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Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 review

17 Dec 2015
Verdict:

A complete redesign for the Giant TCR Advanced Pro - the enduring racer that broke new ground.

Established in 1989, Once (pronounced ‘On-say’) was an interesting cycling team for two reasons. Not only was it title-sponsored by a charity (Once is a Spanish foundation for the visually impaired), it was also one of the first teams to be managed by someone other than an ex-pro, a chap by the name of Manolo Saiz, who prior to Once cut his teeth coaching visually impaired tandem cyclists. 

Saiz was a trailblazer for innovative coaching techniques, which allegedly included having riders only training on their time-trial bikes and following gruelling programmes that were faxed over by Saiz on team-issue fax machines. However, it was his dubious associations and outspoken ways that he’s remembered for. 

After withdrawing Once from the 1998 Tour amidst the brouhaha of the Festina Affair, Saiz proclaimed he had ‘stuffed a finger up the Tour’s arse’. He was promptly banned from the following year’s edition, though this was later overturned on a technicality. 

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 bottom bracket

In the 2003 Vuelta, Saiz ran a motorbike cameraman off the road in his team car on the grounds that second place rider Roberto Heras was drafting the motorbike (Once’s Isidro Nozal was leading the race). A tirade of insults followed, including a threat to defecate on the cameraman’s mother and a promise to cut him up ‘into little pieces’. Unfortunately the camera was still rolling, the episode was broadcast live on TV and Saiz was expelled from the race. Nozal went on to finish runner-up in the overall classification, Saiz having missed the decisive time-trial stage.

The final straw came three years later, when Saiz was stripped of his ProTour licence after having been arrested in conjunction with the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. Yet for all this his tenure was a long and successful one, notching up countless wins, including three Vueltas and two Classics, and in the last few years there’s been murmurs he might return to the sport. So what’s this got to do with the Giant TCR? It was the weapon of choice for Once riders from 1997 to 2003. And like Manolo Saiz, the TCR was groundbreaking and controversial.

Not only was it aluminium – back then still a wonder material – but the TCR, which stands for ‘Total Compact Road’, had a strikingly sloping top tube and compact geometry designed by British inventor Mike Burrows that stood out like a sore thumb among the traditional geometries of the day. So much so that it forced an amendment to the UCI rules, still to this day one of the biggest concessions the UCI has made to bicycle design. This latest TCR has got a lot to live up to.

Race cars and monster trucks

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 seatpost

By my reckoning the TCR line is the equal second longest-running series of road bikes still being made (the longest running, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is Specialized's Allez series, debuting in 1981). Like the Specialized Tarmac, Trek Madone or Cannondale SuperSix, the TCR is Giant’s all-rounder, allowed to thrive as an aggressive race bike without making overt sacrifices to aerodynamics or comfort. 

Giant is keen to point out how well its top-level TCR SL (one level up from this Advanced Pro version) fares in lab tests against the competition, and has published reams of data about stiffness and weight. Unsurprisingly, it claims the TCR SL comes out on top in virtually all categories when compared to the competition, save for ‘overall system weight’, where it loses out to the Scott Addict SL, and ‘pedalling stiffness’, where it loses out to the Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

Giant says no comparable data has been gathered for the Advanced Pro, although it is looking to change this, but its senior designer, Erik Klemm, did tell me that because of a different carbon layup – higher modulus T800 fibres for the SL, T700 for the Advanced Pro – the Advanced Pro would be slightly less stiff than the SL and would also be slightly heavier, a claimed 890g for the frame and 330g for the fork versus 856g and 306g respectively. I reckon I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 fork

Without cages and pedals the TCR Advanced Pro weighs 6.65kg (size 55.5cm effective top tube), and while that might be only a few hundred grams less than bikes I’ve been testing over the last few months, the TCR felt a world apart. It didn’t so much zing as surge across a range of speeds, from standing starts to mid-way through sprints. A bit of setup fettling highlighted at least one source of these powers.

Over the course of testing I had the TCR set up in two configurations: out of the box with a slammed stem and 23mm clinchers on the SLR 0 wheels, and in ‘UK Ride’ mode for a Cyclist trip to the west coast of Ireland, with a jacked up front end and a pair of Hunt 4Season Aero alloy wheels fitted with 25mm Schwalbe One Pro tubeless tyres. The difference in ride feel was huge, yet that was no bad thing.

With the Hunts in place the weight increased to just over 7kg. Still light, but that racy zip was tempered with a smooth rolling steadiness, and the already excellent cornering was boosted by the wider tyres and a more surefooted feel. Add in the more upright position and lower pressure, extra volume of the tyres (thanks to the tubeless setup, run 15psi lower without the worry of pinch flatting) and the TCR switched its persona from Grand Tour racer to something akin to a gravel bike – incredibly comfortable with a robust, rugged, mile-eating quality. It’s testament to the versatility and strength of the frame, and also highlights how alloy wheels aren’t just for training.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 review

It also showed just how nippy the new SLR 0 wheels are. Klemm says Giant reworked the TCR with a ‘holistic approach’, ie as a system engineered to be more than the sum of its parts (everything on the bike is from Giant except for the groupset) and that rang true in just how well the wheels complemented the frame. Quick, nimble and stiff are all words I’d happily throw at the package.

The TCR benefits hugely from the new wheels, yet that’s not to take away from the frameset. However, even after so many years, such sheer compactness in a frame stands out, and many people still won’t buy into the aesthetic. But putting such considerations aside, I’m left wondering why more manufacturers don’t make true compact framesets. Most bikes have sloping top tubes these days, but few display almost as much seatpost as they do seat tube – to my mind the hallmark of a true compact frame.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 ride

As a design it just works. For the same diameter tubes, smaller triangles are stiffer than big ones and take less material to create, therefore a compact frame should be stiffer and lighter. Plus, there’s less of it to catch the wind and more seatpost to flex for comfort. 

That’s only the theory of course, and there are plenty of great non-compact bikes on the market. However, in the TCR, Giant has once again made an exceptionally good case for compact frames. 

If there’s a slight criticism it’s that I’d have happily sacrificed a few more grams in saved frame weight for a meatier top tube, just to give the TCR that sprinting edge when I was really wrenching on the bars. In addition I’d definitely change the tyres, but otherwise it was a fantastic bike to ride. And the more I rode it, the more I wanted to ride it, which is the highest praise you can heap on a bicycle.

Spec

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0
Frame Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace 9000
Bars Giant Contact SL
Stem Giant Contact SL
Seatpost Giant Variant Composite
Wheels Giant SLR 0
Saddle Giant Contact SL Forward
Contact giant-bicycles.com
Price: 
£3,799

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