Before the ride

The first thing that comes to mind when setting eyes on the Propel Advanced SL0 is that it looks like cycling’s equivalent of an F1 car. It’s a seriously hi-tech looking bike that has some beautiful lines, curves and integration when closely examined. But it’s not all just good looks. The hero of this bike is its claimed aerodynamics which come through in the aesthetics.

In terms of a structural overview, Giant’s “OverDrive2″ oversized fork steerer-tube provides a solid front-end which is due to the design of the oversized headset bearings and tapered steerer tube.

Tall, thin seatstays, attaching low on the seat tube and the massive “PowerCore” bottom bracket/chainstay (BB86 bottom bracket) result in a very compact rear triangle and make the back end very stiff in every direction. I’ll talk more about how this translates into the ride quality later.

 

 

The Propel integrates its brakes to get the desired aero properties by using a TRP-built linear-pull brake system similar in design to the old mountain bike V-brakes. BMC’s TMR01 (see our review here) uses a similar design.

Giant designed the Propel’s rear brake to sit behind the seat stays and places the front brake behind the fork in order to keep the lines of the bike smooth and aerodynamic. If they’re set up properly, these “mini-V” linear pull brakes offer excellent power and modulation. Finding the sweet spot between them requires a bit of playing around, but anyone who is familiar with adjusting V-brakes on mountain bikes will have no troubles at all.

The small disadvantage of this braking system is there’s no quick release (like calipers have) to get the wheel in and out for a quick change. To remove the wheel, the brake cable needs to be unhooked. It’s not a deal breaker, but perhaps a small trade-off when comparing to caliper brakes.

Another piece of this bike that’s heavily integrated is the one-piece handlebar and oversized stem which is drilled for internal cable routing. The handlebars feel nice and comfortable, the teardrop-shaped bar tops feel very good on climbs and the Di2 Sprint Shifters in the drops work a treat.

There are 12 options for width and stem length available at purchase, so you shouldn’t be left without something that suits you. There are a couple drawbacks to this system however.

Changing to a different bar size can be an involved process that includes some recabling (more with mechanical cabling than Di2). Also, the non-standard size and shape can make your existing computer and camera mounts difficult to attach. That said, you can always change the handlebar/stem combination to another one of your liking.

 

 

Geometry

propel geometry

There are six sizes to choose from and nearly the same compact geometry is carried over from the TCR (See our TCR Advanced 0 review here).

To make sense of this geometry chart, read more on the Geometry of Bike Handling.

The Propel comes in various men’s models at different price points plus the Envie which is the first women’s aero designed bike:

- Propel Advanced SL0 with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2: RRP $9,999 AUD
- Propel Advanced SL1 with Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical: RRP $8,499
- Propel Advanced 1 with Ultegra Di2: RRP $4999 AUD
- Propel Advanced 2 with Ultegra mechanical: RRP $4299 AUD
- Women’s Envie LIV and Advanced 1 & 2: RRP $9499, $4299, and $2999 respectivly.

After the ride

As I said, the point of the Propel is to be aerodynamic and therefore fast. Let’s look at what some independent lab tests reveal, and then how it translates into real-world experience:

Velo magazine (Sept. 2013, download pdf review here) reviewed the Propel in their wind tunnel and reported that it was the most aerodynamic of the aero bikes tested. It blew the competition away:


The Propel was quickest at every yaw angle in the wind tunnel, on par, or slightly better, than the Cervélo S5 from last year’s aero bike test, which set the benchmark for fast. On average, that meant a savings of nearly 10 watts across all yaw angles when compared to the second place BH, and 22 watts over both the Ridley and Trek. The Giant Propel is the first aero road bike in the history of VeloLab to score best in both the tunnel and lab. It’s a fast, stiff bike, without question. –Velo, Sept. 2013

It’s been a blustery October in Melbourne and there have been no shortage of chances to test this bike out in the crosswinds. One of the first things I noticed is that in a direct headwind, the effects of the Propel’s aero qualities are immediately apparent. It feels as though it has the ability to trim itself upright into a very stable machine when catching the wind head-on. However, I didn’t find this to affect its cornering ability.

However, despite Velo’s windtunnel testing, I did not find the lab tests to translate into the real world when it came to crosswinds. The Zipp 404 Firecrests (a 58mm rim depth) working in conjunction with the aerodynamically designed frame, made for the most difficult bike I’ve ever ridden to control in crosswinds (note that I am comparing this to traditional bikes and this is the only aero bike I’ve done a longterm test on).

 

 

I own Zipp 404 Firecrests and have never noticed this quality about them before. When I put low-profile rims on the Propel the feeling diminishes, but the effect is still there more so than I’ve felt on traditional bikes. I’m an 80kg rider so I can handle it, but lighter riders may hate the crosswinds more than they already do.

That said, many of the Belkin riders used the Propel in the windswept Stage 13 of this year’s Tour and their results certainly didn’t seem to suffer.

In terms of the ride quality, front and rear stiffness is impressive despite the narrow shaped tubes. Even though the Propel is designed with aerodynamic properties in mind, it’s snappy on the climbs and to be honest, that’s where the bike unexpectedly shined for me. However, don’t expect a plush ride with all road vibrations dampened.

Aerodynamics and performance are the main priority for this bike, not comfort. I didn’t find the ride uncomfortable whatsoever, but it’s very different than my Specialized Tarmac. If I had to compare the Propel’s “feel” to a bike that I’ve ridden extensively, it would be the Specialized Venge.

Do you own a Giant Propel? Why not login and rate it against our review?

WRAP-UP

Specific
There is no doubt that this is a fast bike with outstanding aero characteristics. However, like all things so specialised, it does come at a cost. Headwinds and tailwinds are fantastic, but crosswinds are likely to give lighter riders grief. The Propel has some excellent integration (brakes, handlebars/stem, seatpost) but is not the most practical thing if you only have room in your budget for one bike. The Propel Advanced SL is a pure race bike that performs wonderfully, but it best suited to someone who has a single purpose in mind - to go fast. Weight: 7.0kg (no pedals, size M/L) RRP: $9,999 AUD
GOOD STUFF
  • Very stiff bottom bracket and headtube
  • Noticeably aero in headwinds
  • Descends wonderfully
  • Feels fast
  • Component integration looks and functions beautifully
BAD STUFF
  • Not the smoothest ride
  • Although integrated components are great, they're not always the best for being practical and servicability
  • Tough to control in the crosswinds

CTECH RATING

8.5

Performance
9.0
Presentation
10.0
Fit/Comfort
8.0
Handling
8.0

USER RATING
4 Reviews

7.8

Performance
7.5
Presentation
9.3
Fit/Comfort
6.5
Handling
6.8



9
Tristan Dimmock - 01.11.2013
Performance
9.0
Presentation
10.0
Fit/Comfort
8.0
Handling
8.0
I have owned a Propel SL1 for 3 months now, i have owned and raced on other top frames and this is the fastest bike i have ridden so far. I noticed it in the first race it climbed amazingly, and on any downhill or flat it flew. Im a light rider- 64kg and this bike has definitely saved me many watts in crits and races. LOVE IT
6
Ashley Bleeker - 01.11.2013
Performance
6.0
Presentation
9.0
Fit/Comfort
6.0
Handling
6.0
I've had my Propel for 6 months. I think it looks great but I think it's handling is poor and its design flawed. I have 404s on mine too (and am 80kg) but it sux in cross winds. I also think the brakes are deficient. I've had 4 different types of pads in them and had the brake arms replaced three times but they still squeal under load. It is most likely the fact that the brake arms are too long and not stiff enough, and suffer micro vibrations under load. Although they seem unwilling to admit it, Giant knows there is a problem with the brake design on this bike. So, although I think it looks great, I would probably choose another bike if I had my time again.
10
Dale Reardon - 01.11.2013
Performance
9.0
Presentation
10.0
Fit/Comfort
8.0
Handling
8.0
I have only had my Propel for a month but I have to say it is by far the fastest bike I have ridden, I am a heavy rider at 98kg and living in Cornwall it is all up and down here and always windy. The Propel cuts through the air with ease climbs well even with my weight, the brake have not been any trouble for me although the zip wheels have needed some spoke tightening but I think thats down to my size and the condition of the road surface here! I am so pleased with the Propel cant wait for summer and some fast riding.
6
Bardia Bodaghi - 17.03.2014
Performance
6.0
Presentation
8.0
Fit/Comfort
4.0
Handling
5.0
I have had my Propel SL 0 now for about 3 months and done approx. 2,500km, including both shorter interval rides and longer group rides, as well as crits. The first thing that I would say now is that if I had my money back I would NOT buy this bike. In Darwin, we have no real means of properly test riding a bike to work out if it is suitable. I got carried away by the hype and wanted to go significantly different if I was buying a new bike (upgrade from Domane 4.3). I was not after marginal gain, given the costs of selling the old bike and buying a new one. Darwin is a hot and humid place and this bike, although tested and proven in the pro-peloton, is too high tech to use as an all rounder. Sure, if I had a mechanic and a team car following me everywhere, it would be great, but the reality is that I don't and I am only moderately proficient at, or interested in for that matter, playing the mechanic longer than I ride the bike. The Di2 in particular has been giving me so much grief it is not funny. I was able to ride for about 6 weeks on the initial charge, but ever since that the battery keeps losing charge rather quickly and so far troubleshooting has not led to any solution. The bike was at the shop for 8 days at one stage, with absolutely no solution found or progress made. Shimano product warranty support is in Sydney and not particularly helpful and the bike shop here hasn't sorted things out either. I ended up doing my own troubleshooting and now the bike is back at the shop, with me hoping for the best but expecting again more delays and more trouble, ie preparing for the worst. The other issues: the Zipp 404 wheels: I have already had 2 spoke/nipple problems on 2 separate occasions and apparently this is nothing unusual either. Braking on these full carbon wheels is also difficult and haphazard at best. The mechanic told me the other day that a lot of the nipples were corroded already (3 months on!!!) and were at risk of breaking at some stage. The TRP brakes: in one word, they are absolute shite. Hard as hell to line up, they come off their line with the first attempt at braking. New brake bits have been fitted but the situation is the same. I have now had to loosen the cable quite a bit so the risks of rubbing after every brake are reduced. So, you've guessed it, if I had my time again, I would never ever buy this bike again. Sure it is aero, it is stiff and it looks gorgeous, but it is uncomfortable, it does not climb well, and the components are so sensitive that the slightest drop of sweat seems to act like acid.

Thank you to Giant Australia for providing us with this bike for review. Disclosure: Giant has advertised with us in the past.