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review

Giant Contend SL 1 Disc 2021

8
£1,649.00

VERDICT:

8
10
Brilliant all-round road bike that's comfortable and engaging to ride
Great specification
Rewarding and composed ride
Impressive seated comfort
Aluminium handlebar transmits vibration
Wheels aren't especially quick
Weight: 
9,550g

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Giant's Contend SL 1 Disc is a high-quality aluminium road bike that's relatively light, comfortable and well priced. It's not really a racer, but offers a lively, positive ride, with crisp handling.

The Contend SL 1 Disc tops Giant's aluminium road bike line-up, positioned above the SL 2 Disc and the rim brake Contend SL, with two entry-level Contend machines propping up the range. The Contend AR (All Road) models sit alongside the road-orientated bikes, offering an aluminium endurance and light gravel option.

The ride

Most of the time, the 9.47kg Contend SL 1 Disc flatters to deceive, riding with a positive and brisk feel. The combined effect of a generous exposed length of springy seatpost and plush saddle makes it easy to forget you're riding an aluminium frame, as surface vibrations and small bumps never reach your posterior.

> Find your nearest dealer here

Much of the bike's handling precision comes from its carbon fork, which also helps to soak up some of the vibrations up front. I did feel there was a bit of an imbalance in vibration absorption between the comfy rear end and the aluminium Giant Connect handlebar, as I could feel much more high-frequency road buzz through my hands. With cushioned bar tape it's not that intrusive, and could be improved by swapping to a carbon handlebar.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - riding 4.jpg

Its wheelset can be hustled up to speed and will maintain it fairly well on the flat or on shallow gradients, but when hard accelerations or steeper climbs are called for, they respond in a rather more relaxed fashion. They are tubeless compatible, so could be converted fairly easily, which should increase their performance a little.

Point the Contend SL 1 Disc downhill and the confidence and surefooted feel that the geometry and tyre volume generates make it stable, predictable and a lot of fun. Over my regular local routes, I was surprised how close the Giant's ride times were to those done on more exotic machinery. It's certainly no slouch.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - riding 5.jpg

After weeks of excelling on my crumbling local roads, I took the Contend SL over a couple of miles of what's best described as a cross between cobblestones and exposed rocks. The rear end again proved immensely capable, but the vibration transmission up front was further accentuated. To be fair, I maintained road pressures in the tyres and am certain things would have been a little better with 50psi, but this is a road bike, and it's probably best used there.

After many hard rides, nothing on the Giant has come loose, and the wheels are still true. One constant, though, is the rear brake hose rattling inside the down tube on almost every bump. It's not the most annoying thing, and I largely forgot about it, but it is preventable – a foam tube around the hose inside the down tube, for example.

Frame and fork

The frame is very neatly built from hydroformed Aluxx aluminium alloy tubes that are tidily welded together using what Giant refers to as advanced welding techniques. It includes plenty of up-to-date features, such as bridgeless seatstays and chainstays, a hidden seatpost clamp, tapered head tube and internal cable routing.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - cable route.jpg

The down tube is oversized, with a curved leading edge, and a mostly square profile at the head tube which morphs into an oval by the bottom bracket shell.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - bottom bracket.jpg

The subtly curved top tube has a flattened underside, and also tapers from front to back. The seatstays are straight and round, while the chainstays are ovalised and have a flat mount disc caliper fitting. The dropouts feature a 12mm thru axle and mudguard mounts.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - rear disc brake.jpg

Also following Giant's longstanding compact frame design, the Contend SL's geometry is slightly more relaxed than Giant's TCR race machine; from its 72.5-degree head angle, slightly shorter top tube and stem, longer head tube, chainstays and wheelbase, plus greater fork rake, it all adds up to a bike with composed rather than combative handling.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc.jpg

As well as its 178mm head tube, the ML frame on test also has a 15mm conical top cap above the headset. This limits how low the stem can be, but I found I could still adopt what I'd consider a reasonably aggressive endurance position – maintaining a decent saddle to bar drop, and with enough reach to stretch out and not feel cramped.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - stem.jpg

The seatpost clamp is hidden within the enlarged top of the seat tube, ahead of the post, and protected by a rubber cover. It's easy to adjust, and keeps things sleek.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - seat tube junction.jpg

Giant says that the Contend SL 1 Disc's maximum tyre size is 34mm, which I assume to mean measured width, because, as supplied, with 28mm rubber, there's 8mm clearance on each side of the seatstays, and a similar amount between the chainstays.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - tyre tread.jpg

Fork clearance is very generous, and the seat tube has a depression in the rear to increase clearance with larger rubber, and also to help if mudguards are fitted.

Finishing kit

The groupset is almost all Shimano 105, only deviating for the RS510 chainset, which functions perfectly but already shows obvious wear on the chainring teeth.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - drive train.jpg

As you'd expect, the 50/34 and 11-34 gearing shifted precisely every time, and provides a range suitable for almost every terrain, with even gaps between ratios.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - rear mech.jpg

The levers are a pleasure to use, and the 105 hydraulic discs are excellent – progressively powerful and totally reliable.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - front disc brake.jpg

As I said earlier, you do get some high-frequency road buzz through the aluminium Giant Connect handlebar. The cushioned tape helps, but you might consider swapping to a carbon handlebar. If you chose one with cable channels beneath, rather than internal routing, it would be an easy switch.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - dorp bar and lever.jpg

The seatpost is Giant's D-Fuse D-profile carbon seatpost, and from my first pedal strokes its effect was obvious. Topped with Giant's Approach saddle, they work brilliantly together.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - seat stays.jpg

The saddle is honestly one of the most comfortable I've ever used – and that's a lot – and I really can't fault the bike's seated comfort. I've had a love/hate relationship with split-shell saddles over the years, which has been more of a love in recent years as designs have improved. Although simple in construction, with steel rails and a plastic shell, the Approach is great, whether sitting up and cruising, riding on the rivet, or bouncing over the roughest surfaces.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - saddle.jpg

Wheels and tyres

Giant's P-R3 AC 28mm tyres (Giant's spec list says S-R3) are also partly responsible for some of the perceived comfort. On the P-R2 Disc wheelset they measure 32mm wide, which gives generous tyre volume and, even with the inner tubes supplied, allows for lower tyre pressures.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - clearance.jpg

I'm 78kg and mostly rode them at 70-75psi, and could easily have gone lower with no problems. Their nicely rounded profile makes for consistent cornering, they grip well, and seem quite durable so far, with no cuts or punctures.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - tyre.jpg

As the wheels are tubeless compatible they could be converted fairly easily – if you're considering buying one, ask your Giant dealer and they should be able to do the conversion for you.

2021 Giant Contend SL 1 Disc - rim.jpg

They're durable and quite versatile, and make fine daily riders, but if you yearn for more speed, they're the obvious upgrade.

Value

We've not reviewed any direct equivalents to the Contend SL 1 Disc, but comparing it with similar options on the market – or about to be – it looks like decent value for money.

It's exactly the same price as Canyon's soon-to-be-available Endurace 7 Disc, which also has Shimano 105 and DT Swiss wheels, and £51 less than Trek's Emonda ALR 4 Disc at £1,700. That does have a stunningly welded frame, but only comes with 10-speed Tiagra. If you want Shimano 105, the Emonda ALR 5 Disc is £2,100.

> 13 of 2021’s best road bikes around £2,000 — affordable superbikes that combine performance and value 

A cheaper option is Ribble's Endurance AL Disc, priced from £1,299 with a complete 105 groupset (apart from the disc rotors) and Mavic Aksiums. Stu tested the £999 Tiagra version late last year and was impressed. 

Conclusion

I came to view the Contend SL 1 Disc as an aluminium equivalent of a TCR, with a sprinkling of endurance bike mixed in. It has the feel of a quick bike, and decent performance potential, with even more composed handling and versatility, which makes perfect sense in today's market. For the price, the Contend SL 1 Disc is a great buy, with a thoroughly sound package that isn't crying out for immediate upgrades. It's a bike you could happily enjoy as it comes, but a future handlebar and wheel swap would make a brilliant bike really sing.

Verdict

Brilliant all-round road bike that's comfortable and engaging to ride

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Giant Contend SL 1 Disc 2021

Size tested: M/L, 56cm

About the bike

List the components used to build up the bike.

From Giant:

Frame: ALUXX SL-Grade Aluminium, disc. Compatible with fenders

Fork: Advanced-Grade Composite, full-composite OverDrive steerer, disc

Handlebar: Giant Connect

Stem: Giant Contact

Seatpost: Giant D-Fuse, composite

Saddle: Giant Approach

Shifters: Shimano 105

Front derailleur: Shimano 105

Rear derailleur: Shimano 105 GS

Brakes: Shimano 105 hydraulic

Cassette: Shimano 105, 11-34

Chain: KMC X11EL-1

Crankset: Shimano FC-RS510, 34/50

Bottom bracket: Shimano, press fit

Rims: Giant P-R2 Disc wheelset

Hubs: Giant P-R2 Disc wheelset

Spokes: Giant P-R2 Disc wheelset

Tyres: Giant S-R3 AC, 700x28mm, (max. possible tyre width 34mm)

Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

Giant says: Elevate your road riding experience with confidence and control. This versatile all-rounder is built on a lightweight aluminium frame and performance parts that can handle smooth roads, rough roads and everything in between.

Engineered with Giant's lightweight ALUXX SL aluminium frame technology, the Contend SL Disc delivers a confident ride quality that's lightweight, compliant and balanced for a wide variety of road riding enthusiasts. Seamless disc-brake integration gives you more control regardless of road or weather conditions, and the innovative D-Fuse composite seatpost dampens road vibrations.

Frame is specifically engineered to produce a balanced, all-rounder feel that blends confident rider positioning with agile cornering and acceleration. Innovative D-Fuse composite seatpost design reduces road shocks and vibrations, and a Giant WheelSystem lets you run tubeless tyres up to 32mm for a smoother ride quality and reduced risk of flats.

Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options

This model is the higher specification Contend SL Disc of the two in Giant's range. For a little less, the Contend SL 2 Disc at £1,449 has Shimano's Tiagra groupset and S-R2 Disc wheelset.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

The frame's welding is tidy, the tube shaping is quite involved, overall build quality is excellent, and the finish is very good.

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

Giant uses its own lightweight ALUXX SL aluminium tubing, which is mostly 6011 alloy, welded with what Giant describes as unique technologies. The fork and OverDrive steerer are constructed with Giant's Advanced-Grade Composite.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

The Contend SL 1 Disc's geometry is just a little more generous than a highly tuned race machine, with a slightly longer head tube and wheelbase. The top tube and stem lengths are similarly slightly reduced, but it's still possible to find a fairly aggressive position if wanted.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

The Contend SL 1 Disc fits just as well as every other Giant I've ridden. It's easy to find a comfortable position on my usual ML size, which I find equivalent to 56cm bikes from other big names – BMC, Trek, Specialized, Cannondale.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

For an aluminium bike, the Contend SL 1 Disc is extremely comfortable to ride, which is down to the combination of large tyre volume, a refined frameset, the D-Fuse seatpost and a great saddle.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

Absolutely. It's a good quality aluminium frame, which is plenty stiff enough.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

The Contend SL 1 Disc always feels positive when accelerating.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?

I didn't experience any toe overlap from my size 45 shoes.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? The head tube angle is 72.5 degrees, and it has a 100mm stem, keeping the steering feel very neutral and trouble-free.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

The Contend SL 1 Disc is a good all-rounder, with composed handling that's suited to all road riding. It's not the fastest climber, but the handling is reliably predictable.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

The D-Fuse seatpost and really very comfortable Giant saddle are immediately noticeable, because they provide simply brilliant comfort.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?

Overall stiffness is about right, but the handlebar does transmit a little more vibration than I'd like.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The wheelset can be hustled along pretty well, but could never be classed as quick.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
7/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
6/10

Lighter, more reactive wheels would definitely improve acceleration.

Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
6/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
6/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
8/10

Great shifting and great brakes. It's hard to go wrong with Shimano 105.

Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
7/10

The non-series crankset adds a little extra.

Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?

The front derailleur took some fettling to stop slight chain rub, but in performance terms, everything just worked well together.

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
6/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for value:
 
7/10

Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?

The Giant P-R2 wheelset is durable and quite versatile, with modern dimensions that suit larger tyre volumes. They're fine daily riders, but if you yearn for more speed, they're the obvious upgrade.

Rate the tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for value:
 
8/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?

The 105 levers share Shimano's familial feel, and are very comfortable on long rides.

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much.

Would you consider buying the bike? If I was looking around this price point, then yes.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes

How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

It's the same price as Canyon's soon-to-be-available Endurace 7 Disc, which also has Shimano 105 and DT Swiss wheels, and £51 less than Trek's Emonda ALR 4 Disc at £1,700. That does have a stunningly welded frame, but only comes with 10-speed Tiagra. The 105-equipped Emonda ALR 5 Disc is £2,100.

Ribble's Endurance AL Disc is priced from £1,299 with a 105 groupset and Mavic Aksium wheels.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
7/10

Use this box to explain your overall score

The Giant Contend SL 1 Disc really has no major weak points. It's rewarding, comfortable and swift to ride, and is definitely well worth considering if you're looking for a bike around this price point.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 49  Height: 178cm / 5'10"  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6 with Campagnolo Super Record 12s  My best bike is: BMC SLR01

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb, Riding with my children, using both a child seat and trailer bike

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