2021 Giant TCX Advanced Pro review: CX meets gravel?
Since 2009, the TCX cyclocross bike has been a mainstay of Giant’s range. It has found a great deal of success over the years in World Championships, the cobbled classics, the daily commute, and on the sales floor.
Almost inadvertently, midway through last decade, the TCX added another string to its bow. Giant was conspicuously slow to jump on the gravel bandwagon, so those duties fell to the TCX too. While the Revolt eventually plugged that gap in Giant’s line-up, the TCX can still quite happily blur some lines between gravel and cyclocross – especially if you don’t overthink things too much.
- What: The latest version of Giant’s long-standing cyclocross race platform.
- Key features:Improved seated comfort, reduced weight, 1x Shimano GRX groupset, carbon wheelset.
- Weight: 8.41kg (18.54 lb) as tested (size ML, with pedals and cages); 850 g (1.87 lb, frame only, with hardware); 400 g (0.88 lb, fork only, uncut).
- Price: US$3,650/AU$5,499 RRP
- Highs: Quick and agile, light weight, good value.
- Lows: Lacks some comfort, dabbles in gravel category but lacks any of the usual mounts.
At the 2021 CyclingTips Field Test in Bright, Victoria, Australia, we had the opportunity to put to the test the Giant Revolt Advanced and Giant TCX Advanced, in similar spec levels. Part of that was in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the differences between gravel and cyclocross bikes – two circles of a Venn diagram that, at a glance, have plenty of overlap. But while we’ve reviewed the Revolt before, we are yet to take a closer look at the latest iteration of the TCX, so we figured it was as good a time as any for a standalone review.
A refined TCX
Over its long life, the TCX platform has seen a series of refinements – enhancements to its race day chops, the addition of integrated seatposts at various points, and now, in its most recent iteration, a substantial reduction in weight and a boost in tyre clearance.
The latest version’s frameset scores a 260 gram – or 17.5%, if you prefer – weight drop over last year’s model. And indeed, the fact the TCX has gone on a diet is probably the headline feature.
But the new TCX has a few less showy surprises up its sleeve. There are some improvements to seated comfort thanks to a fancy new seatpost clamp design, which gives a lower clamping point for more flex through the d-shaped D-Flex post, but you can also set it up with any 30.9 mm post – including a dropper post, if you’re feeling boisterous.
The other standout feature of the 2021 TCX is an increase in tyre clearance. It can now take a 700×45 mm tyre, which is way more than you’ll be able to get away with in a sanctioned cyclocross race, and that provides a big hint that while the TCX is a fully-fledged cyclocross race bike, it can also lean a little more adventurous – and will be untroubled by all but the sloppiest ‘cross courses.
The TCX range globally has been pared back for 2021, with the aluminium SLR and the mid-tier Advanced both disappearing into the ether. Now, perhaps in an acknowledgment of the growing popularity of the Revolt platform, the TCX is a species of one – the TCX Advanced Pro – with a refined sense of purpose.
The Advanced Pro comprises three models ranging from AU$3,999 to $7,499. Sitting in the middle is the AU$5,499 Advanced Pro 1, outfitted with a Shimano GRX 810 mechanical 1x groupset and Giant SLR 2 tubeless and hookless carbon wheels, which is what we tested here. It’s a stylish black-and-white number, with a hint of shimmer in the white (which is in fact “unicorn white”, which I am very into).
According to Giant, the Advanced Pro frameset features a front triangle “assembled and moulded as one continuous piece” from high-performance-grade carbon fibre, while out the back are asymmetrical chainstays that are ostensibly there to improve rear-end stiffness. However, whilst the torsional and lateral frame stiffness figures remain unchanged from the previous version, Giant touts it as “the smoothest, fastest TCX yet.”
Alongside the substantial weight savings, that’s an appealing sales proposition – although a skeptical mind might note that the previous iteration of the frameset was six years old, and was probably overdue an update to keep it competitive. But I digress.
While this latest TCX gets a host of new features, one thing remains relatively unchanged: the geometry. The TCX has always offered a fairly traditional position – a tall bottom bracket, a level top tube and road-bike-like ride – that has grown to become a bit of an outlier among major brands. But where rivals like Specialized’s Crux and Cannondale’s SuperX have lower bottom brackets and/or slacker front ends that are closer to gravel bike norms, the TCX remains resolutely European in its numbers.
Across its five-size run, the TCX Advanced has a 60 mm bottom bracket drop, 430 mm chainstay length, and 50 mm fork rake. In our reviewed ML size, the head tube angle is 72° with a 73° seat tube angle, a stack of 572 mm and a reach of 385 mm.
Elsewhere, beside the boost in tyre clearance, the TCX keeps things fairly minimalistic. There are few accommodations for gravel norms when it comes to extra mounts for stuff; just a standard two bottle cage mounts, no fender or rack mounts, and no top tube bento mounts. Cabling is routed internally, entering toward the top of the down tube through a port that can convert to accommodate wired, electronic, or wireless 1x and 2x groupsets. It all looks pretty clean. Purposeful.
At the Bright Field Test, we tested this bike – CyclingTips’ founder Wade Wallace’s personal steed – in a completely stock build, with the exception of a pair of Continental Terra Speed control tyres in 700×40 mm. Complete with these tyres, XT pedals and a pair of Arundel cages, the bike weighed in at an impressively light 8.41 kg.
As his personal bike, Wade’s TCX has seen a bit more love than the box-fresh bikes that we normally review and photograph. In this particular instance, the bike was fresh off a bikepacking trip from Melbourne up to Bright, still bearing some of the dust and debris from its big adventure.
That gave Wade a couple hundred kilometres of gravel roads and fire trails to ponder his personal connection to the TCX, before he graciously handed it over to Andy van Bergen and me to get some feelings of our own over a couple of days of riding.
We’re not committed cross racers and, in any instance, there were no races in Bright to dip our toes in while we were there. So we decided to instead assess the TCX’s chops as a gravel bike – which, in any case, seems quite in line with what many have actually used it for in recent years (Wade included).
And while we regrettably didn’t have any beer hand-ups or barriers to hop while we were riding the TCX, we did have access to endless gravel roads and singletrack, which helped give an appreciation for the bike’s merits.
This is the third TCX Wade’s owned, and although he acknowledges that he could have opted for the Revolt – or any other bike, for that matter – he loves the TCX for going off-road and that’s what has made him a repeat customer. And he’s not the only one – the TCX platform is a common sight at gravel events in Australia and beyond.
“Living in a part of the city without much easy access to proper gravel roads, the TCX fits my use case perfectly,” Wade explains. “Tame single track, gravel trails and bike paths are what I have at my doorstep, and a quick and nimble bike is what I want for those 2-4 hour sessions.”
With the boosted tyre clearance, the versatility of the latest TCX is enhanced compared to its predecessor, but the wheelbase and handling are carried over. Coupled with the low weight, the TCX is a light and nimble bike with fast steering and quick acceleration. “It lets me burn through singletrack and treat it almost like a hardtail mountain bike,” Wade says, “but on the road, while I’m getting to the trails, apart from the hum of the tyres, I almost think that I’m riding a road bike.”
The TCX Advanced Pro 1 comes equipped with a Shimano GRX 810 groupset, featuring a 40T chainring, a supplied chain-guide, and an 11-34T cassette. That’s a handy range for an hour of flat-out cyclocross racing, but it feels a bit limiting on extended back-country climbs.
Shimano’s typically a bit conservative with the cassette range it suggests for a given derailleur, so it’s most likely possible to squeeze an 11-36t cassette on; alternatively, the frame can accommodate a front derailleur if you’re inclined to dabble in – gasp – the mysterious world of front derailleurs. None of the TCX Advanced Pros come specced with one, however, and there’s obviously a bit of added expense involved if you decide to go down that route.
Giant’s talked up the improvement in seated comfort on this TCX – a feature gained in part through the use of a D-shaped seatpost optimised for flex. This seatpost design is not new to Giant’s range, but for the TCX there’s a new trick. The clamp is located down the seat tube at the junction of the seatstays – rather than at the top tube – effectively lengthening the amount of exposed post (and hence, increasing the lever for flex).
There’s a further neat trick in that rather than restricting you to just one particular seatpost – as has been the case from Giant’s D-shaped posts of the past – this design permits you to instead run any round 30.9 mm diameter seatpost – including a dropper. I can’t imagine many people will be making that particular swap, but hey, options!
I don’t have a particular frame of reference for how the ride of the back end of the bike compares to the previous generation. Wade reckons there’s not much difference, although he’s a fan of the newly slip-free seatpost clamp. I will say, however, that if you’re reading Giant’s marketing materials and are expecting pillowy comfort, you’ll be disappointed. The TCX rides like a race bike, with an impressive response to acceleration and agile handling, but that’s at the expense of comfort, even in the bit of the bike that’s apparently made big strides in that respect.
That extends to the front end too, which features a meaty stem, a girthy handlebar, and Giant’s Overdrive 2 (1 1/2” lower, 1 1/4” upper) headset and steerer. While that provides a stubbornly flex-free handling response, on rutted dirt roads your shoulders cop a hammering, and there’s little nuance of the surface that you don’t perceive.
At the Bright Field Test, Andy and I spent a sun-dazed (and, eventually, sunburnt) day swapping back and forth between the TCX Advanced Pro 1 and the Giant Revolt Advanced 0.
That formed the groundwork for an upcoming feature article comparing the differences between gravel and CX bikes. Riding the two back to back quickly gave an appreciation for the strengths and weaknesses of each platform.
In most respects, the sensations we were feeling were reflected in the geometry chart. The TCX was quicker-handling than the Revolt – and sure enough, it has a trail of 61.8 mm versus the Revolt’s 70.7 mm. The Revolt felt more stable, and as the geometry chart points out, that’s got something to do with its longer wheelbase and the 1 cm lower bottom bracket drop compared to the TCX.
It’s easy enough swapping between the two – indeed, in the ML frame size, they have identical reach figures and are within a centimetre in stack height – but back-to-back testing does expose some quirks worth mentioning.
For example: the TCX, designed as a CX race bike, has a noticeably taller, level top tube that allows for easy shouldering. But at a standover height 6 cm taller than the equivalent Revolt, it also threatens a painful dismount if you get in over your head in technical terrain.
The TCX compared to the Revolt is, for my money, the more engaging of the two to ride; it’s dynamic where the Revolt is mellow. Whether that’s a trade-off that makes sense for your particular requirements, however, is a matter of personal preference.
Of the gravel bikes tested at the Field Test, the TCX is an obvious outlier. Most significantly – and as we keep returning to in the video – it’s not really a gravel bike, and we’re assessing it a little outside of what it’s built for (even if that’s exactly what a bunch of people use it for).
It’s also at least a kilo lighter than any of the other bikes we tested, with a weight that’s competitive with even some disc road bikes (and they’re not running 40 mm of rubber).
Gravel bikes are designed to accommodate a spectrum of gravel that could range from multi-day adventures into the rugged middle of nowhere, all the way down to experimentation on light gravel. The TCX, like any bike, has its strengths and weaknesses for each of those infinite scenarios.
For some people – like Wade – the TCX is a perfect match for the majority of their riding, offering speed, snappy responsiveness, and the ability to ‘underbike’ their way to an adventure. “Since big adventure rides aren’t my typical use case anyway, I’m more than happy to make this compromise for something more relevant to my day-to-day riding,” Wade says. “I’ve ridden dedicated gravel bikes such as the Revolt before, and they simply don’t suit my style of riding.”
For others – like Andy or myself – the TCX is fun, but it’s a bike that requires a bit too much attention to really switch off; it’s more souped-up rally car than grand tourer.
That may sound a bit like a criticism, but it’s not intended to. It’s a crowded and diverse market and there are options for everybody – lifelong road-riders like Wade, flannel and moustache types like me, and everything in between. And for some of those people, the perfect ‘gravel’ bike may, in fact, be a cyclocross bike.
If you don’t care about any of the conveniences or carrying capacity of most gravel bikes, and just want a bike that’s here for a good time – not a long time – the TCX offers an enticing option at very fair value for the spec.
For more information head to the Giant website.