Giant Contend SL Disc 1 review
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Giant Contend SL Disc 1 review

Nov 22, 2023

An affordable, well-equipped route into performance road cycling

This competition is now closed

By Ashley Quinlan

Published: November 28, 2022 at 9:00 am

The Giant Contend has been a firm favourite in our tests in recent years. The Taiwanese brand's ability to produce a high-quality frame – while owning its own processes – means it can hit a price point few others can match without compromising performance.

The Contend SL Disc 1 continues to impress here. It delivers a very smooth ride with relaxed handling that will appeal to riders looking for a bike that's docile and easy to get on with, without being boring.

The frame is the star of the show here, with Giant's well-proven Aluxx SL aluminium technology providing an excellent foundation for a bike that will lap up being upgraded.

There are weak points in the build – the Shimano 105 R7020 groupset is short of a couple of important 105-branded components, while the wheelset and tyres are built to last rather than excite.

However, the Contend remains a great option if your budget is tight or you’re dipping your toes into performance road cycling for the first time.

The Giant Contend SL Disc 1 benefits from Giant's expertise in alloy frame construction.

One of only a small handful of big-name brands that owns its own factories and manufacturing processes, Giant's Contend SL Disc 1 features the brand's Aluxx SL frame material, which represents the middle-level offering of its alloy technology.

It mostly features 6011-series aluminium alloy, which Giant says comes together to produce what it calls "best-in-class strength-to-weight", with tubes joined together using its own welding techniques.

It features internal cable routing into the head tube and through the down tube, albeit routing mechanical shifting cables externally along the chainstays.

The hydraulic front brake hose is routed externally down the fork leg, with the rear entering the frame through a port behind the shifting cables into the down tube, before exiting again at the bottom bracket area and running along the upper side of the brakeside chainstay.

There are bosses for two bottle cages, but none for permanent mudguards.

The rear seatstays are set relatively close to the junction of top tube and seat tube – often seatstays join significantly lower to offer claimed benefits of improved comfort and aero performance. However, the frame does accept Giant's proprietary D-Fuse seatpost, which should mitigate some road buzz.

The fork is made of Giant's ‘Advanced’-level carbon fibre, with the aim of meting out road buzz versus an aluminium option.

All-round, there's clearance for up to 34mm-wide tyres.

That's near enough on a par with modern road bike standards (a Canyon Endurace AL frameset provides clearance for up to 35mm-wide tyres, for example), and it's more than adequate to reap the benefits of wider-than-average rubber on a road bike.

Overall, the ML-size bike (broadly equivalent to a 56cm or large-sized bike for most other brands) weighs in at 9.83kg, without pedals.

The Contend SL Disc 1's geometry lends itself well to long endurance-type riding and easy handling.

A relatively slack head tube (72.5 degrees in all but the smallest of the five sizes on offer) sets the tone, with a 50mm fork rake that effectively pushes the front wheel forward for steady, predictable handling.

At the rear, the chainstays stick to 412mm in length regardless of the size you ride. This is right in the ball park of a bike that – if not primarily designed to whip around like a race bike – should deliver sharpness if you get out of the saddle and call for it.

Additionally, the wheelbase here measures 1,002mm, which isn't overly long for an endurance road bike and should keep the frame feeling responsive.

The reach measures a compact 384mm, helped by the 110mm stem length and tall 577mm stack, which serve to bring the bars upwards and backwards towards the rider.

I found the ride position to be very well thought out, and perfect for those who know they don't want – or can't justify – anything too compact and aggressive at the front end, yet reap the benefits of an agile bike.

The Contend, in its various guises, has impressed over the years. It's a regular feature in our best cheap road bike tests, and has always scored highly and earned respect, with a comfortable yet involving ride being a key repeated finding.

That's the overall impression I’ve been left with in this latest review.

Equipped with a Shimano 105 R7020 groupset, minus a couple of components (more on that below), it performs admirably well, offering a comfortable and fuss-free ride experience.

Whether you’re kicking about for a short 30 to 40km jaunt, or riding much further, you’ll find the Contend's handling immediately predictable and composed.

This is a bike you can almost absent-mindedly cruise about on, rather than feel you need to continuously tweak your inputs to get the most out of it. When climbing, it's easy to sit up and spin calmly to the top, while descending feels serene too.

Giant describes the Contend as an "all-rounder", which traverses the divide between a race and endurance bike. Arguably, it lacks some sharpness through the front end compared to a dedicated race bike, possibly thanks to the longish 58.4mm trail and slackish, relatively tall head tube.

It's by no means slow to respond to inputs though, and its easy-going nature is okay when you simply want to sit up and focus on pedalling, or not have to concentrate too hard coming down the other side safely.

The upshot is, there are sharper-handling bikes than the Contend SL Disc 1, but not many that can achieve this level of overall calmness without feeling boring.

When putting the hammer down out of the saddle, the Contend would certainly benefit from some sportier wheels and tyres to help it come alive and maximise the frame's potential.

That aside, there's no excess flex in the bottom bracket or through the stays that you wouldn't reasonably expect from an alloy bike frame (and a bike at this price). Everything feels solid, dependable and capable of lapping up high-intensity efforts.

The Allux SL frame also manages to smooth out road buzz and bumps impressively, in tandem with the D-Fuse carbon seatpost and carbon fork.

It also rolls very well, given the functional and robust wheels and tyres it's been saddled with. Once I got up to speed, I could happily maintain a 25 to 30km/h steady tempo, and carry speed on flat terrain without feeling I needed to power excessively up false flats.

The Contend SL Disc 1's finishing kit comes from Giant's own stable of products.

There's the Taiwenese brand's excellent D-Fuse carbon seatpost, which is a nicely premium product to see on a bike at this price. Its D-shape assists with deflection, helping to make the experience as comfortable as it can be through the Giant Approach saddle.

Road bike saddles are always subjective, but I found the Approach model's shape to be well suited to a predominately endurance-type ride position. When I settled into the drops for short, speedier stints of riding, it didn't offer up any unwanted surprises either.

The handlebar and stem come as a standard two-piece affair.

The Giant Connect bar is 42cm wide in a size ML build, offering a stable-feeling hand position and connection with the bike. Some endurance bikes have even wider bars, but the added stability that can bring can often detract from how sharp the steering is.

I think here, Giant has got the balance spot-on, while the drops are easy to lower into if you want to get a little more tucked in.

The bars are attached to a 110mm Giant Contact alloy stem. It's not particularly noteworthy, other than to say it – in combination with the handlebar – offers a solid platform for your steering and out-of-saddle inputs.

The Contend SL Disc 1 is fitted with a Shimano 105 R7020 groupset. Shifting is crisp and sharp, with the rest of the drivetrain still as impressive as it's ever been.

In this build, the compact chainset and 11-34t cassette offer a typical beginner and endurance-rider friendly 34x34t smallest ratio, while the 50x11t largest gear is likely to be big enough for most.

The 11-speed, 11-34t cassette leaves inevitably large gaps between some of the ratios, but the wide range on offer here is the most important consideration.

There are, however, two key deviations from the Shimano 105 R7020-series components, with a non-standard Shimano RS510 chainset and Giant's own MPH brake rotors.

Neither choice spoils the ride experience of the Contend SL Disc 1, but neither can quite meet the same premium experience of the components they’ve replaced.

At this price point, it's a forgivable – even justified – concession to swap out rotors, especially when the wheels supplied only accept six-bolt fitments, which the all-steel MPH rotors cater for.

But having fully checked the hydraulic system for any errant air bubbles before testing, the brake system doesn't quite produce the same feel and modulation you typically get in a standard 105-spec setup.

That said, absolute stopping power is more than enough in good conditions on a hardtop surface, where you’re going to find the most grip.

The RS510 chainset offers similar shifting performance to its full 105 sibling, but it's in the region of 145g heavier and, in combination with the third component swap-out – a KMC X11EL-1 chain – doesn't feel quite as smooth when you push down hard to sprint or at lower cadences.

The wheels are Giant's own-brand S-R2 hoops, which have tubeless-compatible rims, with a 22mm internal width.

They contribute to the Contend SL Disc 1's overall smooth performance. But, despite an adequately fast-engaging hub mechanism, they feel relatively heavy and sluggish to accelerate.

This is compounded by the tyres, Giant-branded S-R3s. Their official size is 700 x 28c, but they measure out closer to 30mm wide when mounted to the S-R2 wheels.

That enables you to run lower tyre pressures than you might otherwise, which plays a significant role in the overall smooth ride quality I’ve already pinpointed.

The clincher tyres provide ample grip, have proven durable in my time with them, and feature a cut tread intended to improve road-holding performance in challenging conditions.

Unfortunately, they offer little in the way of feel when cornering at speed – they don't inspire confidence to really push on through turns or down descents.

As a result, the combination of the sturdy wheels and tyres detracts from the ultimate potential the Contend's frameset could deliver. Together, they would be the first things I’d upgrade.

The Giant Contend SL Disc 1 offers a great-value way to get your hands on a bike with a (largely) 105-spec drivetrain, throwing a highly competent frameset into the mix.

The wheels and tyres hold the bike back from achieving its full potential, while the chainset and disc brake rotor component swaps are a small (if understandable) concession.

However, that shouldn't detract too much from what is a very good, easy-to-ride road bike.

Senior technical editor

Ashley Quinlan is a senior technical editor for BikeRadar, covering all things road and gravel. A trained journalist, he has been working in and around the bike industry for almost a decade, and riding for much longer. He's written for, eBikeTips, RoadCyclingUK and Triathlon Plus magazine, covering the latest news and product launches, and writing in-depth reviews, group tests, buyer's guides… and more. He's also worked in PR for some of the industry's biggest brands. A roadie at heart (who often casts an interested gaze at gravel and XC mountain biking), Ash has been told that he's best used as windbreak thanks to his 188cm, 80-plus kilogram build. Despite this, he loves spending time in the mountains scaling cols and is a repeat finisher of the Étape du Tour.