The Giant Propel is an awesome looking bike. Aesthetically it simply looks futuristic, fast and fun. When I first saw this bike I thought, finally a Giant bike that looks good! Don’t get me wrong, for many years I have admired Giant bikes for their consistent quality, wide choice of models and price competitiveness. It’s just that in the road range the compact design introduced in the late 90s has never appealed to me. But looks aren’t everything in cycling… OK they’re pretty important, so what does the Propel offer apart from great looks?
The Propel is Giant’s first road bike purposefully designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. Giant claim that at 40 km/hr, the Propel saves 12-36 seconds over 40 kilometres when compared to other leading aero frames such as the Cervelo S5, Specialized Venge, Ridley Noah FAST, and the Scott Foil.
The Propel is distinguished from a time trial bike in that it’s designed to be ridden on the road under all conditions (not just a time trial). The R&D team at Giant designed not only an aero bike but one that handles well in and out of corners, up and down hills and on the flat. And they did this without sacrificing stiffness or increasing weight. To achieve this, Giant tested over 88 design iterations before they arrived at the model you see today on the shop floor.
Giant tested the design in the wind tunnel using a dynamic mannequin/dummy (rumour has it the dummy was actually Danilo Di Luca) to simulate real life performance and this led to some very interesting design features:
The head tube is contoured and shaped as you’d expect and houses the 1 1/4-inch top and 1 1/2-inch bottom headset bearings. The forks themselves integrate perfectly to the frame. The top tube is thick near the front to provide strength and stability and then to save weight, tapers to be very thin at the seat mast. The horizontal top tube is a departure from the sloping top tube Giants have become synonymous with. Again the reasoning for this is improved aerodynamics, according to Giant the sloping top tube increases drag.
The seat mast is fully integrated with the frame, while the down tube hugs the rear wheel for best aero performance. The rear triangle of the seat and chain stays is small and extremely strong allowing maximum power transfer from the massive bottom bracket (a BB71 press fit).
Perhaps the most distinctive aero feature is the down tube which starts off aero shaped near the top but then quickly morphs into a more traditional cross section half way down. This doesn’t look aero, however Giant tests have shown that with a regular round drink bottle this shape provides the least drag.
The Giant-designed, TRP manufactured brakes on the Propel are designed to be hidden from the wind, the front brake is tucked away nicely behind the fork and the rear is mounted on the short seat stays. The brakes themselves are essentially V-type brakes typically found on mountain or flat bar bikes. While not as smooth or powerful as standard dual pivot callipers I found the brakes to be more than adequate.
The bike is beautifully complimented with some class components. The Propel SL 0 comes with the Giant Contact SLR Aero Integrated Giant bars. The drops have a comfortable compact curvature and the flat tops provide both aero performance and plenty of real estate for your hands. The Shimano Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 11 speed groupset is simply excellent, providing quick, confident gear changes, while the Zipp 404 Firecrest carbon clinchers are proven performers and worthy of carrying such a fine frame and ensemble. The Fizik Arione R3 saddle does the job. Again it is a proven component that, while not my favourite saddle, is well matched to the sleek design of the Propel.
The Propel is an excellent handling bike; it is sharp and crisp in and out of corners and feels solid under accelerations. Overall the ride is very firm, more so than your average top end road bike, but certainly not harsh like a time trial frame.
The Propel is testament to the ongoing marginal gains in frame technology. This bike out-of-the-box and no pedals weighed in at just 6.91kg.
The Propel Advanced SL 0 retails for around $9,999.
At the end of the day if you can’t average 40 km/hr for 60 minutes (I can’t) the 36 second aero benefit may not matter to you. However I still recommend this bike as a top end road bike, based on its fantastic ride and handling… oh yea, and on its great looks!
– Lachlan Mackay
*images courtesy of www.tbsm.com.au