First Ride: 2019 Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0

When subtle changes add up

As evidenced from all the bike tests found elsewhere in this issue (RBA October 2018), it’s obvious that the bike industry remains enamored with aero road bikes. As the roulette wheel of bike design and new bike launches spun around in 2018, the one big name missing out in the aero road bike game was Giant Bicycles. However, that’s for the simple reason that it was one year ago that they flew us to France for the launch of their latest Propel aero road bike (RBA, November 2017).

While Giant’s competitors were all talking aero this summer, Giant instead was talking the language of endurance bikes, and in pursuit of that conversation, they flew a gaggle of journos to Italy to preview their 2019 Defy. 

The Defy has been in the Giant line since 2010, and this current version is very similar to the last update that was done in 2015. So why such a big release for a bike that is really just an evolutionary update to the previous model? Well, while the geo charts see very small tweaks, Giant has been at work improving on the total ride experience.

SO, WHAT’S NEW?

To start, the overall geometry is very close to its predecessor, with most sizes getting some added length to their wheelbase. The size medium we rode has a wheelbase of 99.8cm, which is 3mm longer than last year. The chainstays stayed the same length at 42cm, but tire clearance has been increased to make room for up to a 32mm tire. Head tube length on sizes XS–M has increased 5mm and sizes ML–XL are unchanged. 

What is big news is that Giant has been working on improving their components, and the biggest standout on first inspection was the stem. Similar to the design used on the Propel, the Defy’s stem routes the cables from the bar across the top and into the junction of the top tube and head tube just behind the steer tube. This is then covered by a cosmetic cap for a clean, integrated look. We also think that this integration and a new entry for the cables is the reason for the increase in head tube length on the smaller sizes.

ON BOARD POWER

Next was the introduction of an integrated power meter. Yes, this trend is still continuing strong, as nearly all the big names are introducing bikes either with their own power meter or with some sort of licensing partnership. 

The Giant unit is built on the Shimano Ultegra crank platform and is dual-sided. This means each side has its own unit that measures torque, and then they communicate with each other. The units are rechargeable and have a claimed 150-hour battery life. The units are charged using a magnetically secured cord that takes about two hours from a completely depleted battery.

As is becoming fashionable, Giant too has begun spec’ing their bikes with integrated power meters. The unit on the Defy Advanced Pro 0 is two-sided.

THE COCKPIT

The last big talking point is the new handlebar that, like their D-Fuse seatpost, has engineered compliance built into the design. As the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, Giant has always been one to skip the widgets and let their engineering knowledge and skill lead the development. The new handlebar has a specifically shaped oval section just outside of the clamping section of the stem that is built to flex under specific directional load. 

In the hoods, there wasn’t much of a different feel from a standard handlebar, but when in the drops, there was significant up-and-down movement. When we were in the drops doing hard efforts, there was almost no flex as we pulled on the bars. This compliance does seem to be specifically targeting the direction of the force you would get as the bike hits an imperfection in the road. 

Giant told us that with just a slight rotation of the bar on the stem in either direction, the level of compliance can be modified. We didn’t get enough time with the bike to verify that, but there were markings on the bar to indicate the direction of rotation and its effect.

The Defy rolled on Giant’s own SLR-1 Disc composite wheels with 12mm thru-axles and flat-mount disc calipers. For tires, Giant stayed in-house and spec’d their own 28mm Gavia AC 1 rubber. On our medium-size test bike, there was a 16cm-tall headtube, but thanks to the new stem design, we couldn’t lower it without chopping the steer tube. Sure, we could have run it without the cosmetic cover and fine-tuned our position then cut it, but with the limited time, we opted to keep it high.

Photo: Sterling Lorence

THE RIDE

The Defy is an endurance bike, not a gravel bike and it is designed for the rider who wants a performance bike that is well-rounded and may have many long days in the saddle. The handling is quick but predictable. We found the bike truly fun to ride, and with disc brakes as the only option, we aren’t complaining. 

The D-fuse seatpost works great at supplying added compliance to the rider, as the frame is stiff and responsive. The new handlebar seems to be helpful, but we will wait till our full test to determine how much. All in all, the bike was fun to ride and very similar to the previous versions, but with some cosmetic upgrades and new component offerings. 

THE VERSIONS

According to Giant, the Defy line is their number-one-selling platform of bikes. As of now, Giant plans to bring in a total of seven different models, three of which are made with their Pro-grade carbon, with the remaining four models using their Advanced-grade carbon. The Pro 0 is the only one shipping with the power meter (estimated value of $1000), and the power meter will not be available for purchase for at least a year as an individual component.

Even at $5300, the top-tier Defy Advanced Pro 0 would be a good value owing to the Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain and included power meter, and they have dropped the SL line with the integrated seat mast on the Defy due to the number of people that bypass it in exchange for the ease of travel that the removable post offers.

Hopefully, we will be getting a test bike back to the office soon so we can put it through a full test on our home turf.

A GIANT STEP FOR GRAVEL

No more double-duty ’cross bikes

We were more than a bit surprised that Giant would conduct a full Euro launch for the updated Defy while staying quiet on the news of a major new addition to the family. The Revolt series is the brand’s first gravel-specific bike and will be available in three different models in seven sizes.

The Metallic Orange Advanced 2 model is the most striking of the bunch, and at $2000, it’s also the least expensive. The high-end model tops out at only $3300. We like how Giant is putting focus on bikes under $3500.

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