Duncan at Wallington Cycles tweeted me a couple of weeks ago, asking if I would I like a test ride on a Propel, as he had one coming in for a few days. Well, it would be rude not to.
The first thing that strikes you is the colour. Matt black and red, it’s the cycling equivalent of flames on the side of a car. Never been a fan of white bar tape, mostly because it doesn’t stay white for long, but it seems to work on this.
I’d already tested the new Defy Advanced with disc brakes earlier this year but that was fairly rushed that time, so the ride was short. Today, I managed to get in 55 miles around Surrey, taking in Leith and Box Hill along the way.
The bike is running a 52/36 semi-compact 105 crankset, with 12/28 cogs (must have been changed at some point as usually this came with 12/25), which is a first for me. Always had a 50/34 with a 12/25. I didn’t actually take much notice when I took the bike out to start, as I spent a few minutes having to put on my bottle cages and Garmin mount on. But when at one point I looked down and thought the big ring looked bigger.
Setting off from the shop it was easy to tell that even though it is an aero bike, it isn’t an uncomfortable, buzzy, time-trial like feel. The difference between this and the Defy is noticeable, but not to the point of thinking, “Oh, that’s harsh.” It just isn’t. But it is a firmer ride. There is a definite rigidness, and as Chris in the shop said, “It’s a bit Formula One.” I get where he is coming from. That rigidness does put more of the power into the wheels and there is a sense of speed about the bike, not just from the looks.
On any ride like this, there is a fair amount of luck getting saddle height just right with the different dimensions and a different saddle. That can certainly have a bearing on how the ride feels. When I did get it as close as I could it obviously felt a lot better but still firmer – to be expected.
The wheels cut through the air, getting you up to cruising speed pretty fast. Deep section wheels are also a first for me. The Giant P-SLR 1 Aero WheelSystem (2015) on this bike has 50mm carbon shrouds on an aluminium rim. They didn’t seem especially heavy or light. But like all deep section wheels, they catch the wind. No idea if these are any better than any other, but they are u-section rather than v-section. It wasn’t that windy today but I could feel it occasionally, but it wasn’t a problem.
The 2016 bike has P-SL 1, which look similar to these P-SLR 1’s. This years P-SLR’s are full composite and twice the price for a weight saving of ~150 grams.
The Defy I tested earlier this year was a medium-large and probably a bit too big for me. I have a Defy Advanced 2 from a couple of years ago myself and even with that I fall right on the end of the scale, according to Giant’s own size guide. Actually I’ve often wanted to try a small, just to see how it feels being on the other end of the scale.
This, however, was also a medium but felt a little shorter in the top tube than my Defy (I can’t be bothered to look at the dimensions to confirm that). It certainly has a shorter wheelbase than the Defy or TCR, this does make it turn into corners much sharper, as if on rails. It also makes it a little more twitchy in comparison – that Formula One thing again. No surprise there. It was easy to get the hang and again, didn’t cause a problem.
As I mentioned, I went up Leith and Box Hill. You would expect this sort of thing not to climb that well. Again, didn’t seem to be a problem. My seat height and angle was possibly the only issue. Up the steep side of Leith it was fine.
On Box Hill, I managed to collect a wheelsucker at the bottom. I did what I usually do on Box, stick it in the second lowest gear on the big ring and ride up. I forgot it was a 52 ring. Even with a larger 28 on the back, there is a bit of difference on the gear ration (2.1 vs 2.2) and it felt like it on the top part. I wasn’t going to give in or show weakness, just pushed through it, hating myself. Not had a workout like that up Box for a while. I also managed to drop the guy.
The looks or the lifestyle?
I shared pictures of the bike on Strava after the ride, natch. First comment was, “That’s a lush looking bike.” It really is. I stopped off at home to show the kids, they were full of admiration for it too. Black, red and white with big wheels – what’s not to like. The 2016 version of this model is blue but equally flash.
Would I buy one?
I’ve been thinking about a TCR for a while. A Propel had never crossed my mind. I like hills, which is good considering I live near Surrey Hills. The Propel never struck me as a hill riding machine. With a change to the gears and getting the saddle right, it may well be an option but I’d probably try the TCR first to see if it balances some of the firmness against the comfort of the Defy.
You certainly get your money’s worth here. T700 carbon frame, deep section rims (albeit aluminium/carbon) and 105 11-spd groupset. For anyone, this would be a great bike. Considering it will be selling for just over £2100, it is also a great bargain.
I can see now why many triathletes buy these, probably because of the ride, cost and flexibility of having an aero road bike compared to a tri.
Getting back on my Defy at the shop and cycling home, it did feel like putting on a comfy pair of trainers. But isn’t that always the case?
Thanks to Duncan setting up the ride!