2021 Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Disc review: detail-driven and race-ready
There's a whole lot of value (and plenty to love) in this mid-tier racer.
There's a whole lot of value (and plenty to love) in this mid-tier racer.
There’s no denying 2020 was a busy year for all-round road race bike releases, and one of the most hotly anticipated was the new Giant TCR Advanced. However, lifting the covers from this ninth-generation TCR Advanced left many somewhat surprised, as despite the bike’s manufacturer having sweated the details for over three years, it didn’t look all that different to the previous generation.
But don’t be deceived by the looks: the new 2021 TCR Advanced Disc is an obsessively detail-driven evolution over the previous generation. All models in the new TCR Advanced lineup received a healthy helping of aero design to complement the previous light and stiff formula. Weight was further shaved away through the use of new materials, manufacturing processes, and stressing the smallest of details. And even the geometry got a small update, too.
We’ve previously covered all of these details in depth, so be sure to check out James Huang’s first-ride review of the 2021 Giant TCR Advanced SL Disc and our follow-up podcast with the bike’s engineers (sponsored content, but insightful).
As part of our recent Field Test from Victoria’s High Country in Australia, this review focuses on the new 2021 Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Disc. It’s a bike that sits approximately mid-way in Giant’s TCR range with a price of US$4,500 / £3,799 / AU$5,999 and offers a mightily impressive package for that money – including a dual-sided power meter.
Made in house by the mega manufacturer themselves, almost every tube (except the seat stays) of the new TCR Advanced now feature truncated ellipse-shaping to help smooth the airflow without adverse impact on the weight or stiffness of the frame.
The top tube is noticeably slender, while the rectangular down tube is far wider than it is tall, and its shape is optimised to be most efficient when the bidon cages are occupied with standard drinking vessels (aka, bottles). Up front the back of the head tube offers a noticeably blunt edge, while the bowed fork legs feature similar shaping, too.
And while comparable truncated shaping is standard practice amongst most new race bike releases, Giant’s decision to stick with more traditional exposed cable routing is a step in the direction it just came from. With the rear brake and gear cables entering the frame at the down tube, the cabling has been left more traditional. It’s a stark difference to many other recent all-rounder race bikes that include a proprietary cockpit and a unique system for concealed cables.
Such a cabling decision was made to ease servicing and setup of the bike. It also means that swapping out a stem, handlebar or replacing a rusted headset bearing is just like the good ol’ days, And no doubt, the simpler system would help save some weight off the complete bike, too.
Despite those scantily clad cable housings exposed to the wind, Giant suggests its wind tunnel testing has the new TCR within a blowing leaf of its direct competition. At 40 km/h and compared to the likes of the Cervelo R5 Disc or Specialized Tarmac SL7, the new TCR is within half a watt of aero efficiency. Or put another way, you’ll likely need to book time in a wind tunnel to measure the difference.
Beyond the aero improvements, Giant hasn’t strayed from the TCR’s proven ‘light and stiff’ formula. Impressively this not only applies to the top-tier TCR Advanced SL version, but also the more affordable TCR Advanced and Advanced Pro (the frame version we tested).
As previously covered, that pro-level TCR Advanced SL shares the same tube shaping and frame features as the more affordable models, but does so with an integrated seatpost, higher-end materials, and a futuristic manufacturing method (for the bike industry, at least) that involves robotic carbon lay-up production. The result sees a low 765 g figure for the frame (with integrated seat mast) matched with a 330 g fork.
Using cheaper carbon composite materials and a more traditional assembly process, the TCR Advanced frame is shared across the more price accessible Advanced Pro (tested) and Advanced bike models. Where things differ between these two is seen in the fork, with the Advanced Pro featuring Giant’s oversized OD2 fork (said to be stiffer) that sees the steerer taper from 1 1/2″ to 1 1/4″, while the cheaper Advanced uses a more traditional fork steerer that tapers from 1 ½” to 1 1/8″ (the latter being the most common size for stems).
This shared Advanced-level frame is claimed to weigh just 850 g, with the matching fork at 350 g. And while that figure doesn’t include Giant’s own aero seatpost (190 g, uncut), it is still a noticeably low figure when put up against many competing mid-tier frames (for example, the Trek Emonda SL frame is claimed to weigh 1,142 g excluding the fork).
That puts the new Advanced-level frame 50 g lighter than the previous version, and according to Giant, ever-so-slightly less stiff, too.
Speaking of stiffness, I had a sneaking suspicion that the Advanced-level frame may be a little less stiff than the SL version (I’ll return to this). A representative from Giant Bicycles has since confirmed this, stating the 2021 TCR Advanced SL is stiffer both laterally and vertically. By how much exactly? Well, it takes 135 and 88 Newtons per millimeter (N/mm) of deflection to laterally move the headtube and bottom bracket of the 2021 TCR Advanced SL Disc respectively. By contrast, the TCR Advanced Pro Disc frame offers stiffness figures of 126 N/mm at the head tube, and 83 N/mm at the bottom bracket.
The rest of the frameset offers a number of familiar features for the TCR range. Giant has kept to a press-fit BB86 bottom bracket shell, the only road press-fit format that’s officially supported by Shimano. And likewise, Giant’s own integrated seat post wedge is similar to the previous version.
One new addition that’s easily overlooked is the stack of aero-shaped headset spacers that integrate wonderfully with the curvature of Giant’s own stem. While the headset spacers are curved, they can be flipped and run on top of the stem if desired. I love little details like this – it’s a clear example that the finest points have been obsessed over.
Tyre clearance has received a bump and is now officially quoted at 32 mm, a figure I can confirm as true. And with that, Giant has given the TCR’s geometry a few tweaks to better suit the measured 28 mm (25 mm printed on the sidewalls) tyres that come as stock.
For this Giant dropped the bottom bracket heights by 2 mm across the six-size range, while the fork length was increased marginally, too. As a result the trail figure has increased slightly – for example, medium through to extra-large sizes offer a 58 mm figure with 28 mm tyres. Surprisingly Giant has stuck to using a single 45 mm-offset fork across all six frame sizes.
Many of the reach figures have changed in order to follow a more even progression throughout the size ranges. And while the rear centre (chain stay) length remains at 405 mm across all sizes, wheelbase lengths have trended slightly longer. And although it’s not a measurement I typically care about, a slightly more downward-sloping top tube has provided increased standover height, too.
As its own manufacturer, Giant typically manages to offer some impressive value for money and that’s certainly the case with the TCR Advanced Pro 1 Disc we tested.
Most notably, Giant has equipped the bike with its own independent dual-sided power meter. Permanently bonded to each crank arm of the Shimano Ultegra R8000 crankset, these small power sensors feature ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, offer a claimed +/- 2% accuracy, and last 100 hours of use between charging.
Named the “Giant Power Pro”, the dual-sided power meter adds just 32 g to the bike and sits in a rather hidden position (the full Shimano Ultegra crankset weighs 708 g in a 172.5 mm length with 52/36T rings). To our knowledge, Giant is the first to equip a true dual-sided power meter (one that retails at £799 / AU$1,300) to a bike at this price, and it’s certainly a standout feature.
The power meter deserves its own dedicated review and for that, I’ll point you towards YouTuber Shane Miller (aka GPLama). In summary, Miller was impressed by the unit and found that the power followed other trusted devices closely. Notably, dual-sided Shimano-crank-based power meters are known to have some discrepancies from left to right, and while the Power Pro doesn’t fully resolve the issue, it is perhaps better than most others.
Giant has its own free phone app for updating firmware and checking the function of the device, and I found it easy to use. Likewise pairing via either Bluetooth or ANT+ was simple.
Charging the power meter requires a proprietary USB cable that splits into two magnetic leads (included). This magnetic attachment has a vague feeling in how it attaches to the respective pods, but it does work and you won’t need to do it all that often, either.
To complement the power meter, Giant has also included its own (and optional) integrated GPS computer mount that sits off the stem faceplate. Mounts for Wahoo, Garmin and Giant’s own GPS are provided, and there’s a universal (and also optional) GoPro-style adapter to hold common accessories beneath it, too. It’s made of a strong plastic composite, it’s stiff, and it offers angle adjustment. Without the GoPro adapter, this mount adds 42 g to the bike.
Also of note are Giant’s own SLR 1 Disc carbon aero wheels. These offer a 42 mm depth and feature a 19.4 mm internal rim width (24.3 mm external). I weighed them at an impressive 1,520 g including rim tape and tubeless valves (690 g front, 830 g rear).
Important to note: these carbon wheels use a new hookless bead, and like similar wheels from Zipp and Enve, they can only be used with approved tubeless tyres (you can run tubes inside of these if you wish). Giant offers its own approved tyre list, and so far popular tyres from Pirelli, Vittoria and Continental have not passed Giant’s somewhat tortuous-if-not-unrealistic test of inflating tubeless tyres to 150 psi. There’s little doubt that hookless wheels will continue to become more popular and common, but we’re certainly at a weird point where a number of wheel and tyre manufacturers are yet to get onboard.
These wheels certainly complicated things at our Field Test where we were using control Continental GP5000 tyres across the bikes, and so instead we did most of our testing with a pair of Scribe Aero Wide+ 42 wheels (review coming).
As it has done for a number of years, Giant supplies the bike set up as tubeless from the box and even includes tyre sealant. The bike as tested comes stock with Giant’s Gavia Course 1 tubeless tyres in a 25 mm size, which measures 28 mm on the hookless rims.
Many of the other components come from Giant, too. The ergo-shaped aluminium handlebar and OD2 (1 1/4″) stem are a fuss-free match for the bike, while the new Fleet SL short-nose saddle is a notable and welcomed improvement over Giant’s previous perches.
And the rest of the bike features Shimano Ultegra mechanical shifting and hydraulic brakes which almost need no comment – it’s simply the benchmark option at this price point. The gearing sees a 52/36 up front with an 11-30T cassette out back – a versatile range.
Finally the “matte rosewood / matte carbon” deserves a mention. At a distance it looks like a plain old boring matte black, but there’s an understated reddish rosewood shimmer that appears in certain light.
All told, our medium sample balances the scales at an admirable 7.55 kg without pedals or tubeless tyre sealant, but with the included front computer mount. That figure is one of the lowest I’ve seen for a disc-equipped bike of this price and it’s all the more impressive once you consider what’s included.
There’s no denying the TCR’s performance intentions and this is immediately apparent by the relatively stretched-out position provided. Compared to the similarly-sized Trek Emonda SL on test, the Giant comes with a stem that’s 10 mm longer, and despite the two bikes offering near-identical trail figures, they handle quite differently.
This slightly more stretched position gives the TCR a subtly subdued handling characteristic compared to the rapid Emonda SL. The bike still eagerly goes where pointed and doesn’t miss a request, but it does so with greater stability at speed and a slower personality than what’s expected from the 58 mm trail figure. It still feels twitchy at low speed but once up to pace I found the handling to be impressively natural and at ease when flowing from corner to corner.
A part of this is also down to the ride quality, and the TCR feels like someone has turned the volume down a click. The road is still obviously beneath you, but the chatter coming through the handlebars and saddle is reduced, and it’s just another element that lets you relax that little bit more. There are many elements leading to this smoother ride quality, including the frame’s layup, the slender aero post that has some obvious give to it, the handlebar that offers a touch of flex from the flattened top shaping, and of course, the tubeless tyres as stock.
It may be slightly smoother-rolling than the compared Emonda SL, but both my fellow tester Andy van Bergen and I agree that it’s marginally less stiff and reactive under power, too. To clarify, there’s plenty of stiffness through the connection of the handlebar to the front wheel, and likewise, with the cranks to the rear wheel. And normally that’s the stiffness that people focus on, however, it was quite apparent to us that there is some flex between the length of the frame, namely from the fork steerer to the seatpost.
Such flex between these two ends of the front triangle can go a long way to creating a bike that offers a nice ride quality, but it does detract from how the bike feels in an urgent surge of power. More importantly, both Andy and I each experienced a one-off bout of speed wobble in gusty conditions at over 75 km/h that we then couldn’t replicate (and I haven’t been able to get back to the same seated coasting speeds around my local roads in Sydney). James Huang experienced a similar thing on his stiffer TCR Advanced SL test sample and claims to have solved the issue by balancing the wheel.
Recent research into the topic does point to this type of frame flex as a common cause for speed wobble. Again, Andy and I haven’t been able to replicate the issue so we can’t say the TCR frame is at fault here; rather we’re just sharing the one-off incidences experienced.
While most of our testing was done with control tyres, the few rides on Giant’s own rolling stock proved that they’re a great match for the bike. The wheels offer a good well-rounded depth that balances aero efficiency with a low weight and easy handling. And while I haven’t been a fan of Giant’s tyres in the past, this latest generation is now something that I’d happily ride until worn through.
It’s possible to give some long-term insight into the ownership of this bike given the new TCR offers few changes to the assembly and frame fitments from past. In our experience we’ve had very few issues with Giant’s press fit bottom bracket shells – they almost always offer great quality control. Likewise, the TCR’s more traditional semi-exposed cable routing is no doubt easier to work on than any system that squeezes things past a headset bearing.
One minor complaint is in relation to Giant’s oversized OD2 steerer system that not only introduces compatibility issues for stem, headsets and headset spacers, but also requires the use of smaller ball bearings within the top headset cartridge bearing. As a result, my long-term experience has been that these bearings don’t last quite as long as more traditional headset bearings, although we’re still talking about a very rare repair that will likely only need doing every few years under most riders.
Our test sample also experienced some obnoxious creaking from the seat post. Turns out our sample was supplied with the wrong seat post wedge from the factory and a quick swap to the correct one immediately solved this issue and brought the TCR’s aero post design back to the quiet and reliable fit we knew from previous generations.
This isn’t a design or manufacturing flaw but rather human error in packaging, and I mention it solely as I’ve heard from one other owner who’s had the same creaking issue in their new TCR. Giant assures me this is an incredibly rare incident but if you own a 2021 TCR Advanced or Advanced Pro and can see a gap between the front of the seat post and the wedge, then reach out to your local shop or Giant for the right part.
Finally the provided thru-axles come with a removable hex-key-based handle that can be swapped front to rear. It’s a nice feature, but unfortunately the handle on our sample had a dull rattle that could be heard in certain conditions. My simple fix was to keep this handle at home and carry a multi-tool instead – just as I would with most other disc-equipped road bikes that use bolt-up axles. Some thick grease or even contact cement may also work as an alternative bodge.
The Giant TCR Advanced has a long-standing reputation for being a fuss-free road racer with an accessible fit, well-mannered handling attitude, and most importantly, a good price. There’s no question that this new model retains much of that.
While the frame may not feel as stiff as some other race machines, it’s still a wonderfully efficient and effective bike. And the positive trade-off is a bike that’s unlikely to leave you feeling beaten after a long week of training.
Perhaps most importantly, this is one bike that’s ready to race straight from the shop floor. Those carbon aero wheels (despite the tyre compatibility limitations) are better than most hoops you’ll find equipped on higher-priced bikes. The frameset is lighter. And the inclusion of a dual-sided power meter is not only class-leading but dare I say, game-changing. Giant is clearly flexing its muscles pretty hard with its new TCR.