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Giant was a latecomer to the aerobike trend which saw their Propel launched at the beginning of 2013 after an exhaustive 88 revisions. In that time we’ve seen a full WorldTour season unfold with Belkin riding the Propel at various races and I’ve finally had the chance to test one out for myself.
Before the ride
The first thing that comes to mind when setting eyes on the Propel Advanced SL0 is that it looks like cycling’s equivalent of an F1 car. It’s a seriously hi-tech looking bike that has some beautiful lines, curves and integration when closely examined. But it’s not all just good looks. The hero of this bike is its claimed aerodynamics which come through in the aesthetics.
In terms of a structural overview, Giant’s “OverDrive2” oversized fork steerer-tube provides a solid front-end which is due to the design of the oversized headset bearings and tapered steerer tube.
Tall, thin seatstays, attaching low on the seat tube and the massive “PowerCore” bottom bracket/chainstay (BB86 bottom bracket) result in a very compact rear triangle and make the back end very stiff in every direction. I’ll talk more about how this translates into the ride quality later.
The Propel integrates its brakes to get the desired aero properties by using a TRP-built linear-pull brake system similar in design to the old mountain bike V-brakes. BMC’s TMR01 (see our review here) uses a similar design.
Giant designed the Propel’s rear brake to sit behind the seat stays and places the front brake behind the fork in order to keep the lines of the bike smooth and aerodynamic. If they’re set up properly, these “mini-V” linear pull brakes offer excellent power and modulation. Finding the sweet spot between them requires a bit of playing around, but anyone who is familiar with adjusting V-brakes on mountain bikes will have no troubles at all.
The small disadvantage of this braking system is there’s no quick release (like calipers have) to get the wheel in and out for a quick change. To remove the wheel, the brake cable needs to be unhooked. It’s not a deal breaker, but perhaps a small trade-off when comparing to caliper brakes.
Another piece of this bike that’s heavily integrated is the one-piece handlebar and oversized stem which is drilled for internal cable routing. The handlebars feel nice and comfortable, the teardrop-shaped bar tops feel very good on climbs and the Di2 Sprint Shifters in the drops work a treat.
There are 12 options for width and stem length available at purchase, so you shouldn’t be left without something that suits you. There are a couple drawbacks to this system however.
Changing to a different bar size can be an involved process that includes some recabling (more with mechanical cabling than Di2). Also, the non-standard size and shape can make your existing computer and camera mounts difficult to attach. That said, you can always change the handlebar/stem combination to another one of your liking.
There are six sizes to choose from and nearly the same compact geometry is carried over from the TCR (See our TCR Advanced 0 review here).
To make sense of this geometry chart, read more on the Geometry of Bike Handling.
The Propel comes in various men’s models at different price points plus the Envie which is the first women’s aero designed bike:
– Propel Advanced SL0 with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2: RRP $9,999 AUD
– Propel Advanced SL1 with Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical: RRP $8,499
– Propel Advanced 1 with Ultegra Di2: RRP $4999 AUD
– Propel Advanced 2 with Ultegra mechanical: RRP $4299 AUD
– Women’s Envie LIV and Advanced 1 & 2: RRP $9499, $4299, and $2999 respectivly.
After the ride
As I said, the point of the Propel is to be aerodynamic and therefore fast. Let’s look at what some independent lab tests reveal, and then how it translates into real-world experience:
Velo magazine (Sept. 2013, download pdf review here) reviewed the Propel in their wind tunnel and reported that it was the most aerodynamic of the aero bikes tested. It blew the competition away:
The Propel was quickest at every yaw angle in the wind tunnel, on par, or slightly better, than the Cervélo S5 from last year’s aero bike test, which set the benchmark for fast. On average, that meant a savings of nearly 10 watts across all yaw angles when compared to the second place BH, and 22 watts over both the Ridley and Trek. The Giant Propel is the first aero road bike in the history of VeloLab to score best in both the tunnel and lab. It’s a fast, stiff bike, without question. –Velo, Sept. 2013
It’s been a blustery October in Melbourne and there have been no shortage of chances to test this bike out in the crosswinds. One of the first things I noticed is that in a direct headwind, the effects of the Propel’s aero qualities are immediately apparent. It feels as though it has the ability to trim itself upright into a very stable machine when catching the wind head-on. However, I didn’t find this to affect its cornering ability.
However, despite Velo’s windtunnel testing, I did not find the lab tests to translate into the real world when it came to crosswinds. The Zipp 404 Firecrests (a 58mm rim depth) working in conjunction with the aerodynamically designed frame, made for the most difficult bike I’ve ever ridden to control in crosswinds (note that I am comparing this to traditional bikes and this is the only aero bike I’ve done a longterm test on).
I own Zipp 404 Firecrests and have never noticed this quality about them before. When I put low-profile rims on the Propel the feeling diminishes, but the effect is still there more so than I’ve felt on traditional bikes. I’m an 80kg rider so I can handle it, but lighter riders may hate the crosswinds more than they already do.
That said, many of the Belkin riders used the Propel in the windswept Stage 13 of this year’s Tour and their results certainly didn’t seem to suffer.
In terms of the ride quality, front and rear stiffness is impressive despite the narrow shaped tubes. Even though the Propel is designed with aerodynamic properties in mind, it’s snappy on the climbs and to be honest, that’s where the bike unexpectedly shined for me. However, don’t expect a plush ride with all road vibrations dampened.
Aerodynamics and performance are the main priority for this bike, not comfort. I didn’t find the ride uncomfortable whatsoever, but it’s very different than my Specialized Tarmac. If I had to compare the Propel’s “feel” to a bike that I’ve ridden extensively, it would be the Specialized Venge.
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