Gear Issue: endurance vs. all-around bike shootout

As bicycle categories blend, riders get closer to the proverbial Superbike. But distinct category identities still remain, and for good reason.

The endurance category has undergone the most significant facelift of any road bike group. Giant’s Defy is emblematic of how far endurance bikes have come since the early days of massively tall head tubes and severely sloping top tubes. This bike goes fast, but it won’t break your back.

Bikes like the Defy still live in the land of compromise, but that no longer has to sound disappointing. Unless you’re after a race-specific bike that will help you get to the next level of the sport, the Defy is the bike most of us should be riding.

Meanwhile, the silhouette of Scott’s Addict is exactly what you’d envision if someone asked you to draw a bicycle. In that sense, it’s very much a traditional all-around bicycle, with most of the features you’d expect: a lightweight frame comprised of thin tube shapes, a short head tube, and relatively steep head tube angle to make for an aggressive riding position and responsive handling, and enough stiffness for explosiveness underfoot.

Look closer at either bike, though, and you’ll see how the industry has cooked up a stew of cross-category bikes that can do almost anything.

Let’s start with considering the Defy as an endurance bike that can perform some of the same duties as an all-around bike. Most of us do long rides, the occasional race, and likely a gran fondo or two. The Defy shines in each scenario. It does so by ditching your typical endurance construction practices and embracing much of what makes all-around bikes great: light weight and side-to-side rigidity.

Indeed, this is a laterally stiff frame. Yet the dropped seat stays, D-shaped seatpost — aptly named D-Fuse — and specially designed handlebars all increase flex for comfort over rough road surfaces. The reliance on componentry to supply comfort frees up engineers to create a frame that can perform in a wider range of conditions, from all-day grinds to races.

The Defy even borrows some characteristics from the aero world, thereby blurring the category lines even further. Take a look at the dropped seat stays, internal cable routing, and the aero touches on the stem, for example.

Want more proof the endurance category is coming of age? Take a look at Giant’s power meter, which is included on high-end Defy builds. This used to be a training tool reserved for racers, but now a wider swath of riders craves that data. Prices have come down, and brands have realized the value in providing power data to consumers who may not race frequently but still want to use a power meter to improve performance.

With all those touches lending themselves to category blending, plenty of endurance characteristics remain. The Defy still sports a tall 185-millimeter head tube (compared to the Addict’s 160-millimeter head tube) which puts the rider in a more upright riding position — though by slamming the stem, you’re still able to get into a very aggressive riding position.

And a 72.5-degree head tube angle is moderately aggressive, but it’s paired with a 58-millimeter trail that lends itself to a more stable steering feel. Compare those numbers to the Addict’s more aggressive 73-degree head tube angle and 56.6-millimeter trail. While the numbers are different, it’s not by a whole lot.

The Defy is not ultra-responsive, and that’s by design: Go ahead and take your hands off the bars. The bike will track predictably. You’ll need to provide more input at high speeds, but the bike also won’t respond to every bit of steering input, which is a boon for riders who aren’t regularly wending their way through pelotons.

If you are spending most of your time in the thick of a race, consider the Addict. But remember: Even racers train off the racecourse.

That’s one of the reasons why all-around bikes have become a bit more forgiving in recent years. Comfort is fast. Take a look at the Addict’s top tube, for example. Not only does it slope ever so slightly, but it also flattens toward the seat tube. You might chalk that up to weight savings, but that shape also allows for some vertical flex, which in turn translates to more comfort for the rider. The seat stays meet the seat tube slightly lower than the junction of the top tube, which works in conjunction with that flex. That’s aided even more by the 27.2-millimeter seat post which is thin enough to flex as well.

Sure, it won’t feel like an endurance bike. But it certainly does borrow some traits from its comfort cousins. That’s all it needs to do to make it a bike you’d want to train on, and not just ride on race day. That light touch means the other characteristics that riders value in a race bike can remain — like lateral stiffness and light weight — without sacrificing your spine.

The only feature the Defy has that the Addict doesn’t — and one that other all-around bikes have started borrowing — is the dropped seat stays. You’ll find them on bikes like Scott’s Foil and BMC’s Teammachine, both bikes with more aero touches than the Addict. Those dropped seat stays allow the seat tube to flex while maintaining lateral rigidity. Expect to see such a design on more all-around bikes in the future.