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Verdict: 
Stunning performance, fabulously comfortable and responsive ride with superb disc brakes
Weight: 
7,290g
Giant Defy Advanced SL road bike
9 10

First introduced in 2008, the Giant Defy needs little introduction; it's one of the most popular bikes in the endurance and sportive sector, and is the company's best-selling model, combining smart geometry with a full range of competitively priced builds. It's been completely revamped for 2015 with a whole new frame design providing enhanced comfort and, for the carbon frames, disc brakes only.

Frame - it's disc brakes all the way

The fundamental changes to the new Defy are the wholesale switch to disc brakes for the carbon Defy models (the aluminium models stick with rim brakes), along with an emphasis on increasing the ride comfort through a reengineered carbon frame. They've retained the geometry though, which was one of the Defy's best qualities.

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We're seeing more disc brakes on road bikes but Giant are the first of the big brands to commit to disc brakes on such a big scale as this. There really is no going back. Fortunately the new Defy with disc brakes is such a good bike that we reckon most customers will be happily won over. There might be a few issues to iron out, but on the whole disc brakes represent a massive leap forward in road bike development. It's not the future, it's now.

With a frame redesigned from the ground up with disc brakes a key feature, Giant have trimmed the weight down to under 900g weight for a size medium. Along with the reduced weight and focus on disc brakes, the other big area Giant have worked on developing is the comfort. And it's a whopping step forward: this really is an extremely smooth bike.

They've achieved this improvement by working on the carbon fibre layup and developing tube profiles and shapes, and on this top-end model the D-Fuse integrated seatmast, which has resulted in a claimed 11mm of deflection. That they've achieved this with no in-frame features like elastomer dampers is impressive, and the result on the road is one of a taut smoothness.

It's not as soft at the back as the Trek Domane, but it feels better balanced in the fork and rear-end, doing enough to smooth off the ugly edges of imperfections in the road surface like cracks and holes. It strikes a good balance between the outright stiffness of a race bike and the wallowy softness of some endurance bikes. There's a noticeable increase in frame stiffness when you're putting a load of watts through the cranks compared to other endurance bikes. In fact I found myself instead comparing the Defy to race bikes in this respect.

Integrated seatmasts have their detractors, so it's only the top-end models that feature them. Lower down the range are regular seatposts, made with the same profile tube as the seatmast. The seatmast clamp houses the Di2 internal battery and provides a wide range of vertical and fore-aft adjustment.

There are no thru-axles here, but rather conventional quick releases. Giant decided there wasn't a suitable road-specific thru-axle standard and there are simply more disc road wheels available with regular axles at present. Meanwhile, other manufacturers are simply using existing, and in Giant's view over the top, mountain bike thru-axles.

It's a pragmatic choice certainly. The majority of new disc-equipped road bikes are sticking with quick release axles, and after testing the Defy it's certainly hard to make a case for thru-axles. The axle debate is one that is sure to rage on, but for now Giant have been prudent.

Range: Carbon models start at £1,199, this bikes is £7,999

The Defy range starts at £499 for the aluminium bikes, but the the carbon disc range starts at £1,199. The Defy Advanced SL 0 tested here costs a whopping £7,999 and is loaded with all the short of top-end kit you'd want on a bike if you won the lottery. It's not the sort of bike Giant expect to sell many of, but as a hero product, it doesn't half look the business.

At 7.29kg (16.07lb) it's the lightest disc-equipped road bike we've ever tested thanks to components like Zipp 202 wheels, Dura-Ace Di2 with R785 hydraulic disc brakes, Giant's own carbon fibre handlebar and oversized stem, Fizik saddle and Giant's own 25mm tyres.

However, before you head straight to the comments to register your complaint at that price tag, let me tell you the Defy Advanced 3 costs a more wallet-friendly £1,199 with what is essentially the same frame, but with a regular seatpost in place of the integrated seatmast, and a Tiagra groupset with TRP Spyre brakes.

Costing £2,599 the Defy Advanced Pro 1 is probably the pick of the range. It has the same Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset and RS685 hydraulic disc brakes as the Cannondale Synapse Disc we're also testing at the moment, and you also get 30mm carbon fibre rims on the Giant brand wheels.

Ride: Stunning, a race bike you can ride comfortably all day long

The ride is absolutely stunning. In this 7.29kg superbike build, the Defy Advanced is a very special bike. The performance feels like a racing bike with responsive handling but its main strength is how stable and and balanced it is. It manages to offer the sort of performance you'd demand of a race bike but with the longer wheelbase producing a wonderful planted feel at any speed, and especially through the faster corners. It's a race bike you can ride comfortably all day.

The frame isn't as compliant as some bikes in this category. Giant have struck a balance that places it somewhere between the outright stiffness of a race bike and the softness of an endurance bike. It's not as comforting as the Trek Domane but it offers a better balance of compliance through the frame and fork, with a crisper ride that is ultimately more rewarding when pushing on.

It's firm then, but most definitely not harsh. Not at all. It skims the top of spiky roads, smothers imperfections and dilutes bumpy surfaces like no other. It relays a decent amount of road surface through the controls, doesn't isolate you from the action, keeping you in constant contact with what it passing underneath the tyres, and allowing you to exploit the available grip of the tyres, especially on descents.

And there is no lack of speed with the Defy. It may have a more relaxed geometry than a race bike, but at times it feels just as rapid as one, with the Zipp 202 wheels imparting a great sense of momentum and acceleration when you need it. You can make startling progress on the Defy. I didn't feel any compromise in pure outright speed.

I know the quick release axle decision will upset some people, but I didn't detect a hint of flex in the frame or fork when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle. In fact, during my time on the bike, I didn't find myself questioning the choice of quick release over thru-axles. Depending on who you speak to, it looks like the future does signal thru-axles for road bikes, but right now the quick releases on the Defy are no cause for concern.

The geometry - and therefore handling and fit - is identical to the previous Defy, so anyone wanting to upgrade from an older Defy will know what to expect: a very well balanced bike with a comfortable position easily achieved. I tested a size M/L with a 56cm top tube, 18.5cm head tube, 100.7cm wheelbase, 42cm chainstays and 72.5 degree head and 73 degree seat angle. Those numbers add up to a bike that is as comfortable on longer rides as the Cannondale Synapse or Bianchi Infinito, with a good amount of reach to the bars to get a good stretch, while the taller head tube places the bars at a position that won't put too much strain on your back and neck.

The parts package on this top-end Defy caused no complaints. The R785 disc brakes are superb, and mated to TRP 140mm rotors front and rear provided more than adequate braking performance with no fade, squeal or binding through the test period, run in a full range of weather conditions. The Shimano Di2 groupset was faultless, the Fizik Aliante saddle comfortable and the Giant carbon Contact SLR handlebar a pleasing shape. The Contact SLR stem is a brute to behold but certainly beefs up the front-end steering no end.

The supreme balance of the Defy and agile handling when you push it harder makes for a dynamically exciting bike to ride.

Conclusion

The Defy was first introduced at a time when taller sportive and comfort-orientated road bikes were becoming really popular with cyclists who wanted a performance road bike, but a little more comfort than an out-and-out race bike offered. If you're a professional spending 30 hours in the saddle, a slammed front-end might be fine, but if you only ride 6 hours a week and mostly at weekends, such a position isn't very inviting. No wonder then that such bikes have gone on to be hugely popular, indeed they're the biggest selling bikes for many manufacturers, and there's now more choice than ever before.

This brand new Defy retains the geometry of the previous model but wraps it up with a smart looking new frame that is hugely more compliant and engaging to ride, with easily exploitable speed and genius all-day comfort. The disc brakes are fantastic, offer so many benefits over regular brakes and I applaud Giant in their bold decision.

The £7,999 price tag of this range-topping show stealer Advanced SL 0 is insane, but don't focus on the price and instead look further down the range where the more affordable models offer more or less the same frame but with a more competitively priced build. The £2.6k Defy Advanced Pro 1 looks like the highlight of the range.

With this new Defy, Giant have raised the endurance bike bar and it's a serious rival to the Cannondale Synapse, Trek Domane Disc and Specialized Roubaix Disc. That's some choice and the Defy has to be on your shortlist. It's one hell of a bike and will have the other contenders in this hotly contested category looking over their shoulders.

Verdict

Stunning performance, fabulously comfortable and responsive ride with superb disc brakes

road.cc test report

Make and model: Giant Defy Advanced SL

Size tested: 55

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

Giant says:

There is no better road machine for long, demanding days in the saddle. Think centuries, sportive and rough roads. The frame is handcrafted with superlight, professional grade Advanced SL composite that's engineered with endurance geometry and optimized to deliver a smoother and faster ride. It features innovative technologies including disc brakes and the D-Fuse integrated seatpost to reduce road vibration. The oversized and tapered OverDrive 2 steerer tube boosts cornering precision. The MegaDrive downtube and PowerCore bottom bracket deliver precise handling and unmatched pedalling efficiency.

Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

Advanced SL-Grade Composite frame with Integrated Seatpost

Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Full-Composite fork with OverDrive 2 Steerer

Shimano Dura-Ace/R785 Di2 22 speed drievtrain

Shimano R785 hydraulic disc brakes

Zipp 202 Disc Fire Crest wheel set

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
9/10

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

Absolutely yes, but not soft at all, quite taut and enough compliance to easily remove the harshness from any rough road surfaces you care to ride along.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

Nice balance of stiffness, with high stiffness around the bottom bracket and head tube for sprinting and hard riding, but not enough to beat you up or compromise the comfort factor.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

Yes as good as many race bikes.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

Very stable handling and steering when pootling along, but comes alive when you punch up the speed.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

The Zipp 202 wheels and their very low weight impressed on the climbs and acceleration was impressive, eye-watering stuff.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
10/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
10/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
10/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
8/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
9/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
9/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels and tyres for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for durability:
 
9/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for comfort:
 
9/10
Rate the wheels and tyres for value:
 
7/10

The Zipp 202 wheels are a huge contributor to the high price tag.

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
8/10

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.

Would you consider buying the bike? I'd have to win the lottery first.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
10/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
8/10

Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?

The Zipp 202 wheels obviously contribute massively to the price tag of this super bike, but ignoring the price (there's a complete range of better value bikes beneath this model) the new Defy is a massive improvement with great comfort, stiffness, weight and superb disc brake performance.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 31  Height: 180  Weight: 67

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,

 

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

37 comments

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belgravedave [274 posts] 3 years ago
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That is one ugly bike!

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dodgy [234 posts] 3 years ago
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That is one beautiful and practical bike!

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Kadinkski [736 posts] 3 years ago
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God that's a nice bike. The Advanced Pro 1 has now moved into my '2015 possibles' research list.

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abudhabiChris [691 posts] 3 years ago
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belgravedave wrote:

That is one ugly bike!

That is one stupid comment.

A reviewer goes to a lot of effort to give a very detailed and informative appraisal of something, and that's all you can think of in response? Why bother.

And you apparently own a Planet X. Go figure.

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828321 [15 posts] 3 years ago
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It is a valid comment, it is quite an ugly bike. Why are you trying to start a flame war with someone who happens to express a perfectly valid opinion? Please avoid trolling, the personal attack on his own bike is completely unwarranted.

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dave atkinson [6330 posts] 3 years ago
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Each to their own. I quite like the look of it. You understand that's not what we're attempting to quantify in a bike review though, yeah?

There's always a difference of opinion as regards the looks of any bike, and stating your own preference isn't really going to affect anyone else's perception. so, why bother?

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bikebot [2119 posts] 3 years ago
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I can be even more superficial, and compliment road.cc on coordinating the riders outfit with frame colour. The argyle socks would have been better.

A Giant Defy is on my shortlist to consider next year, I'm just not sure how far down the price scale I'll be looking.

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Chuck [590 posts] 3 years ago
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Lovely looking bike IMO, and being ridden on some lovely looking roads too!

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Kadinkski [736 posts] 3 years ago
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Good point Bikebot, much better....

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dave atkinson [6330 posts] 3 years ago
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I always hope people will use the comments box to ask pertinent questions, or share their experiences, rather than peg the level of debate at a knee-jerk reaction to what something looks like. but hey, i'm a dreamer  39

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bikebot [2119 posts] 3 years ago
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Dave Atkinson wrote:

I always hope people will use the comments box to ask pertinent questions, or share their experiences, rather than peg the level of debate at a knee-jerk reaction to what something looks like. but hey, i'm a dreamer  39

So why no argyle socks?  21

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ronin [279 posts] 3 years ago
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interesting...but not that colour scheme.

Even carbon black would have been better.

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belgravedave [274 posts] 3 years ago
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Nothing wrong with a Planet X, great for commuting round the mean streets of London. Noticed you didn't mention my other bike, now that is a thing of beauty.
One of the nice things about Road.cc is that it always used to take the piss out of things that were obviously rubbish looking (some of your video reports from trade shows have been true comedy gold), please don't start taking yourselves or the industry to seriously or you'll end up losing your USP.

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Gasman Jim [208 posts] 3 years ago
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If only it had mudguard eyelets! It would then make n-1 possible for many UK riders.

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ajmarshal1 [417 posts] 3 years ago
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Don't quite get the crying about the first posters statement of it being ugly. He's entitled to his opinion, that's why there's a comments box no?

I also agree. There's no denying Giant make fantastic bikes but that is horrendously ugly. The huge angle of the top tube, lowered seatstays, massive headtube and fat fork & discs all combine to make it look like a mountain bike. No elegance at all.

It's an absolute pig. Albeit a brilliant pig.

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fukawitribe [2047 posts] 3 years ago
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ajmarshal1 wrote:

Don't quite get the crying about the first posters statement of it being ugly. He's entitled to his opinion, that's why there's a comments box no?

I think the point is that the comment is so vapid that there's not really much reason to have it. If everyone just let rip with "I love the look" or "I hate the look" posts then the comments section would be worse than useless. Maybe if you're making some observations about the bike beyond the bloody banal it's a good counter-point.. on it's own it would make me feel as a reviewer "Why do I bloody bother ?". YYMV clearly.

For me it's little bit like "First post !" - so what....

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guycleveland [1 post] 3 years ago
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Is the bit about the Defy Advanced Pro 1 coming with carbon 30mm carbon wheels correct? Sounds like a steal!

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Kadinkski [736 posts] 3 years ago
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guycleveland wrote:

Is the bit about the Defy Advanced Pro 1 coming with carbon 30mm carbon wheels correct? Sounds like a steal!

I know, right?! I checked out the specs on Giant's website, seems legit.

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ajmarshal1 [417 posts] 3 years ago
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fukawitribe wrote:

I think the point is that the comment is so vapid that there's not really much reason to have it. If everyone just let rip with "I love the look" or "I hate the look" posts then the comments section would be worse than useless. Maybe if you're making some observations about the bike beyond the bloody banal it's a good counter-point.. on it's own it would make me feel as a reviewer "Why do I bloody bother ?". YYMV clearly.

For me it's little bit like "First post !" - so what....

Good point well presented. Although I still think comments about aesthetics are valid. Even if it is just: "I like that." Or "That's ugly." Had he wrote "it's shit" I'd have understood.

Still, I like Giant and love my TCR but personally would discount this on looks alone. But that's just me.

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davman [8 posts] 3 years ago
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I happen to quite like the look of these Giant's.
In fact, i was so interested I emailed one of the Giant Stores in England (Rutland Cycles, who state on their website that they aim to answer all emails within 1 working day), about availability of the Giant road disc range. Perhaps my simple question put them off as i've never had the courtesy of a reply from them in the month since. If they can't do that, then to me that doesn't bode well for their service to people who actually buy bikes from them.
Undeterred, I tried Pitsford Cycles (in Northamptonshire) with a personal visit. They actually had one of the road disc's in as a demo, but it was too big for me. Also, the guy informed me that stock of these models was likely to be as rare as hens teeth. Looking at April 2015 or, more likely, later.
I'm now looking to go down the custom frame route, but i was genuinely interested in the Giant models. I even had the funds to purchase one immediately, but to no avail.
It seems to me that Giant, Specialized et al, are very good at getting their products onto websites and into magazines that can test them and promote them but, when it comes to actually supplying them to paying customers, they fall very short and leave people disappointed and likely not to consider them again.
They might suggest the delay is with component manufacturers, but surely they have to take their share of the blame promoting products that are months away from being actually available, just to get a bit of pubilicity.

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Doper [74 posts] 3 years ago
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Aye, that thing is grotesque. I wouldn't even call it a road bike. Weird.

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 3 years ago
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@davman

the problem that Giant, Trek (Giant make all the non-project Trek), Specialized have with their carbon fibre production is simply the limited numbers of tools (moulds) available for each model / size.

The tooling is insanely expensive, and carbon fibre production is time consuming; even with the moulds in constant use they simply cannot meet the huge demand every season.

Much easier to ramp up production for aluminium alloy or steel framesets which just require additional jig and welding stations, rather than expensive moulding tools as with C.F.

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jpmarch [2 posts] 3 years ago
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I am the proud owner of a 2015 Defy Advanced SL1 - ordered in August, arrived in November. It is a fabulous bike - 7.27kg for a M/L,, wondeffully comfortable and fast. It does look like a very different bike, which I like and I have to say is better in the (white and black) flesh than the SL0 in photos. At less than half the price, I think the SL1 gets to a good high end value point....only the wheels and groupset are different to the SL0.

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 3 years ago
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@davman

Which bike were you looking at from Giant. I can get you a proper answer with timeframe, if interested?

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KiwiMike [1323 posts] 3 years ago
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People first against the wall when the revolution comes:

Designers of bikes for sale in the UK who omit the capability to fit mudguards.

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truffy [650 posts] 3 years ago
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Dave Atkinson wrote:

Each to their own. I quite like the look of it. You understand that's not what we're attempting to quantify in a bike review though, yeah?

There's always a difference of opinion as regards the looks of any bike, and stating your own preference isn't really going to affect anyone else's perception. so, why bother?

The same could easily apply to comments on the perceived excessive cost of some products that are reviewed. Beauty and value for money are both subjective.

The value of the expert reviews is that they allow us to put other information (such as the photos, the price tag) into perspective.

Like it or not, aesthetics do play a part in the purchase decision for many people. So it's not unreasonable for them to pass comment, not to try to influence others but simply to state an opinion.

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ajmarshal1 [417 posts] 3 years ago
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KiwiMike wrote:

People first against the wall when the revolution comes:

Designers of bikes for sale in the UK who omit the capability to fit mudguards.

Or people who comment they don't like the look of a bike on here apparently.

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belgravedave [274 posts] 3 years ago
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Thanks for the support guys. Also I wonder if I would have been equally 'vapid' if I'd said what a beautiful bike it was?

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harald [3 posts] 3 years ago
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I have the Defy Advanced SL1 (Ultegra group) since September and put about 2,000 miles on it thus far and I truly enjoy every mile on it. Compared to my prior 2014 Cannondale Synapse 5 Disc, it is a major upgrade. Weight has dropped to ~ 18 lbs and responsiveness and comfort has improved significantly. I can concur with the review done by road.cc that the Defy is quite comfortable, while being a speed demon at the same time. Strava confirms that prior attained PR's are easily bettered with the Defy Advanced SL1. Besides going through a Retul bike fit, the only change I've made is going from the supplied 25 mm Giant SLR-1 tires to 28 mm tires from Compass Bicycles. The increased diameter has allowed me to drop the tire pressure to 60 psi in the front and 75 psi in the rear and thereby improving comfort and grip. Overall, I have no regrets choosing for the upgraded frame instead of the Di2 option on a 'lesser' frame for roughly there same price. PS. The hydraulic disc brakes are phenomenal improvement over the mechanical ones. It's great that you never have to worry about your brakes during long and steep descents.

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Hensteeth [82 posts] 3 years ago
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Once you are riding it the only people looking at it are the people you are flying past, and they won't get a proper look either as you will be too quick.

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