After more than a half century of cycling, I’ve cultivated a few biases. I like to call them “standards,” but they’re more like saddle sores. Irritants. Grievances in need of airing.
Okay, so they’re biases.
For instance, I favor steel framesets, dropbars, and rim brakes. To me, they embody comfort, simplicity, and familiarity.
Aluminum and carbon framesets, flat bars, and hydraulic disc brakes? Not so much.
But, hey, they’re out there. Clearly some people like them, even buy them.
Equally clear is that slouching along a familiar path is the polar opposite of adventure, which is half the title of this magazine.
And so here I am, off the road and deep in the weeds with the Giant ToughRoad SLR 1.
Had Adventure Cyclist Tech Editor Nick Legan not questioned our focus on dropbar triples during a group email discussion about selecting my next review bike, I might have gone in an entirely different direction, which is to say straight down my well-beaten path.
Instead I rolled through the 2017 holiday season aboard a riser-barred, double-ringed, non-ferrous frameset sporting two of my personal bugaboos, hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless tires. I took my collection of prejudices for a spin. It was sort of a group ride with all the voices in my head shouting at me.
And y’know what? My biases and I both survived to tell the tale: you too can find adventure on the ToughRoad.
I’ve only reviewed three bikes without dropbars: Rivendell’s Joe Appaloosa (August 2016); Jeff Jones’s Steel Diamond (October 2013); and the Van Nicholas Amazon Rohloff (October 2012).
Each had its own charms and quirks, and I bought one of them, the Jones, in part because it was such an individual, so unlike all my other bikes.
I wouldn’t add the $1,275 Giant ToughRoad SLR 1 to the collection because I still prefer the look and feel of a traditional steel frameset; the variety of hand positions possible with dropbars; and the prehistoric simplicity of rim brakes, bar-end shifters, and clincher tires with inner tubes.
But even a rigid old roadie like me has to tip his salt-stained Red Zinger cap to the ToughRoad SLR 1, which should serve quite nicely for a more flexible customer eager to sample light touring, gravel roads, or even an occasional singletrack scamper.
If you equate aluminum with a harsh ride, you’ll wonder who sold you that particular bill of goods after a spin on the ToughRoad. Its carbon bits (the fork and a flexy, D-shaped seatpost), coupled with Giant’s CrossCut Gravel 2 tubeless tires, work together as advertised to smooth the path as it unfolds before you.
And one solid advantage of using a flat bar for touring is no-muss, no-fuss integrated braking and shifting. Everything you need is close at hand with no compromises or workarounds required.
The CrossCut Gravel 2 tires rolled well on asphalt and hardpack and found plenty of purchase in sandy corners at the minimum recommended pressure of 35 psi. After one trail ride, I noticed a goathead thorn snuggled between lugs. I pulled it out, a small bubble of sealant followed, and that was that. Tubeless tires: 1. Thorns: 0.
But the Duke City thorns have a deep bench, and so I carried a tube, tire irons, and pump anyway, which always makes me wonder why I’m bothering with tubeless tires in the first place.
Giant isn’t wondering, not one little bit. Andrew Juskaitis, senior global product marketing manager, says the company “is fully committed to offering tubeless technology at almost every price point, on almost every one of its road, mountain, and X-Road models,” with the long-term goal of eradicating (or at least minimizing) flats.
One more note about these fatties: the front derailer mechanism crowds the rear triangle, and with 50mm tires I don’t see much room for a traditional fender, the kind that bolts to the chainstay bridge. This wasn’t a problem in Albuquerque, which was in the midst of a 96-day stretch without measurable precipitation. But if you ride in wet weather, you may want to shop for a rear fender that attaches to the seat tube.
The TRP Slate X2 hydraulic disc brakes are easy on the hands at the levers, with plenty of control over how fast you want to get slow. The front cable is routed through a fork blade while the rear slips under the down tube–mounted X-Defender mudguard.
Hydraulics make a stronger argument for discs than do mechanicals, but as a ham-handed mechanic, I see myself making a tour of the bike shop if the closed system unexpectedly opens up. And what if you spring a leak between Tucson and Tucumcari, or Tehachapi and Tonapah?
Juskaitis and the Giant product team see hydraulics as a perk for this model, and while he agreed that if bound for Timbuktu he’d probably choose mechanical discs, he said it could be argued that hydraulics actually require less maintenance — “a yearly quick bleed job over yearly full cable replacement.”
Then put on your reading helmet.
He’s undoubtably correct, but I still do my bleeding the old-fashioned way, from a leak in one of my own internally routed cables.
The SRAM 10-speed drivetrain — X5 front derailer, GX rear, and SL-700 trigger shifters — will get you there and back again, though when climbing any steep, sandy pitches, the 28x36 low end didn’t feel like much of a granny. But on pavement 22.5 gear inches serves quite nicely.
Of course, once you start adding weight, every hill gets steep. The bike itself goes 26.5 lbs. — without pedals, but with reflectors, the X-Defender, and alloy racks front and rear. Add SPDs and you’re up to 27.5 lbs.
The stock racks will let you carry a maximum of 55.1 lbs. (rear) and 16.5 lbs. (front). But if you’re not bound for Timbuktu, you might dial that back a bit. The Giant ToughRoad SLR 1 isn’t intended to take you there anyway, though I’ve seen people do extraordinary things with ordinary machinery.
But if you’re among the adventurous cyclists hunting a sturdy alternative to the stodgy old dropbar bike, you should give the ToughRoad SLR 1 a look-see.
And you’d best take Giant steps, too — Juskaitis says the company’s long-term strategy is to eventually phase out the flat-bar ToughRoads for a drop-only product line.
This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.