Words Derri Dunn | Photos Daniel Gould
As one of the biggest bike brands in the world, we expect Giant to offer us well-thought-out, on-budget offerings at the value end of the road bike market. The Giant Defy 4, as the second cheapest in the Defy line-up, is bang on the money for a Shimano 2300-equipped machine, at £600. It ticks all the boxes for this entry-level price — aluminium frame, carbon fork and own-brand finishing kit, without offering much beyond.
Well, that’s not quite true, because one thing Giant can bring to the budget (chipboard and laminate-coated) table is experience and trickle-down technology from pro-racer bikes of years gone by. Tour de France riders these days might be universally perched atop carbon machines, but aluminium had its day as the wonder frame material too and Giant was right there producing those top-flight machines.
Not that the Defy 4 is trying to be an out-and-out racing bike — as an entry-level machine one of its greatest strengths is that it has a lot of ‘good all-rounder’ potential. Our test bike has a compact chainset for fast riding and slick shifting, but it’s also available with a wide-ranging triple for riders who feel they need a greater gear spread.
The frame and fork have rack and mudguard eyes, so if your Defy needs to do daily duty as your commuter vehicle, that base has been covered too. Finally, the bike’s geometry is definitely biased towards comfort and more relaxed riding, with a pretty tall head tube to keep you in a more upright posture compared to many more race-oriented machines — perfect for long Sunday jaunts or sportive rides.
Pleasingly, though, all this very conventional geometry and finishing spec doesn’t translate into dullness out on the road. The rear of the bike is noticeably stiffer than the front — you do feel it over rougher roads — but the carbon fork takes the chatter out of the front end without it feeling dull. It’s a very comfortable ride, but you still feel very much in contact with the road and in touch with the Defy’s movement over the surface. It’s just frisky enough to feel swift and light on its wheels, particularly when climbing, but there’s still an immense feeling of contact and control when it comes to descending the other side.
It’s always a tricky balance on entry-level road bikes, which so often run the risk of feeling cloddy and dull, and Giant’s finesse and experience is definitely on show with the Defy. As a plus, it also looks good while it does it, with an interesting variety of frame tube profiles and excellent paint finish — the super-neat cable routing either side of the head tube pulls the slick, professional look together nicely.
Moon on a stick
In fact, weak points are mostly with the spec, but it’s not exactly anything we wouldn’t expect for this price. The 2300 running gear isn’t a problem — you pay your money, you get eight-speed — but the shifters will never be a favourite with most riders.
The problem with the thumb shifters on the inside of the hoods, which can’t be used from the drops, stands out even more starkly on this groupset now Shimano’s next-step-up Sora option has been upgraded to eliminate the problem. 2300 is no longer a cost-effective imitation of a more expensive groupset, but instead now bears the unfortunate distinction of being a mis-designed lonely anomaly in Shimano’s range.
Still, Shimano 2300 is what you get on a £600 bike, so it’s not Giant’s fault. The Defy delivers and performs absolutely everything it should do for this money, so perhaps our only complaint is that, as such a major manufacturer with such enormous economies of scale, perhaps the Defy 4 could have been made to stand out from the crowd by delivering that little something extra like a glimmer of carbon in the finishing kit in the shape of a trick seatpost, maybe, or some classier wheels? What’s that, Giant? Yes, we would like you to give us the moon on a stick to go with it too.
Giant Defy 4
Frameset Aluxx SL aluminium, carbon fork with alloy steerer
Gears Shimano 2300 shifters, front and rear mechs
Chainset FSA Tempo
Brakes Tektro dual-pivot
Wheels Giant 700c
Tyres Giant 700x25c
Bar/stem Giant Sport
Saddle Giant Defy
Seatpost Giant Sport
Size range XS-XXL
Cannondale Synapse 2300 £599.99
Cannondale’s Synapse range has long been a firm favourite here at Cycling Active as a fantastically comfortable and inspiring endurance road bike. The big news for the 2013 range is that it is available for the first time equipped with a Shimano 2300 groupset, which brings the price down to, yes, that £600 point — well within the reach of most roadies who are just getting started in the sport.