It’s fair to say that what we have here in the 2017 Giant Contend SL1, is the state of the art in off-the-peg bike shop road bikes at that all-important £1,000 price level. You can get bikes from direct sale vendors that have better specs on paper, but in this category the Contend SL 1 represents exactly what it’s reasonable to expect your thousand quid to buy you from a decent bike shop.
The first and saddest thing to note is that you don’t get as much as you did a year ago. Before the Brexit vote and the subsequent drop in the value of the pound against the dollar, a bike like this would have left you a fair amount of change from your £1,000. But everyone’s in the same boat and most 2016 models in popular sizes have vanished from the shops, so this is the reality we have to deal with.
The Contend series of bikes replaces the aluminium-framed Defy models in Giant’s range; all Defy bikes now have carbon fibre frames.
Like the Defy range, the Contend bikes are intended for endurance and sportive riding, and therefore have the following features:
- Semi-upright riding position — not as deeply tucked or stretched-out as a race bike.
- Wide-range gears. The Contend SL pairs a 34/50 chainset with an 11-32 11-speed cassette for a whopping gear range.
- 25mm tyres with room in the frame to go up to 28mm.
- Mounts for mudguards.
- Shock-absorbing composite seatpost.
Giant bills the Contend SL 1 (and all the Defy and Contend bikes) as an all-rounder. Although the frame lacks rack mounts, the bike comes with a rack adaptor that sits flush with the top of the seat tube and around the seat post. Giant says that most people won’t want to use a rack with this bike so it has kept the lines as clean as possible for the majority of the owners.
It won’t take anything larger than a 28mm tyre, though, so it’s not up to any but the lightest of off-Tarmac shenanigans. The Contend SL1 is well thought-out for its intended purpose, but a few minor tweaks to the design would make it even more versatile.
One aspect that’s undeniably versatile is the gear range and it’s good to see Giant exploiting the possibilities of an 11-sprocket cassette to go big here. For those who love them, here’s the gear chart.
As you can see, the low gear is almost 1:1, which should be good for almost anything you’ll encounter in the UK without touring baggage, while the 123-inch top end is frankly a bit bonkers; daredevil descenders will doubtless enjoy trying to spin it out.
The Contend SL parts pick centres on Shimano’s mid-range 105 groupset, though there are a couple of variations, presumably to keep the cost at £1,000. Instead of the 105 chainset there’s a five-arm Shimano RS500 unit and Tektro brakes take the place of Shimano’s.
To put some numbers on the position, the size M/L Contend SL1 we have here has a reach of 381mm and stack of 586mm. The Giant TCR SLR 2, for comparison, has a reach of 391mm and 566mm stack in the same size. In other words, the handlebar is higher and closer on the Contend, all other things being equal.
Those numbers are very similar to close rivals like the Cube Attain SL and Scott Speedster 10, though both those bikes go for a slightly taller stack in comparable sizes. Maybe that means you’d call the Contend SL a ‘fast endurance’ bike, putting it in the category of not-quite-a-race bike that we used to call a ‘fast road’ or Audax bike.
Category confusion is the curse of our times, as bike company folks and journalists alike struggle to come up with concise, pithy terms that summarise the character of different bikes. The Contend SL1 sits in a fuzzy area (not a grey area, though, not when it’s finished in that fabulous blue) between race bikes and true all-rounders like gravel bikes and the softer end of cyclo-cross bikes. That endurance/sportive/fast road/Audax category is a very popular one though, and the Giant Contend SL 1 slots into it perfectly. Now to hit the road for some long rides and see if it lives up to expectations.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.