Thursday, April 19, 2018

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc (2018)

In cycling terms, the Giant TCR is something of an icon, designed by the same man behind the Lotus 108 Time Trial bike, Mike Burrows. Twenty-odd years ago it was the first mainstream road bike to introduce ‘compact geometry’ (characterized by the sloping – as opposed to horizontal – top tube). It was such a successful formula that pretty much all other bike manufacturers copied Giant’s approach and hence we barely notice compact geometry bikes anymore.

Giant 2018 TCRFast forward twenty years and the TCR – Total Compact Road, if you were wondering – still carries much of the same look as the original, albeit with extensive use of new materials and technology.
Last year I got my hands on a Giant TCR Advanced 1 Disc as a new winter bike, but just recently I took delivery of a new 2018 TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc, complete with Ultegra 8070 Di2 and hydraulic brakes, plus Giant’s own-brand SLR1 wheels.

Having just spent four days, 470 kilometres and 4,500 metres of climbing in Mallorca, here’s my take on the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc.

I should say at the outset that my point of reference for most of what follows is a 2016 Giant Propel Advanced Pro 0, which I absolutely adore.

When I was considering my bike choice for 2018 (I’m lucky enough to get a great deal from my triathlon team, Race Hub), it took a lot of umming and ahhing before finally deciding to go with the new TCR rather than an updated Propel. The rationale was that I still loved the 2016 Propel and was in no hurry to get rid of it, so rather than have two Propels in the shed, I would add the TCR to give me a wider choice of rides. I’d also been told that the TCR would be a better choice on longer 100km+ rides, suppler and more forgiving than the unrelenting Propel.

From the first pedal stroke, the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc feels light and nimble Any steering or pedal inputs generate a swift and detailed response. To use a horrible car analogy, if the Propel feels like something akin to a fast saloon car, then the TCR feels like a Lotus Elise. Ultimately, the Elise might run out of power on a long straight run (for which read, the TCR doesn’t have the aerodynamic advantages of the Propel in either the frame or wheel department – more on that later), but in the tight twisty corners, the Elise would run rings around the saloon.

The Twisty Stuff

And so it is with the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc. In tight corners I’ve never ridden anything quite like it, the speed and precision with which it changes direction is a revelation. It gives you a new level of confidence to really lean into the corners and let the bike move around underneath you.

This is even more true when the road points downhill. Again, ultimately on a long straight descent, I expect the Propel is slightly faster (thanks to aerodynamics). But when the descent is twisty, the sense of confidence in the TCR is huge. On the descents from Formentor and down the twisty side of the Lluc climb (down to Inca), the TCR was slicing its way past anything ahead, the new Ultegra disc brakes giving huge stopping power without locking the wheels and the bike just leaning and gripping into each and every corner (I should probably point out I was running Vittoria Corsa tyres in place of the standard Giant Gavias, which have had a bad rep from some reviewers). Standing on the pedals out of the corner helps get back up to speed quickly before the next hairpin.

Going Up

Having been riding in Mallorca for five years now, I’m no stranger to the Formentor climb(s) and must have done that road on at least four different bikes over the years. I have to admit I was expecting big things from the TCR.
After all, one of the main reasons I bought it over the 2018 Propel was to PB some climbs in Mallorca (sad but true).

So, it was a bit of a disappointment not to PB the climb to Formentor from Pt de Pollenca. Okay, I only missed the PB to the first lookout by five seconds on one attempt, which you could easily put down to weather, wind or even me being a little heavier than I was back in 2016. And, of course, my bike is the TCR Advanced Pro 0 disc, which means it doesn’t have the super-light ‘SL’ frame and it does have the added weight of hydraulic discs.

Still, I had expected to fly up the hill with a noticeable difference between the Propel and TCR.

It seems this might not be true and the TCR and Propel are not as different as you might expect when the road points upwards.

New Ultegra 8070 hydraulic Di2

It’s worth noting just how good the new Ultegra 8070 Di2 system is. Almost all reviews of the new groupset has been positive, so I was expecting good things. And I was not disappointed.

The redesigned brake / shifter lever hoods are a huge improvement over the previous version and the feel through the brake levers is superb. The shifters are also easier to operate, both with and without full finger gloves (I find shifting a bit hit and miss sometimes on the Propel’s 6870 levers when I’m wearing full winter gloves).

I haven’t yet had a chance to set up the buttons on the tops of the shifter hoods (it would have been nice if this was part of the handover process, but that’s a small detail), nor have I tried the synchronized shifting, but in basic operation the system works brilliantly.

I did have an occasional issue shifting from the small to large chainring, but I think that’s probably more a sign that I need to tweak the front mech indexing (which I wasn’t going to risk doing while in Mallorca).

The Wheels

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 DiscThe Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc comes as standard (in the UK, at least) with Giant’s own SLR 1 disc brake wheel system. They seem to work fine and give a good quality ride. With a 42mm rim depth, I guess these are more ‘semi-aero’ rather than fully aerodynamic wheels. They are tubeless-ready, according to Giant, but the guys at Race Hub were unable to get the Gavia tyres seated properly on the carbon rims (not the first time I’ve heard this), so for Mallorca I ran the wheels as clinchers with Vittoria Corsa tyres and standard inner tubes (maybe the extra weight is to blame for the lack of a Formentor PB…. I’m joking).

Having not compared the SLR 1 wheel system against something like Giant’s PR2 wheel system, it’s difficult to comment on any aerodynamic properties, but I can say the ride quality is good.

I think, however, there’s a case for making the TCR more of a speed machine (on the flat at least) with the addition of deeper rims. So I’ll be adding a set of Parcours Passista 56mm carbon wheels as soon as they are ready. Yes, they are a few grams heavier for the pair than the Giant SLR wheels, but I suspect they will help the bike achieve and hold higher speeds on the flat.

Overall

One of the key selling points for the Giant TCR over the Propel is that it’s supposed to be a much more forgiving bike for all-day riding. I guess that makes sense as the bike is essentially designed for Grand Tours. And while I haven’t had the opportunity to back-to-back test the TCR against the Propel on similar long days in the saddle, I would admit that first impressions seem to confirm that the TCR leaves you feeling a little less fatigued at the end of a 100+km ride.

As for whether you should buy the TCR over the Propel, that’s a really difficult question to answer. I’m still getting to know the TCR and so my opinions aren’t yet fully-formed, and while the TCR is very different to the Propel, I’m honestly not sure which I prefer at this point. Having ridden the TCR intensively for four days, I want to jump back on the Propel to see what it feels like.

Ultimately, though, when judged in its own right, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc is a very accomplished bike. I don’t have the extensive multi-bike, multi-manufacturer experience of the guys over at GCN (and so I can’t compare it to the Pinarello-that or Canyon-this), but I was impressed with the bike and enjoyed riding it.

Hopefully, it’s the start of a beautiful relationship; I’ll be heading back out to Mallorca in six weeks and I’ve got to choose whether I’m going to take the new TCR or the old Propel…!

Thanks to Race Hub in Leicester for supplying and setting-up the TCR; visit them for a nice wide range of Giant bikes.