Giant TCR Advanced - First ride review

Lighter and stiffer for 2012, but same great ride and handling

Giant's quietly capable TCR Advanced may not boast the style and allure of sexier brands but the latest version definitely delivers the goods where it counts. It's a solid handler with excellent ride manners, its stiffness is on par with much more expensive machines, and its weight and front-end rigidity are now among the best out there, too.

Ride & handling: Technical precision with a lively personality

The TCR Advanced doesn't make its case with fanfare and pizazz – instead, it goes about its business in a more subdued manner and lets its engineering and technical prowess do the talking. Several characteristics seem mostly carried over from the preceding version, and in this case that's a good thing. Pedaling stiffness is among the best of the major brands and there's a distinctively direct and efficient feel underfoot when putting the power down, particularly in higher-wattage situations like out-of-saddle climbs. 

Ride quality is best described as smooth and resilient, with a lively overtone. When combined with the shallow-but-wide Giant P-SLR1 clincher wheels, the TCR Advanced glides along with outstanding vibration damping that still manages to let the thin-walled tubes communicate some personality to the rider. The oversized tubes used throughout, the ultra-tight rear triangle, and the flex-free OverDrive 2 front end don't move much on potholes, pavé or speed bump transitions but the harsh edges are so effectively rounded off that it doesn't seem to matter much. 

Riders looking for an especially comfy feel from a top-end race bike will have to make a tough decision. The TCR Advanced's standard telescoping seatpost is easier to live with than the ISP of the top-end SL (that model is also available with a standard post if buyers so desire) – adjustments are more straightforward, packing bikes for travel is far easier, and there are fewer concerns with resale to riders who may not share the exact same saddle height. 

But back-to-back test rides of the ISP-equipped TCR Advanced SL and non-ISP-equipped TCR Advanced – both with identical wheelsets and tires – reinforced Giant's claims of 15 percent more movement with the integrated design, particularly when pounded over a stretch of pavé on our test loop. If it's a concern to you, the ISP frame is lighter, too (though in the US it'll come with an enormous price premium as it'll also come with upgraded carbon fiber and construction methods, and Shimano's premium Dura-Ace Di2 electronic group). 

That OverDrive 2 front end provides the most noticeable improvement. While tapered steerers are great for squelching unwanted fork flex, the upper diameter of most conventional chassis is still comparatively puny. The TCR Advanced's new 1-1/4 to 1-1/2in dimension, however, offers a rock-solid feel, eradicating any hint of twist or bending when you torque on the bars – though in fairness, the gargantuan carbon fiber extension of the Contact SLR stem on our non-standard test bike probably helped, too.

That steady front end only adds to the bike's already confident and capable handling, offering enough high-speed stability to confidently bomb descents in a full tuck at over 80km/h (52mph) but still agile enough to easily maneuver through tight switchbacks. Overall handling precision is excellent, with the ultra-stiff steerer providing a secure platform for your hands in high-load corners and still managing to prevent the fork blades from awkwardly splaying around when it comes time to scrub off lots of speed in a hurry. That Giant have been able to do this without making the front end feel unduly harsh is good testament to the refined fiber layup, too.

Fit and sizing were close to spot-on for our test sample and unlike in the early days of Giant's then groundbreaking true-compact frame design, there are now six frame sizes with reasonable 1.5-2cm jumps in between top tube lengths. However, head tubes are on the long side, with even our small-sized loaner measuring a relatively generous 135mm – in between Trek's Madone H1 and H2 fits. Not everyone will get on with the TCR's squat appearance – it's theoretically lighter than a full-sized or semi-compact frame of similar stack and reach but it so flies in the face of what many people expect from a road bike aesthetically that it's bound to be polarizing.

Frame: Lighter, with cleaner-looking internal routing

Changes in carbon fiber content and construction methods have brought the claimed weight of the latest TCR Advanced frame down to just 908g. Giant now use Toray T-700 materials – still woven into cloth from raw fiber in-house as always – and have revamped the layup schedule to use more pieces with longer continuous stretches of fiber that allow for nearly identical frame stiffness as before but with less material (something that also helps provide that lively ride quality).

As befitting the TCR Advanced's more 'workhorse' racer billing as compared to the more premium SL, Giant stick with conventional aluminum for the dropouts, bottom bracket sleeve and fork tips, and the frame is built using standard modular monocoque construction. Aside from the upsize to OverDrive 2 up front, much of the TCR Advanced's frame shaping and styling is just slightly revised from before and the same overall design features are retained.

The MegaDrive rectangular-profile down tube and squared-off seat tube fill the width of the 86mm PowerCore press-fit bottom bracket shell, and the upper seat tube boasts a deep, teardrop shape to match with the carbon post. Out back, Giant stick with medium-sized chainstays – now with a little pocket in the non-driveside for a plug-in RideSense wireless speed and cadence sensor a la Bontrager's DuoTrap – but have made a switch to 'A-type' seatstays with wider spacing at the seat tube junction instead of the old wishbone setup. This was done to reduce weight without sacrificing rear-end stiffness. 

Internal routing cleans up the appearance of the TCR Advanced and also protects the lines from contamination. But the derailleur housing entry points at the front of the head tube make it critical to get the housing length exactly right so as to avoid tight kinks that can adversely affect shift performance – especially when using Shimano mechanical drivetrains. Riders who want the ability to tweak cable tension on-the-fly will have to resort to inline adjusters, which further restrict the amount of available real estate to smoothly route the lines.

We didn't have the opportunity to tear a bike apart for inspection but it appears that the internal routing isn't fully guided. That being said, the exit holes are fairly generously sized and the bottom bracket guide is removable so mechanics should have reasonably big targets to avoid any major headache. The routing is Di2-compliant, with appropriately sized entry and exit ports for the wiring harness and a tidy battery mount on the non-drive chainstay. Giant don't manage to do this quite as well as Trek or Felt, however, as the Di2 capability brings with it extra holes in the frame plus two unused ports in the head tube.

Equipment: Stock bikes will be among first to arrive with new Ultegra electronic group

The bike we rode at the launch event wasn't a stock configuration so there's little point in devoting much space to the particulars here – standard US-spec TCR Advanced 0 bikes will come with Shimano's new electronic Ultegra groups instead of our Dura-Ace mechanical builds, and launch bikes came with nicer cockpit components and lighter wheels. 

That all being said, initial impressions on the Giant P-SLR1 wheels we rode are excellent. While light at just 1,390g (claimed) for the pair without skewers, their defining characteristic is their unusual solidity. They're stable beneath you when pushing through tight corners and there's no vague wobbling when you're out over the front wheel and rocking the bike side to side.

They're also very eager to spin up when asked and, not surprisingly given the shallow profile, confidently stable in crosswinds. The wide-profile also enhances cornering grip, as we've found with other clinchers of similar dimensions, and while our test set used conventional inner tubes (and Giant's new P-SLR1 front/rear-specific dual-compound tires), the P-SLR1 rims are fully tubeless compatible, too.

Giant have pushed the spoke flanges out extremely wide (the front flanges are about 60mm apart) and the use of DT Swiss's Tricon straight-pull spoke anchoring system allows for the spokes themselves to make the best use of that available room. Similar motivations out back prompted the use of radial driveside lacing and a highly asymmetrical rim extrusion to even out the tension.

Giant have made the bold decision to make the wheels Shimano/SRAM-compatible only – providing 2mm of extra flange spacing on the driveside relative to a longer Campagnolo freehub body. Non-mainstream wheels often disappoint for their lackluster freehub body internals but Giant have wisely paired with DT Swiss here, too, dropping the company's proven star ratchet guts and aluminum freehub body into the rear hub for what should be very reliable operation and easy maintenance. 

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