The Giant Contend SL 1 is a superb bike for its price. The let-down is looks and weight but you can't really argue with that performance v price point.
By Symon Lewis
We awarded the Giant Contend SL 1 a top score, as it is an amazing handling bike and great value for money! And for 2020 this bike has got better, with a totally new frame and new full carbon fork. A bike for under £1000 that is totally worth a spot on this years Editor’s Choice.
If a £1,000 is your budget for a bike, which is a substantial amount of money to spend, then in my mind you shouldn't need to look beyond the Giant Contend SL 1.
At that price point you are able to purchase through the cycle to work scheme, which makes it appropriate for the commuters among us. However, don't dismiss it as a slowly-slowly-catchy-monkey bike.
The Giant Contend SL 1 frame is made from lightweight ALUXX SL aluminium and is paired with a full carbon fork now . It has been built for confident and comfortable miles in the saddle with a number of classic Giant performance factors to ensure it does just that.
Those factors include Giant's Balance road geometry to blend an all-round ride feel that is confidence inspiring whilst being agile enough to ensure a fun ride. This is facilitated by its compact road design that basically is the sloping top tube. This helps make the main triangles of the frame smaller.
You can see that same compact design on the Defy and the TCR range and it's something Giant has used for a while to great effect.
However, what sets the Giant Contend SL 1 apart from those bikes, and most bikes in the aluminium category, is the ride quality, which is amazingly comfortable and assured.
Smooth Ride Quality is what Giant calls it, and one of the aspects of that is the D-fuse seatpost, which Giant says helps reduce ride shock and vibrations from the road. For me it does just that and despite being an aluminium frame I wasn't buzzed out after a couple of hours on typical wrecked roads of Surrey and Hampshire.
The Contend SL 1 is an endurance bike and that can be seen in the geometry compared to Giant's racier TCR range. For the equivalent size you get a longer wheelbase on the Contend: 97.6cm compared to 97cm on the TCR, helping it to be stable. The 72° head tube angle compared to 72.6° of the Contend means it's slacker at the front too. And lastly the head tube length is 16.5cm on the Contend against the much lower 13.3cm on the TCR.
So you can see why the bike is a little less frisky out on the road compared to a racing bike and a bit easier on the back in terms of position, helping to achieve a comfortable position. Ultimately that boils down to a higher front end and a shorter reach compared to a race bike:
Giant Contend: stack 54.6cm, reach: 37.3cm
Giant TCR: stack 52.9cm, reach 37.8cm
So the bike isn't a thriller but that doesn't mean it isn't a fun ride. I was constantly surprised by its handling ability. Chuck it into a corner and it tracks true all the way. Even on initial turn-in, I knew the bike wanted to go in the direction I was asking. Long-wheelbased bikes with large volume tyres can often leave you wondering where exactly you are in terms of grip. Yes of course you have bags of it but initial turn-in can be a little mystery until the bike digs in around a long bend.
You don't get any of that with the Giant Contend SL 1 and I had fun trying to find the limit, which I never did find. You never feel that fast though, despite going at a fair old lick into bends, but that is part of what the bike is.
A niggle with the bike is that a size small does weigh slightly over 9kg. The equivalent Specialized Allez weighs a smidgin more but that is for a size 56cm. The Scott Speedster loses out here though and is a heavy-footed 10kg.
The Contend handles its weight well thanks to Giant providing a compact front chainset with a very large rear cassette meaning I was never out of the big ring, that big ring being a 50/34 and the cassette an 11x34 – a one-to-one ratio would see you climbing any mountain if needed!
I even got some PRs up some climbs around Richmond Park, though I put that down to my recent 800km training camp in Mallorca.
The downside to the weight and sporting geometry is the sacrifice to high speeds, or the effort to maintain that speed. The bike can handle anything up to 35kph without trying too hard. Although, on roads I know to be a little more free flowing it was more of an effort to push it beyond 40kph.
The lack of aerodynamic features and the weight just means that reaching top speeds is a little harder. I got the Giant Contend SL 1 up to 50kph on a road where other bikes would easily reach this speed. It took some doing and to maintain it I was having to kick out some watts! It will of course go much faster down big descents!
In saying that the bike didn't change at higher speeds – it remained steady, controlled and assured like it does at lower speeds. A nice characteristic of a bike to build your confidence as a bike rider.
All that on a comfortable machine, I mean it really does soak up the road fuss well. I initially questioned it even being an aluminium bike.
So hear comes the value part. For £1,000 are you getting a worthwhile bike? I think so, yes. Shimano 105 throughout, apart from the chainset, but at least it still looks like a 105 chainset.
Wheels, tyres and components come from Giant themselves and I can't argue with their performances either. The saddle in particular is very good. A good job from Giant.
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