When I first got my Giant Propel I tweeted that it was the best first impression of a bike that I’ve ever had:
I’ve raced on eight different bike brands in the last eight years so I have a pretty broad pool of info to draw from. Now that it’s the midpoint of the season and I’ve done a couple of NRC races on it, I think it’s time for a more complete review.
Aero road bikes have to make some compromises. Aerodynamic shapes are inherently flexy tortionally and stiff vertically, pretty much the worst combination for making a good race bike. As such bike companies have to optimize tube shapes and carbon layups to try and mitigate some of these issues. Giant’s take on it is to have a massive 1″1/4 steerer tube for front end stiffness and to make a downtube that goes from a true aero profile at e headtube to a truncated one where the bottle cage mounts. Coupled with some midsized chain stays, it makes for one of the snappiest and stiffest bikes that I’ve ridden.
None of this was particularly surprising, it’s not hard to make an aero bike stiff, you just need to use enough carbon. And it is true, my Propel Advanced is not the lightest bike in the world. Built up with SRAM Red22 and the Ritchey SuperLogic tubulars it’s still at a UCI legal 7.0kg. The comparable TCR Advanced, which all of my teammates ride, would be a good pound lighter with the same build kit. However, for me the most important thing is positioning before the climbs, it’s hard to attack on a climb if I have to use all my energy to move up from the back, and at 141 lbs, going uphill has never really been an issue for me. If I can save a bunch of energy on the flats I can use that on the climbs. It’s not like many races in the US have thirty or fourty minute climbs either where it’s just a race of attrition, so being fresh and at the front is key. Also, according to a Giant representative, the Advanced SL model that has an integrated seatmast is also almost a pound lighter, so if you are really concerned about weigt you could go that route.
What is suprising about the Propel is the ride quality. I am still not sure how they did it, but the bike really does not feel overly harsh on the rough chipseal roads I train on every day. I’ve definitely ridden on non-aero road bikes that have beaten me up way more after four or five hours. I think the rear wheel cut-out combined with the relatively slender seat stays and boxy chain stays has given Giant enough room to engineer some vertical compliance into the frame, something I really did not expect after hearing feedback from riders who have ridden some other brands’ aero models or indeed riding my TT bike. Also it is purported that the SL version is even more comfy, but with my seat height, traveling with a full seat mast would be a challenge as not many bike boxes would fit it.
The Propel has one of the higher bottom brackets of the bikes I’ve ridden in the last 8 years and that really shows in crits. Crits are an unavoidable part of US racing, and even as a climber I have to be able to hold my own. Only 20 out of 160 people finished in the front part of the peloton at theTour of the Gila crit, and anyone who has general classification ambitions needs to know how to stay in front. A couple of years ago my Italian race bike had an usually low BB, which made it steady on the downhills but terrible in crits, makes sense since they have a lot of technical downhills but no crits in Italy. Everyone in the field would be pedaling through a corner while my team would be clipping pedals trying to keep up.
The Giant definitely does not have this problem. Now normally, this high BB would make this bike feel twitchy since it raises the center of gravity. Giant have avoided this problem by giving it a slightly slacker head angle and that massive steerer eliminates any torsional flex that’s present in most other bikes. The end result is that when there was a 40-50 rider pileup at 45+ mph on stage 1 of Gila, the Propel was stable yet snappy enough to thread the needle despite taking a few hits in the process.
There are a few small issues with the bike. That 1″1/4 steerer tube means that the stem options are limited. Giant have a pretty wide selection of house brand stems, and Ritchey makes its WCS 4-axis -6 degree stem in that size as well, but if you want to run something else, you can’t. The brakes are a bit tricky to set up and are super sensitive to housing length, so much so that if you don’t have particularly stiff bars the change in effective housing length from bar flex will make them rub the front wheel while out of the saddle. However, I have just received new brakes for the bike, which will be standard for 2015 that should go a long way to resolving these issues. Check back here for an update on how that goes. Despite being finicky, the current ones do stop really well and modulate much better than some of the other linear-pull brakes I’ve ridden. The BB86 press fit bottom bracket has developed a creak too, but I’m sure pulling it out and re-greasing it would correct that problem.
I want to end on a few small details that I was really excited about. The saddle clamp is the two bolt design which makes dialing in saddle angle a pinch, I super sensitive to saddle angle so I always prefer those to a one bolt design. Also it’s reversible so most people don’t have to have the saddle slammed forward or back on the rails to get a good fit.
The thing that made me most excited while building the bike is that it has full length plastic sleeves for the shift cables. A bike with this cable routing can be a nightmare to work on, but on the Propel you just stick the cables in behind the stem, and they come out at the deraileurs. This also means that sweat and drink mix run off don’t contaminate the cables around the BB. After 6 months of heavy riding, the bike is still shifting as well as when I built it in January.