$3k Endurance Bike Shootout: Giant Defy Advanced 1 Review

Great all-around bike that can handle rough road or smooth hilly tarmac

$3k Endurance Bike Shootout 2014 Road Bike

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The Giant Defy Advanced 1 gets put to the test on the dirt roads north of Boulder, Colorado.

This article is part of RoadBikeReview’s $3,000 Endurance Bike Shootout. See an introduction to the test here and head over to our Shootout Round-Up Page to read the rest of the reviews.

Good news and bad news. The bad news is that starting in 2015, this version of Giant’s Defy endurance road bike will no longer exist, replaced by a revised disc-brake model that debuted at a press launch in Scotland last month.

That’s not to say we don’t like the new Giant Defy. Disc brakes are clearly the future of this genre of road bike, and our brief soiree on a top-shelf 2015 model was predominantly positive. Say goodbye to tire size limitations and poor wet-weather braking performance. Say hello to continued comfortable all day rides. You can read all about it here.

But it’s also sad to see the end of a bike this good, and indeed the 2014 Giant Defy Advanced 1 was among the top performers in RoadBikeReview’s $3,000 Endurance Bike Shootout. And that brings us to the good news. The official MSRP on this bike is $3,200, but a quick Google search already turned up price tags of $3,000. Figure that while supplies last, that number will only go down as the summer cycling season winds down. Get them while you can.

And for what it’s worth, the similarly spec’d disc brake-equipped 2015 version retails for $3,500. Learn more at www.giant-bicycles.com.

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The oversized — and tall — headtube improves stiffness and comfort. Cable routing is internal and electronic ready.

Big tire possibilities, solid spec

So why buy a soon to be a “dated” road bike? Maybe you have a garage full of “old school” wheels you’re not ready to sell. Maybe you don’t care about running 32c tires on your road bike. Or maybe you’re just a fan of tradition, and are not yet ready to embrace disc brakes on road bikes.

Whatever the case, the 2014 Defy Advanced 1 is a top-flight rig with a budget friendly price. It also passed our wide tire test where we swapped on a set of 27c Challenge Paris Roubaix tires that actually measure closer to 30c. It comes stock with 25s, which worked just fine in most applications. But you have to wonder when product managers are going to take the plunge and start spec’ing bigger tires. For our money, the improvement in ride quality far outweighs the small weight penalty.

The Defy Advanced 1 also gets high marks for spec, utilizing a complete 11-speed Shimano Ultegra drivetrain with compact gearing (50-34 chainrings, 11-28 cassette). Spinning up steep climbs is not an issue. We also liked the Fizik Aliante Twin saddle and the clean lines afforded by the internally routed cables.

bike-test-tire giant-defy-tire-check

The Giant Defy Advanced 1 passed our wide tire test.

Visually, this bike is not exactly a rainbow of colors. But beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder. One tester called its black matte color scheme, “sooo 2012.” Another was nonplussed, deeming it a “good looking bike with a solid color choice and graphic presentation.”

Of course none of that matters if the bike doesn’t ride well. And to a tester, the Defy Advanced 1 got high marks for its handling and performance — especially in the rough stuff. “It tracked very well through washboards and wasn’t bothered by the occasional pothole that I didn’t see until it was too late,” said one tester.

“It had a lightweight yet solid feel, creating a great sense of stability,” said another tester. “And the Shimano Ultegra spec, as expected, was flawless with gearing that helped me get to adventurous places. Giant, as a brand is well known, yet it was my first experience on one and I was impressed.”

Much of this positive experience is attributed to the bike’s well-regarded compact frame design, which helps keep overall weight in check. Our size large (55.5cm) test bike came in at 17 pounds sans pedals, which was the second lowest number in the test.

“The stiffness of the smaller rear triangle also really seemed to make my power transfer more instantaneous,” said one tester, of a geometry design that carries over 100 percent to the new-for-2015 model. “In the drops out of the saddle it seemed like all my energy was powering me forward without any slop.”

Here is a full price and weight breakdown for all the bikes in the test.

Bike-Comparison-Table

Up front the Defy Advanced 1 frame utilizes an oversized head tube-steerer tube combination that’s as stiff as you’ll find in the endurance road bike category. At the same time, the bike managed to remain comfortable and precise, diving in and out of corners nearly as well as a race bike.

“I was able to get into a great position on this bike, especially in the drops,” recounted one tester. “That helped transfer power immediately to the rear wheel with no noticeable slop or flex. I was able to flow with the bike into and out of corners, driving it, not it driving me. At the same time it didn’t feel like race bike; it felt like a bike I could ride for 8 hours no problem.”

Other testers knocked off proverbial points for the bike’s tall front end. On our size 55.5cm tester, the head tube measured 20.5cm, a full 3cm more than the size 56cm Trek Domane 4.7. “It just wasn’t aggressive enough for my taste,” said one tester. “Even for this style bike, I thought it was too tall.”

Here’s a comparative look at some of the key geometry measurements for all the bikes in this test

Key-Geometry

Nobody’s perfect

Like all the bikes in this test, corners have to be cut somewhere in order to hit this competitive price point. In this case testers yearned for a zippier set of wheels than the house brand Giant P-SL1s that come stock on the Defy Advanced 1.

“On the flats this bike could hold its own with most road bikes,” said one tester. “But give it a faster set of wheels and you’d be at the front of the bunch. Same goes for descents. It went downhill like an 18 wheeler: comfortable, stable — and a little slow.”

Others took issue with the Giant Vector Composite seatpost, whose shape isn’t necessary conducive to vertical compliance. “For me, rough road performance was just 3 out of 5,” said one tester. “I feel like the more rigid seat post transmitted bumps more so than a the 27.2 that’s on a lot of the other bikes in the test.”

It’s worth noting that the 2015 model year Defy is claimed to gain much of its vertical compliance from what’s dubbed the D-Fuse seatpost, which is much smaller in circumference than the 2014 post. You can see an in-action video of the integrated version of that new post here.

giant-defy-front-end giant-defy-seatpost

The Giant Defy Advanced 1 is spec’d with a host of Giant house brand components. Some testers felt the seatpost did a poor job of dissipating bumps and road vibration.

Bottom Line

Easily one of the best bikes in the test. If you’re not bothered by the tall’ish headtube — and can actually find one to buy — you wont go wrong with the Giant Defy Advanced 1. “This bike is a great all-arounder,” said one tester. “It is rider-ready out of the box. Just adjust your measurements, slap on a water bottle cage, some pedals, and you are ready to conquer anything the roads throw at you.”

“The bike was the most fun of the test,” added another tester. “It just behaved well in nearly all categories.”

Continue to Page 2 to see an extended photo gallery and full spec of the Giant Defy Advanced 1 »
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures in British Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, and Peru among many others. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in January, 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and edited a book on cycling tips. When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Lisa.


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  • J. Lombard says:

    I’ve owned one of these since early March, and I agree with pretty much every point in the review. The frame is fairly compliant vertically, but stiff laterally. Really stiff. I didn’t realize how stiff until I jumped on a buddy’s 2010 Tarmac. The Giant was massively stiffer. Which makes me scratch my head at why they would ruin the otherwise compliant, nice-riding carbon frame with a ridiculous aero seatpost? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s an “endurance” bike, not an seconds-shaving aero machine…

    I agree also that the wheels are boat anchors and are beneath the rest of the spec on the bike. Giant’s house-branded scandium PSLR wheels (the non-aero set) however are a PERFECT fit–I had an opportunity to demo a pair from my local shop and they completely changed the climbing and descending prowess of the bike. It’d be worth trying to haggle an upgrade deal for that wheelset at the time of purchase, leaving the stock Defy Advanced wheels with the shop for resale.

    Great review Jason. I’ve gotta say, it’s good to feel validated when you make a purchase like this.

  • Robert Park says:

    I have a 2013 model I picked up a year ago for $2300. Same frame, same components.

    Hint; send a group email to Giant dealers with exactly the bike you are looking for and are willing to travel to. This is how I found mine for a great price.

    5700 miles later and this bike still puts a smile on my face. Very accurate test, though I don’t really notice the rear harshness. I did notice a BIG difference in performance (for the better) when I tested a standard Defy versus the Advanced.

    OK, the aero seatpost is a little goofy on this level of bike. But it does look cool.

    So I’m thinking I can justify a new set of hoops when I hit 6000 miles. :)

  • George says:

    I have a 2011 Giant Defy Advanced 1 with Boyd Racing wheelset – wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been a faithful riding partner from day one. Love it.

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