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Giant’s previous-generation Defy range broke new ground in 2014 by being the first complete range of endurance road bikes from a major manufacturer to exclusively offer disc brakes. It was also a very nice bike, period, but also more of a toned-down road racer than a machine that was purpose-built for performance-oriented comfort. That’s all changed with the new Defy Advanced family, which rides much more smoothly and is a little more versatile than before, and now even includes a Giant-developed dual-sided power meter as standard equipment on the top-end model. But even so, it’s still a high-performance rig that can keep up just as well as before.
Going ultra-cush, with a capital D
One of the core features of the Giant Defy range was its D-Fuse seatpost. Seatpost flex has long been identified as a key contributor to rider comfort, and the D-shaped one on the Defy, with its flat-backed profile, was designed to flex more on bumps. Giant may not have been the very first to use the idea, but it’s since been adopted by many other companies for the same reason that Giant did: because it worked.
Not surprisingly, then, the new Defy Advanced continues on with the idea, but with more refined shaping throughout the rear end so the entire seat tube is even more flexible and can provide even greater comfort than before. A very slight curve in the slender seatstays has been added to further promote that movement, and the offset seat cluster (which has also been proven to promote desirable rear-end movement) continues on as well. The compact frame design that Giant pioneered in the 1990s is especially fitting here, too, since it exposes more seatpost than frames with moderately sloping or level top tubes.
What was missing before, however, was that same level of comfort up front; like the original Trek Domane, the previous Defy could still feel jarring through the bars. But how to tackle that without copying the flexy steerer tube design of Trek’s Front IsoSpeed, or the dedicated FutureShock coil-spring element of the Specialized Roubaix?
Simple: turn the seatpost sideways.
The 2019 Defy Advanced’s new D-Fuse handlebar uses a similar D-shaped cross-section on the bar tops, with the same end goal as on the seatpost — and it’s supposedly good for up to 12mm of movement at the end of the drops. There are aluminum and carbon fiber versions of the new bar, and Giant says the flex characteristics of each has been tuned to mirror the rear end. The amount of compliance can also be adjusted by rotating the bar in the stem clamp so as to change the orientation of that D-shaped cross-section relative to impact forces, and since the lower part of the bar tops is rounded as usual, it remains stiff when pulling upward, like in a sprint or steep climb.
It’s an obvious solution in hindsight, and like many good ideas, Giant isn’t the only company to come to a similar conclusion. The flattened stem on the new BMC Timemachine Road is intentionally shaped to do the same thing, for example, and Trek claims similar benefits on the integrated cockpit of the latest Madone. But what many riders will invariably find appealing about the D-Fuse bar concept is its straightforward design.
“We’ve always erred towards simplicity in our designs,” said Giant global product marketing manager Andrew Juskaitis. “We’re not a fan of gimmicks.”
Adding further plushness are newly upsized tires. Giant equipped the previous-generation Defy with 25mm-wide rubber, with a maximum allowable tire size of 28mm; that’s now increased to 32mm, with 28mm-wide tires included stock. Riders in wetter climates will be glad to hear that Giant has built front and rear fender mounts into the new frameset, too (although when fitted, the maximum recommended tire size is 28mm).
But still maintaining an edge
As much as Giant focused more keenly on ride quality this time around, the company still didn’t want to give up the performance that many riders prized in the old version.
One direct benefit of isolating the comfort aspects of the bike to the seatpost and handlebar is that it allowed frame designers to concentrate more on stiffness for the rest of the Defy Advanced chassis. Aside from those super-skinny seatstays and the pared-down seat tube, the rest of the carbon fiber frame is notably big and bulbous like a purebred climber. Down below is Giant’s trademark “PowerCore” bottom bracket — basically its moniker for BB86 — with all the adjoining tubes flared out to the edges of the press-fit shell to boost low-end rigidity. The down tube is, well, giant, and while the top tube starts out fairly slender at the seat tube, it flares substantially as it approaches the tapered head tube.
The end result, according to Giant, is a pedaling stiffness measurement identical to the new Propel aero road racing bike, and although the company didn’t provide figures for front-end torsional stiffness, that likely isn’t too far off, judging by the size of the main tubes. Adding to that is the OverDrive 2 1 1/4-to-1 1/2in tapered steerer tube on the all-carbon fork for the upper-end Defy Advanced Pro models; standard Defy Advanced frames get a more conventional 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in tapered steerer.
In an age when seemingly everything is going aero to some degree, it might seem odd that Giant hasn’t bothered to incorporate a lick of wind-cheating shaping into the new Defy range, instead concentrating solely on ride quality without worrying about the marginal effects of a little more drag. Truth be told, most Defy buyers probably won’t care how efficiently they move through the air; they just don’t want their hands and butt to hurt. Aero wheels, helmets, and clothing contribute more in that regard than aero frames, anyway, so it’s hard to argue with Giant’s approach here.
But that said, the new Defy Advanced Pro models still borrow a page from the Propel’s playbook with the new Contact Stealth SL stem. Derailleur and brake lines are routed from the bar along the top and down the back of the stem, before entering the frame behind the headset. Bolt-on cosmetic plastic caps keep all of that concealed for a neat and tidy look, along with split headset spacers similar to what’s used on the Propel.
Other features include flat-mount disc brakes instead of the post-mount ones on the previous version — the entire Defy range is once again disc-only — 12mm front and rear thru-axles, and very wide-range gearing with 50/34T chainrings up front and 11-34T cassettes on all models.
Interestingly, Giant hasn’t introduced a new flagship-level Defy Advanced SL chassis like on the old Defy range. Giant didn’t announce any plans to reintroduce something at such a premium end of the spectrum, with its integrated seatmast and paltry 730g claimed frame weight, but that’s not to say that it won’t be added later.
So for now, the Defy Advanced Pro will be the torch-bearer for the new Defy family, built with Giant’s second-tier blend of carbon fibers and a little extra heft as a result. Claimed frame weight is 920g for a painted medium frame. The standard Defy Advanced uses the same frame shape and fiber composition, but with the aforementioned downsized steerer tube dimension on the full-carbon fork.
Standard Defy Advanced models also make do with more conventional stems and partially exposed cabling, although the routing is still similar overall.
The Defy has always been among the more sporting of major-label endurance road bikes, with handling and positioning that were only mildly toned-down relative to the more racing-oriented TCR family. That mostly hasn’t changed, but Giant has still added a little more stability — well, sort of.
Bottom bracket drop has increased from 70mm to 75mm for a more planted feel at high speed, and a more planted composure through corners. But that’s been offset somewhat by slightly altered head tube angles. Save for the smallest size, trail decreased by a scant 1-2mm across the board as a result to make the front ends a touch more agile. In fact, the trail numbers are now even closer to those of the TCR than before, but that dartiness is tempered by the Defy’s longer chainstays, longer front-centers, and longer wheelbases.
Also new — and long overdue — is an XL size for taller riders.
Stack and reach dimensions remain only subtly relaxed relative to the TCR family. Across the small, medium, and large sizes, the stack on the Defy is a fairly modest 17-24mm taller, while the reach is just 4-12mm shorter.
A standard-issue dual-sided power meter
Several bike brands have begun including power meters on their upper-end road bikes, and Giant is now the latest company to toss its hat into that ring. And like Specialized, the new Giant Power Pro power meter is branded as an in-house item. But according to Giant, its power meter was wholly developed in-house, including all hardware and software, with no outside collaboration (Specialized worked with 4iiii Innovations for the S-Works power meter).
The crankarm-based Giant Power Pro offers independent dual-sided measurement with advanced features such as left/right power balance and force angle. Accuracy is pegged at +/- 2%, and claimed battery life is 150 hours or 1,500 miles of ride time. Like most dual-sided devices on the market, the two sides of the Power Pro aren’t physically connected, so each unit has its own ANT+ and Bluetooth-compatible wireless hardware and battery, the latter of which is recharged with a proprietary magnetic dongle.
An associated smartphone app allows for easy battery monitoring and calibration, and Giant claims that the Power Pro is weatherproof to the IPX7 certification standard.
The Power Pro will be included as standard equipment on the top-end Defy Advanced Pro 0 and a few other of Giant’s more premium road bikes to be announced for 2019. Aftermarket sales are scheduled to follow in about a year or so, with the aggressive pricing you’ve come to expect from the Taiwanese company. Target price will be around US$849-899 for the Ultegra model.
Models, prices, and availability
Giant will offer up to seven carbon Defy Advanced models for the 2019 season, depending on region.
The top-end Defy Advanced Pro 0 is built with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 disc-brake groupset, the Giant Power Pro power meter, a Giant SLR-0 carbon clincher wheelset, and the carbon fiber Giant Contact SLR D-Fuse handlebar for US$5,300 / AU$6,699.
The US$3,600 / AU$4,999 Defy Advanced Pro 1 swaps the Ultegra Di2 groupset for the mechanical version, and the Defy Advanced Pro 2 moves to a Shimano 105 mechanical transmission and the aluminum Contact SL D-Fuse handlebar; pricing on that model is still to be confirmed.
From there, the Defy Advanced range moves to the standard OverDrive fork and non-stealth stems.
The Defy Advanced 1 (US$2,400 / AU$N/A) comes with a mechanical Shimano Ultegra transmission, Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes, and Giant P-R2 aluminum clinchers. Certain regions will see an alternative Defy Advanced 1 that substitutes the Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes for Giant’s own Conduct SL mechanical-to-hydraulic disc brakes.
The Defy Advanced 2 (US$2,000 / AU$2,999) also uses Giant’s Conduct SL hybrid disc brakes, but with a Shimano 105 transmission, and finally, there’s the Defy Advanced 3 (US$1,750 / AU$N/A) with a Shimano Tiagra transmission and Giant Conduct hybrid disc brakes.
Availability is still to be confirmed across the board. Australian and New Zealand markets will only offer the Defy Advanced Pro 0, Advanced Pro 1 and Advanced 2.
Suffering on the Gavia
Giant chose to debut the new Defy Advanced range at the foot of the legendary Gavia pass in northern Italy, where the roads are unevenly paved and littered with frost heave and potholes, and the corners transition inconsistently from slightly banked to off-camber to crowned. Climbing either side isn’t exactly easy — we did both over two successive days on the top-end Defy Advanced Pro 0 model — and the descents demand a deft hand and keen attention.
In other words, it’s a fitting crucible for quickly getting a good feel for what the new Defy Advanced range has to offer. And for the most part, it’s a fantastic bike.
As promised, both the D-Fuse seatpost and D-Fuse handlebar visibly and tangibly move on a wide range of road imperfections, helping to cancel out smaller road buzz as well as dull the harshness of unexpected potholes. Combined with 70-75psi in the 28mm-wide tubeless tires, the Defy Advanced Pro 0 is the proverbial couch on wheels, even in the small size that I rode. Even better, the ride quality is finally very balanced from front to rear.
Also as promised, the new Defy hasn’t lost the snappiness under power that characterized the old model. Sections of the Gavia kick up into the mid-teens in terms of gradient, and rising out of the saddle and swinging the bars back and forth reveal little undesired bottom bracket sway or rear-end wag, but plenty of eagerness to accelerate forward. That D-shaped handlebar really does do an admirable job of resisting movement when you pull upwards on the hoods or drops, too, and even though Giant hasn’t graced the Defy Advanced family with its best carbon fiber, the complete bike is still pleasantly light at 8.22kg (18.12lb) with a set of Time Expresso 4 pedals, a pair of Giant carbon cages, and a chunky integrated computer mount attached to the stem faceplate — not bad, especially when you consider that the Ultegra Di2 groupset isn’t exactly renowned for its wispiness.
Handling manners on the Defy are fantastic, with both superb high-speed stability upwards of 70km/h, but yet a willing eagerness to dive into corner apexes. Sure, it still doesn’t quite snake through turns or alter its line as readily as the TCR, but short of criterium racers, I’m not sure many riders will care.
And as for that power meter, well, it produced numbers on the Giant NeosTrack head unit that seemed believable enough. I didn’t have any way of verifying the system’s accuracy, though, and also didn’t have the bike for enough time to monitor its long-term consistency. The jury’s still out on this one, but let’s hope Giant did its homework.
A few reservations, and questions to answer
I’d be lying if I said the new Defy Advanced was all flowers and rainbows, though.
For one, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Contact SL Stealth stem concept. While the concealed cabling is nice in theory, the bolt-on plastic caps and bulbous headset spacers add back a bunch of visual clutter and bulk. It also makes it tricky to change handlebar height or stem length, since the lines need to be cut to precise lengths for everything to work inside the frame and fork.
Perhaps compounding that issue is the D-Fuse handlebar’s extremely short reach, shallow drop, and clipped ends. That sort of shaping is clearly aimed at more casual riders, but I couldn’t get over the sensation that I was riding a kid’s bar with too much cut off of the ends. The minimal reach also makes for little difference in posture when your hands are on the tops vs. the hoods. If you’re listening, Giant, please expand the D-Fuse handlebar concept into something with a more conventional shape.
Moving on to finer details, I also don’t quite understand Giant’s decision to spec 140mm-diameter rotors front and rear. While Shimano does declare such a thing to be safe, I frequently found myself wishing for more braking power when approaching the countess tight-radius downhill switchbacks that punctuated the sinuous descent down into the quaint little ski town of Santa Caterina Valfulva. On the plus side, the brakes never once made a peep, even when hot, although conditions were bone-dry for both days of riding so I can’t say if that would have been the case in the wet.
Finally, I appreciate that Giant is following the lead of other companies in incorporating some accessory integration into the range. The new saddles have little ports on the back for things like LED blinkers, bags, and mini-fenders, but the faceplate-mounted computer perch just looks big and clumsy to my eye, adding to the inelegance of the cockpit area in general. It also lacks angle adjustment, and I kept wishing I could tilt the screen down a bit from where it was.
Otherwise, though, Giant has done a really nice job here, and I truly look forward to spending more time on a long-term sample. In all honesty, if I were in the market for something like this, I’d seriously consider buying one.