GIANT CONTEND SL1
£999 › The same fine frameset as last year with updated components
Giant’s Defy-replacing Contend has been a contender for top bike test honours for the last few years, and the 2019 incarnation looks like following in its predecessors’ tyre tracks. On the surface, it appears very similar to last year’s model, barring the new colour-scheme Giant calls “matte carbon smoke”. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll see Giant has made a few changes that potentially add to its comfort and climbing qualities, plus it has the new R7000 version of 105.
The heart of it remains the same. The compact lightweight frame is neatly made in Taiwan from Giant’s own SL aluminium with full internal cable routing and it comes with Giant’s D-Fuse carbon seatpost, which takes its name from its Dshaped profile. The carbon fork has an aluminium OverDrive steerer, which handles beautifully, but is a little weightier than the full-carbon version. What has changed are the gearing, brakes, wheels and tyres.
There’s little noticeable difference between last year’s brakes and these, Giant having swapped one set of Tektro callipers for another. These are okay but we’d still prefer Shimano’s excellent 105 units and we would upgrade the pads to Shimano R55s or SwissStops. The cassette has expanded from 11-32 – itself an improvement on 11-25 – to a widerstill 11-34. It’s not a huge change, but every little helps on the hills when you’ve got 55-year-old pins. The chainset is Shimano’s RS510, which resembles 105 in looks and performance, but is a little heavier.
Another welcome change is the move from 25mm tyres last year to 28mm-wide rubber this year. The difference sounds minimal but actually represents a nearly 20 per cent greater volume of air in the tyre – and this is virtually 50 per cent greater than the volume of a 23mm tyre that was standard a few years
ago. When we got out the Vernier caliper we found they were closer to 30mm wide. Ride over rutted roads and pock-marked tarmac and, along with the exposed carbon seatpost, these tyres take a lot of the sting out. The wheels are the same PR-2s that were on the Giant TCR Advanced 3, our 2018 Bike of the Year. Although their wide-ish rims are strong and comfortable, the whole wheelset package isn’t especially light.
The ride is where the Contend excels, neatly hitting the sweetspot between performance bike and endurance machine. Frame angles are steepish and the wheelbase just under a metre, which is quite racy – get out of the saddle and sprint for your chosen finish line, and there’s a great sense of poise, power and precision. Helped by the wheel and tyre combo it also smooths out cobbles well (yes, we’ve got cobbles in Bristol) and hard-packed grit and gravel. The low bottom gear meant our tester could stay in the saddle even on the 10%-plus climbs that hide in the Mendips.
The Contend was never less than assured at all times, uphill and down, over rough roads and smooth. It’s ideal for fun-filled rides over rolling countryside, as you sit in the saddle and spin along at 15-20mph or so. It would make a nifty commuter bike too, as there are front and rear mudguard fittings – though space is tight with 28mm tyres – and Giant also makes a neat D-Fuse-specific clamp for a rack, upping its all-round credentials even further.
Below The GIant has the new R7000 version of Shimano 105 Bottom The tyres have gone up from 25mm to an even plusher 28mm for 2019
The ride is where the Contend excels, hitting the sweetspot between performance and endurance