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Giant’s TCX cyclocross range includes five models, from the entry-level SLR 2 (RRP $1,900) up to the Advanced Pro 0 ($6,699). Over the past few months CyclingTips founder and publisher Wade Wallace has been putting the Giant TCX Advanced Pro 0 through its paces. He wrote the following review.
The TCX Advanced Pro 0 is Giant’s flagship model and it’s a bike that comes ready to race. Current Dutch Cyclocross champion Lars van der Haar rode this bike en route to becoming the 2014 World Cup Champion and many other victories besides.
Before the ride
Out of the box, the TCX Advanced 0 is equipped with Giant’s Advanced-grade composite carbon frame (weighing just over 1,000g) and fork, Shimano Di2 rear shifting, Shimano R785 hydraulic discs, Rotor crankset, and Giant’s own P-CXR0 wheelset (25mm-wide clinchers at 1,430g).
Basically all you need to do is install some pedals, adjust the saddle, and you’re ready to hit the trails.
Looking at the drivetrain more closely, the Shimano 11x28t cassette is paired with a single chainring (40t) with no front derailleur (there’s a chain guide to keep the drivetrain in tact). The benefit of this setup is that there’s less chance of mud clogging up the chainrings and therefore less to worry about. Plus, without a front derailleur, it also reduces the cost of the bike by a fair margin. I’ll get to the real-world pros and cons of this setup in a moment.
The other notable feature on the TCX Advanced Pro 0 is the use of a 15mm through-axle for the front wheel, instead of a traditional quick-release system. Many brands are beginning to use this on their higher-end cyclocross bikes. It’s debatable, but some Engineers tell me that that through-axles provide better stiffness in the fork which, in turn, provides more control when steering. But most of all, through-axles also allow for easier disc alignment when mounting the wheel.
The D-Fuse seatpost is shaped, you guessed it, like a ‘D’ and is said to offer more fore-aft compliance and vibration dampening over a traditional round seatpost. The back of it is flat and smooth for better flex. It’s held in by an internal wedge binder that’s nicely hidden away rather than a regular band clamp.
There isn’t a drastic difference between the TCX geometry and many other leading cyclocross bikes. Compared with the Giant TCR or Defy road models, however, the TCX has a longer wheelbase, longer chainstays, longer head-tube, and higher bottom bracket. The overall effect is that the TCX is better suited to handling rough terrain than smooth, predictable roads.
Note that the TCX Advanced Pro 0 may be spec’d slightly differently depending on which country you buy it in. I’ve seen a few minor variations between Australia, Europe and the USA.
After the ride
I was fortunate enough to have the TCX Advanced Pro 0 for roughly three months, allowing me to get a proper feel for it under many conditions. I was also able to understand some of the real-world practicalities of the setup; things that you don’t get to see and experience after test-riding a bike for only a week or two.
I’ve seen other reviews claim a weight of about 7.5kg for the TCX Advanced 0, but the model I tested (size L/XL, roughly 56cm top tube) weighed in at 8.5kg (including 345 gram XT pedals). We’ve become accustomed to a standard bike weight of sub-7kg and so you could be fooled into thinking that the TCX is a heavy, sluggish bike. But remember that this isn’t a road bike built for smooth sailing over nicely paved roads.
The weights of some of the individual components on the TCX are quite remarkable for a cyclocross bike. For example, the carbon frame is slightly over 1,000g (not including seatpost or fork) and the wheels are under 1,500g. At 8.5kg the bike feels remarkably light, nimble, sturdy on the trails with excellent acceleration and handling.
It’s a very comfortable bike to ride, but don’t confuse this with “all-day comfort” — it’s not a Gran Fondo bike. That said, the words, “so much fun” usually gasped out of my mouth at every stop while riding this bike.
For many years I used traditional quick-release systems on mountain and cyclocross bikes and never saw them as a problem. I’m not sure if I could push a bike hard enough through the corners to tell whether a through-axle setup does offer better handling, but I’d love to do a back-to-back test to see.
That said, the combination of the through-axles and a beefed-up front end (labeled the “OverDrive 2 steerer tube system”) allowed the Advanced Pro 0 to glide, drift, dig into, and track through the corners beautifully. Combined with the right tyres and pressure for the conditions, if you can push it, it can handle it.
Unfortunately, having a bike with a through-axle system can be a bit disruptive if you’re used to quick-release. Things like fork-mounted bike racks require an adaptor, my beloved Park Tool maintenance stand — which fastens the bike via quick-release — won’t work, and unless you’re fully committed to through-axle wheels, your other wheels won’t be compatible. These are just a few of the less-obvious things to bear in mind when buying a through-axle system for the first time.
Single chainring setup
Having a single chainring is very good in theory, but as with anything there are a few trade-offs. It works very well in muddy conditions — it’s easy to maintain and clean — and with the absence of a front derailleur and more expensive crankset (Dura Ace 9000, to be consistent with the rest of the bike), there’s significant cost savings to be had. I like those trade-offs, but here are a few things that you should be aware of with a single-chainring setup:
- The 40T chainring might be slightly undergeared for fast sections of a course or for descending. I kept spinning out at approximately 37km/h with nowhere else to shift. The solution is to put a larger chainring on for fast courses, which is an easy and inexpensive fix.
- On fast sections with rough terrain your chain will naturally be on the lower end of the cassette, meaning you’ll have limited chain tension and potentially experience chain slap. This is a common problem in mountain biking where rear derailleurs are now built with ‘clutches’ to prevent chain slack. Di2 does not have a clutch system to deal with chain tension.
- I managed to have a good stack on this bike one day (sorry Giant!) and the chain came off the front chainring as a result. It was very difficult to get the chain back onto the chainring by hand because the chain guide doesn’t move like a front derailleur can.
None of these issues are deal-breakers but rather they are small idiosyncrasies that I experienced along the way. The other option is spending another ~$1,000 on a two-chainring setup and front derailleur. If you’re a serious cyclocross competitor who can’t live with these things I mentioned above, then you might want to upgrade. If you’re happy to live with these edge-case scenarios, the single-chainring setup will suit you just fine.
In terms of mud clearance the Shimano R785 hydralic disc brakes ensure there’s no brake bridge on the seat stays. This means there’s lots of room under the fork crown for mud and other gunk to get through:
To me, the debate about disc vs cantilever brakes in the cyclocross world should be nearly done, and won. With most of your time being spent on the hoods and the amazing modulation and consistency of disc brakes, there is no question any more about which is superior. And given the ease of maintenance and set-up for disc brakes, we should simply be taking them for granted now.
Electronic shifting in the mud?
You might question the choice of Di2 shifting on a cyclocross bike, but let me assure you that it’s not as fragile as you might think. Long-term reviews of Di2 have shown that it holds up just fine through all the water, cold and mud that cyclocross can throw at it.
For me, the only drawback to Di2 is that when you’re using gloves on rough terrain there’s a lack of mechanical feel when shifting. This means you don’t get immediate feedback and you’re sometimes left wondering for a split second. In Australia, there are few times we’ll be wearing gloves thick enough for that, but it might be a concern elsewhere in the world.
One thing I wanted to do was see how the TCX would handle heavy-duty road riding. I installed 30mm slicks so I could venture onto gravel roads, pathways, and other places I wouldn’t purposely venture on a regular road bike. Cyclocross bikes are becoming the “go to” bike for this popular type of riding and I wanted to see how the TCX performed.
I certainly enjoyed my rides with this setup but the gearing (i.e. a single front chainring) is simply not made for riding much over 35km/h. Just like a mountain bike, it’s built for tearing up the trails. This is worth reiterating for the frame geometry too — comfort on this bike, in my experience, is limited to about 2-3 hours.
My advice is if you’re looking for a bike that can handle rough roads and you’re not necessarily going to race cyclocross, consider the Giant Defy with discs instead of converting a cyclocross bike into a road bike. You’ll be much more comfortable and the bike will be built adequately for this type of riding.
What do these ratings mean and how are they weighted? Find out more here.