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Groupset: Dura Ace 9000
In our next batch of bike reviews, we will take a look at the Aero-road segment.
First up, is the Giant Propel Advanced SL. The Propel is Giant's first bike in this category. Did the big budget R&D pay off for Giant? Click past the jump to find out!
When Giant set out to enter the the aero-road category, their goal was to build the fastest bike, period. This means across all yaw angles, and they even developed a pedaling dummy for their wind tunnel testing. While we won't get into debate about the specifics of their design or testing philosophies, we can confidently say that the end result is a sharp looking bike that is undoubtedly fast.
Our test bike came fitted with DA 9000, Giant P-SLR wheels, and SLR stem and bars. One of the first things I noticed after clibing on the bike is the size of the carbon stem. This thing is huge! It looks like a blocky bmx stem from the 90s. According to Giant it is still light weight, with a stated weight of 140g for the 120mm. The build spec of this test bike is the same as Propel Advanced SL 1 (minus the Zipp 404s) which retails for $8,999 here in Canada.
While I rarely pass up an opportunity to ride Zipp wheels, I was happy to see wheels with aluminum brake tracks on our bikes. One of the biggest concerns for me when testing bikes (especially one's with integrated brakes) is the braking quality, so I felt that aluminum rims would provide a more consistent comparison to other bike/brake systems, without having additional confounding factors.
This bike definitely wants to go! Power transfer on the Propel is very impressive, even with the relatively heavy wheels, the bike spun up quickly. The bottom bracket stiffness is definitely up there with some of the other superbikes on the market. whether out of saddle climbing or full out sprints, the Propel kept flex to an absolute minimum, even under my +200 lb frame.
All that stiffness comes with a price. As with many of the other aero bikes, there is a compromise in the comfort department, with the ride being more on the firm side. The Propel is a shining example of that. To those interested speed above all else, this compromise is worth it, but not for us. We expect a bike to be able to move us quickly while not beating us up.
This bike makes other sacrifices that we can not forgive as easily: braking. Simply put, the braking is awful! Power was limited and modulation was terrible, especially given that we were riding aluminum brake tracks. At the levers, the action was soft. I found myself braking earlier and longer during descents. This was amplified by the fact the bike was so fast in every other aspect. I can't imagine any aero advantage being able to make up for poor braking.
As we mentioned above, if your goal is absolute speed, then make sure you check out a Propel. However, it has a few too many issues to be a bike that we would want to live with every day.
*A note on fit: due to the integrated seat mast, I rode a size L for this test, which is the recommended size for someone my height 6'2". However, I would personally prefer a M/L in order to achieve my usual position.*
Final Rating: 6/10
Update (Dec. 2015): Giant has reportedly made a few revisions to the Propel brakes in the time since this review. Changes were made to improve both power and serviceability. We haven't been able to try them for ourselves, but if the reports are accurate, then the Propel would be worth considering for those who desire nothing more than to go fast.