The road bike has been splitting into niches for years, with models assigned to categories then sifted into subcategories so often that even those of us at BICYCLING sometimes have trouble deciding whether we're on a gravel, plush, adventure, classics, or (perhaps my least-favorite moniker) an endurance bike.
Whatever the name, the bikes marketed under these categories generally aim to put the rider in a more upright position than on a race bike, and to better isolate him or her from unpleasant road vibrations and forces. Overall, our test crew has applauded the development and growing acceptance of this style of bike. But we've also worried that the prevailing designs have begun to emphasize comfort to such an extent that some end up feeling slow and sedate. The aptly named Defy bucks this trend—and sets the standard for the balance of thrill and comfort that this type of bike can achieve.
I vividly remember when I first rode a Defy. It was on back roads in Pennsylvania, while testing bikes for BICYCLING's 2009 Editors' Choice awards. We had just powered through some punchy rollers, then took a hard left down a dirt road. I still recall looking down at the blurred, gray gravel passing beneath me and feeling awe at how fast I was going, how in control I felt, and how much the bike smoothed the road. That experience marked a turning point for me: I no longer preferred race bikes as my primary ride.
As astonishing as that Defy was, the 2015 redesign manages to go further. According to Giant, the engineers there started with a clean slate but retained the same goals as with the original Defy: light, stiff, and smooth. New tube shapes and revised carbon layups boosted pedaling stiffness and ride compliance at the same time. The seatpost is a noticeable change from the previous teardrop aero shape, and results in better fore/aft flex. Ultrathin seatstays—the thinnest Giant says it could make while still keeping them hollow—also help soften blows and keep vibration at bay.
Also new: The line is based on two frames instead of three. The Advanced and Advanced Pro share the same frame, which weighs 1,052 grams. The Advanced Pro has slightly better components and Giant's Overdrive 2 carbon tapered fork (1 1/2-inch lower bearing with a larger, 1 1/4-inch upper bearing). The fork on the Advanced has an aluminum steerer with a traditional taper from 1 1/2-inch to 1 1/8-inch. The flagship Defy Advanced SL frame weighs just 920 grams and has an integrated seatpost.
Our Defy Advanced 2 has a great mix of parts. This was my first long-term test of Shimano's revamped 105 group, and the technology and function that's trickled down from higher-end groups is impressive. Shifts are precise and buttery-smooth. The TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes provided quiet, predictable braking power that blows away any rim-style brake. Compressionless cable housing makes the lever feel firm, not squishy, when it's pulled.
The improvements are more than just marketing ploys—there is a palpable difference in the overall ride, although the previous version was so good that this can't be called a quantum leap forward. Instead, everything I loved about the Defy is a little bit better. The bottom bracket and head-tube area feel rock solid when you sprint or climb out of the saddle. The bike corners sharper and more predictably. Overall, the Defy rides smoother and more refined. And it seems to weigh a good pound or two less than the scale says.
One gripe: The rear brake cable rattles inside the frame. This slight annoyance seems like a bigger deal than it is because the whole bike works so well otherwise. A mechanic could fix the rattle, but this is the kind of detail that should be addressed at the factory.
Like The Godfather Part II, this sequel is better than the original, acclaimed version. The Defy, and some others in its class, have become so good at everything that labeling them endurance bikes or anything else similarly limiting would be selling them short. Sure, the Defy works great on long rides, but it works equally well for short, intense fistfights, too. The Defy is what I would simply call the modern road bike—nothing more, nothing less.