Giant 2009: seven new road bikes

Lighter TCR Advanced & new sportive-style 'performance' rigs

Giant’s road lineup has been heavily revamped for 2009 with new construction techniques, technologies and shapes. Heading the range is a more nuanced, lighter version of the flagship TCR Advanced race weapon, dubbed the TCR Advanced SL.

For 2009, Giant has sought to improve on the previous TCR Advanced’s strengths by shaving weight and increasing rigidity. The new frame, fork and seat mast is just 1497g (painted medium frame with uncut mast, uncut fork, integrated seatmast head and all applicable hardware), making it over 200g lighter than last year’s version, Giant says.

But it’s also a whopping 42 percent stiffer overall, including a 26 percent jump specifically in pedaling rigidity.

The improvements come with a more comfortable ride, addressing one of the weaknesses of last year’s bike. The 2008 TCR Advanced ISP had excellent overall rigidity and handling manners but it wasn’t the most comfortable or lightest chassis around.

Giant tried to create a more balanced bike with the 2009 TCR Advanced SL and based on our initial taste test, it seems they’ve achieved that goal rather handily.

Everywhere’s the beef

The numbers are decidedly tough to swallow at first but the bike’s sheer looks support the claims about its rigidity. Compared to the new model’s imposing size increases, the old model (which was no slouch in the beef department) now looks decidedly underfed.

The TCR Advanced SL’s down tube wears a gargantuan rectangular profile roughly 80mm across at its base and the top tube sports a bigger trapezoidal shape as opposed to last year’s roundish pipes. Both of those tubes also partially wrap themselves around a newly tapered-and-oversized 1 1/8in-to-1 1/4in front end for additional bracing.

The matching fork is bigger and wider than before, too, and the lower bearing seat is integrated into the crown to eliminate sharp fiber bends and also to drop a few grams. Out back, asymmetrical chain stays have also grown in size and now mate to an 86mm-wide shell with press-fit bearing cups while the seat stays actually look to have gotten a touch smaller.

The top tube, head tube and down tube are molded as a single unit, as are the seat tube, chain stay and seat stay assemblies but how those bits are joined is new for ‘09. Standard bonding methods are used at the bottom bracket and dropouts but the chain stay yoke and top tube are joined to the seat tube using a new ‘Fusion’ procedure.

According to Giant, Fusion is similar in concept to wrapped tube-to-tube joints but goes one step further by placing the entire frame back in a mold and re-baking it under high pressure. Giant says the process yields fewer voids and more strength than just re-baking alone and shaves 100g from the TCR Advanced SL over more conventional bonding.

As was the case with last year’s bike, Giant still builds the TCR Advanced SL in its own Taiwanese factory from start-to-finish. Even the raw Toray carbon fibers are woven in-house and the company fabricates its own pre-preg sheets with its own custom resins for better quality control.

On the road

We can’t quantifiably verify Giant’s “42 percent stiffer” claim but no one will be able to dispute the new model’s substantially more solid feel after even a short test ride. Drivetrain response seems markedly snappier and there’s absolutely no second-guessing the extra rigidity up front: there’s less twist when hammering out of the saddle and heavy braking at high speed is especially reassuring.  

In fact, the new model closely mimics the feel of the specially reinforced T-Mobile team bike we tested last year, only in this case there are no extra carbon plies to weigh it down and the ride quality is far more refined than even a stock ’08 TCR Advanced.

The new model is certainly no cushy Sunday cruiser but high-frequency chatter is impressively well-damped without killing the frame’s road feel and the bike no longer crashes violently over bigger impacts like it used to. For sizing ease, our test bike was equipped with Giant’s conventionally telescoping Vector aero seatpost but production ISP versions should ride even better as there’s noticeably more flex at its newly small-diameter base.

In short, the new TCR Advanced SL still begs to be thrashed like the old one, but now you don’t necessarily have to ride it like that to appreciate its potential.

We wouldn’t hesitate to race it on the weekend but we might also be just as happy just heading out for an all-day ride.

As long as your local roads are in decent shape, even recreational riders should find the ride quality surprisingly acceptable as long as the quick reflexes suit you.

TCR Advanced ‘lite’

If you’re looking for most of the TCR Advanced SL performance but for a more modest sum you can opt for the similarly all-new standard TCR Advanced. Slightly lesser fibers and a more conventional Fusion-less construction method produce a frame that’s only 140g heavier, 5 percent less rigid up front and only 9 percent softer in drivetrain stiffness, according to Giant. More to the point, it’s still 235g lighter than last year’s TCR Composite and heaps stiffer overall.

The 1 1/8in-to-1 1/4in front end and press-fit 86mm-wide bottom bracket shell are used here as well but tube shapes are slightly modified (most noticeably around the head tube and seat cluster) and the deep-section Vector seatpost will probably ride a tad rougher than the TCR Advanced SL’s ISP. Even so, this model strikes us as far-and-away the better value for those who don’t quite need (or can afford) Giant’s absolute top of the line.

New ‘performance’ models Defy convention

In addition to the new TCR models, Giant will also debut a new line of ‘performance’ bikes for 2009 called Defy. As compared to the OCR lines it replaces, Defy promises a heavier dose of TCR DNA while still offering the slightly more upright position, relaxed handling and softer ride that more and more riders seek nowadays.

Giant will offer three levels of Defy: the full-carbon Defy Advanced, the aluminum-and-carbon Defy Alliance and the standard Defy made from Giant’s ALUXX aluminum tubing.

Giant definitely achieves the visual part of that goal as the Defy trades in the OCR’s somewhat bland styling for a more aggressive skin that gives some clues as to the new features hidden beneath.

As on the TCR, all of the Defy frames incorporate the tapered-and-oversized 1 1/8”-to-1 1/4” front end and stouter tubing throughout; all but the standard aluminum Defy will also feature the wider press-fit bottom bracket design.

In fact, Giant says the top-end Defy Advanced’s front triangle is just as rigid as last year’s TCR Advanced and the rear end is 13 percent stiffer, making for a machine that should be just as efficient as standard High Road team bikes from last year but far more comfortable.

We’re not entirely sure we can back up that claim after riding the Defy Advanced ourselves but, to be fair, it probably wasn’t entirely fair that that trial immediately followed that of the über-rigid TCR Advanced SL.  

Either way, the Defy Advanced is remarkably comfortable and swallowed any pavement imperfections we could find, big or small (although given the superb condition of Mallorcan roads, there weren’t many).

The superb comfort seems to come at the expense of snappiness, though; as compared to the TCR, the Defy Advanced felt slightly ‘delayed’ both in terms of handling and drivetrain response but most riders probably won’t care much.

All in all, the Defy could very well be an ideal setup for most riders that are just heading out for fast, long rides and don’t necessarily need the right-now quick reflexes of a full-blown race rig.

Giant for Women holds (almost) nothing back

Giant will offer all-new women’s versions of each of the new platforms, too, save for the top-end TCR Advanced SL. There will be two ranges: Avail, analogous to the Defy; and Aeryn, sister line to the Trinity time trial/triathlon range. Each of the TCR Advanced W models will share identical features and technologies but with adjusted geometries, components specifications and sizing as necessary. As such, women should find the exact same performance characteristics as on the men’s versions but with a better fit.

The second coming of the compact frame revolution?

Giant turned the road bike world on its ear when it first introduced its compact frame geometry ten years ago and with such a comprehensive revision to its road bike range, the company is hoping for a similar impact this time around. We don’t know about a ‘revolution’, but based on what we’ve sampled so far the next few years at least looking very good.

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