I’m in a rather difficult situation reviewing this bike. Since I have just made the switch from the comfort road bike category, I know the domestic gravel bike scene like the back of my hand. And I can tell you that one of the best choices in this segment of the market and price category is the Toughroad in this review. This statement might not seem so obvious by looking at the data sheet and the recommended retail price, however once we look at is the overall picture and the ride it offers, everything falls into place!
At first all this sounds a bit complicated… and it doesn’t get any easier when you go shopping for a new gravel bike! Most of the time the person looking for a new “rig” hasn’t got the opportunity to try many different kinds of bikes. Fortunately there is a growing number of bicycle shops where they stock a few gravel models, and the Mozgásvilág Testing Day will take place soon to help out with bike choice. Hence the majority of costumers will make a decision based on the data supplied be the manufacturer. I always try to talk people out of this strategy: it’s a dangerous approach to take. Why? Because in this case the data shows that the Toughroad SLR GX1 is far from offering a good value, when in fact the opposite is true!
The fact sheet the average customer looks at has nothing but the price, the weight and the equipment installed on the bike. Understandable, since we have to start from somewhere, just like when we’re looking to purchase a car. Price, cubic, horsepower, torque…. and as most people have probably realized, the sum of the data above does not say anything about the experience or the “feeling” the car provides. This Giant gravel bike has very few real competitors in this country. Just by looking at the data, there are lighter machines at this price. There are a few models with a higher level of components than the Shimano Tiagra, and some even offer full hydraulic braking. Alternatively, there is cheaper option with similar equipment. I tried almost all of them when I was shopping for my own bike, I have to tell you: Giant Toughroad SLR GX1 takes the shine out of all those bikes!
There is a reason why Giant has been the world’s largest bicycle manufacturers for the last decade. They are offering better bikes year by year, in all segments of the market, including MTB, road, pedelec – and nowdays — gravel bikes. The Taiwanese “giant” managed to accumulate a vast amount of engineering knowhow, and it certainly shows in the case of the Toughroad. What makes a good gravel bike? Well, first of all it should be comfortable. How can comfort be influenced when riding off road? Front suspension, naturally, but in this case we have to look elsewhere! The seat post choice is another way to increase comfort on trails, which in the case of the Toughroad SLR GX1 is made form carbon fiber, not aluminum as with many of its competitors in this price range. Some believe that the frame is an important factor — bike company marketing people surely try to convince us that this is the case — but there is only so much you can do with aluminum as a material, and even with carbon fiber, the designers’ hands are tied. On the other hand, a carbon seat post is comparatively much less costly, and has a huge effect on comfort when riding off road. Even the bar tape has a greater effect than than the frame, exemplified by a renowned Specialized Bar Phat which can go a long way to aliviate vibration coming from the uneven surfaces. A top-end bar tape is rarely specified on brand new bikes, so you have to buy it separately. In the case of the Toughroad series Giant went out of its way to provide a premium tape, a thick model with effective vibration dampening. It provides a terrific ride on uneven roads, though it might be a little too thick for those with small hands.
And last but not least, the tires. Its here that the Taiwanese manufacturer pulls out an ace from the hand. Most buyers would not realize that this is where the Toughroad really makes the leap to pass all its rivals. When I sat on the bike for the first time and rode a few hundred meters, I asked myself: “What the hell was going on”? Yes, you get a tubeless setup straight from at the factory, and it really shows! Going without tubes on a tire just 40mm wide, the difference in ride quality is staggering: there is a greater comfort gain than with all the previous items I listed, and much-much more than any difference potentially realized by frame design of material!
Of course, today you can turn almost any wheel into a tubeless system, but you have to spend a lot and still mess with the setup. If the wheels are already tubeless, you still need to buy tires that are tubeless, in addition there is the expense involved with buying the conversion kit. The Giant S-X2 wheel set is of course specifically designed to be used as a tubeless system, along with the CrossCut Gravel 2 tires. Due to the time it takes for the bike to arrive in Europe, possible delay in customs, warehouse storage and delivery, the sealant is not in the tire, but you get it with the bike at purchase. This way you’ll have fresh “milk” in the tires from day one you start to ride. The bottle has a Giant sticker on it, but in fact it’s supplied by Stan’s, the industry leader in bicycle tubeless technology. You may also be able to have it installed when you buy the bike at the cycling store. Anyone who has ridden tubeless wheels on a gravel road will not want to put another tube in the tire – I guarantee that. It’s a true game changer not only on rugged terrain like where we tested the bike, but also on smoother dirt roads.
There is another unique technical solution on this bike, namely the braking system. First, when I looked at the specifications of the Toughroad SLR GX1 bicycle, I was somewhat baffled. How could the 10-speed Tiagra brake lever be hydraulic when Shimano does not offer a hydraulic brake system under the RS505 level? Impossible. Well, it’s possible, thanks to the Giant Conduct Disc, which is a hydraulic brake system activated by a mechanic brake lever, like the one on the Shimano Tiagra! So the solution involves a handlebar-mounted converter, fitted neatly in front of the stem. The Conduct Disc adds about 2-300 grams to the weight of the bike, but in an unobtrusive way. It is 100% efficient and effective, since the brake pistons are hydraulic, and the braking force and modulation is top-notch like with the fully hydraulic road brake systems.
This also makes the gearing unique for the Toughroad SLR GX1, since nowdays all road hydraulic systems are 2×11-speed. Toughroad is 10-speed, which results in a lower price range. The price saved the shifting system was wisely spent on the saddle and wheels. I honestly admit that if you are looking for a gravel bike in this price category, Tiagra components are perfectly adequate, and even the the new Sora “family” could be employed, since it shifts well enough under load.
The Toughroad was a joy to ride, even on the stony terrain. If this had been the only bike I could take with me to the island (Brac, Croatia, where we carried out this year’s bike test), I would have been more than satisfied. For those who ride not-too-challenging dirt roads, the SLR GX1 would be an excellent choice, a viable alternative to a full-fledged MTB bike. Especially since wider tires can be mounted than the 40mm size in the factory configuration. A WTB Riddler 45mm or a 650B wheel with a 50 mm wide tire can turn this bike into a veritable rigid MTB. Obviously then it may roll on a highway like a race-oriented road bike, but I think the target audience is not very much interested in maximizing speed on smooth pavement. Still, an average speed of 25-30 km/h can be easily maintained with the Toughroad.
And there is still another novel solution on this bike, the X-Defender integrated mudguard. Located on the down tube, it provides some protection against the spaying and the debris, at least more than if weren’t present. By the way it also looks cool, and certainly enhances the image of the Toughroad. Giant designers pay great attention to the fine details, and they know what makes a good a gravel bike. Most brands ignore problems like the splashing often experienced on gravel roads (since gravel is less likely to absorb water than most types of soil), and the rider is certainly better off having this kind of protection. It is also worth checking the Giant logo on the mudguard, likewise the cosmetic cover at the rear dropouts. These are small details, but makes the bike look so much better! To continue this theme, Jagwire cables are used instead of no-name stuff. The only thing that surprised me was that Giant chose to go with the ordinary quick-release wheels both front and back. I felt no great disadvantage on this particular bike — and it’s not a lightweight person – nevertheless, I would have liked a sturdier wheel mounting. It’s unfortunate that the budget couldn’t be stretched that far…
So, the Giant Toughroad SLR GX1 is a well-crafted, thought-out gravel bike, with all the details that truly serve the off-road cyclist. The price is HUF 449,000, which is certainly not a budget offering on the domestic market, but it offers so much more than the gravel bike models in the HUF 300,000-400,000! If you can not afford this model version from the Giant Toughroad line, there is the SLR GX2 at HUF 389,000, which is still runs on tubeless wheels, has a carbon seat post and hydraulic disc brakes, just like this GX1 on review!
More information about the tested bike can be found here: