This is a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while now, but I wanted to make sure I’d done enough riding to do a full review justice. So here it is, my complete and honest thoughts about my bike, a 2017 Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1.
Why a Giant TCR?
I’ll split that question into two parts. Why Giant? Two main reasons. First, I really like my old aluminium Giant Defy (which I still use as a winter bike), which served me very well when I did Lands End to John O’Groats a while back, so I guess a sense of brand loyalty worked away in my head. Secondly, I like the fact that, unlike a lot of bike manufacturers, Giant make their own frames in house, using their own frame building and carbon layering skills and processes, rather than outsourcing to a third party company. I like the authenticity I think this brings to their bikes, I guess the same way I like the fact that my Honda’s engine is made by Honda, rather than VW or Ford.
So why did I choose a TCR specifically? I’m lucky enough to work near the Giant St Paul’s bike shop in London, so I popped down there one lunchtime to take a look at Giant’s 2017 line up “in the carbon”, as there was only so much research I could do on the Internet. At the time, I was tossing up between a Propel and a TCR, as I wanted a racy geometry but didn’t know if aero was worth it. Actually, I went in trying to buy a Propel, but the guys there said I should think about the TCR too. They said “take the Propel round the block, then the TCR, and then make your mind up.” So I did, and immediately understood why they all rode TCR themselves, it just felt so much more alive than the Propel (more on that later). I had also heard that the Propel is due a frame revision in 2018, whereas the TCR has just been refreshed and won’t be changed for another three or so years.
What, no discs or Di2?
Easy answer to these ones. Weight and mechanics. To me, a TCR is a lightweight climbing bike and to put heavy discs or electronic shifting on to it would only blunt its primary purpose and character. I’m also a bit of a sucker for simple mechanics, so Di2 in particular didn’t really appeal to me. It’s a personal thing though and maybe I’ll have dragged myself out the dark ages when I come round to buying my next bike…
The frame (a Medium size for me), fork and steerer tube are all full carbon composite, using Toray 700 carbon fibre. The steerer is tapered, using different sized bearings at the top and bottom of the head tube. Giant call this “Overdrive 2”. It’s designed to maximise stiffness without a significant weight penalty. Giant say this is actually a general theme throughout the frame, the objective not being to build the lightest frame out there, but to maximise the “stiffness to weight” ratio. I’ve got nothing to scientifically prove this of course, but I do like the theory and the huge size of the bottom bracket area suggests stiffness was very much the priority.
Perhaps the biggest feature of the frame is the compact geometry that has been a Giant hallmark since the first TCR broke cover way back when. I’ll admit I like the traditional look of, say a Cannondale SuperSix, but the advantages of Giant’s approach, focusing on the sloping top tube and shorter seat tube, are hard to deny. It keeps the weight and centre of gravity low and leaves a lot of seat post exposed, supposedly giving a more pliant ride in the saddle.
Very neat all internal cable routing finishes the frame off nicely. The spec I chose comes in a mixture of matt and gloss black, with neon green/yellow accents on the fork and chainstays. Again, I’d usually look for a more traditional paint finish, but it’s grown on me and suits the bike very well I think. I have noticed, however that the matt black sections do seem to be marking easily and are not easy to clean. Hopefully it’s just superficial and won’t actually age as quickly as I think it might.
The wheels are Giant’s own, made in house (spot the theme!) and are full carbon tubeless ready 30mm deep rims with alloy hubs, weighing a claimed 1,425g all in. On their own, they’d set you back just under £1,000. As standard, they come set up tubeless, with Giant Gavia SL tyres. You may have seen from previous posts or my Instagram that I’ve swapped out the tyres to good old clinchers with inner tubes after picking up a nasty cut in the front Gavia (does that sound rude?) but again, it’s personal preference whether you’re happy to stay tubeless or not.
The wheels are very very good. They’re light, very stiff (I’ve not heard any brake rub at all, even when out the saddle up a hill) and have just enough rim height to give you a slight aero benefit at speed, so they work well whatever the gradient of your chosen road. The freehub has a pleasing click to it when freewheeling but isn’t too loud, which in my book is a plus point too. Before buying, I was concerned about what I’d read about braking on carbon wheels, especially in the wet, but honestly I’ve not found this to be an issue at all. The braking is just as good as it was on my old bike, running carbon rims with alloy braking tracks, and better than my Defy, which runs on Mavic Aksiums. According to Giant, heat build up isn’t too big an issue either due to the way they’ve bonded the carbon. Just remember to keep using the correct Giant brake pads, otherwise you invalidate the wheels’ warranty!
I think the only thing I’d worry about now is how long they’ll last. I’m doing a lot of riding this year, so will take stock at the end of the season, but I do worry that the carbon braking track is taking a bit of a beating.
Rest of the spec
I went for the Advanced Pro 1, you can see the full spec here on the Giant website, so I’ll just pick out the key points I’ve not already mentioned.
The cockpit is all Giant SL level alloy stuff, which is fine but nothing to write home about. The saddle, again a Giant Contact SL, had nothing but glowing reviews on the Internet but I really couldn’t get on with it, finding it very uncomfortable. I quickly switched to a Charge Knife instead, which is slightly heavier but much more pleasant to sit on.
Drivetrain is full Shimano Ultegra 6800, which is faultless in its shifting and has a good “cost to weight” ratio. The 105-equipped Advanced Pro 2 does give you a good discount admittedly (apart from the groupset the spec is identical) but you then get a slightly dodgy paint job too…
As alluded to at the beginning of this post, the overwhelming impression the TCR gives you, straight away, is one of liveliness, with a snappy and eager manner complementing the racy geometry. It accelerates very quickly and thrives powering out of corners and up steep inclines. This is presumably a result of Giant’s focus on stiffness, as it really does feel like every watt of power is translated into forward motion with great efficiency. This is surely aided by the light overall weight of the bike (I weighed it at 6.8kg) It’s genuinely a very fast bike, and remains so whatever the profile of your ride.
The geometry is aggressive, but comfort isn’t too bad. It’s no Defy, but then it’s not supposed to be. I’ve done a few sportives and long 80+ miles on it and still been relatively comfortable by the end. Following a bike fit at my local bike shop, we did flip the stem (which has quite a large +/- 8 degrees angle on it) as my flexibility isn’t quite there yet, but I’m working on that and slowly bringing the stem down on the spacers, before I flip it back over so I can get even lower and more aero.
The overall headline (and this is what won it for me over the Propel) is that the TCR is a lot of fun to ride. It makes you want to go faster, try harder and ride more (and that is surely the whole point of this kind of bike) and the reason it does that is because it’s simply good fun.
The spec, and in particular the wheels, make it compelling value too. I did shop around quite a bit and couldn’t get close to a similar spec from other manufacturers unless the price started with a ‘3’. The TCR Advanced Pro 1 retails at £2,699, but I managed to get a discount down to £2,400 (honestly not sure how or why, but thank you Giant St Paul’s!)
The only real negative (other than the concern about paint longevity) I can think of is that many people will see the TCR as just a bit boring (which is ironic given its ride characteristics) Especially with so many in house components, there’s no exotic branding to pull you in and the overall aesthetic is quite reserved. You can turn that round into a plus point though, as it means the TCR becomes a bit of an underdog among those who don’t appreciate its qualities or know its spec.
I’m not going to rate it out of 10 to finish, I think a bike is too subjective for that, but what I will say is that I’m fully confident I’ve got the right bike for the Dragon Ride in June and won’t be looking to upgrade for a long time yet. If you’re in the market for a new bike, you should seriously consider a TCR.
I hope you’ve found this informative and, as always, please feel free to leave any comments and questions.