Giant's Defy Advanced 3, the most affordable Defy in the current range, is an endurance road bike that offers a smooth ride and the precise power of hydraulic disc brakes, and it's very good value.
This isn't an especially lightweight bike, weighing in at 9.5kg (21.0lb), but the fact that it's so comfortable means you can happily keep ticking off the miles all day.
As ever, the geometry has a huge effect on the Defy Advanced 3's character and comfort. I've been riding a large sized model with a 575mm top tube and a seat tube that's 535mm, much shorter than it otherwise would be because Giant slopes the top tube downwards in its usual Compact Road Design style. The idea – and it's one that Giant has been basing designs on for over 20 years – is that this reduces the size of the front and rear triangles to create a lighter, stiffer frame. On the flip side, Giant does need to fit a longer than usual seatpost in order to get the saddle height right.
Anyway, the head tube on this large size is 210mm, and that's pretty tall; the reach is 390mm – not too far – and the stack is 605mm – generous.
For comparison, a large sized Giant TCR race bike has a stack that's 24mm lower and a reach that's 11mm longer, putting you into an archetypal racing position. The Defy Advanced, in contrast, is fairly relaxed. I've not found myself riding bolt upright in the saddle over the past few weeks – far from it – but the handlebar is positioned a little higher and a little closer to the saddle than on a standard race bike, meaning you don't need to bend your back as much, or extend your neck to the same degree for a clear view of the road ahead. If a standard race bike geometry leaves you aching, perhaps this setup, dialled back a couple of notches, will work better for you.
Even putting the geometry to one side, I found the Defy Advanced 3 to be really comfortable. For a start, it comes with 25mm-wide tyres, although that's pretty much the norm nowadays. There's plenty of clearance for 28s if you want to go wider, and I tried 30mm tyres too, although that left just a tiny arc of daylight between the rubber and the fork crown.
The seatstays are slim and taper to almost flat at the point where they reach the seat tube. That junction is low so the angle of the seatstays is small, and Giant says this helps dissipate vibrations from the road. The top tube has a D-shaped profile, flat at the top, rounded at the bottom, and this is designed to do a similar job.
Then there's Giant's D-Fuse seatpost. As the name suggests, it's D-shaped too, the flat edge at the back. The idea is that it can flex slightly in that direction to help remove road buzz (the shape has the side benefit of ensuring you never set your saddle slightly off-centre by mistake). The Compact Road Design that I mentioned earlier means you'll almost certainly have loads of seatpost extending out of the frame and that makes a big difference to the way the bike feels. You can occasionally feel the post bend just a touch if you really whack the bike into a pothole, for example.
I won't go on about the saddle too much because tastes vary so widely, but the best I can say about the Giant Contact (Neutral) is that I didn't really notice it all that much. Usually when you notice a saddle it's because it's inflicting pain or at least annoying you a bit. If I'm not particularly aware of a saddle then everything's dandy.
Giant makes some really good saddles these days. The Contact is fairly flat with quite a broad nose. The upper features a pressure relief channel down the centre, high-density foam padding and what Giant calls its 'Particle Flow Technology' where material held in pockets within the structure can mould to your body.
Anyway, you get the idea: this is a really comfortable bike. I'd have preferred a larger diameter handlebar to spread the weight on the hands a little more and, while we're about it, some thicker bar tape, but the sum total of all the design features is that you can ride the Defy Advanced 3 for hours without feeling too jolted, vibrated or generally shaken up.
As mentioned up top, this isn't an especially lightweight bike but it still responds well when you increase the watts. I was actually surprised when we put the Defy Advanced 3 on the scales because it rides like a lighter bike with a distinct performance edge.
The whopping great lump of a bottom bracket/chainstay area (it takes an 86mm-wide BB) holds steady even when you crank out a power PR and the tapered head tube – it's Giant's Overdrive design with a 1 1/8in upper bearing and a 1 1/4in lower bearing – offers plenty of steering stiffness (although not as much as you get with the Overdrive 2 setup on the higher level Defy Advanced Pro and Defy Advanced SL models). You'll have no worries at all on that front.
Tearing downhill is a definite positive in all conditions thanks to a well-balanced frame and the key feature that I've not yet mentioned, the Shimano BR-RS405 hydraulic disc brakes.
Nine times out of 10 when we review a disc brake bike we say that if you're not down with the brakes, no sweat, just go with a rim brake bike from the model range instead. The thing is, though, that Giant makes its Defy bikes (all of them, including the Advanced Pro and Advanced SL models) disc-brake only these days. There's no rim brake Defy in the range anymore so if you're not into discs, well, you're going to have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid. Sorry about that and all.
Giant ditched rim brakes on its carbon Defys for 2015, initially sticking with open-ended dropouts front and rear. Now the wheels are held in place by thru-axles to handle the forces associated with disc brakes. Dropping out a wheel isn't quite as quick but that's unlikely to be a huge issue with a bike of this kind.
The Shimano BR-RS405 brakes are Tiagra level and they work well on 160mm rotors to provide loads of smooth, easily regulated power. I must say that I struggle with the bulbous look of the shifters. I'm not one for judging bikes and components on looks – I try not to do that, anyway – but these aren't pretty. They're functional, though, and provide a vast acreage of space where you can perch your hands, and I'm sure they have a great personality once you get to know them.
Tiagra is a 10-speed groupset and here you get a wide-ranging 11-32-tooth cassette matched up with a 50/34-tooth chainset, as you do on every other Defy right up to the £3,699 Advanced SL 1. It's a setup that suits an endurance bike where the ability to tackle a tough climb comfortably at the end of a 100-miler is more important than sprinting full-gas to the finish line. Tiagra is a really impressive groupset that doesn't lag far behind next-level-up 105 these days.
The Giant Defy Advanced 3 isn't a lightweight gazelle of a bike but it handles superbly and it's highly comfortable. This bike is at its best when getting in the big miles on less than perfect roads and, with the ability to take mudguards and wider tyres, it'll happily do that year-round. Plus, with a really good frameset, Shimano Tiagra groupset and hydraulic disc brakes, it offers impressive value for money.
In comparison, Trek’s endurance-focused Domane ALR 4 Disc is aggressively priced at £1,400, but although that bike has a similar parts package the frame is alloy rather than carbon. Merida’s £1,600 Ride 4000 has a carbon frame and a full carbon fork, and it also has a 105 groupset – a level higher than the Giant’s Tiagra components. Unlike the Giant, though, it has rim brakes rather than hydraulic disc brakes.
If you’re after a carbon frame and hydraulic disc brakes, the Giant is a great buy.
Smooth-riding endurance bike that offers hydraulic disc brakes and plenty of value
road.cc test report
Make and model: Giant Defy Advanced 3
Size tested: Large
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Advanced-Grade Composite, Electronic Ready
Fork Advanced-Grade Composite, Hybrid OverDrive Steerer
Handlebar Giant Connect
Stem Giant Connect
Seatpost Giant D-Fuse Composite
Saddle Giant Contact Neutral
Shifters Shimano ST-RS405 hydraulic disc brakes, 160mm rotors
Front Derailleur Shimano Tiagra
Rear Derailleur Shimano Tiagra
Brakes Shimano BR-RS405 hydraulic disc brakes, 160mm rotors
Brake levers Shimano ST-RS405
Cassette Shimano Tiagra 11x32
Chain KMC X10
Crankset Shimano Tiagra 34/50
Bottom bracket Shimano BB-RS500 press fit
Rims Giant SR 2 Disc Wheel Set
Hubs Giant Sport Tracker Road, Front/Rear 12mm Thru-Axle
Spokes Sapim Leader
Tyres Giant P-SL 1, Front and Rear Specific, 700x25mm Folding
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?
Giant says, "From sportives to epic solo rides, stay strong from start to finish. Smooth, fast, engineered for endurance.
"Handcrafted with lightweight Advanced-grade composite and endurance geometry to minimise fatigue on long rides, this smooth-riding road bike combines speed, confidence and control. Disc-brake technology with 12mm front and rear thru-axles gives you total control in all types of weather. The rear triangle features ultra-thin, flattened seatstays to reduce road vibrations and the D-Fuse seatpost helps smooth out the road. So even on your longest, hardest days, you can stay strong from start to finish."
Brands often fill their write-ups with loads of hyperbole but I think that's a good summary of what this bike is all about.
It's aimed at people who want to get the miles in on the road without going for an all-out race position.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's sound with no obvious shortfalls.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from what Giant calls its Advanced-Grade composite. The more expensive Defy Advanced Pro bikes are made from the same material. In fact, those models use exactly the same frame, just with an Overdrive 2 system up front (1 1/4 in upper headset bearing, 1 1/2in lower headset bearing) instead of the Overdrive (1 1/8in upper headset bearing, 1 1/4in lower bearing) used here.
The fork is Advanced-Grade composite too with an alloy steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Covered in the main text. The main points are that you get a stack height that's taller than that of a typical race bike, and a reach that's shorter so your riding position is a little more upright.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
See above. Don't get fooled by the seat tube – it's short for a given bike size because of Giant's Compact Road Design. Take more notice of the top tube measurement.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, this is the Defy's key quality. It provides a comfortable ride. It's not soft, but it is smooth.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Absolutely, yes. The bottom bracket is as stiff as it looks and there's very little flex in the head tube/fork.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It does feel efficient, especially given that this is an endurance bike.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
A little but not an issue.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Not as lively as some, which suits the character of this bike.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It corners well, even when you're flinging it about, and it's well behaved when you want to ride straight. I've ridden bikes that are more enthusiastic on the climbs, but it's a really good descender.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The D-Fuse seatpost provides plenty of vibration damping and I really like Giant's saddles – they're cleverly designed and largely underrated!
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Giant's SR 2 Disc wheelset performs well but it isn't particularly light. If you wanted to upgrade the bike in future, that might be the place to start.
It's not an especially lightweight bike but the frame stiffness helps with acceleration.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It's all solid, no-frills stuff.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The shifters are large thanks to the hydraulic master cylinder and the way the hose exits. The lever reach can be adjusted by up to 10mm for smaller hands.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? If I was after something in this market, yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
This is a clear 8. The Defy Advanced 3 puts in a very good performance at a very good price.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.