Giant continues the evolution of its TCR bike line, which has dropped weight and is now stiffer. New wheels and saddles also announced

MALLORCA, Spain (VN) — Giant Bicycles’ capabilities are legendary, but it may not appear on your short list of innovative bike companies. However, consider the Giant TCR. When this “compact” frame with long, super-deep aero seatpost first appeared in 1997 under the ONCE team, can you recall how shocked you were? Its sloping top tube was so radical at the time that the UCI, in its infinite wisdom, initially banned it. Its look was strange compared to the level top tubes and short seatposts we had always accepted as being de rigueur for a road bike, but perhaps even more revolutionary is that it was the first sub-one-kilogram racing frame on the market — and that was in aluminum!

TCR was a do-it-all bike intended for climbing, sprinting, and time trialing, and, indeed, ONCE used the same bike for all of those things. The steeply-sloping top tube looked particularly radical when coupled with aero bars and a disc wheel under Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano in time trials.

A few years later, when the TCR appeared with an integrated seat mast, it also literally broke the mold of what other manufacturers were doing. Perhaps you remember that ONCE director sportif Manolo Saiz, after losing the Giant sponsorship of the team, now sponsored by Liberty Seguros, to Telekom, pressured new bike sponsor BH to also give him bikes with an integrated seat mast so that his stallions would not be at a disadvantage to Jan Ullrich.

The 2016 TCR

For 2016, Giant has an all-new TCR Advanced SL (with an integrated seat mast), TCR Advanced Pro, and TCR Advanced. The Advanced SL is considered its versatile GC bike, although don’t expect to see it used in time trials by Giant-Alpecin riders. Giant engineers have smoothed many of the sharp edges of the design that collected resin and fabric, slimmed some sections, trimmed the fat off of the seat mast cap, and added hollow carbon dropouts, shaving off 181 grams — a full 12 percent of its weight.

At the same time, TCR claims best-in-class pedaling stiffness/weight ratio for the frame, frameset-plus-wheelset pedaling stiffness/weight ratio when coupled with Giant’s new SLR 0 carbon wheels, torsional stiffness including the fork, and one of the lightest frame weights. And indeed, when climbing the mountains of Mallorca this week on it and descending the tight, tortuous switchbacks down their flanks, the TCR Advanced Pro jumped at the slightest application of pedaling force and kept the wheels tracking through the tightest turns.

VeloNews spotted this new frame at the Amgen Tour of California, ridden by Giant-Alpecin’s Lawson Craddock.

Giant claims to be the only company in the bike industry to build entire bikes starting from the fibers, particularly now that BMC seems to have abandoned its Impec robotic carbon-fiber knitting project. Giant buys the raw carbon fibers, but it takes it the whole way from there. It makes the fabrics and impregnates them with its own proprietary resins, creating the pre-preg fabric on-site that other manufacturers must buy from other suppliers. It uses these fabrics not only in its frames, but also in its rims and saddles, as well as other components.

Over the years, our eyes have not only become accustomed to sloping top tubes, but also to huge tube dimensions on frames, but striking features about the new TCR include super svelte fork legs, seat stays, rear top tube section, and seat mast/seatpost. Clearly, weight is saved through making these parts very slim, and according to Giant’s test results, torsional rigidity is not sacrificed in the process. The lean, aero-shaped integrated seat mast on the TCR Advanced SL and seatpost on the Advanced Pro and Advanced is designed to give more fore-aft compliance.

Raising the integrated lower headset bearing inside the oversized head tube so it is more in-line with the huge Megadrive square-cross-section down tube stiffens the steering. Huge dimensions of the tubes meeting the 86.5mm-wide press-fit bottom bracket shell further increase torsional and pedaling stiffness.

The TCR will be available in the USA starting in August. Prices range from $9,000 for the TCR Advanced SL with Dura-Ace Di2 and SLR 0 carbon wheelset to $1,700 for the TCR Advanced 3 complete bike.

The Wheels

The carbon rims on the Giant SLR 0 and SLR 1 come in 30mm and 55mm deep versions that have a 23mm outer width and 17mm tubeless-compatible inner width. The glass transition temperature (Tg) of the resin is 245C, much higher than the industry standard. Giant claims to have performed brake-heating tests against Zipp and Reynolds rims and that the Giant SLR 0/1 clincher rim with SLR pads and 100psi tire lasted without any damage through two 15-minute tests for a total absorbed braking energy of 75Wh. Giant claims that the Zipp with Tangente pads also survived both 15-minute periods but that surface bubbling on the brake surface appeared, while Reynolds rims with Cryo-Blu pads failed during the first 15-minute test run.

Giant further claims that it came out on top when comparing both wet and dry braking performance of these same three rims and pads plus a Bontrager rim with Carbon Stop Cork pads. There was nary a hint of rain in two days of riding on hot days in Mallorca, but dry braking on the many serpentine switchbacks was positive and squeal-free for me.

Dynamic Balanced Lacing (DBL) is the term Giant has coined for its system of having the drive-side tension on the pushing spokes higher than that of the pulling spokes in the static state. This is accomplished by anchoring the heads of the pushing spokes lower in the hub flange than the pushing spokes. When the chain twists the freehub forward, it tightens the pulling spokes and loosens the pushing spokes, thus evening out the tension on all drive-side spokes (or dynamically balancing the tension). This is intended to increase the durability of the wheel, since uneven spoke tension is well known to decrease a wheel’s life.

The anchor points of all drive-side spokes are also pushed further outboard to better balance the left/right spoke tension while still providing the room required for 11 cogs and the derailleur cage when using the largest cog. Having 21 rear spokes with 14 on the drive side and seven (radially-laced) on the non-drive side is also supposed to even out spoke tension between the two sides. The front has 16 radial spokes.

The rims and lacing systems are the same on both SLR 0 and SLR 1 wheels, but the SLR 1 is $1,000/set cheaper ($1,300 vs. $2,300/pr.). This is accomplished by dropping the SLR 0’s DT Swiss star-ratchet freehub system and Aerolite/Aerocomp bladed spokes in favor of the SLR 1’s standard freehub pawl system and Sapim Race/Laser round, butted spokes. Bike mechanics will not be overjoyed about the hidden spoke nipples, but wheel product manager Jeff Schneider insists that DBL results in such balanced wheels that the wheels will be much less likely to come out of true than other wheels.

SLR 0 wheels are listed as 1331 grams/pair 30mm-deep rims, which Giant says is best in class. It also claims transmission stiffness test results of a 65kg dynamic pedaling load on a 175mm crank in a 39x25t gear showing the SLR 0 to have not only the highest stiffness, but also the highest stiffness-to-weight when compared to the Zipp 202 Firecrest, Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3, Roval Rapide CLX 40, and ENVE Smart 3.4. It also claims higher lateral stiffness than any of those wheels, measured by side-loading the rim in the static state.

The Saddles

Giant’s new Contact SLR and Contact SL saddles feature “Particle Flow Technology;” rather than gel-filled sections, the Contact saddles have beads in two compartments that move with the rider’s structure to distribute pressure over a wider area without pushing completely through a gel pocket. Its other unique feature is a fitting system that is determined while riding, rather than while sitting on a static memory foam pad or performing body flexibility tests.

During the dynamic saddle impression evaluation, the rider pedals for at least two minutes on Giant’s fitting saddle after it has been installed on the bike at exactly the same height as the rider’s existing saddle. Underneath a clear, opaque-gel-filled top layer, the fitting saddle has four demarcated zones colored either blue, white, pink or red. After the rider has pedaled for a couple of minutes with thin shorts and no chamois pad, he or she will have moved the opaque gel out of the way enough that some of the colored zones will be visible. Asymmetries in saddle contact pressure as well as side-to-side and fore-aft pressure distribution can be immediately identified thanks to the brightly-colored areas revealed. Referring to a chart, the retailer can select the proper Forward, Neutral, or Upright saddle shape.

With carbon-filled base and carbon rails, the 180g Contact SLR sells for $225, while the 210g Contact SL with tubular stainless steel rails sells for $110.