Image credit: Bicycling.com.
By Paul Carroll
When you’re one of the biggest kids on the block it’s easy to become a target. When you’re big and Taiwanese in the bicycle world, overcoming a stigma of the “Wal-Mart bike” is even harder.
Giant Bicycles proves that big isn’t necessarily bad. Giant has demonstrated that despite its size – over 5 million bicycles across 12,000 stores and close to $1 billion in revenue – it can still be innovative and a “player” in the competitive road and mountain bike markets.
Giant was founded in 1972 and remained content to be purely a shadow manufacturer that made bikes for other brands like Schwinn and Nishiki. But the growth in cycling in the early and mid-1980s sparked a move by Giant to become its own brand and compete for the lucrative sales market in the above-$200 price range. Maybe Wal-Mart by today’s standards, but in 1983 a $300 bike was pretty mid-range, especially in the mountain bike arena.
Because Giant had a strong base of technical infrastructure and engineering talent, it was able to introduce cutting-edge materials and new design ideas at affordable prices that smaller firms could not match. Lightweight aluminum frames were Giant’s entrée into the mass market – using 6061 aluminum for its bikes and also design tweaks like bladed forks and seatposts to improve aerodynamics. Soon Giant replicated this tactic with carbon frames – the Cadex 980 C is regarded as one of the first widely available carbon fiber bikes that was within a realistic cost for most people.
In 1995, through the design ideas of British engineer Mike Burrows, Giant introduced the Total Compact Road (TCR) design that altered the angles and length of the bike’s rear triangle and top tube. At first met with resistance from the establishment, the concepts behind TCR – shorter tubes lead to a stiffer frame that is more responsive; and less material means a lighter bike – were soon widely imitated and in 1998 the UCI modified its rules to allow for frame geometry changes. The TCR geometry married to Giant’s carbon fiber materials were on full display at the Tour de France, used in 2006 by the T-Mobile Team and more recently by Rabobank.
Giant also applies its manufacturing economies of scale and design acumen to the mountain bike world. Its “Maestro Suspension” claims to provide a maximum amount of efficiency and versatility to full suspension mountain bike riding, using four separate pivot points and two linkages that allow for a floating pivot to reduce pedal bob and let the rear wheel travel vertically.
Giant offers a range of bikes across several categories – road, ‘cross, mountain, kids and what they call “lifestyle” bikes for utilitarian/commuting use. Its website not only profiles the bikes with prices and specs, but provides an easy-to-use bike search arrangement that zeroes in on what you want based on gender, age, type of riding, etc. It makes finding the right Giant easy in what might otherwise be a dizzying array of choices.
Giant’s racing and tri bike offerings quickly dispel any misconception that it is a Wal-Mart kind of steed. It’s top-of-the-line Propel models cost north of $10,000 and feature Shimano Dura-Ace electronic shifting and the highest-end Giant wheelset and components available. The TCR model – Giant’s signature bike that is still true to the original innovative frame configuration – comes in five flavors beginning with the entry-level TCR at $1,300 with and aluminum frame and Tiagra componenets and goes up to the TCR Advanced SL 0 model for $9,600 that features carbon fiber frame and fork and the Dura-Ace electronic groupset.
Giant also offers a parallel set of road bikes specifically for women. The Avail models are analogous to the TCR bikes, and range between $1,350 and $6,900. The Envie is the women’s version of the top-end Propel and comes in at $6,200.
Rounding out Giant’s road line are a couple of offerings – again with both men’s and women’s versions – of time trial/triathlon bikes and track bikes.
Veteran mountain bike racers to first-time off roaders can find something to fit their needs from Giant’s line. The top-of-line Anthem X Advanced (at $9,000) is designed for the elite racer (or affluent weekend warrior) and features all of Giant’s innovations like Maestro suspension and its OverDrive steerer tube. It is a full carbon frame and has 29 inch wheels. In fact, most of the Giant line are now 29ers, with only a handful of 26 inch bikes to choose from.
For a more realistic budget, Giant’s Anthem line offers a solid 29er bike with Shimano XT components, Giant rims, and disc brakes. At $2,875 it is priced about the mid-range of today’s quality off-roaders. The Anthem X W is designed for women riders, with a slightly modified frame shape, and comes in at $2,975. Traditionalists that prefer a 26 inch wheelset will find the Trance quite appealing. At $3,200 the aluminum framed Trance X features Shimano XT components with the newer 2x10 gearing, full suspension, and Giant rims.
For the really price-conscious or those just starting out in the world of off-roading, Giant’s Revel line offers a hardtail bike in either the 29er version ($700) or with 26 inch wheels ($525).
Not to forget the trail rats – Giant offers several kids mountain bikes in both 20” and 24” sizes (for the wheels). The XTC and Areva (for boys and girls, respectively) offer front suspension and V-brakes for $375. The smaller and simpler Revel line have no suspension but still offer an aluminum frame for just $300.
Giant lists its racing cyclocross bikes on the same page with its “comfort” and “lifestyle” bikes, which may lead you to think that it doesn’t take ‘cross seriously. But while it doesn’t offer every color of the rainbow, its TCX Advanced SL, priced at $4,350, proves that it puts just as much effort into providing high performance racing bikes for the pedal-hop-pedal set. The TCX Advanced SL is full carbon and comes with SRAM’s highest-end Red groupset. A women’s TCX is also available, but at just under $2,000 it does not come with the highest end components.
Sedona is the model name for Giant’s city/comfort bike line. At $490 you get what you’d expect – an emphasis on cushy saddles, adjustable bars and lots of easy gearing.
In an era when boutique bicycle brands – like the Renaissance in micro-brews – have gained popularity for the “cool factor” of having something different, be careful not to overlook brands like Giant. Just because they may seem big, ubiquitous even, doesn’t mean they aren’t quality products. Especially when economics is a factor – and when isn’t it? – Giant’s wide availability and scale of production can make the life-cycle ease of owning and maintaining a big factor. Giant, in fact.