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By Matt Pacocha
You’ve already seen Giant’s new road bike, the TCR Advanced SL. Prototypes have been in service by the High Road (now Columbia) team since last year’s Tour de France. The bike and its radically shaped tubes have been highly visible all season, so it comes as no surprise that it will be in the company’s product line for 2009.
That’s not all Giant is offering for next year; all told it has seven new road bike platforms for the coming year. Giant is calling it its year of the road bike, and it’s due. It’s been five years since the brand has injected such an amount of technology into its effort on the road.
Perhaps most interesting, however, is an under story that Giant is beginning to tell. As the brand strives to redefine its manufacturing based image, it reiterates its design and manufacturing abilities. Sure it may still manufacture bikes for competitors that then sell them for twice what Giant would itself, but is that a mark for or against the brand? This alone adds value to its house branded products; why pay more unless you really want the brand name? Giant has the reputation of a low cost bike manufacturer, but let there be no confusion: it is also a highly advanced technological firm.
Giant is one of only two manufacturers that manufacture their carbon bikes from the most basic
step, weaving the carbon cloth — Giant builds from carbon thread to finished product — without letting the material or process out of its own hands. Time Sports is the only other to claim this.
From thread to finished product means one extremely important thing — Giant and Giant alone is responsible for the success or failure of its product, whether it be in the hands of its sponsored professionals of the newly anointed Columbia ProTour team or a discerning consumer. This is a motivator for Giant, who’s looking to change its image from value leader to an industry leader with a coveted top end product.
From budget to bling, can Giant do it?
If the success of its pro team is any indication, it may already have. Its new TCR Advanced SL is, well, advanced. Its technology seems to be paying dividends to the brand’s professionals. Along with technological gains the price will grow, but for a consumer who wants to pay for performance it may still represent one of the best values in the industry. The new bike represents a shift for the manufacturer. The Advanced SL has enough of a technological story to square off with any other top ProTour-level road bike.
Five years of development
Giant presented the TCR Advanced SL as the first big news to come for the road since the ISP was introduced five years ago. If you look at the actual development path, however, it’s apparent that Giant’s engineering team, nicknamed TC, has retained all of its members since 2002. Its staff has been hard at work on the SL concept for over two years within a separate carbon manufacturing facility called C-Tech. This type of consistency should benefit the end product. The Advanced SL has gone through a battery of tests and redesigns. Before the first prototypes were produced, Giant mocked up 56 different iterations using FEA analysis, then prototyped 10 different layup schedules for the carbon fiber in the bikes before settling on a version for each size. Since the Columbia team has been riding the bike, there have been three different generations of its design. The fourth will represent the production version.
The TCR Advanced SL is, like many bikes in the industry today, designed as a system. It has an ISP mast, but it also integrates a new 1.125 to 1.25 tapered fork system with asymmetric bearings called Overdrive. The fork mirrors the head tube and is massive in its own right. This adds considerable steering and braking stiffness, something older TCR’s were criticized for lacking. In the rear, Giant introduces Powercore, a 86mm threadless bottom bracket shell based off Shimano’s slip fit bearing system. Right now, adapters are available for both SRAM and FSA systems. Giant is also working on a Campagnolo retrofit, which is not yet available. The massive Overdrive design is connected to the Powercore via a massive squared off down tube dubbed MegaDrive, and the rear wheel is tied into the system using asymmetric chainstays.
The TCR Advanced SL line relies on cutting edge material as well. Giant weaves the prepreg carbon from Toray’s T800 fiber; Giant is one of the world’s largest consumers of Toray carbon thread. Giant then uses three separate construction methods to assemble the Advanced SL frame. The top tube, head tube and down tube are molded as a monocoque. The chainstays and bottom bracket shell are attached using a bonding method, as are the aluminum rear dropouts.
Giant believes that aluminum is still the most functional and durable material to use for the dropouts; it doesn’t believe that carbon has the ability to stand up in the application over time. The keystone manufacturing technology of the new bike, however, is a new molding system called Fusion. It is reserved for the attachment of the front triangle to the seat tube and seatstay junction. It’s best described as an advanced method of co-curing. Giant miters, then wraps the joint, as most tube-to-tube carbon construction, but then remolds the joint using an internal die, external pressure mold and heat. This allows the maximum amount of resin to be removed from the joint; Fusion is subsequently Giant’s lightest tube-joining method, but the process is extremely time and labor intensive, which prohibits its use to more than one joint.
“The idea is to use the right construction method in the right place,” says Andrew Juskaitis, Giant’s communications manager.
The finished product, TCR Advanced SL, is Giant’s ideal road bike. It isn’t the lightest: a medium frame is over 1000 grams, nor is it the stiffest in Giant’s internal testing. Giant does claim it to be the most compliant bike in its class as well as the best-rounded race bike it has ever created.
Compliant; not soft
Giant claims the greatest compliance in the industry and much of that comes from the ISP seat mast, which will be on the majority of the SL models in 2009. Giant will have a limited number of the SL frames available with its Vector aero-shaped seat post, for those who still are not ready to embrace a seat mast. Giant measures compliance by measuring the amount of vibration transmitted to a rider through two specific points, the seat mast and the fork’s steerer (ultimately the
handlebars.) One of the reasons Giant has made an about face in regards to its mast has been how well the technology has been received up to this point. Dealers can handle it, as can consumers. In addition Giant will offer two seat clamps, one with 25mm of vertical adjustment and one with 45mm of adjustment that only weighs 10 grams more. Both have reversible offset clamps for 10mm or 23mm of offset. The seat mast itself is said to be 40 percent more aerodynamic than a round 27.2mm post, lighter by 40 grams and tuned by Giant for an engineered, compliant ride.
While back-to-back tests of the new TCR Advanced SL and its competitors were not possible during Giant’s unveiling, the bike did seem to possess most of the attributes Giant touts. The front end is stiff (Giant claims a 42 percent increase in steering stiffness) and the rear end is too, especially when you stand up to put some power into the pedals. This solid feeling is likely a result of the massive head tube, downtube, bottom bracket, chainstay connection. Still, after a six-hour ride, I didn’t step off feeling beat up. Of course, six hours isn’t what’s required to reserve a final judgment, but it is enough start forming opinions, which in this case are favorable. That paired with Columbia’s success on the platform will make the TCR Advanced SL worth a look for those in the market for a ProTour level carbon road bike in 2009.
As for how you’ll see it packaged. Right now Giant advertises a SRAM Red equipped model as well as a standard Shimano Dura-Ace model and a Team model with spec that matches Columbia’s sponsor line up. The TCR Advanced SL Team, with the 2009 Dura-Ace 7900 and Shimano 7850 carbon clinchers will cost around $8000. Six sizes are available.
For 2009 Giant will offer two different grades of its Advanced carbon technology. You’ve just read about the first: Advanced SL. The second is simply called Advanced. The Advanced frames feature Giant’s own prepreg carbon fiber that’s made using Toray’s T700 fiber and resin that’s proprietary to Giant. The method for construction is monocoque.
Prices were not available at the time of printing for the monocoque manufactured T700 carbon Advanced models, which share the same geometry, Overdrive front end and PowerCore bottom bracket as the Advanced SL, but don’t incorporate an integrated mast. These frames strive to meet the similar performance-oriented goals of the SL, but with a more economic manufacturing method and material. Giant does claim that the new Advanced is superior to the TCR Advanced the team was riding before the Tour last year.
Gran Fondo Racers Apply — Giant’s new Defy
Finally, Giant representatives seemed most excited to present a new bike called the Defy. The line includes all-carbon Advanced (T700 fiber, monocoque construction), Alliance (Giant’s carbon and aluminum construction) and all alloy Aluxx SL (6013) and Aluxx (6061) models. The difference in Defy is the geometry; it’s simply more upright with slightly longer chainstays and more tire clearance. The Advanced model still features the majority of the new for 2009 technology, including the Overdrive oversized fork system and the Powercore bottom bracket.
“These are the bikes that the majority of consumers will purchase,” said Juskaitis. “They’re high performance for a rider that wants to race a little bit, but spends the lion’s share of their time club riding. These bikes will let the majority of riders ride longer and stronger because of their endurance positioning.”