Rob Hoyles tests the Giant TCR Advanced SL 1 to see if it lives up to its big reputation for a great all-rounder
Tested by: Rob Hoyles | Miles ridden: 173 | Size tested: 46.5cm (S) | Weight 6.9kg (15lb)
With road bike ranges constantly evolving and expanding to meet the needs of different races and racers, Giant’s TCR Advanced sits alongside the aero-centric Propel and the cobble-taming endurance machine, the Defy.
This is a bike built to win stage races. Its DNA is pure pro. While the entry-level TCR Advanced rolls in at £1,100, the range-topping SL is a world apart with a high-grade T800 carbon-fibre frame that features a built-in seatmast to save weight and aid aerodynamics. It’s available in two options: the Shimano Ultegra-equipped SL 2 at £3,499, and this model, the all-singing SL 1, dripping in Dura-Ace and costing a cool £4,249.
Giant pioneered the compact road frame in the late Nineties. The front and rear triangles are smaller for each frame size, the logic being that a smaller triangle needs less material and is therefore lighter. The other benefit is stiffness — with shorter spars comes less flex. While the downward-sloping top tube isn’t a rare sight these days, the TCR Advanced still looks radical and from certain angles gives an impression of a bike that’s a size too small for its rider.
Fit for our 5ft 9in tester on the size S was perfect, giving the ideal seat to bar drop and, despite the relatively short 90mm stem, the bike never felt cramped. Much of this was thanks to the built-in seatmast that offered generous layback and the option to sit a fair way behind the crank centre. Matched to the 170mm crank arms, we quickly achieved a race-ready riding position.
Giant’s OverDrive 2 may not be the groundbreaker it was, but matched to the stiff head tube and burly box-section Contact SLR stem, it makes for a machine with refined and precise high-speed handling, with enough rigidity for even the most muscular of fastmen.
If you have any preconceptions about own-brand kit, bin them — Giant components are first class. A sensor in the chainstay measures wheel speed and cadence. This RideSense device is ANT+ compatible, so it’s easy to sync with most modern bike computers.
The Contact SLR moniker also applies to the bars. Ultra-light and stiff, they feature aero shaping and a well-balanced reach to the drops — not too severe but racy enough to get low and well out of the wind.
The tubeless-ready P-SLR1 wheelset is also made in-house by Giant. For lighter riders and climbing, at around 1,400g for the pair, these will doubtless offer reasonable performance. Bigger, more powerful riders, however, may find those hard, out-of-the-seat efforts provoke too much flex, absorbing rather than rewarding effort. Considering the TCR Advanced’s overall frame stiffness, it’s a shame. You’re still getting a £749.99 wheelset in a sub £4.5k bike — so if you’ve already got a set of racing wheels then the stock hoops will at least make an excellent set of trainers.
So good is Dura-Ace’s reputation, it hardly seems worth a mention. Let’s just say the best mechanical groupset on the market continues to impress.
It’s a shame this bike suffered a test period that consisted of mostly wet weather and greasy roads. It would have been great to put the bike through its paces in a race situation on warm tarmac, to really push the limits and explore its handling. The cut and thrust of a criterium event would doubtless be this bike’s forte.
You might expect such compact geometry to result in nervous handling. But while direct, the ride was always neutral, and even ripping along Surrey’s bumpiest lanes the Giant always felt reassuringly surefooted and stable.
Stiff and light, at a shade under 7kg, the bike climbs as well as it descends. The Giant TCR Advanced SL 1 truly is an all-round race bike.
Long-ride comfort isn’t a strong point. Sure, there’s plenty of blurb about vertical compliance on Giant’s website and the ride isn’t harsh per se, but it’s a long way from what most gran fondo riders would call comfortable. It’s all relative though, and a ‘comfortable race bike’ is as relevant a description as a ‘fast tourer’. If the TCR Advanced SL 1 is on your shortlist then there’s a fair chance you’re a racer looking for an edge, not an armchair ride. The biggest single strength we found was the handling. Even in the slippery, greasy winter test conditions, we had the confidence to press on through the corners thanks to an inherent ability to hold and adjust a line through pretty much any turn. It accelerates well, with the stiff BB and steerer making the most of every revolution of the crank. For fast and furious crit races, there are few bikes that would better the TCR Advanced SL 1.