Giant's new TCR SL 2 is £1,250 of well specced aluminium loveliness, with a delightful ride character and all the potential to stand a few upgrades over the years. Yes, it's not carbon, but at this price I think you're better off with aluminium. And this isn't any ordinary aluminium frame: Giant have poured all their knowhow into producing a feathery light 1,050g frame. That's light enough to give many carbon frames a bloody nose.
The 1,050g aluminium frame
Aluminium is a great material for making bicycle frames from: it's strong, stiff and light. It's cheaper than more exotic materials too, the reason it's the default choice for all entry-level bikes. With carbon the jewel in most cyclist's eye these days, many people are too quick to overlook aluminium, and it's become pigeon holed as an entry-level material choice.
Which is a shame because this TCR SL shows that aluminium can offer a ride that rivals that of carbon. Bicycle manufacturers have had a lot longer to fettle and hone aluminium. This is Giant's most advanced aluminium frame. I mentioned its weight, 1,050g for a medium (55.5cm top tube), at the top of the review, and that's impressive regardless of the material. There's a lot of carbon on the market that is heavier.
It's made from their own Aluxx SL Ultralight-Edition alloy. There's loads of manipulation of the tube profiles, no tube is free from some hydroformed shaping. The head tube has a bulged top section which braces a box section top tube. It gets very slim where it meets the aero seat tube, and the down tube is simply massive. We're not sure of the benefits of an aero seat tube and post on a bike of this price, but Giant do have a track record of fitting aero posts to bikes over the years. An upshot of the design is you don't have to worry about eyeing up the straightness of the saddle. A two-bolt clamp secures the post in the frame.
A PressFit bottom bracket shell allows the downtube to be this large, and also sees a pair of shapely chainstays - large at the BB shell and skinny at the dropouts. The seat tube is a magnificent example of tube manipulation: it starts off box section at the bottom bracket shell, then flows into an aero shaped section via a cutaway around the rear wheel. The down tube is a rounded square shape, and the rear stays are slender. A mount for the front mech is riveted to the seat tube.
You get a carbon fibre fork, including the steerer tube, with Giant's Overdrive headtube standard, the same as most tapered designs with a 1 1/8in top bearing race and 1.5 in lower bearing.
Cables are routed externally, so it's very easy to maintain the cables and fit new ones when they need replacing. The rear brake cable runs below the top tube and the gear cables below the down tube. There are in-line barrel adjusters for easy on the move adjustment.
This is where it gets interesting. With less money wrapped up in the frame, you get much more for your money. This is the £1,249 entry-level bike of the two bike range. That gets you a Shimano 105 groupset, with a non-series R565 compact 50/34 chainset. Shifting is excellent, smooth and crisp. It's every bit as good as Ultegra and Dura-Ace, just a little heavier. There's a 12-28 cassette which will help you spin up any climb or mountain ascent. The brake calipers are also non-series R561 units. They worked well - strong and confident braking performance - as per more expensive Shimano brakes. The brake blocks are non-cartridge style.
Giant supply most of the finishing kit from their own portfolio. That includes the P-R2 wheels. They have sealed bearing hubs with DT Swiss Competition spokes (24 front, 28 rear) and wrapped with their own P-SL1 23mm front and rear specific tyres. They proved a tough and sturdy set of wheels, with reasonably good stiffness when piling on the pace and throwing the bike through the bends. They're a bit on the weighty side and you notice that when initially getting up to speed, but once there they roll along nicely. With the money you save over not buying a carbon bike, you can put that money towards a nice lightweight set of wheels for the summer - this bike would fly with some fast aero wheels.
All of the Giant finishing kit, the stem, bars, taper, seatpost and saddle all worked flawlessly. The saddle clamp is a two-bolt design and is easy to setup. The saddle mimics a Fizik Arione with a long flat shape. No bad thing, and it was very comfortable on long rides, with firm padding. The handlebars were a good shape with a nice reach and drop. Even the bar tape felt nice between gloved hands.
As I've come to expect from Giant, the bike is exceedingly well finished. Its appearance is first class, with a good paint finish, smart decals and even colour coded parts that really lift it head and shoulders over many of the bikes at this price. It looks a fast bike as well, I can just picture it with a set of 50mm deep-section carbon wheels.
On the roadcc scales the bike is 8.35kg (18.4lbs). It's only a couple of kilos over the UCI's weight limit, and is lighter than some carbon fibre bikes I've tested in the past year. Not bad considering the price really.
Ride and handling
Any notion that an aluminium frame necessarily means a harsh ride is rooted in cycling magazine reviews from the 90s. It just isn't the case anymore. Giant have been able to shape the profiles and manipulate the tube thicknesses to the extent that the ride quality is phenomenally good. At times you wouldn't even think you were riding aluminium.
Compared to carbon, because most people buying a bike at this price might be tempted to choose it, the TCR SL offers an exemplary ride that in my opinion is every bit as nice as many carbon bikes I've ridden. And there's a fair handful of cheap carbon bikes that I would say offer an inferior ride quality to the TCR SL.
It's a fast and sprightly ride, and once up to speed zips along with vigour. The heavy wheels blight the initial acceleration a little, but that's only a problem if you're sprinting out of every corner. It climbs with gusto, and the stiffness of the frame shines when you're stamping on the pedals and pushing hard for the summit.
Giant have some impressive figures for the stiffness when they tested it, and it's nearly very close to their carbon frame. That shows when you get animated and show the cranks some wattage. It snaps and leaps down the road, launches out of corners and changes direction with accuracy. This would make a fantastic race bike, because it has all the ingredients you want in a racing bike: stiffness and second nature handling.
To ride the Giant is wonderfully smooth and rolls over the cracked surfaces of my regular training loops with impressive manners. What it doesn't do is smother the vibrations caused by rough roads - there's a nice amount of feedback. This feedback through the frame never pushed over into uncomfortable or harsh territory. The aero-shaped seat tube and post undoubtedly contribute to the frame's stiffness but didn't overly impact on the ride comfort.
As well as showing how good aluminium is these days, the TCR SL also goes to show just how good bikes have become at this price range. Yes, it's easy to spend serious cash on top-end bikes, where they just seem to be getting ever more expensive. Cast your eye lower down the ranges and it's not hard to see that affordable bikes are, well even more affordable. Better specced, better frames, better value for money than ever before.
Giant have built an incredibly good frame here. It's a great frame regardless of the price, it's just a shame that Giant don't feel there's the demand to go above the £1,749 price of the top model. This frame dressed in some lighter components and some fast wheels would be an exciting prospect for racing cyclists.
Unless you really really must have carbon, the Giant is worth a serious look. You won't be disappointed, it's a stunning bike to ride and a lot of fun, and is more fulfilling than a lower specced cheap carbon bike.
A high quality frame and fork with a mechanically sound drivetrain, decent finishing kit and a very smart overall finish makes the TCR SL a standout bike. Don't be afraid of aluminium, this bike rides better than many carbon fibre bikes I've ridden.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Giant TCR SL 2
Size tested: M/L
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Aluxx SL Ultralight-Edition aluminium frame
Advanced grade composite fork with carbon composite steerer
Vector Composite seatpost
Shimano 105 20 speed shifters and derailleurs
Shimano R565 34/50 chainset with press fit bottom bracket
Giant PR2 rims with sealed cartridge hubs
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
For sharp handling and surefire lightweight performance, it's hard to beat the feel of a lightweight aluminium road frame. The all-new TCR SL has Giant's unrivaled alloy engineering prowess in its bones. Crafted from top-end ALUXX SL Ultralight-Edition aluminium with proven design features including Giant's OverDrive tapered steerer tube, it's light, fast and ready to race.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The finish is first class.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The aluminium frame is just 1,050g for a size medium, very impressive.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is fairly regular and produced crisp handling with no surprises.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It was perfect.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Any idea that aluminium is uncomfortable and harsh is nonsense, it's so smooth.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes. When you put the power down the frame displays impressive stiffness.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral and well balanced
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The bike handled with authority and was fun to ride. Quick and responsive.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Shimano 105 groupset was flawless and Giant's branded kit worked well. Impressed with the saddle and the shape of the bars.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels numbed the acceleration a little. Lighter wheels would be a good summer upgrade.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
My first experience with Giant's own wheel and tyre system, and I was impressed with both. Weight aside, the wheels proved flex free and strong. The tyres proved fast rolling and resisted punctures during the test period.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
While there's no branded finishing kit, Giant's own label bars, stem, post and saddle all provided top performance and comfort.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Would have been nice to see a complete Shimano 105 groupset.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.