Giant have gone all modern with the Defy Advanced from 2015, adding disc brakes to all the carbon-framed models of their hugely popular road bike – along with some uncharateristically brash colour combos.
However the Defy Advanced I’m reviewing is the 2014 model – which features an understated black-and-grey colour scheme and good old fashioned cantilever brakes.
I got it on discount as the new models were being introduced, happily snapping up the Ultegra-equipped beauty for the reasonable price of £1,700 with the intention of spiffing it up further by swapping my trusty Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels onto it.
Wide tyres FTW
The catalyst for getting the bike had been upgrading my previous bike – the Scott CR1 SL – to 25mm tyres and loving it, but then discovering that they were rubbing on the chainstays.
Yes, I could have gone back to 23mm but I’d been so happy with the benefits of the wider, higher volume rubber that I decided it was worth upgrading my entire bike to enjoy that extra 2mm with greater peace of mind.
Now the Scott had been a very high quality carbon frame. Nominally a sportive bike and super light, but with a firm feel and quick handling – it let you feel every little bump on the road, but in a muffled and not-actually-uncomfortable way.
Giant have a great reputation for their carbon frames, owning one of the most-advanced production facilities in the world, and I’d been assured that the Defy would have a top-notch ride feel – a claim which had been backed up by pretty much every review of it that I’d read.
Fortunately everybody hadn’t been telling porkies and my first ride on the Defy – in stock form – was both a pleasure and a relief (as I’d only previously sat on it in the showroom).
The frame did indeed have a nicely damped feel, while still feeling stiff under power – though not quite as snappy as the Scott, or as sharp-handling.
Handling came alive
A couple of rides later and I’d lowered the stem, which had the dual benefit of stretching me out a bit more and putting more weight on the front wheel. Suddenly the handling came alive and I felt I could commit much better to cornering.
The slightly longer frame and slacker head angle in comparison to the CR1 also provided an unexpected bonus on descents, where the bike felt more stable and planted and less twitchy. It felt like the bottom bracket might also be lower, though I never measured this.
All in all I was quite pleased with my new purchase, with the single reservation that it just wasn’t as fast as the Scott – and we all like going fast don’t we?
Fortunately the slightly vague feeling under power disappeared as soon as I swapped the stock wheels for my Ksyriums – which were rolling on Michelin’s superb Pro 4 Service course tyres.
Now the Defy felt far more lively, and responsive – as well as more precise when carving a line on corners.
The Mavic wheels have a bit of a Marmite reputation, with some riders loving the stiffness and others claiming they are too harsh but in my opinion they complement the Defy’s frame beautifully – bringing back a welcome bit of sharpness and precision to a bike that felt just a bit too woolly for my taste.
I’ve been riding it for more than a year now and haven’t felt the need to tweak the set-up again. The full 11 speed Ultegra groupset has been a revelation, with the compact chainset and 11-28 cassette providing a low enough ratio to get up almost everything I’ve attempted, while still maintaining nice, useable steps between gears.
The shifting has a lovely solid-yet-light action and the brakes are just phenomenal – though I must admit that I have another bike with fixed mudguards that I ride in the wet.
I’m a big fan of the slightly longer top tube and slightly shorter stem (100mm I think) approach, which gives the Defy a bit more stability than my previous road bikes.
Overall it has a remarkably balanced and well-adjusted feel, so the bike’s handling never becomes a negative issue – and the light overall weight and high-quality feel often give me that special feeling when I’m whizzing along the lanes or hauling myself across the moors on a sunny day.
Family life, work and a rekindled love of MTBing have all conspired to prevent me from any 100-mile-plus rides this year, but I’ve done a couple of metric centuries with plenty of hills and there was no hint of fatigue or buzz from the frame.
I’m not really interested in riding any more sportives, but if I was – this would be a cracking bike to do them on.
It’s a cracking bike full stop.
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