Propel: A review, kinda.

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‘Reviews’ make me cringe.  All those years of academic writing make me instantly suspicious of veiled and unveiled interests.   Everyone has bias and I’m no different.

Regardless, a bunch of people have asked me what I think of the Propel, given I’ve been lucky enough to ride one for the past few weeks. So to alleviate my obvious prejudice, I’m going to focus on RT (Real Talk ©).  I’ll try and tell it like it is.  If Giant doesn’t like what I say, what’s the worst they can do? Take away my birthday?

To keep it simple, I’ll go over the major features of bike.

1.       Non-Sloping Frame

I must admit that I am a big fan of traditional looking bikes (i.e. the Colnago C50), so the horizontal top tube is my favourite feature of the Propel.  A crazy sloping frame combined with all the aero features of the Propel would have just been way too much, so Giant have done well to keep it looking like, well, an actual bicycle.

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The fit is identical to the Giant TCR series and the minimal graphics, rear wheel cut-out and naked unidirectional carbon are also a big plus in my books.  There really isn’t anything to fault on the frame – it genuinely ‘feels’ fast/stiff/responsive and the finish is flawless.

2.       Brakes

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This was the Propel’s potential Achilles heel – if the brakes were rubbish, the bike would face some stern criticism.  After almost 2000km and at least 200km of descending, I can report that modulation is very good and the brake’s power always exceeds the tyre’s grip (you can’t ask for more from a brake).  I think the trick is to have them set up properly – Murray from ProMotion did a great job on mine, and I think Dan Hale’s magic touch would make him another go-to guy.

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Now, I’m not saying that modulation is as good as DA 9000; we can’t realistically expect that from a V-Brake setup.  But it’s at least 95% as good, with a big aerodynamic gain – making the whole proposition a definite win.  Plus the frame/brake setup looks sick, which is scientifically proven to be more performance enhancing than training.

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3.       Bar and Stem

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Coming off a TCR with Enve carbon bars and Giant’s massively oversized stem, I was weary of the Propel’s integrated bar setup.  I’ve ridden a few integrated bar/stems made by other brands and most feel like a wet noodle.

I’m not pumping out big sprint power but this bar/stem feels rock solid. It’s on-par with the Enve setup I had previously, much better than the 3T bar/stem I rode prior and much, much better than the FSA setup before that. The shape is nice, compact and traditionally curved in the drops, although the aero flat tops took some getting used to. It even has a very clean 2-bolt mounting point under the bar for your computer.

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FYI the bar/stem units come in a variety of widths and lengths and I was able to swap the standard 90mm for 120mm – just liaise with your dealer to arrange.

4.       11 Speed Di2

I can give it no greater complement than to say it does exactly what I tell it to do.  I will never, ever go back to cable shifting.

I subjectively think it shifts slightly better than 10 speed Di2 (although my 10 speed Di2 drivetrain has 25k kms on it, so my memory of how it shifted when new is fuzzy).  The big change from 10 speed is that holding the shift button will result in the bike continuing to change gears until you release. I like this change a lot.

The Propel also comes with sprint shift buttons, which I didn’t think I’d like or need…until I tried them.  For a hotdog crit, or the final corner at a Kew Boulevard Crit, they are unreal.

5.       Fizik Arione CX

Hate is a strong word; but I hate the classic Arione.  It’s appropriately called “The Sterilizer”.  Then I tried the CX variant on the Propel – it’s a totally different proposition than the classic Arione.  Much firmer and I’m sold on it.

6.       Wheels

Apparently made by DT Swiss, the Giant branded 44mm carbon/alloy clinchers are a pretty good fit for both training and racing. I’d ride these wheels daily and race them in club crits and road races.  I don’t think anyone would hold it against me to say they don’t have the je ne sais quoi of a pair of Enve 6.7s/C50 tubs/Lightweight Obermayers, so if you’re a wheel connoisseur I wouldn’t sell your special hoops to fund the purchase of this bike.  Just sell a kidney instead.

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The stock Kenda tyres are very soft racing slicks.  In the ‘tyre triangle’ of Grip/Drag/Puncture Resistance, I would say they have good grip in the dry, low drag and medium puncture resistance.  A caveat on the grip – these are not a winter tyre and I’d reserve them for dry days only.

7.       Power

If you’re spending this much on a bike with this much technology, you’re probably interested in power measurement too.  I maintain that Quarq is the best power meter option available, as a matching Dura Ace SRM is around twice the price and you can’t (officially) replace the battery without sending it to New Zealand for a two week holiday.  I installed a 10 speed Quarq + GXP bottom bracket on the Propel and it works with 11s Di2 without adjustment.

Quarq have since released the ELSA 10R, which has subdued graphics and all the features of the Red Quarq.  If you don’t already have a power meter, I’d definitely recommend that you get your Giant dealer to spec the ELSA or RIKEN on the Propel and trade in the stock DA9000 crankset for a discount.

Summary

I acknowledge I may have a slight case of ‘new bike syndrome’, where the novelty/ newness/tightness of everything make me love the bike more than I should.  But here’s the rub: every one of its competitors either costs several thousand $ more, or doesn’t have 11s Di2, or lacks the frame and aero technology of the Propel, or a combination of all three.  From a value perspective, I don’t see anything coming close.  Regardless, I know that bike purchasing decisions are rarely based on rational assessments of relative value, so here’s the most genuine, toned-down, subdued assessment I can make: This Bike Is Ridiculous and you should try one.

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If you fit a small and want to try mine, just ask and I’ll arrange a test ride.

NB

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3 thoughts on “Propel: A review, kinda.

  1. I’m really interested to know how this bike performs in climbs? Most of my riding is around Mornington Peninsula (Arthur’s Seat), Kinglake, Dande’s etc. I am also considering the TCR Adv SL0. Any thoughts?

  2. To be honest Ed I think both can handle anything we could throw at them. I’m going to give a non-committal answer and say that both bikes do every job well and I find it hard to separate them. The Propel is definitely more stiff through the back end, especially through the seatmast. I think the SL0 is slightly lighter though.

    If it were me, I’d get the Propel based on looks alone 🙂

  3. As my son’s team will be using the Giant Propel model 2014 as team bikes I have a question with respect to using a power meter. You say you used a Quarq GXP based power meter. If I try to search for bottom bracket and Giant and power meter it seems the Giant frames use BB86 or BB386 Evo which should not be compatible with GXP as the bottom bracket dimensions of the BB86 / BB386 is too wide for a GXP based system.
    If you still have the frame can you confirm the bottom bracket dimensions and perhaps also what kind of BB adapter you used to install a GXP BB system as the team bikes will not be delivered before the start of the European season and we already have an old SRM Octalink wireless power meter that might work?
    Kind regards /
    Michael

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