of road ascents – even if you may not be ready to fit into your ‘goal pants’.
Ok, so it's not all perfect. These brakes are pretty poor
Summit that climb, and you’ll likely come across the first negative – the brakes. These basic Tektro calipers will bring you to a stop, but it won’t happen as quickly as a more expensive caliper from Shimano will. It’s not like you’re out of control with these, but swappng in a harder-biting brake pad will certainly add some riding confidence.
Giant’s own wheels are sure to prove durable under regular use, but a little extra rim width would have seen the Defy top our group test in the comfort stakes. With this in mind, we took the wheels – with their 5mm wider rims – off the winning Specialized Allez E5 Sport and put them onto the Defy. The difference was immediately noticeable, with the ride on rough roads soothed that bit more.
Following the likes of Specialized and Trek, Giant supplies its own tyres. The slick-looking S-R4’s are made of a good rubber compound that has a secure hold to the road. The 25c width measures a true 25mm on Giant’s rims, while the casing is quite supple for the price point.
Now that's a soft saddle
Further aiding in the ride comfort, both the Giant-branded saddle (made by Velo) and bar tape are well padded. The saddle is the softest and most generously padded of those tested, something that should suit newer riders nicely as they come accustomed to longer rides in the saddle. However, more experienced riders will perhaps fit it too soft, and will probably want something that provides greater support.
The rest of Giant’s finishing kit, such as the alloy handlebar, stem and seat post do the job just fine – but they aren’t anything special for the money.
Conclusion: a worthy contender, if you're not after a racer
The Giant Defy 3 made it firmly onto the podium in our budget road bike grouptest. Assuming you’re not seeking a bike to race on, it has plenty to offer with its high comfort and planted road feel. It’s only the slight lag in acceleration and weaker brakes that prevent it from grabbing the gold medal.
Depending on where you are in the world, this bike is either unbeatable or merely very good value for money. For example, in Australia, it’s AU$300 less than the equivalent Specialized Allez (E5 Sport). It’s a similar story for the UK, where you’ll save £100 by picking the Giant. However, in the US, it’s only $50 less than the winning Specialized bike – which makes it less of a score.
Click through the gallery up top for a closer look at this bike. If you haven't already, be sure to read the full 2016 budget road bikes grouptest here.