Giant Defy Advanced SL
Sixty-five million years ago last Wednesday, at the end of the age of the dinosaurs, a man walked into his local bike shop. “I want a bike that looks good, that I can race on. I want it to be stiff and I want it to be comfortable. I don’t want to have an aching back if I ride it all day. But I want it to go fast up climbs and help me keep up on the down hills. And, I want it to be the same as the bikes ridden in the ProTour.” “Sorry sir,” the owner said. “They don’t make that kind of bike.”
Well they do now…
Giant re-released their road bike fleet in 2011, once again to a fair bit of acclaim. I say ‘once again’ because 2008 was the previous launch, a big one for the Taiwanese manufacturer. At that time Giant made some pretty big leaps with their range. It was out with the old and in with the new. They kept their TCR flagships but replaced their OCR range with a new model called Defy. Put simply, OCR model bikes were designed to have a more upright geometry than the out and out racing TCR models. Upright geometry has been around for a long time, but whether it was a problem with marketing, design or public perception, the OCR series never quite took off. This was something that Giant intended not to happen again and the replacement of the OCR with the Defy signalled this. Improved quality of carbon, better paint jobs and more effective marketing did the job to a certain extent. There was a significant technological improvement in the carbon lay up which resulted in lighter and stiffer frames. This combined with better compliance, making bikes that had performance, but were still comfortable. In fact those 2009-2010 Defy bikes, particularly around the Shimano 105 level, were some of the best value bikes on the market. But somehow there was still something lacking. Enter the Defy Advanced SL.
The Defy Advanced SL takes bikes with a higher front end to a new level. This frame has everything that the Team Rabobank TCR bikes have. Both use Toray’s T800 carbon fibre, which Giant claim has ‘the greatest stiffness to weight ratio on the market’. Both are also made with Giant’s new ‘Continuous Fibre Technology’ process. What does that mean in non-marketing speak? Well, put simply, it means fewer pieces of carbon in the lay up. The process of building a carbon fibre frame like this one is very interesting. To the bystander it looks like a combination of patchwork and papier mache. Technicians sit at benches with boxes and boxes of carbon fibre cut out into various shapes. They have a pattern in front of them and they fit the shapes onto each other, each one slightly overlapping, to eventually form a frame. In its unbaked state it is slightly floppy but still recognisable. Now it stands to reason that everywhere that these pieces overlap adds extra weight. So if you could make a single piece of carbon do the job of four or five overlapping pieces then you would be able to make a significant weight saving. This is exactly what Giant has done. On the Defy SL they have also replaced aluminium parts such as the bottom bracket sleeve and the rear dropouts with carbon versions, used a moulding process that leaves no excess fibres and changed the shape of the seat stays from a wishbone to separate tubes. Giant have also changed their cooking process to a system they call ‘Fusion’. This is a double mould process which requires the frame to be baked twice. It means that less carbon is needed on the joints, all adding up to a significant weight loss. The medium size Defy Advanced frame weighs in at 799g, 20 grams less than the equivalent TCR model, which is quite something considering the longer head tube.