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Giant TCR Advanced SL0 Disc: SRAM Red eTap AXS Build
Giant is the largest carbon-frame manufacturer in the world, making not just its own bikes but also white-label bikes for many, many well-known brands. Which makes riding the TCR Advanced SL0 Disc an exciting proposition. This is the ultimate expression of disc-brake carbon know-how from Giant, the biggest player in the carbon-bike business.
In rim-brake form, the TCR Advanced SL has been Giant’s primary race platform for many seasons, and it still employs the sloping, compact geometry Giant first introduced more than two decades ago. While compact geometry spread like wildfire across the industry, many brands have moved on from it. Giant also still employs another feature the vast majority of the industry has moved on from: the integrated seat mast. But make no mistake this is a thoroughly modern bike, utilizing the highest grade of carbon in any Giant bicycle and meticulous tube shaping, creating the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio in the Giant lineup. Instead of buying sheets from third-party manufactures, Giant actually weaves its own carbon and then adds its own nanotube-infused resin.
From this high-zoot carbon recipe, Giant crafts an asymmetric rear end and mates it to a massive 86mm bottom bracket. The squared-off down tube isn’t outlandishly large by today’s standards but meets an oversized head tube with oversized bearings nestled in the top and bottom. This is all in the name of power transfer, but svelte fork blades, slim seat stays and the integrated seat post are designed to balance all this stiffness with some ride damping.
The bike’s geometry is all race, and we love the short rear end. Disc brakes require wider rear spacing than rim brakes, which has required a general lengthening of chain stays to preserve correct chain angles. When it comes to the reactivity we expect from a top-flight, stiffness-to-weight ride, long chain stays can significantly hamper that ability. Happily, today’s new groups, including the new SRAM RED eTap AXS on our test bike, have sorted out those chain-line issues and Giant has taken full advantage of this to keep the TCR Advanced rear end at just 405mm, the same length as its rim-brake counterpart. We also like the rather tall bottom bracket, which enables pedaling through more corners, and the short head tube for a low and aggressive position.
A Giant TCR Advanced SL0 at your local bike shop equipped with SRAM’s new RED eTap AXS 12-speed groups will come with a suite of Giant-made components, from wheels to tires and saddle to cockpit. Our test bike was instead equipped with Zipp 303s and a Zipp Service Course cockpit. With the Giant spec, a TCR Advanced SL0 with new RED eTap AXS will set you back $10,500—which is actually a bit less than other bikes with a similar spec. Yes, we know it’s crazy when a bike over $10,000 is considered an opportunity to save.
The TCR Advanced SL is aiming for the likes of the Trek Émonda, Specialized Tarmac and Pinarello F10 Dogma—all bikes that have very successfully taken rim-brake ride quality and transferred it to a disc-brake frame. In some ways, the Giant TCR Advanced is as successful as these platforms and in some ways it isn’t.
We’ll start with the isn’ts. As stiff as the bike is, it falls a step short of the other-worldly reactivity bikes like the new Émonda possess when jumping from slow speeds. The Giant is crisp and quick while accelerating on a steep pitch, just not quite as crisp and quick as the top two or three disc bikes in the peloton. Sure, the rear end is very short, but whatever has happened to beef up the stays for the rear disc brake seems to have robbed a fraction of the bike’s liveliness. It just feels a bit anonymous at the pedals in those critical moments when we need all the help we can get.
The bike’s road manners in every other situation are simply impeccable. As much as the integrated seat mast can make traveling and resale a headache, it makes the rear of the bike magic on almost any surface, gliding over harsh pavement and vibrating chip seal that belies its stiffness under power. As smooth as the road is for a full-tilt race bike, we did experience a lot of rear-brake hose rattling on rough pavement.
When it comes to descending or any on-the-limit cornering, the bike is more magic, with composure akin to Formula 1 legend Jim Clark behind the wheel of his Lotus. His speed felt effortless, never chewing up tires or damaging his car. Speed on the TCR Advanced SL0 has the same quality; it’s a calm and natural state of affairs in the saddle, even fighting for position in a tight-knit group. We can only ascribe this to the bike’s phenomenal balance. The svelte fork blades combine with the massive head tube for precision under load but with enough damping to keep your tire on the ground and your line precise, while the rear of the bike remains true behind it, with the ability to lay down power in any situation.
The 135-pound climber looking to inflict pain on steep pitches will want to opt for the rim-brake version, and those wanting a bike they can easily travel with will want to look elsewhere; but for the vast majority of riders wanting high performance on the edge, in a very composed package, the TCR Advanced SL0 is indeed not just Giant’s ultimate expression, but one of the peloton’s ultimate expressions of what’s possible with carbon today.
$10,500 (w/Giant spec, not as tested)
7.33kg (16.1 lbs), size L (w/o pedals or cages)
Build: SRAM Red eTap AXS disc with Quarq D-Zero Power Meter, Zipp 303 wheels, Zipp Service Course SL bar and stem, Giant contact SLR saddle, Hutchinson Fusion tires
From issue 85. Buy it here.