Super-light; subtle but fast aero tube shapes; Cadex wheels and components
Incredibly light; ultra-responsive handling; a blast to ride
Steering could be too responsive for most riders; seat mast setup is tricky; super expensive
Giant's TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc certainly fits the superbike moniker, with its gossamer weight and aerodynamic performance. More importantly, it's an absolute blast to ride and has set its stake in the ground as an early bike of the year contender.
I have a secret weapon when it comes to testing a bike’s handling and I’ve used it several times on board Giant’s brand new TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc. It’s a high-speed corner near my house: You head down a slight hill, then take a sharp right turn that immediately pitches slightly upward. It’s a dog-leg turn, it’s high-speed, and it’s the moment know exactly what I can expect from a bike’s handling.
The TCR Advanced’s handling goes beyond precise. It’s a scalpel, surgically slicing through my favorite corner. And what happens after hitting that corner at high-speed, at the innermost line I can take without clipping the curb, is what makes the TCR Advanced really special: afterburner-like acceleration. It’s a superbike; I know that because all of the characteristics are there, from exceptional lateral stiffness to aerodynamic touches and lithe, nuanced handling.
- Rapha Pro Team Road Shoe first ride
- Kitted Out: best road kit for 2020
- First Look: Fizik Antares Versus Evo 00 Adaptive saddle
Much of what Giant is selling with the TCR Advanced can be filed under imperceptible. You won’t necessarily feel the aerodynamics, which Giant says will best the competition — most notably, Specialized’s S-Works Tarmac, and Trek’s Emonda SLR. Giant does so with subtle tube shaping, which it calls truncated ellipse tubing. You can see a good example of such shaping at the head tube, where the front of the tube features a wing-like shape, then truncates at the rear to reduce drag.
You may not notice the increased stiffness, which is up to 26 percent better than its competitors according to Giant, but it’s all there in an attempt to transfer more of your pedaling power to forward motion and to improve cornering. That’s all under the hood.
Perhaps that makes it difficult to look at the TCR Advanced on paper and be wowed. After all, isn’t every bike now lighter, stiffer, faster, better?
It’s true, the claims certainly sound awfully similar to every bike we read about. And every year, a new crop of superbikes hits the market and bests the ones that came out the previous year. Yet among a crop of superbikes all out-superbiking each other, the TCR Advanced proves itself on the pavement. Giant’s control of the process helps a lot here; the frames are made in Giant’s own facilities, which isn’t something a lot of brands can say.
On top of that, Giant says its carbon fiber materials are laser-cut and robot-assembled, which means more weight can be reduced where it’s needed, and the layup can be done more precisely, for a more tailored finished product.
For starters, you’ll notice how light it is, right out of the box. It’s enough to get any climber’s heart all aflutter at just 14.46 pounds (size medium). But at this point in the superbike game, that’s low-hanging fruit.
So let’s move onto other ride characteristics, like the TCR Advanced’s lateral stiffness. Okay, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice it, especially on sustained climbs. It only occurred to me that the TCR Advanced had something special here when I was chasing a sprint KOM near my house (I didn’t get it, but came darn close). This is one of those sprint KOM attempts I generally save for the pure aero bikes. I won’t say the TCR Advanced felt like those aero monsters, but, yeehaw, this thing can cook!
It differs from those aero beasts primarily in its handling, which sits on the extreme side of responsive. It’s so responsive, in fact, that there were a few times I almost wiped out in a corner after inputting perhaps a bit too much of my intentions into the cockpit.
But remember my favorite corner? It was here that the handling announced itself. I could cut into high-speed corners incredibly tightly and hold that line. Much of that cornering stability comes from the increased lateral frame stiffness I mentioned earlier. The TCR Advanced, in that sense, feels very much like a tool for the pros. If you’re after a more forgiving handling experience, the TCR Advanced has no interest in entertaining that.
The TCR Advanced also comes dressed in Cadex components, including the tubeless wheels. I’d love to give you a blow-by-blow rundown of how these wheels feel, but frankly, they feel like every other set of lightweight carbon race wheels you’d expect to come on an expensive bike like these. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but given that Cadex has only been officially in existence for about a year, that’s actually quite impressive. These wheels have been in testing for a long time, branded in the past with the #Overachieve moniker. Giant did its homework here, and the wheels feel right at home on this superbike.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was necessary to sacrifice most comfort features to make a bike light, stiff, fast, and aero. Those days have thankfully passed, and the TCR Advanced packs a surprising amount of compliance into a super-stiff frame.
Those seem like contradictory ideas, but the monocoque front triangle goes a long way toward creating a ton of lateral stiffness. I was expecting that to lead to a fairly harsh ride, especially in the front end, but the TCR Advanced is almost shockingly comfortable. I imagine that comes down to smart choices in carbon layup, as well as the way some of the frame tubes taper.
But ultimately, I wonder how much of the compliance, at least in the rear, comes down to the seat mast. There was enough flex there that I kept checking to see if my rear tire had gone flat. It’s an interesting feeling, though: It didn’t feel springy, as though I was being pivoted fore and aft. Instead, it just felt like a linear cushion. The sensation is pleasant.
And that Giant Fleet saddle sure is a nice complement to the overall comfort package. It’s slightly truncated at the nose, and the tail sweeps upward. The overall shape positions you squarely, so you shift around less during pedaling. And the center channel feels just right, no ridges to pinch and cause discomfort.
Setting up the TCR Advanced
The TCR Advanced ships with two seatmast caps to simplify the process of finding your proper saddle height. Still, for most riders, this will involve trimming the seatmast itself, which got my anxiety level floating up near my eyeballs pretty quickly. Taking a hacksaw to an $11,000 bike right out of the box wasn’t exactly a comforting process.
But having two seatmast caps of different lengths does take some of the stress out of the process. If you goof up and cut too short, just use the taller of the two caps. Still, it’s best to leave this to the professionals at the bike shop if possible, and if you do it yourself, be sure to measure twice (or three, or four times) and cut once.
The cockpit is not integrated, even though many of Giant’s competitors have moved toward integration even on climbing bikes. The TCR Advanced comes with a stem and a handlebar, independent of each other, which means you can adjust your position as you normally would. The adjustability certainly suits tinkerers, and those who want to customize cockpit positioning to the millimeter, though of course you’ll do without some of the aero benefits. Frankly, I didn’t miss an integrated cockpit, though it was strange to look down and see — gasp! — brake hoses.
TCR Advanced Verdict
Wow, what a ride! The TCR Advanced certainly rips. It’s fast, fun, and sleek, and while I wouldn’t recommend this bike to everyone given the ultra-responsive handling, it’s an ideal race bike — for climbers especially.
I rode this bike on rolling terrain between my house and Golden, Colorado, where the mountains stake their claim, and you can start climbing for days. It was easy to find an aggressive, fast, and comfortable riding position on the flats, and once the road starts pitching up, the TCR Advanced feels right at home.
The only place I didn’t love the TCR Advanced was in aggressive sprints. It’s easy to get over the front wheel, which is great, but the bike’s super-responsive handling means you need to pay close attention to keep it stable underneath you. It’s clearly not a bike for the big sprinters, so this won’t be a problem for most people who choose this as their daily driver, but be aware that the handling characteristics aren’t suited to all riders.
Giant also offers the TCR Advanced at lower price points. The entire range runs from $1,900 all the way up to my test bike’s whopping $11,000, so there really is a bike for everyone in the range.
It’s still early in the year and we will undoubtedly see more new bikes from Giant’s competitors, but the TCR Advanced certainly sets Giant up to contend for bike of the year honors.