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We review the Giant Defy 4 road bike

GIANT DEFY 4Giant Defy 4
£599
giantbicycles.com

Giant has been going since the 1970s, when factory bosses discovered that it made sense to make products under their own name rather than as a subcontractor. Today it’s one of the world’s biggest producers of high-end bikes, manufacturing millions of units annually in Taiwan and in mainland China. Unlike many high-profile companies, Giant makes its own bikes – as well as bikes for many of its competitors. Over the past few years Giant has expanded its product range, and now produce its own wheels and tyres, the former in association with DT Swiss, the latter alongside one of the big-name tyre companies.

FRAME AND FORK

The frame is the heart of any bike, and the Defy shows a lot of the company’s racing bike heritage. Giant pioneered ‘compact’ bikes with their radically sloping top tubes in the 1990s with the Mike Burrows-designed TCR. And the company has spent the last couple of decades developing the design of its TCR racing bikes and endurance-orientated Defy machines, with much of that technology trickling down to appear on £600 bikes.

The Defy’s flattened top tube slims down as it reaches the seat tube, but as is often the case these days, the down tube is massively oversized, with a slightly rounded-off square profile; by contrast, the seatstays are comparatively svelte. The aim is to achieve maximum pedalling efficiency through the bottom bracket area, without your energy going in to flexing the frame, combining this with high levels of rear-end comfort. The fork is carbon fibre with an oversized alloy steerer. Finish for both frame and fork is excellent, and the Defy has mudguard eyelets and rear rack bosses, showing its genuine all-round credentials.

THE KIT

Shimano’s eight-speed 2300 groupset forms the heart of the Defy’s transmission set-up. It works well, with consistent and accurate shifting but with rear upshifts coming courtesy of small thumb-operated levers on the inside of the hood, it’s hard to shift up while on the drops.

FSA supplies the Tempo compact chainset and square taper bottom bracket. The 50/34T chainrings combine with the 11-28T SRAM cassette for what we think is pretty much the ideal set-up for a first road bike. The 50×11T top gear will allow you to crank it up on the flat and descents, the 34×28T bottom getting you up just about any climbs while riding mainly in the saddle.

For an entry-level bike, the bottom gear is probably more crucial than the top. You’re not going to run out of high gears very often, but your knees will appreciate the lower gears when it matters. Should you want to go lower, the Defy 4 is available with a 52/42/30T triple for £625. Triples aren’t as popular in the UK as in Europe, but the small weight penalty and slightly increased Q factor is a price worth paying for many.

The Giant wheels are fairly light for the price, at 3,188g, have a low spoke count and contribute hugely to the Defy’s excellent ride. They’re quick to get up to speed, don’t flex with out-of-the-saddle efforts and are paired with tyres that offer a good mix of suppleness and grip. When the tyres wear out we’d still upgrade to something better, but there’s no need of an immediate replacement. The Giant-specific Tektro dual-pivot brakes are OK but not great, pretty much the case for most bikes at this price.

THE RIDE

Giant’s Defy bikes are designed for balance, comfort and performance, and even this modestly priced model does that beautifully. The frame angles are reasonably racy, with a 73.5° seat angle and only slightly relaxed 72.5° head angle. The head tube is 165mm and the chainstays are a longish 420mm. The slightly tall head tube does take away a little bit of the bike’s responsiveness, and will mean you won’t get so low on the bars – or tri-bars if fitted – but the position helps reduce rider strain, stretch and fatigue over longer distances.

The Giant accelerates well and handles impeccably, giving the rider endless bounds of confidence. The compact frame means that a lot of seatpost is exposed, and even with an oversize 31.8mm post, your backside doesn’t take a battering. During our 85-mile test ride, a lot of which was over broken rural roads, there was no suffering.

The standard-diameter bar was a little bit of a surprise. The stiff, chunky stem ensures there’s nothing remiss about the handling, and there’s no obvious flex when you’re really pulling up on the bar, but it does transmit a little road buzz through to your hands that you can feel after 100km or so. But it’s nothing that an extra layer of bar tape or a bit of gel padding wouldn’t address.

It’s not that the Giant is a super-fast machine, but the balance it offers you allows you to go at a decent speed all day long and then come back for more the next.

Pros
+ Great for long-distance comfort and a highly versatile do-anything machine
+ Impeccable handling
Cons

– Taller head tube and longer chainstays reduce racing aspirations
– Brakes are OK but could be better