Simon hopes the latest TCR might be the perfect all-round road bike at a great price
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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 in 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 sees a welcome change in design parameters though, with overhauled tube shapes and an increased focus on all-round efficiency.
At a pound under £3,000, 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 specification and details
The TCR Advanced Pro Disc is the second-tier frameset in the TCR range.
This means the frame is built with Giant’s ‘Advanced’ level carbon fibre, rather than the ‘Advanced SL’ carbon found on the more expensive SL models. Nevertheless, Giant still produces the Advanced level carbon fibre in its own composite factory (rather than purchasing pre-made sheets), so it can better control the quality.
It also receives a standard telescoping seatpost, rather than the integrated seatpost Advanced SL models have.
The Advanced Pro frameset has a more standard telescoping seatpost.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
There are a number of different specs to choose from in the Advanced Pro Disc range, with the main variation being the level of groupset.
The Advanced Pro 2 model comes with a complete Shimano 105 R7020 groupset (with the exception of the chain, which is upgraded to a KMC X11 SL-1) and a full suite of Giant components and finishing kit.
The frame has a press-fit BB86 bottom bracket, and Giant has specced 52/36-tooth chainrings and an 11-30-tooth cassette out back, paired with a short-cage rear derailleur.
The Giant SLR-1 42mm tubeless carbon wheels are 24mm wide externally, 19mm internally and have hookless rims. The hubs take centerlock disc brake rotors and have 12mm thru-axles front and rear.
The tyres are also by Giant, and are its 700×25c Gavia Course 1 tubeless model. These come set up tubeless and measure 27.6mm at 60psi.
The new SLR-1 42 wheels are the same as those found on the more expensive Advanced Pro builds.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
The Advanced Pro 2 is the only model in the Advanced Pro range that doesn’t come with a Giant PowerPro power meter specced though, because it’s only available on Ultegra level cranksets.
The paint job is a clear gloss coat over the carbon frame with painted logos in ‘chrysocolla’ (which is a green-blue sparkly mineral). Giant only offers one paint job per spec, so if you want something different you’ll have to choose a differently specced model to get it.
My size medium/large (ML) weighs 7.87kg with the included composite out-front computer mount, but without pedals or bottle cages.
The logos are painted in chrysocolla.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc full specification
Sizes (*tested): XS, S, M, ML*, L, XL
Frame: Giant TCR Advanced Pro Disc
Fork: Giant TCR Advanced Pro Disc (full-composite OverDrive 2 steerer)
Bottom bracket: Shimano BB86 press-fit
Shifters: Shimano 105 R7020
Derailleurs: Shimano 105 R7000
Cranks: Shimano 105 R7000, 172.5mm
Chainrings: Shimano 105 R7000, 52/36t
Cassette: Shimano 105 R7000, 11-30t
Chain: KMC X11SL-1
Wheelset: Giant SLR-1 42 Carbon Disc WheelSystem (42mm front and rear)
Handlebar: Giant Contact SL, 42cm (centre to centre)
Stem: Giant Contact SL, 110mm
Seatpost: Giant Variant, composite
Saddle: Giant Fleet SL
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc geometry (size ML)
Giant’s TCR is a long standing design, so the geometry has been pretty settled for a while, but there are a few tweaks for the 2021 version.
With parallel 73-degree seat tube and head tube angles, it’s slightly slacker than some competitors, such as the Specialized Tarmac Disc or Trek Emonda Disc, but it’s still in classic road race bike territory.
Stack is unchanged versus the 2020 model, but reach decreases 5mm. Reach hasn’t gone down on all sizes though, instead Giant has tweaked both stack and reach figures across the range to make the jumps between sizes a little more consistent.
The seat tube and head tube angles on my size M/L are 73 degrees.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
The chainstays remain short at 405mm, and the wheelbase has increased 6mm to 991mm.
Bottom bracket drop has also increased 2mm to 67mm, to maintain a similar bottom bracket height to the previous model while using larger tyres (tyre clearance is officially rated as 32mm on the new model). Trail, the horizontal difference between the tyre contact patch and the steering axis, has also increased by 2mm to 59.2mm.
These changes all point towards a bike that’s slightly less aggressive and a little more stable and slower handling than the previous model.
This makes sense given the increased tyre clearance and general industry trend towards making road bikes more capable on mixed surfaces.
If you’re looking for a bike to race criteriums though, this year’s TCR perhaps edges away from that a little bit.
Despite the explosion of interest in gravel and adventure cycling, I’m a roadie at heart. I would have chosen a full-on aero road bike such as the Propel if I still raced, but an all-round bike such as the TCR is a little more versatile and easier to live with.
While my old TCR is a size M, I went for a ML this time because the M was always a little too small for me (I bought it second-hand). The difference in size isn’t enormous, but it makes the saddle to bar drop a little less aggressive, which should make for a more sustainable crouch position on the bike.
It’s also my first foray into using hydraulic disc brakes on a long-term basis, and I’m looking forward to trying out some chunkier race tyres now that the clearances have been increased to 32mm.
Tyre clearance is now officially up to 32mm on 2021 disc brake TCRs.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
It’s also an interesting build at a key price point. £3,000 is a lot of money to spend on a bike, but you could easily spend a lot more.
Given the 2021 TCR Advanced SL Disc frameset has an RRP of £2,399, getting a full bike with an outwardly very similar frame and carbon wheels for only £600 more looks like great value on paper.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc initial set-up
Set-up was easy. All I needed to do was rotate the handlebars, set the saddle height and add some pedals and bottle cages.
I did adjust the handlebar height (taking a couple of centimetres of spacers out), but as it has a non-integrated front-end set up this didn’t present any issues.
One great bonus was that the wheels came set up tubeless, with sealant added. Well done Giant. I initially pumped the tyres up to around 60/62psi (front/rear), but I’ll have to experiment with this to find the sweet spot for my local roads.
The only thing I changed before riding was to remove the chain and strip the factory grease from it, so I could throw it in the slow cooker with some wax and get it properly lubricated.
Stripping factory grease and breaking out the slow cooker takes a little time, but it saves much more time down the line by reducing drivetrain contamination.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Factory grease is a magnet for dirt and grime (it’s intended to prevent corrosion during storage, not act as a lubricant), and leaving it on the chain would have meant a fair amount of extra drivetrain cleaning to do down the line.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc ride impressions
Standing on the pedals for the first time the most immediately noticeable characteristics of this bike are its smoothness and confident handling, especially at speed. It’s very easy to feel at home on.
The smoothness is likely helped in part by the tubeless wheels and tyres. The ability to run lower pressures than with inner tubes, without any risk of pinch flatting, certainly helps on the South West’s less than pristine roads.
Coming from a bike with a 130mm stem and 36cm traditional bend handlebars, the front end feels comically short and wide with its 110mm stem and 42cm compact handlebars.
The stock 110mm stem and 42cm handlebars feel very short and wide.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
I’m a pretty slim guy (183cm tall, around 65kg), so this won’t be the case for everyone, but I personally found the width of the handlebars quite uncomfortable – my wrists splay out to the brake hoods awkwardly.
42cm bars are undoubtedly the current de facto standard on bikes of this size across the industry, but they’re not for me.
I wish more brands would offer a choice of handlebar widths and stem lengths when purchasing a bike. I suspect many, if not most, dedicated cyclists will change at least one of those components after buying a new bike, and besides it being an added cost, it also feels a little wasteful to be left with unwanted components.
Pedalling stiffness is more than adequate for someone like me. I’m never going to test frame stiffness to its limits with my willowy figure, but climbing out of the saddle or ‘sprinting’ (if you can call it that) felt purposeful and composed.
Trying to detect aero improvements from the wheels or frame is a fool’s errand unless you have the right kit (which, for the record, I would like to get my hands on).
The new truncated ellipse tube shapes promise increased aerodynamic efficiency, but it’s admittedly quite hard to detect while just riding along.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
It’s also reassuring to know that Giant designed and tested the aerodynamics of the new TCR with two bottles in place, which is often overlooked.
The wheels seem great on first impressions and there’s no denying they look the part.
The move to a slightly wider internal width rim (up to 19mm from 17mm) is welcome because this improves tyre profile, but I think they could be wider externally. At 24.5mm externally, they’re not narrow by any means, but they aren’t as progressive as they could be.
It’s a minor point, but testing by aero wheel pioneers such as HED and Zipp has shown that rims need to be around 105 per cent of the width of the tyre to maintain optimum aero performance. Ideally, I’d have preferred to see the external rim width up around 28mm or wider, in order to match the tyres this bike is specced with.
I wasn’t so immediately enamoured with the saddle. The short length felt great when riding in aggressive positions, but the flat side to side profile is quite different to what I’m used to when sitting more upright.
I completed the 80km or so ride without any particular discomfort, but I felt like I was perched on top of it rather than sat in it.
The new Giant Fleet SL saddle is slightly flatter and more padded than I’m used to, but it’s possibly something I could learn to love.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Saddle choice can be highly personal, though, so it’s not necessarily a bad one. Other people may get on with it straight away, but I’ll need a few more rides to decide whether we’re going to be long-term friends or not.
The Shimano 105 R7000 groupset works as flawlessly as you’d expect. It’s a little heavier, and it doesn’t have the bling factor of Ultegra or Dura-Ace, but it works brilliantly and I think the black finish looks very smart, at least when it’s brand new.
Some might think 105 doesn’t belong on a £3,000 road bike, but it works just as well as its pricier siblings.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
It’s worth noting you can easily find Shimano Ultegra R8000, or occasionally even Ultegra Di2, on bikes at a similar price point. However, in my experience, this usually means compromises elsewhere in the spec, most often at the wheels.
Considering the performance of the current generation of 105 is so close to that of mechanical Ultegra, I think it’s a smart compromise to keep the price down and still spec the high-end wheels because they make a much larger difference to performance.
The only real negative I discovered on my first ride was that my knees occasionally hit the gear cables when climbing out of the saddle.
On the 2020 frame, the gear cables were routed through the front of the head tube, but on the 2021 frame they enter the frame via the down tube.
It’s a curious change because as well as interfering with my knees, it also leaves a greater amount of exposed cable compared to the 2020 frame, which isn’t good from an aero perspective.
It’s possible this issue could be solved simply by shortening the cables a few centimetres though, so they hug the head tube more closely.
As it is, the cable routing is quite messy by modern standards. It’s likely it could be tidied up though, and it does make front end maintenance simpler.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc upgrades
One of the first things I’ll always look to add to any bike is a power meter, and since this model doesn’t come with Giant’s own Power Pro power meter pre-installed, I’ll be doing the same here.
As the TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc has a Shimano BB86 press-fit bottom bracket, I can use the SRM from my 2009 TCR Advanced SL, but I could also use a recently acquired Verve Infocrank Classic 24mm because it fits a Shimano bottom bracket too.
These cranks both have larger 130BCD chainrings though, meaning they would increase the gear ratios slightly.
A more elegant solution could be a set of power meter pedals. I’m currently testing Favero’s Assioma Duo pedals, and these would fit seamlessly onto the original 105 R7000 cranks.
The next thing I want to change is the stem and handlebar set up. It’s a little too short and far too wide for my tastes right now.
I’ll look at swapping the stem for a 120mm or 130mm option and the handlebars for something around 36 to 38cm with a deeper drop, perhaps with an aero top-section too.
The drop on the Giant Contact SL handlebars is very compact. Reaching the STI levers is therefore very easy, but it also means there isn’t much difference in torso angle between the hoods and the drops.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Because of the 1¼ inch oversized steerer tube, aftermarket stem options are very limited, meaning I’ll most likely have to get a direct replacement for the stem from Giant.
I would probably want to do this anyway because it maintains the aesthetic integration with the new aero-profiled headset spacers, but it’s something to be aware of.
There’s nothing wrong with the stock tyres, but these are always going to be an easy upgrade target for someone looking for cheap performance gains. I think a tan wall option would provide a great visual contrast to the gloss black frame too.
There may be an issue with the hookless rims though. As things stand, Giant has only a short list of approved tyres and it only has Giant and Cadex (Giant’s in-house brand) tyres on it. It also states that using a tyre not on the approved list is done at your own risk.
The current list of approved tyres for the SLR-1 wheelset, due to the hookless rims.Giant
Giant told BikeRadar it’s working with other tyre brands to produce a much longer list that all parties can agree on, but it wasn’t able to tell us exactly when this information would be made publicly available.
Tyres are so integral to a bike’s performance and it would be disappointing if compatibility with third-party manufacturers is so limited. Fingers crossed the expanded compatibility list is released soon.
I’ll give the saddle a little more time before I decide whether to swap it out or not. It’s not been ‘love at first sit’, but the flat shape is possibly something I could get used to.
I’d be tempted to swap the rear derailleur for a long cage (GS) version at some point, so I can use an 11-32t or 11-34t cassette if I need to tackle any super-steep climbs.
For general riding around Bristol though, the 11-30t cassette should provide sufficient range when paired with the stock 52/36t chainrings up front.
The Shimano SM-RT70 disc brake rotors aren’t the prettiest rotors on the market, even if they function perfectly well. I’ll likely look at replacing them with something better looking when they wear out.
The Shimano SM-RT70 disc brake rotors are fairly basic looking, although they function perfectly well.Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Other than those things though, it’s hard to pinpoint anything else that needs upgrading. Overall, the spec is very solid.
BikeRadar‘s 2020 long-term test bikes
At the start of the year, every member of the BikeRadar team selects a long-term test bike to ride over the course of the following 12 months.
Some choose a bike from their favoured discipline and ride it hard for a year, others opt for a bike that takes them outside of their comfort zone.
Our long-term test gives us the opportunity to truly get to grips with these machines, so we can tell you how they perform through different seasons and on ever-changing terrain.
We also use them as test beds for the latest kit, chopping and changing parts to see what really makes the difference – and help you decide which upgrades are worth spending your money on.
Simon is a writer and photographer who has been riding bikes for fun since he was a kid. He took a deep dive into road racing, crits and time trial culture in his twenties, but as a person of very little talent, he always looks to tech to compensate. He loves nothing more than finding a smart (preferably cheap) hack that others hadn’t thought of. His stable of bikes isn’t the most extravagant, but they’re all customised to meet Simon’s particular tastes and kept fastidiously clean.