At first glance, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Unless you have an eye for detail, the 2021 Giant TCR looks pretty familiar, not much changed from the previous model. And indeed not a million miles away from the 1997 original (okay, maybe I’m stretching the point a little).
However, Giant does make some big claims for the 2021 TCR: more aerodynamic, stiffer and lighter. Big claims, even if the percentage gains are actually not all that big.
In fact, most of these claims relate directly to the flagship SL (with the integrated seatpost) option. It’s actually quite difficult to find the figures for the ‘regular’ frame. So let’s just settle for "more aero, stiffer and lighter".
Or, if you’re like me, let’s settle for “my word, that’s an awesome paintjob”, which was my first reaction on seeing the UK-spec 2021 TCR Advanced Pro Disc frameset option. That, combined with “mate, it’s so good you have to try it” from the local bike shop and a plan was hatched. Rather than fork out the many thousands of pounds for the new TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc full build, I’d use my 2019 TCR as a donor bike and “just” upgrade the frameset. Much more financially sensible.
The pros of my approach were that I wouldn’t have to pay anything for components other than a new pressfit bottom bracket, as everything else (saddle, stem, bars, drivetrain, wheels) could be carried across from the 2019 bike. A major cost saving (I mean BIG!).
The cons were using older previous-generation parts. So, a slightly older design stem and bar, the older saddle and (most importantly) the older wheelset. The last part is the most significant, as Giant seems to have found some decent weight savings in its 2021 wheelsets.
Well, I’ve done less than 100km on it so far (just the two rides) so it’s very early days. But given this is now the fifth TCR I’ve owned (I’ve still got a 2018 SL, then there was the 2019 Adv Pro 0 Disc, a 2018 version of the same and a 2016 Adv 2 Disc) first impressions are good enough to draw some initial conclusions. Let’s take them in turn:
It’s better, no question. On my first ride out on the 2021 framset I averaged about 2kph faster than I would have for the same effort on the 2019 bike (Giant claims the TCR is now on a par with other 'Tour' bikes). Given the cockpit and wheels were carried over from the 2019 bike, that has to all be in the frame design, with the new shaped tubing and efforts to hide the water bottles and cages from the wind. Score one for the 2021 frame.
In all honesty, I can’t feel any real difference so far. But that might be because the 2019 bike was pretty damned good already. I’ve read other reviews talking about “instant response” when you stomp on the pedals. But I would have said that about the 2019 disc bikes anyway, so for me the 2021 bike might be a teeny bit stiffer, but it’s really not noticeable (and that might be good thing, read on).
Again, bear in mind I’m using the older wheels and cockpit, so maybe a ‘complete 2021 build’ would feel slightly different.
This is where the jury is really out for me. Giant claims a weight saving on the new SL frame of about 140g. I’ve not found any similar figures for the 2021 non-ISP frame. And stupidly, I forgot to ask the bike store to weigh the old and new builds when they swapped everything over. So, all I can report is that I actually think my 2021 frame fully built with 2019 components actually feels a smidge heavier than before.
Let me say that that’s likely not the case, as while the new 2021 bike was being built up I was back riding my 2018 TCR SL with the superlight climbing wheels – so pretty much any bike feels heavy after riding that! But I can’t escape feeling that it’s just a bit too heavy.
I’m reliably informed that the new SLR wheels found on the upper 2021 TCR models are lighter than my 2019 versions, so it’s likely that 2021 complete builds are lighter than my ‘mongrel’. I’ll try to get my hands on some 2021 42mm SLR1 wheels to compare.
So let’s talk handling. Obviously 100km is barely enough time to form an opinion, but again I’m no stranger to TCRs. My over-riding impression is that, while extremely familiar (which it should be, with all the contact points carried over from my 2019 bike, and the bike set up to my exact Retul measurements), the new bike does feel a bit more solid, especially at the front end. I know I just said I didn’t notice much difference in stiffness, and so that’s not what I mean by solid. What I mean is that it behaves differently in the wind and in corners, so is more likely to do with head angle and aerodynamics.
I remember my first ride on a top-end TCR after a few years of riding a Propel (which I still have and still love, even if the TRP rim brakes are god-awful by today’s standards). My first thought was along the lines “my gosh, this thing can corner”. I remember vividly that where the Propel excels in a straight line, I could see why the Pro team (Sunweb at the time) rode the TCR in the Grand Tours as the TCR was perfect for dodging and darting in traffic or on tight twisty roads.
Based on just a few hours riding, I can’t help but feel the 2021 TCR has lost a bit of that for the sake of high-speed stability. The front just feels a bit more planted, which is reassuring at speed, but you wonder if it would dart and weave with as much gusto as the older model. I guess time will tell.
I even found myself grabbing some brake on the entry to corner I would normally take flat out. In fact, I did a loop in order to do the corner a second time, to see if I was just being chicken. Nope, I couldn’t help but grab some brake again the second time round! Only later did I realise that my entry speed to the corner was a good 5kph higher than normal! I’m sure in time I’ll have the balls to not brake, but it does seem to support Giant’s aerodynamics claims…
As for that stiffness, it might be stiffer, it might not. I really can’t tell. But what I think I can already tell is that this is another fantastic ‘all day’ bike. The sort of bike you’d want to do the Mallorca 312 on. And that means that, stiff or not, it also has enough comfort and compliance to not kill you after an hour or two of riding (unlike the Propel!). Even though the new bike is set up to the same measurements as my 2019 bike, I'm actually getting less back discomfort riding it... maybe I'm fooling myself, maybe that's real.
One last gripe? Maybe the cabling. I’m actually okay with Giant’s decision to leave exposed brake cables (supposedly to make servicing easier), but personally my build needs some tidying up of the Di2 cables. I’ll be looking at that soon.
And the paintjob… well that’s still superb and (in my opinion) better than anything that comes on the fully-built models.
I’m sure I’ll be doing more updates on the 2021 frameset as I get a few more kilometers under my belt. And I still need to decide what to do about that god-awful paintjob on the SL… But safe to say I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed with the 2021 Giant TCR.
Want to see more of the 2021 TCR Advanced Pro Disc frameset? Watch my quick video:
As the 2019 donor bike.... I have plans for that!