Ultegra Di2 wasn't the only new experience we had out in Switzerland this week. Paying £6 for a croissant was another. But there were good experiences too, like having a go on one of Giant's 2012 TCR framesets.
The electronic shifting was the reason we were there, but there was also a lot of talk about the frames that the Ultegra Di2 test groupsets were bolted to. The Giant seatpost was a bit of a giveaway, and when pressed Harald from Shimano confirmed that they were 2012 Giant TCR frames, fresh out of the factory and stickered up with Ultegra graphics. Specifically, they were the middle-of-the-three TCR Advanced frame, made from Toray 700 Carbon. It doesn't have the integrated seat post of the pricier T800 Advanced SL frame, but it's better quality material than the entry-level T600 TCR Composite.
So what's new? Well, for a start look at the size of that head tube. It's mighty deep. We're pretty sure that Giant wouldn't be so foolish as to design a frame that exceeds the UCI's 3:1 tube profile rule and then send twenty of them to the UCI headquarters. So we're guessing that it's stickered and ready, but it looks very beefy indeed. It uses Giant's Overdrive 2 system which is a 1.25" top headset bearing with a 1.5" bottom race. The fork is a straight blade, full Carbon affair with a tapered steerer.
The down tube of the bike is more flared at the underside than we remember from previous years, although we don't have a 2011 bike on hand to make a direct comparison. It's more of a rhombus with the short side at the top than it is a ovalised square, if that makes any sense. As you'd expect, the down tube is a massive structure flaring into a full-width bottom bracket with internal bearings. The top tube is flattened and the width of the tube carries through the seat tube into the seatstays, so that top junction is a bit wider than on many frames.
The seatstays themselves are fairly beefy, ovalised with the thinnest section in the longitudinal plane of the bike, the opposite of, say, a Cervelo R series bike. Again it looks like the main concern is stiffness and they're mated to big chainstays that are bridged at the tyre for extra rigidity. There's a port in the chainstay for a speed and cadence ANT+ device
You know the score: bikes are always getting more laterally stiff and vertically compliant, aren't they? Giant seem to be focused very much on the first half of that equation. This is a very stiff bike. It's a bike you can endo in the UCI HQ car park with no discernible flex at all from the front end, even under a 100kg rider. That stiffness extends all the way through the bike. The huge down tube and big bottom bracket make short work of transferring power to the road, and there's no flex at all down there.
Mat and I were both on Large bikes, and we both tend to run a lot of seatpost anyway. The seat tube angle is maybe a bit slacker than you might expect, and I had to push my seat quite a distance forward to get it just so. It wasn't much of an issue really, but it's worth noting.
We took the bikes up some big climbs and down a variety of descents, from 50mph+ main road rants to tight and bumpy back lanes. Climbing on the TCR on the smooth tarmac of Switzerland was a joy: the frame's about as efficient as any frame could be, and having Ultegra Di2 on it wasn't exactly a hindrance either. Spin up and you'll feel like every Watt's going straight to the tyres; stand up and heave and it's rock solid.
Going down the bike goes precisely where it's put. It's not the quickest in the turn but if you fix your eyes on the apex of a hairpin and tell the bike that's the line you want, that's where it'll go. The front end is about as stiff as anything I've ridden and that makes for superb tracking on fast, flat surfaces.
When things get steep and tricky and bumpy, super rigid setups can feel skittish over the rough bits. While I'd rather have a bit more give in a bike if I was going to mostly use it on back lanes, the TCR didn't disgrace itself at all. It's not the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden on a long, steep, varied back lane descent like the one we tried back into Aigle, but it never misbehaved and you know exactly what you're going to get; there were no nasty surprises in the handling.
Obviously we only spent about 150km aboard the TCRs and a lot of the time we were fiddling with the natty switches, so it's not an exhaustive test. But the new TCRs look to be carrying on doing what TCRs do well. the 2012 TCR Advanced is a light, stiff racing-oriented frame that's well behaved and very efficient. Stiffness is up there with the very best.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.