Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike – review

Much about the Defy is firmly established in the mainstream… but it still preserves a satisfying streak of nonconformity

The Giant Defy demonstrates just how quickly we adapt. Set aside the high-end nature of the Advanced Pro 0’s build for a second and there’s nothing about this bike that isn’t run of the mill. We take everything about it for granted today, which is astounding because just 20 years ago bikes like this didn’t exist.

First, think about the frame. Compact geometry hadn’t been seen on the road until Giant, with the help of British engineer Mike Burrows, introduced the design in 1997. Nowadays the principles that underpin the compact design, with its distinctive sloping top tube, have essentially become the DNA of the modern road bike.

Next consider the material. Carbon fibre may not have been new in 1997 but it was far from being the ubiquitous frame-manufacturing material it is today. Back then it was exotic enough to elicit gasps of amazement; now it’s pretty much what everyone expects.

The Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike is dripping in top tech bit ultimately is built for sportives
  • Specifications

  • Price: £3,875.00
  • Weight: 7.5kg
  • Size tested: XL (56.5cm seat tube)
  • Website: Giant

But perhaps the most significant aspect of all is the concept behind this bike: it’s a machine made for sportives. Yes, it’s high-end; yes, it’s draped with components that have a leaning towards competition; and yes, it’s a pretty racy steed.

But, thanks to those disc brakes, it can’t actually be ridden in a road race; at least, not one currently sanctioned by British Cycling.

Strictly speaking, therefore, the Defy Advanced Pro 0 is a bike for recreational riding only but one that, to all intents and purposes, looks (and to a large extent rides) likes a race bike.

Bikes like this simply weren’t available in the mid 1990s. You either bought a race bike of some sort – whether it be for a beginner, intermediate or more-seasoned rider – or, if you wanted something that offered a relaxed ride, you got a hybrid or a tourer.

And yet, here we are, 20 years later, and there’s an entire sector of the market dedicated to sportive bikes.

And it doesn’t end there… The kit hanging off the Defy reinforces the point.

Take for example its gears. Not only are there 22 of them, they’re also electric. Amazing right? Maybe, a few years ago; not so much now.

What about the brakes, which are hydraulic discs? Yeah, they’re nice but a lot of bikes have them these days.

While built for comfort, the racier intent of the Defy Advanced Pro 0 is obvious

OK, the wheels, then: the Defy Advanced Pro 0 comes with full-carbon, semi-aero wheels with tubeless, 25mm tyres. What do you make of that? Well, it’s good that they’re specced as standard but it’s not as if there isn’t a generous handful of aftermarket options to choose from.

It’s almost exasperating to look at this bike. One moment you see all the amazing technology that’s loaded on to it; technology that only found its way on to bikes in the last two decades. Then in the next moment you realise just how commonplace it is.

Perhaps more remarkable is just how much of that now-commonplace technology was greeted with scorn and scepticism when it first appeared.

Nobody’s pretending there aren’t still viable alternatives to compact frames, electric gears, tubeless tyres and hydraulic discs but there’s no denying these technologies have already established themselves in the cycling world.

It just goes to show how quickly things that were once unorthodox – almost defiantly so in some cases – become part of the established order.

Technological advantages

So exactly what technology does the Defy Advanced Pro 0 have and what advantages does it offer?

As far as the frame is concerned being compact has advantages for both the manufacturer and the rider, as is explained on Giant’s website:

“The concept is simple: a top tube that slopes downward from the head tube to the seat tube reduces the size of the front and rear triangles,” they explain. “Smaller triangles create a lighter, stiffer bike.”

Generally speaking, making a bike lighter and stiffer makes it easier to accelerate, which is advantageous to the rider. But those smaller triangles bring another benefit: it creates a frame that can be made to fit a wider range of people.

“Because of the sloping top tube and lower standover height, it’s easier for riders of all sizes to get the perfect fit.”

Which is to say that, with the right seatpost and stem, a given compact frame can be more easily tailored to fit a wider range of people. In other words, Giant can accommodate as many riders as a manufacturer that makes conventional frames but with fewer sizes.

Instead of having, say, nine frame sizes ranging from 44-62cm that increase in 2cm increments, Giant can cover the same range with just six sizes (in the case of the Defy) and so cut down on manufacturing costs.

The use of smaller triangles makes the Giant Defy more accessible to a wider range of riders

In short: frames with compact geometry are cheaper to make, fit more people and are lighter and stiffer, so therefore great for racing. Except, in this case, it’s not a racing bike Giant is making; it’s a sportive bike. So that stiffness needs to be dialled down and the comfort level turned up.

To those ends the frame’s geometry and construction have been tweaked. Compare the XL Defy, reviewed here, to the same size TCR – Giant’s all-round road race bike – and you find a host of subtle adjustments to provide a more relaxed ride.

For example, at 72.5°, the Defy’s seat tube is half a degree closer to the vertical; at 59.5cm, its top tube is 5mm shorter; and its 23cm head tube is almost 3cm taller than the TCR’s and laid back half a degree further.

What those and the rest of the Defy’s dimensions add up to is a frame that puts you in a slightly more upright and less stretched out position.

Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike – review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike – review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 road bike – review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The most obvious changes to the construction come in the shape of the ‘D-Fuse’ seatpost and tube. They both use a D-shaped profile (round at the front, flat at the back) and are said to provide just over a centimetre of compliance to smooth out the bumps.

The seat tube is buttressed by a pair of dropped seatstays, which have been slimmed down dramatically since they no longer have to contend with the forces of a traditional caliper brake.

Counterbalancing these measures is a beefy down tube that forms the bike’s spine by connecting the Defy’s ‘Powercore’ bottom bracket shell to its ‘Overdrive 2’ tapered head tube.

‘Overdrive 2’ is a system that uses a fork with an oversized, tapered steerer tube matched to an equally oversized and tapered head tube for improved front-end stiffness (it also requires a headset with a 1 1/4in top bearing and 1 1/2in bottom bearing as well as a 1 1/4in stem, which can limit your options if you’re looking for particular lengths and angles that Giant don’t provide).

The bars, stem, saddle and seatpost are all provided by Giant, as are the wheels (30mm-deep, carbon-rimmed SLR 1 Discs) and tyres (25mm Gavia SLR Tubeless). A pair of 12mm thru-axles keeps the wheels clamped into the frame and Shimano’s flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes with 140mm rotors stop them spinning. Shifting duties are taken care of through Shimano’s electronic Ultegra Di2 groupset.

Look ridiculous, feel great

There may be many advantages to compact geometry but if you’re an above-average-height person, there’s one startling disadvantage: it’ll make you look as though you’re riding a clown bike.

You’ll be able to fit on it and be comfortable, but you’ll dwarf the frame. And if you’re even slightly over 6ft, you’ll look ridiculous.

But you’ll feel great. Because despite its relaxed position and compliant construction, the Defy retains a racy feel that gives it an edge over most sportive bikes.

There’s easily enough flex to take the sting out of long days on hard roads but whereas a lot of sportive bikes feel whippy at best and downright mushy at worst, the Defy strikes a seemingly perfect balance between being supple and stiff.

The Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 feels, in short, like a race bike but without the harsh ride quality

It’s got the give it needs to keep the bumps at bay while still having enough rigidity to respond crisply.

It doesn’t buckle or sway when you’re climbing or sprinting out of the saddle and it manages to soak up the any uneven surfaces without the slightly disconcerting bobbing you get from more flexible frames.

It feels, in short, like a race bike but without the harsh ride quality. You get a similar spark, you get a similar speed but you don’t get the same sharp jolts to your hands or backside every time you go over a rough patch of road.

It’s difficult to tell exactly how much of that is down to the frame and how much is down to the thick 25mm tubeless tyres but it’s a winning combination all the same.

The saddle, however, is the one fault we would pick out – rock hard and an odd shape

The only tiny fly in an otherwise very effective comfort ointment is the saddle. It’s rock hard and a slightly odd, not-quite-flat shape that makes it tricky to get in an ideal position.

Tilt it so the back feels right and the nose points too far down, but get the nose in the right spot and the back slopes off towards the rear wheel.

Saddles, though, are very much a matter of personal taste and while it’s difficult to overlook it while you’re riding, it’s easily remedied by fitting your preferred perch.

Do that and you have a bike you can spur up climbs or along the flats without constantly having to slide from one spot on the saddle to another.

Shimano’s ubiqiuitous flat-mout disc brakes are used, as are 12mm thru-axles – both now the industry standard

And although the Defy is capable of happily motoring along on the flats, it’s on the climbs that it really shines. That’s partly thanks to its weight (just 7.5kg for the XL model on test) and partly thanks to its gearing: a 50-34 chainset and an 11-32 cassette.

It’s a pairing that acts like a grappling hook, providing you with all the purchase you need to winch yourself up even the steepest slopes. Everything else you can quite comfortably spin over.

There are payoffs to this, however, and the most obvious one is the comparatively big three- and four-teeth jumps between the largest four sprockets. Those sorts of ‘bail-out’ gears are useful to have but changing between them – one way or the other – can come as quite a shock, if you’re not prepared for the cadence adjustment.

The other payoff to the Defy’s hill-friendly gearing is that you can occasionally find yourself a little under geared when the pace really starts to hot up. But then again, it’s not a race bike, so you’re unlikely to find yourself in that position too often. On the whole, the benefits outweigh the costs.

Conclusion

The Defy Advanced Pro 0 is an unorthodox sportive bike in that it doesn’t feel like a typical sportive bike. It has all the hallmarks of one – a relaxed position, the compliance required to remain comfortable during long rides and gearing to make climbing as easy as possible – but it also has something else. Something that sets it apart from other sportive bikes: a stiffness that gives it a slight race-bike edge.

Make no mistake, it’s a supple machine. But it manages to be supple while retaining a crisp responsiveness that leaves other sportive bikes feeling soggy by comparison. If a typical sportive bike is a halfway house between a race bike and a tourer, think of the Defy as a halfway house between a sportive bike and a race bike.

And tipping the scales of a bike built for comfort back towards competition is what makes it so refreshingly out of the ordinary.

While its geometry, construction, components and purpose demonstrate just how quickly the unorthodox becomes mainstream, by being racier than you expect a sportive bike to be, the Defy Advanced Pro 0 manages to preserve an unorthodox streak. And the very thing that makes the Defy so unorthodox might well be the model for what sportive bikes evolve into over the decades to come.

Pros

  • Sprightly rather than springy feel
  • Great for climbing
  • Relaxed geometry that provides a racy ride

Cons

  • Weird saddle
  • Clown bike appearance for tall riders
  • Gappy gears

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