Friday, August 17, 2018

Can you feel £2,000 worth of difference in a bike?

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When I decided to get into triathlon, the first bike I bought was a £700 Wilier Escape with an 18-speed Campagnolo Xenon groupset.  After a while, I spent a few pennies upgrading the wheels (Campag Scirocco, I seem to recall) until a few years later the groupset found its way onto an Argon18 frame and the old Wilier frame went to a friend to become the basis of a fixie.

Seven years later (and several bikes in-between) and my latest road bike is the £3,999 Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc.  Light years away from the £700 Wilier, but how much different is it to ride?

Well, I no longer have the Wilier to compare the new Giant against.

But I do have a 2017-spec Giant TCR Advanced 2 Disc, my winter bike which outwardly looks much like the new shiny TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc.  There’s just the small matter of the TCR Advanced 2 Disc costing £1,775 RRP versus the 2018 bike’s £3,999.

So, the question is, can you “feel” what the extra £2,000 buys you?

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc

2017 Giant TCR Advanced 2 Disc - £1,775

One of the things I like about Giant bikes is that I’ve always felt that you get a decent spec for your money.

The TCR Advanced 2 Disc (still available on the Giant website at the time of writing) comes with a carbon frame and fork (hybrid steerer), Shimano 105 mechanical groupset with ST-RS505 hydraulic brakes.  The ‘finishing’ (stem, bars, seat post) kit is a mix of ‘Connect’ (basic) and ‘Contact’ (higher spec).   The wheels are Giant’s alloy PR 2 wheelset (although on my bike these have been swapped to similar-spec Fulcrums).

The bike weighs 8.54kg (Small frame, Fulcrum wheels and Schwalble Durano tyes, no pedals)

2018 Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc - £3,999

The more expensive bike gets the same basic frame, but with a fully-carbon fork and steerer.  The groupset is Shimano’s new hydraulic Ultegra R8070 Di2.  The finishing kit is Giant ‘Contact SL’ and the wheelset is Giant SLR-1 carbon rims with Shimano Ultegra centrelock brake rotors.

The bike weighs-in at 7.9kg fully built, without pedals (but with normal tyres and inner tubes).

First impressions

The very first thing that grabs you is how similar the bikes look, even down to the predominantly red and black paint jobs.  In the flesh, the bikes look a little more different (the cheaper bike has a more matte finish while the more expensive one has a high-gloss finish), but it is super obvious that they are closely related.   The biggest obvious visual differences are the wheels and the brake hoods.

Speaking of those hoods, the cheaper bike uses the Shimano ST-RS505 hoods, which are pretty chunky compared to the normal rim brake levers that you might be more used to.  By comparison, the new Ultegra Di2 hydraulic hoods on the more expensive bike feel barely any different to their rim brake cousins – much more compact and (in my view) more comfortable.

Saddle-wise, the cheaper bike uses the Giant Contact (forward) saddle while the more expensive one has the Contact SL (forward).  I’m sure the SL is a few grams lighter, but they feel much the same when sat on them (interestingly – or not – I really didn’t get on with the Contact SL when fitted on my 2016 Propel, but on the TCR it feels fine so far).

It’s difficult, and perhaps unfair, to compare the shifting action of the ST-RS505 mechanical levers against the new updated Ultegra Di2, but it’s fair to say that the Ultegra shifters work exactly as you would hope whereas I do find the ST-RS505 a bit ‘sloppy’, even compared to other mechanical shifters (I remember the Ultegra mechanical shifters on my old Pinarello ROHK being a lot more precise).

The TCR Advanced 2 Disc comes with ST-RS505 brake callipers and 160mm rotors.   The Advanced Pro 0 Disc comes with the new Ultegra R8070 callipers and 140mm rotors.   My feeling is that the Ultegra system is noticeably better (I was super impressed with it storming down steep and twisty descents in Mallorca, which I have not done on the cheaper bike), but I have not yet been able to directly compare the bikes against each other on the same hills in the same conditions.

Ride quality

I believe that both bikes share the same composite material in their frames, so that should be consistent.  Where they differ is that the cheaper bike has a ‘hybrid’ steerer whereas the more pricey TCR has a ‘fully-composite’ steerer (I’ve read that the upgraded steerer makes for a fairly significant weight saving).  The cheaper bike has alloy Contact bars and a Connect stem, whereas the more expensive one has Contact SL bars and stem (still alloy, but maybe a touch lighter).   Both bikes have Giant’s ‘Variant Composite’ seat post.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two bikes in terms of ride quality is the wheels – the cheaper bike running on alloy rims (wearing Schwalbe Durano tyres in my case – it’s my winter bike) with the new TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc having the SLR-1 lightweight carbon rims (wearing Vittoria Corsa Pro 25mm, see my review for why not tubeless).

The combination of the steerer and the wheels makes a bigger difference than you might expect, with the pricer bike feeling surprisingly more comfortable, with less road ‘buzz’ coming through the bars.   I have to point out the tyres, however, as I am sure the difference would be narrowed if the cheaper bike had summer tyres on it.  But still very noticeable.

Turn-in and acceleration

Perhaps even more surprising is how two bikes with the same geometry can feel quite so different in terms of how they behave in turns and under acceleration.

Using my highly unscientific bathroom scales, I weighed the more expensive bike as being 640 grams lighter than the TCR Advanced 2 (albeit still heavier than my ‘old’ Giant Propel Advanced Pro 0).

The very first thing that struck me when I christened the TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc after picking it up from Race Hub in Leicester was how sharp the turn-in is.  It’s not twitchy, but you get the feeling the thing just loves corners (very different to my Propel which is amazing in a straight line, but now feels a bit cumbersome in corners in comparison).  Coming down some of the twisty descents in Mallorca, I felt like I could really lean into the corners (no doubt down in some part to the superb brakes) and allow the bike to move around under me.

Whether it’s the steerer, the weight, the wheels/tyres or a combination of all three, the cheaper TCR doesn’t seem to have the same bite or turn-in (to be fair, I have the ‘summer’ TCR fairly slammed and the ‘winter’ one a little more relaxed).   That’s not to say the £1,775 TCR handles badly, far from it.

In terms of acceleration, arguably that’s more down to the ‘engine’ (rider) than a 600-gram difference in bike weights, but unsurprisingly the lighter TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc does feel snappier out of corners and when the road starts to point upwards.  I noted earlier that the (lighter) 2016 Propel I have is faster in a straight line, but when you’re sat on a wheel and choose to attack the TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc is noticeably faster to accelerate (but won’t necessarily hold that top speed as easily).

In conclusion

So, can you ‘feel’ the extra £2,000 in the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc?  Well, yes.  Whether or not it’s worth the extra £2,000 has to be an individual call, but there’s no doubt that there’s a distinctly different feel to two bikes that essentially look very alike.

If you had never climbed aboard the more expensive TCR, I doubt the TCR Advanced 2 Disc would feel ‘cheap’ (actually, even having ridden both, I still wouldn’t say it feels cheap, shifters aside).  It has been a good winter bike (it is a noticeable step up on the Giant Contend it replaced) for me and I’m sure it would be a more than competent summer bike as well.

At the same time, the TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc isn’t perfect.  For me, its 7.9kg heft is disappointing for a £4,000 bike.  No doubt the choice of disc brakes over rim equivalents is a major contributor to the weight, but I’d still like to see a good 200-300g come off the total package (something I could achieve by splashing out on carbon bars, lighter disc rotors, a Dura Ace cassette and going tubeless – for a price).  I also think the cabling is quite messy for such an expensive bike.

But if you can afford it, there’s no doubt in my mind that you will enjoy the nimbleness, acceleration and overall comfort of the more expensive TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc.

 

So now I find myself wondering what the difference between a £3,999 TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc and a £5,299 Giant Advanced SL1 Disc might be…  Maybe Giant UK has a small demo bike they’d like to send me to find out?!

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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