Giant have pulled out all the stops for the 2019 version of their hugely popular Defy endurance road bike, with new D-Fuse handlebars for greater compliance, a cleaner front end, tubeless tyres and even a power meter on the top-of-the-range version.
It was the range-topping Defy Advanced Pro 0 that I was lucky enough to ride in the Italian Alps last week in a shroud of secrecy with a bunch of other intrepid journalists, enough for me to make some first impressions before it arrives at road.cc Towers for a full review. When I first caught a glimpse I was pleasantly surprised by the integrated stem at the front (the Contact Stealth), very similar to the stem used on Giant's Propel aero road racer and not something you'd expect on a bike built for comfort and endurance; however Giant say that sleek internal routing and a cleaned up appearance is what their customers expect nowadays, so there's no reason not to tidy those cables and have the greater aero advantage that comes with it, other than perhaps the odd moan from your local mechanic.
The looks of the Advanced Pro 0 in gun metal black is spot on for me, with the iridescent logo giving a subtle bit of bling where the rest of the bike is understated; this model comes in gun metal or iris, but there are other colours further down the range including electric blue and red. This one comes with a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset, with the least expensive Defy Advanced 3 speccing Tiagra with various Ultegra and 105 builds in between.
To the casual observer it's only the sloping top tube that really marks out the new Defy as an Endurance bike, but delve a bit deeper into the geometries and tech and this is where it ticks all the comfort boxes. The seat angle of 73.5° and head angle of 72.5° (on a medium frame) is pretty much unchanged from the previous Defy, and the only notable changes to the geometry have been made to accommodate wider tyre clearance; namely the slightly longer wheelebase and an extra 5mm of bottom bracket drop. That tyre clearance is 32mm without a mudguard and 28mm with them, and all Propel models are disc only with tubeless-ready wheels and tubeless tyres off the peg. The Defy's biggest claimed contribution to a comfortable ride is the D-Fuse handlebars and seatpost, which I'll talk more about below.
The test rides took place on and around the fearsome Passo Gavia in northern Italy, climbing both sides, descending it and doing some slightly flatter riding on the approach for a good rounded experience; this is the kind of riding Giant intended the Defy to be perfect for, so they said. While the Advanced Pro 0 will come with a 52/36 chainset our test bikes were equipped with a compact and 11/34 cassette, which was very much needed on the brutal Gavia.
For anyone who has ridden the Italian Alps you'll know some of the roads are pretty sketchy and potholed, which as it happens was perfect for putting Giant's simple yet effective D-Fuse seatpost and bars to the test. As we mentioned before the seatpost isn't new and actually first appeared on Giant's cyclocross bikes. With a flattened rear that slims at the front to make a d-shape, the seatpost offers some fore-aft flex to eat up road buzz, and paired with dropped seatstays the Defy did feel buttery smooth at the rear; and now the same can be said at the front too, with the new D-Fuse bars providing some flex up and down to dampen vibrations.
While this is all well and good for contributing towards a comfortable ride, of course if the bike as a whole is too flexy than that could affect responsiveness and handling; which is not as it happens, because the frame is super stiff to balance things out nicely; in fact Giant say the new Defy was calculated to have the same pedalling stiffness as the Propel during their in-house testing. The bars also offer a greater level of stiffness when pulling up (such as when you're grinding it out on a climb), a huge 30% more than Giant's rounded Contact SLR bars. For me the bars were a real highlight, not just the compliance over potholes and rough roads, but the shape of them too. The trajectory of the bars is perfect when you're grinding up hill and want to grab the middle of them for a change of position; for me the D shape just feels like there's more to grab than on a round bar, where my fingers can sometimes get numb and achy. On some big efforts up the Gavia they did indeed feel stiff when the gradients got steep and I was pulling up on them with all I had left. Going uphill and on flats the Defy really had the feeling of a lightweight race bike in my mind, not all all sluggish or tedious like endurance bikes of yore.
On the descents (which admittedly I didn't get to do too much of at speed thanks to a very small and deep pothole that sent me flying; not the fault of the bike, more my eyes!) I did notice that the tall head tube (16cm on my medium frame) made the bike a bit tougher to throw into corners and the steering wasn't as precise as the racier bikes that I'm accustomed to. Most Defy customers won't have any intention of careering down twisty descents at breakneck speeds anyway, but it's worth noting that the Defy probably isn't meant to be ridden downhill hugely aggressively. Over the potholes and rough road sections that I did negotiate successfully on my way down the Gavia, everything worked in unison; the small bit of flex eats up the vibration, frame stiffness balances it out and the tough Giant Gavia tubeless tyres provide ample grip while guarding against pinch flats.
As I had no clue that Giant would be launching a power meter too, I didn't bring another one to get an idea of the Power Pro's accuracy; but the numbers were in line with what I'd expect to see on my test rides, it was simple to calibrate and for me is a welcome addition on the top-end Defy. It's a brave move for Giant to spec their first power meter on a bike more associated with weekend warriors than racers, but think it's one that really sets out their intentions going forward. "Power for all" are the words Giant used in the Power Pro presentation, and I'd agree; why shouldn't we be able to crunch the numbers from our commutes too? It is only the top end Defy that will come specced with the power meter, but the price of $5,300 (UK prices to be confirmed) means you don't have to be excessively rich or remortage to buy it.
All in all it was a highly positive first experience for me on the new Defy, and for these particular test rides it had everything I wanted; comfortable geometry, less road buzz, powerful braking and a power meter that appears to be very accurate to measure my efforts on long climbs. What I'm now left wondering is where this leaves Giant's slightly less relaxed TCR road racer for the majority of us who can't budget for three or more bikes, because for training, speedy commuting and long distance tours, for me the new Defy looks like it can do it all.
After cobbling together a few hundred quid during his student days off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story), Jack bought his first road bike at the age of 20 and has been hooked ever since. He joined road.cc in 2017, having previously worked for 220 Triathlon magazine. Jack's preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking (the latter being another long story), and on Sunday afternoons he can often be found on an M5 service station indulging in his favourite post-race meal of 20 chicken nuggets, a sausage roll, caramel shortbread and a large strawberry milkshake.