The Giant TCR is one of the truly classic road bikes. The first model in the TCR series was created in 1995, the brainchild of legendary bike designer Mike Burrows, who had previously designed the Lotus 108 and 110 bikes.
Its compact frame design, borrowed from the mountain bike world, went on to influence practically every other road bike on the market today. The design was stiffer, lighter and, perhaps most crucially, cheaper to manufacture than traditional straight top-tube designs.
After it debuted at the Tour de France in 1997, ridden by the ONCE team, most other manufacturers followed suit and moved to sloping top-tube designs.
As the world of road bikes has pushed increasingly towards optimising features such as aerodynamics, it started to look as if the TCR, with its almost singular focus on its stiffness to weight ratio, was arguably being left behind.
The 2021 TCR saw a welcome change in design parameters though, with overhauled tube shapes and an increased focus on all-round efficiency.
Some of these new features appear to have been borrowed from or inspired by the Liv Langma Advanced Pro Disc, which fills a similar performance niche as the TCR for Giant’s women’s-specific sister brand.
At a pound under £3,500, the Advanced Pro 2 Disc model is the cheapest in the Advanced Pro Disc range, but still comes specced with fancy carbon wheels and a slew of smart component choices.
I’m hoping it’s a race-ready package out of the box, with enough practicality to let me have fun across all kinds of roads.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review conclusions
It’s been just over a year since Giant’s TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc arrived for testing, and that means it’s time to wrap up this epic and give you my final conclusions.
On the whole, my experience with the TCR has been very positive. As expected, it’s a fantastic all-round road bike that hits almost all of the right notes.
Though it no longer represents the absolute leading edge of road bike design, the TCR retains a wonderful balance of characteristics that make it a joy to own and ride most of the time.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc highs
As I’ve commented in my updates throughout this long review, the frameset is fantastic. It’s plenty stiff without being overly harsh, handles fantastically and looks great.
The exposed cables might look a little dated at first glance, but on a bike that purposefully hasn’t gone all-in on aerodynamic efficiency (if you want that, Giant has the Propel), I think the added simplicity is well worth the small drag penalty. Giant should be applauded for not just blindly following market trends.
Despite a price increase since 2020, I also think this particular model in the TCR range represents excellent value compared to the competition.
The build, with its full Shimano 105 groupset, mid-depth carbon wheels and high-quality components, is excellent. It’s a finely balanced spec and Giant deserves a lot of credit for putting it all together at this price point.
After a full year with the bike, the only component I permanently changed for pure performance reasons were the tyres (which I swapped to Cadex Classics first and then Schwalbe Pro One TLE later on). The stock Giant Gavia Course 1 tyres were fine, but a bike like this deserves lighter, racier rubber.
The relatively large tyre clearance is also great and makes the TCR an extremely versatile bike. For road racing to light gravel, there’s little it can’t turn its hand to.
Lastly, it’s been a very reliable bike. Other than the odd puncture, nothing on the TCR has broken or gone wrong, which is a testament to Giant’s manufacturing quality. If properly maintained, I’d expect this bike to last a very long time.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc lows
For me, the only real low point has been the hookless rims and the tyre compatibility restrictions this entails.
Despite a year now having passed, Giant’s list of compatible tyres (meaning tyres that are safe to use on Giant and Cadex hookless rims, according to Giant’s internal testing) stands at just 15 tyres, most of which are Giant or Cadex branded.
There are only five approved tyres by third-party manufacturers – three from Maxxis and two from Schwalbe. Tyres from popular brands like Continental, Vittoria and Pirelli are explicitly ruled out.
Giant continues to stress it is working with tyre manufacturers to expand this list, and it’s likely delays associated with the global pandemic are partly to blame for the lack of updates this past year, but I just can’t get past the fact that these rims still restrict tyre choice so heavily.
It’s not that there are no good options on the list – the Schwalbe Pro One TLE and Cadex Classics tyres I’ve tested this past year are both excellent options – but I’m not yet convinced the purported benefits of hookless technology outweigh the negatives, such as restricted tyre choice (I’ve gone in to why in exhaustive detail in previous updates below).
Others will doubtless feel differently (and many have told me so in the comments), but for me, it’s a dealbreaker. Given the choice between a wheelset with hooked or hookless rims for a road bike, I would currently choose hooked rims.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 final verdict
For a final point of comparison I recently returned to my 2009 Giant TCR Advanced SL. While the 2009 bike still impresses, the 2021 TCR is undoubtedly far more refined, particularly in how it balances stiffness and ride quality (the 2009 TCR feels extremely rigid in comparison).
It’s a bike that hasn’t just blindly followed all of the latest trends but delivers in spades on what actually matters, on almost every front.
Would I buy it? The frameset, yes, in a heartbeat. Personally, I wouldn’t buy the wheels as things stand, though. The hookless rims just aren’t a match for this tyre nerd.
Older updates continue below.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review update five
One of the big selling points for this new generation TCR is the increased tyre clearance (disc brake TCRs can now accommodate tyres up to 700×32c), so I’d been keen on testing it out with some big but racy tyres.
I’d fitted some 32mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE tyres to the TCR, but hadn’t made any other concessions to off-road conditions. As we rolled out, I did wonder whether I might be under-biked.
The fact that it was dry helped, of course. Had it rained, mud and grip would have been bigger issues, especially when descending. As it was though, the bike handled the off-road secteurs with aplomb and was as good as ever on the road.
I ran the tyres tubeless, with 60ml of sealant per tyre. I did need to use a Schwalbe Tyre Booster to seat the bead (my Lezyne Alloy Floor Drive Tall track pump wasn’t enough to get it done), but the set up was otherwise pain-free.
I put 53psi in the rear tyre and 50psi in the front, and the tyres measured around 31mm at those pressures. I didn’t suffer any punctures either, which had been a slight worry given the Pro One TLE is a reasonably lightweight road racing tyre.
As I’ve commented before, I do think the Giant SLR-1 rims could be wider. The 19mm internal and 24.5mm external width is fine for tyres around 25mm to 28mm, but, once you go wider, tyres start to take on more of a lightbulb shape and can feel a little squirmy at low pressures because the sidewalls aren’t as well supported.
A wider external width may also improve the aerodynamic performance too (Josh Poertner’s ‘rule of 105’ states the external rim width should be at least 105 per cent of the width of the tyre in order to optimise aerodynamic performance), and though it would likely entail making the rims a little heavier, I do think it would be a worthwhile trade-off overall.
Officially, the TCR is intended for use on paved roads only, so in that sense, it’s a no. It’s a lightweight carbon road racing bike, after all, and isn’t designed to be a “rugged workhorse”.
Unofficially, though, it handles fantastically and can certainly be used on light gravel, farm tracks and the like, especially if it’s dry.
Being so stiff, it’s not an especially comfortable ride off-road. You also need to pick your lines carefully and avoid big holes. I would definitely do a similar ride on the TCR again in the future, though.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review update four
As I mentioned in my last update, I’d been excited to finally try the TCR out with some faster, wider tyres. For those of you who’ve been following this review, you’ll know the rims and tyres (or, more specifically, the compatibility limitations) have been a sticking point for me.
Installing the Cadex Classics tubeless tyres was very easy. They went on the rims without needing tyre levers, and, with the valve core removed and a bit of soapy water applied to the beads and rims, I was able to seat the beads straight away using a standard track pump.
This isn’t too surprising because the Cadex tyres have a much more supple casing and are, despite their increased size, 104g lighter for the pair than the Giant tyres (lighter tyres tend to exhibit less rolling resistance because there’s simply less material to deform).
For a relatively small cash outlay, I think they make a big difference to the performance and ride quality of the bike.
Another thing I touched on in my last update was the price of the bike rising to £3,499 / €3,350. Now that the dust is starting to settle on other 2021 prices in the cycling world, I don’t think it makes much, if any, difference to the value of the bike. Sadly, paying a bit more for bikes and parts looks like the new normal, at least for the time being.
I still think this bike represents very good value, though, all things considered. Plus, I’ll reiterate what I said at the beginning of this almost Homeric epic, about it being a smart move on Giant’s part to spec a Shimano 105 groupset and high-quality wheels at this price point. Cheap wheels and tyres are so often the weak point for race bikes, and Giant has got the balance right here.
With spring firmly in the air, and lockdown rules relaxing, I’m most looking forward to riding with friends again, hopefully on warm, sunny days.
Although it’s looking likely Paris-Roubaix will be cancelled or postponed again this year, Rapha is hosting one of its ‘A Day In Hell’ rides around Bristol in early April, and I’m hoping I can persuade a few friends and colleagues to join me in taking on this tribute to the Queen of the Classics.
The TCR isn’t an endurance bike by any measure, but given it now has 32mm tyre clearance I’m eager to see how it performs on some truly rough stuff.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review update three
It’s a reflection of the current state of the world (or at least the UK, anyway) that I sadly haven’t been riding this bike outside much recently.
A sudden constriction of free time caused by the recent arrival of my first child has played its part, but the bigger issues of another national lockdown and the treacherous winter conditions, have largely confined me and the TCR to the smart trainer these past couple of months.
I’m training four or five times per week at the moment, in short bursts, but I’ve only been out on the bike maybe three or four times since my boy arrived in December.
While the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” is fine for fellwalkers and Highlanders (it was apparently Alfred Wainwright, the famous fellwalker and writer, who first wrote those immortal words in his book, A Coast to Coast Walk), icy road conditions can be quite dangerous for cyclists, and I prefer not to take my chances when temperatures are hovering around zero degrees.
It’s obviously impossible to assess the performance of a bike when it’s attached to an indoor trainer, but it is great for testing saddles because the increased heat and sweat generated by cycling indoors can amplify the effects of any issues.
Fortunately, though, my appreciation for the stock Giant Fleet SL saddle has only increased during this period, as proven by its inclusion in my Gear of the Year 2020.
I’ve long been a convert to the benefits of indoor training, though. It’s a time-efficient way of getting fit, and with the availability of apps such as Zwift (other indoor cycling apps are available), it’s not impossible to make it fun too.
In fact, it’s worked so well that I recently got close to my best 20 minute average power for the past year, during stage two of the Tour de Zwift, on the Innsbruck KOM. It’s amazing how much motivation a virtual group ride can elicit.
That’s great in one sense because who doesn’t like being in good shape, but it also has its drawbacks. First of all, it inevitably meant updating my FTP setting, and in one fell swoop all my future workouts got quite a bit harder.
I’ll also admit to being concerned about whether going so well in January is actually a good thing – can I expect to keep improving at this rate into the spring and summer, when real life racing will (hopefully) resume, or am I setting myself up for a quick plateau and eventual decline?
Hopefully it’s the former and I’m just doing things right. I’m still some way off my all-time best numbers (as an aside, this is the major problem with power meters; once you’re past your prime they mostly just track how much grunt you’ve lost – at least heart rate monitors are kind enough to inform you whether you’re still trying as hard), but I think it’s worth me keeping a beady eye on how much intensity I’m incorporating into my training, and making sure I’m building my aerobic capacity slowly and sustainably.
One thing that has changed in the interim is the price. Sadly, the TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc now costs £3,499 in the UK, £300 more than it did previously. Giant’s product manager, David Ward, told me this was due to “rising costs of raw materials and components, as well as new import duties that affect bikes being imported into the UK from the EU” (Giant has its European production and distribution centres in the Netherlands).
The news is consequently slightly rosier if you live in the EU, where the price is now €3,350.
It’s hard to say at this point whether this change affects how good value the bike is. My initial reaction is that it doesn’t, as many bike brands are, for various complicated reasons, currently raising their prices by significant amounts across the board. I’ll revisit this in a later update though, once prices across the industry have settled.
Cadex Classics tubeless tyres
I was fortunate enough to receive a set of the Cadex Classics tubeless tyres in a 700 x 28c size, mentioned previously. Weighing in at an average of 333g per tyre on my scales, they’re around 18g heavier than the 315g claimed weight, but in the grand scheme of things I’m not going to lose any sleep over 30 grams or so.
What I’m most interested in is how easy they are to install on the SLR-1 hookless rims, and what the ride quality is like. They certainly look and feel the part in the hand. Stay tuned for the next update.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review update two
It’s not been long since my last update to this review, and I’ve actually spent much of that time riding other bikes. That’s been quite useful though, because it’s provided plenty of opportunities to compare this bike to its peers.
The most notable of those is probably the new 2021 Canyon Aeroad. I’m not going to compare them directly because they fill different niches, but it’s interesting to note that what was arguably once the most progressive bicycle in the peloton – the TCR’s compact frame design revolutionised road bike design when the first iteration launched back in 1997 – now represents more ‘traditional’ road bike design.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In a head-to-head race situation, bikes such as the Aeroad, or Giant’s own Propel aero bike, would almost always be quicker. But extra speed tends to be gained through the use of proprietary parts and compromises in user serviceability.
Fully integrated cable routing, for example, is great for cutting drag. Canyon reckons it can save “up to 3 watts in extreme cases”. Nice to have when you’ve spent months and years training to pull every last drop of horsepower from your engine, and it does make a bike look great too. I also firmly believe riding fast bikes is fantastic fun.
On the other hand, needing to disconnect every cable on the bike in order to replace parts like headset bearings or handlebars isn’t very entertaining.
Of course, those aren’t things that need to be done regularly, and you can always drop the bike off with your friendly local mechanic, who will no doubt be thrilled to take on the challenge. But, still, as we’ve seen with the recent launch of the Specialized Aethos, there’s an enduring appetite for simplicity in road bikes too.
After all, even worshippers at the Holy Church of Aerodynamics (like myself) have to admit that not everyone races, or cares about riding as fast as possible, but it’s an odd quirk of fate that the TCR has come to fill that niche.
With the clocks going back and officially signalling the end of British Summer Time, winter is well and truly on its way. That means an eventual return to base training and, inevitably, more time on the indoor trainer.
As for the TCR, I’d still like to swap the tyres out for something different, just to see how it affects the bike’s performance. Given the changing seasons and what the worsening weather will do to the roads, something more voluminous could be on the cards.
Cadex has recently released a Classics tubeless tyre, which comes in a 32mm size (which is the maximum tyre size the TCR can now accommodate). Being part of the Giant/Cadex family, it’s fully compatible with the wheels (something I’ve covered in detail in an earlier update; see below) and promises a mixture of speed, grip and puncture resistance suitable for rough roads.
Hopefully, I can get my hands on a set and see how the TCR stands up to winter riding.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc long-term review update one
With lockdown restrictions easing and a glorious period of warm, sunny weather after my initial review was published, I’ve had plenty of time to get out and ride this bike (in between racing my time-trial bike).
My initial impressions of it still largely stand true. The new TCR is an extremely competent road bike. It climbs well, ticks along on the flat, and descends without any fuss.
I’ve been using this bike for cheery jaunts with friends, fast group rides, solo training rides and I’ve even taken it on a tiny amount of gravel. It handles practically everything you can reasonably throw at it with aplomb.
My only notable reservation is around the wheels, and their current lack of tyre compatibility with third-party options (more on this later).
As I mentioned in my initial review one of the very first things I knew I wanted to change was the fit.
That meant a slightly longer stem and a narrower, deeper handlebar.
The handlebar is an updated version of Deda’s Surperzero handlebar we reviewed in 2017. The good news is the 40cm version is nice and narrow (it’s around 37cm at the hoods), it looks very smart and, if paired with a Deda DCR stem, it’s also possible to run both gear and brake cables fully internally, if that’s an option on your bike.
Unless you like a very low hood angle, you have to run the shifters right at the bottom of the clamping area and tilt the whole handlebar up to get your preferred hood angle. This affects the angle and reach of the drops too, as well as the orientation of the aerofoil top section.
A Google search throws up a number of people complaining about the same problem, so, disappointingly, I don’t believe this is an isolated issue.
Giant hadn’t yet taken delivery of spare stems for the 2021 TCRs, so I took the opportunity to try something slightly different – the Giant Contact SLR Flux OD2 stem (RRP £219.99).
It’s a stout, oversized hunk of hollow carbon fibre. The kind of thing you sometimes see on sprinters’ bikes.
Originally developed in conjunction with the Liv Langma, the women’s-specific equivalent of Giant’s TCR (which, incidentally, went aero long before the TCR did), it nevertheless matches nicely with the new TCR.
Somewhat surprisingly, it does make a noticeable difference to the TCR’s front-end stiffness. This translates into improved handling, even for a whippet like myself. I think it also looks very cool.
Is this stem going to make you faster while riding along in a straight line? No. But it does make the bike feel detectably more direct when sprinting or when going through fast, sweeping corners, and that can make you feel more confident in pushing the bike’s limits.
Whether those differences are worth the £170 premium versus the standard alloy stem is a harder question to answer, but that will ultimately be a personal decision.
Tyre compatibility limitations
One thing I haven’t yet changed are the tyres. As previously discussed, the 2021 Giant and Cadex carbon wheels are based around a new hookless rim design.
At the time of the initial release, tyre compatibility was strictly limited to a selection of Giant and Cadex tyres, in certain sizes, that had been stringently tested for safety. Giant did say that testing with other brands of tyres was ongoing though, and that an updated list would be released in due course.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the situation remains largely unchanged.
Giant recently announced that five new tyres had been added to its approved list, but that only brings the total number of approved road tyres to 12, and the Continental GP5000 TL – which many (including myself) consider to be one of the best road racing tyres currently available – has been explicitly ruled out.
Sadly, Giant doesn’t have rolling resistance data available for its own range of tyres, so it’s hard to objectively compare them to third-party options and get an idea of whether you’re losing or gaining something (in performance terms) by using Giant or Cadex tyres.
Given this, it looks like the best choice for racing might be Schwalbe’s Pro One TLE, which Giant has approved for use on its hookless rims. If only Schwalbe would finally release the tan wall version in the UK, I could sleep soundly.
To its credit, Giant has said it is working with tyre brands to test as many tyres as possible going forward, and that it will also help them design future tyres to be fully compatible with these rims.
As we’ve commented elsewhere though, it appears that some wheel manufacturers (including Giant in this instance) have raced ahead of tyre manufacturers, perhaps forgetting that the two are integral to each other.
The obvious problem is that tyres are a consumable item, whether simply through wear or damage, so you will have to replace them eventually. Such limited compatibility limits your options considerably whenever that time comes.
It could also be a real issue if you need an urgent replacement and your local shop doesn’t hold stock of approved tyres either, or if you find yourself needing a new tyre in the middle of a ride (as has happened to me before). You might not have much luck looking for a compatible tyre in a small independent bicycle shop at the foot of a French Col, for example.
Supply of compatible tyres isn’t limited online (however, Giant and Cadex tyres aren’t available from all major retailers, such as Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and Evans), so you could stock up on spares and carry them with you to avoid such a situation, but that’s quite an inconvenience.
It’s also worth noting that there are no other wheels currently on the market with such limited compatibility.
Giant told us it feels it has been more stringent in its safety testing than other wheel brands, but either way, it has designed a wheelset that doesn’t offer compatibility with the vast majority of tyres currently on the market, and that’s a serious limitation.
And that’s all before we consider that tyres are one of the most important components on any bike in determining performance. As we’re always saying, better tyres are one of the cheapest, easiest and best ways to upgrade your bike.
This is because the difference between an average tyre and the best on the market (in terms of rolling resistance and grip) can be substantial. And that difference certainly seems to be far greater than the performance difference between hooked and hookless rims, which then begs the question; is it currently worth it?
Is a solution in sight?
At some point in the future, when standardised hookless rims and tubeless tyres become the norm for performance oriented road and gravel wheels, this issue will likely be solved. But there isn’t a timeline for this, so if you’re buying now it’s impossible to know how long you might have to wait for it all to be sorted out.
Many are pointing to apparently incoming new ETRTO and ISO standards for road tubeless, but as we’ve seen with bottom brackets over the past decade or so, manufacturers love to create new ‘standards’ at the merest hint of a potential performance gain, so it might not be the panacea we’re all hoping for.
As you might be able to infer then, I’m not convinced the marginal benefits of this particular rim design currently outweigh the downsides of such significantly reduced tyre choice.
It’s an evolving situation and I’ll happily revise my opinion on it when things change, but that’s where I currently stand.
Consumers also need to be aware that this is not just a performance issue, but also one of safety. Giant is explicitly saying that tyres not on its approved list are unsafe to use on its hookless road rims.
This is not something you want to experiment with, and I’d also question if this is something consumers and bike shops will be sufficiently aware of to prevent the use of unsafe wheel and tyre combinations.
I’ll caveat all of this by stressing there is nothing particularly wrong with the stock Giant Gavia Course 1 tyres – they seem like fine training tyres.
They feel okay on the road, but they’re not competitive in terms of weight (Giant quotes 375g per tyre, which is around 110g heavier per tyre than a 28mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE), and their 60TPI (Threads Per Inch) casings suggest rolling resistance figures won’t wow either.
Giant does also have other, more premium, racing tyre options, that can be used on these wheels if you’re looking for those marginal gains. Both the Gavia Course 0 and Cadex Race tyres, for example, have higher TPI counts, thinner casings and lower claimed weights, which should make them faster than the stock tyres.
As mentioned, though, there isn’t any publicly available rolling resistance data for any of Giant’s tyres. Consequently I can’t shake the feeling that, even with the more premium options, I could still be missing out on some cheap speed.
Verdict so far
As you can probably tell, I’m quite torn with this bike at this point. The frameset is excellent and it features a number of great components, but there’s simply no denying that the tyre compatibility issue just hasn’t improved to the degree I’d hoped.
Swapping to a set of Parcours Strade wheels (which I had been testing – look out for a review coming soon), firstly with Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres and latex inner tubes and then with Continental GP5000 TL tubeless tyres, gave me a pretty clear indication of the extra speed and comfort you might be missing out on.
For many, especially those who aren’t as obsessed with rolling resistance charts and tan-wall aesthetics as I am, the selection of compatible tyres Giant offers will be more than enough choice.
But that doesn’t solve the issue of whether you’ll always be able to get your hands on those tyres at short notice if you need them urgently, or whether your bike shop of choice – whether online or in the real world – will be sufficiently informed enough to ensure they don’t inadvertently sell you a set of unapproved (and therefore unsafe) tyres.
In Giant’s defence, it’s obviously a good thing if its safety testing is of a higher standard than other brands. It’s also possible that this situation will lead to a net benefit to consumers in the long term, if tyre manufacturers adapt their products to meet Giant’s improved standards.
However, as things stand, it’s a significant limitation that makes me seriously question whether, were I looking to purchase a new bike right now, I would actually want to buy this bike instead of a competitor option with different wheels.
Hopefully by the time of my next update to this review, there will be more progress on this issue to report on. If that’s the case, it’s likely the review score will change again to reflect this.