The Giant AL 4 offers sufficient enough comfort without dulling the ride quality, and thanks to its wide tyre clearance, there’s room for some exploration. It accelerates well and handles the bends in the road with ease. It is, unfortunately, let down by its weight. The disc brakes will no doubt contribute to this, and these didn’t particularly impress us with their responsiveness.
Giant’s Contend range is expansive with this frame available in carbon, aluminium, and with disc or rim brakes at assorted price points. In this case, we have the aluminium AR 4 with disc brakes, which costs £999 and aims to meet the ever unquenchable demand for bikes just under £1000.
We tested the Giant Contend as part of a four-up grouptest, including a Boardman SLR 8.9, Genesis CDA 30 and one further bike yet to be released. Each bike was tested with the specced tyres, as well as the Schwalbe Pro One as a control.
Giant Contend AR 4: frame and components
Giant has built this frame to be a capable all-rounder. The frame material is aluminium and in this guise it’s the brand’s 6061 alloy with single butted tubes. This is a simpler, but heavier, option when compared with double or triple-butted tubes. It does come with a carbon fork and steerer, though.
Set up for disc brakes, Giant uses flat mounts and 12mm thru-axles. What does stand out is the use of a square taper cartridge bottom bracket. We don’t see many of these on more modern bikes. On the plus side, they’re easy to maintain - the bearings are sealed inside the axle and the whole thing can be replaced with ease, the negative is that the smaller diameter axle isn’t as stiff under load when compared with threaded or press-fit BBs, though skip to the ‘ride quality’ section of this review for more on that.
At the rear end, Giant has used its D-Fuse seatpost, in aluminium. The shape aims to reduce road buzz, though it is worth noting that this is proprietary and will lock you into using the same shape and size should you ever come to replace this. Giant uses this seatpost style on many of its bikes though, so you should be covered for a long time.
The geometry aims for comfort, but quick handling hasn’t been entirely abandoned. My size small provided a stack/reach of 559mm and 375mm - making it notably higher at the front end when compared with the Boardman SLR 8.9 also on test.
However, a head angle of 71.8 is steeper than the competitor. A wheelbase of 1003mm is relatively long for a bike of this size which keeps the rider feeling stable through the bends. This will be aided, if you like, by the choice of a 42cm handlebar. Wide bars can feel safe and stable, but personally, I swapped these as they’re far too wide for my shoulder width. Giant does offer the Avail from its sister brand Liv, which comes with narrower bars, but 42cm seems wide for men of my height, too.
At £999, Giant has opted for Shimano Claris shifters and mechs, with a compact FSA chainset and a non-series cassette, at 11-34 there’s lots of range for the climbs, though the jumps in gear are quite large.
The brakes are cable-actuated discs from Tektro, they are a bit easier to maintain when compared with hydraulic systems on more expensive bikes, but won’t be as responsive. In the case of the Tektro system, only one piston is pulled by the cable, the other is static.
Our brake test showed that, from a 30kph speed, it took our rider 4.6 metres to reach a complete stop vs 4.2 metres on the rim brake Boardman SLR 8.9. The other cable-actuated disc brake bikes yielded similar results.
On to the wheels, the bike is wearing Giant’s own alloy disc hoops, which are tubeless ready and specced with 32mm tyres though there’s space for up to 40mm.
Giant Contend AR 4: the ride
Jumping onto the Contend AL 4 for the first time, I was impressed with the acceleration from a cold start, I’d imagined a more laboured ride based upon the 10.28kg weight and wide tyres, but this appeared unfounded. Zipping up to speed, I bombed along without much effort.
I had been concerned that the simple cartridge bottom bracket would reveal a floppy ride quality. Swapping between the Boardman SLR 8.9 and the Gaint Contend AR 4, the difference in bottom bracket stiffness was evident when climbing out the saddle. However, riding the Giant alone I didn't feel hampered.
The brakes, on the other hand, took me by surprise in the negative - it’s been a while since I’ve ridden a cable-actuated disc, and the stopping time was notably longer. The Boardman's brakes felt quicker to respond, and a brake test from 30kph showed this to be the case.
With its wide tyres and tubeless compatibility, the Giant AL 4 wants to be ridden at lower pressures, using SRAM’s calculator I got a suggestion of 50 psi at the front and 53 psi at the rear. With space for 40mm tyres, you could well fit something squishy and head off the beaten track a bit on this bike. On the specced tyres, the ride quality was notably harsher when compared with the Boardman 8.9 also on test, and that of the Genesis CDA 30 with its much burlier ‘adventure’ tyres and steel fork. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, I’ve always rather liked a connection with the road. Swapping on the control tyre we used for this test, the Schwalbe Pro One in 25mm, the ride was of course even firmer.
The rear end was smoothed out slightly by the D-Fuse seatpost I’m sure, and it’s great to see a compliance boosting option at this price point.
The gearing provides more than enough low resistance options if you plan to tackle some angular roads, though the cassette is pretty wide ranging for the number of cogs. Those looking to slot into the perfect cadence on flat roads might wish for tighter spacing, completing some road racing training intervals of five, three and one minute on this set up, I did wish for smaller jumps in gears. This compares less favourably against both the Boardman's 11-speed shifting and the Genesis' 10-speed set-up.
Giant Contend AR 4: value and conclusions
At a pound under £1k, the Giant is just below the traditional ride to work threshold (though nothing is actually stopping those using the scheme spending more save from convention). Covid supply and demand issues mean that there isn’t a lot around at this price point actually in stock, though were that not the case we’d be included to draw up the Vitus Zenium Tiagra with a claimed weight of 9.28kg and £1099.99 as a notable alternative. Whilst Giant is usually extremely competitive on price, at this rung on the ladder there are more value-orientated options out there from some of the own-brand manufacturers.
|Frame||Alloy ALUXX single butted|
|Fork||Carbon, Overdrive steerer|
|Shifters and derallieurs||Shimano Claris|
|Cassette||Shimano CS-HG50 11-34|
|Chainset||FSA - 50/34|
|Brakes||Tektro cable-actuated disc|
|Wheels||Giant S-R2 Disc wheelset|
|Tyres||Giant 32mm, max 40mm|
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor, and is responsible for managing the tech news and reviews both on the website and in Cycling Weekly magazine.
A traditional journalist by trade, Arthurs-Brennan began her career working for a local newspaper, before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining writing and her love of bicycles first at Total Women's Cycling and then Cycling Weekly.
When not typing up reviews, news, and interviews Arthurs-Brennan is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 190rt.
She rides bikes of all kinds, but favourites include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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