BIKE TESTS: GIANT TCR COMPOSITE
April 28, 2011


Except for the Shimano 105 drivetrain and Michelin tires, the TCR Composite is an all-Giant affair with a proprietary handlebar, stem, saddle, and wheelset.

If there are two names that loom large in the world of cycling, they would be Giant (no pun intended) and Rabobank. As is apt for a bike maker that not only makes its own wide range of bikes but also manufactures many of its biggest competitor’s bikes as well, Giant remains the world’s largest bicycle producer today.
As for Rabobank, the Dutch-based chain of banks has sponsored one of the world’s most accomplished cycling teams for over a decade. For the last few years the team has competed on Giant’s TCR Advanced SL. Now that same frame design can be had in a complete bike for under $2000—albeit with cheaper materials and lower-end parts. Giant clearly hopes their racing heritage will spur aspiring and budget-conscious racers towards the TCR Composite, an entry-level race bike with the same silhouette as Giant’s fastest and most proven bikes.


The Giant TCR Composite will put a smile on your face.

THE FRAME
Finally, a glossy black carbon frame that’s confident enough to not bother sporting any visible carbon fiber weave! Sure, some exposed carbon weaves are pretty when done right, but they’ve been running so rampant in the market that it’s refreshing to find a frame slathered in gloss black paint. The T-600 carbon fiber monocoque frame features Giant’s “Compact Road” geometry, which is designed to increase both lateral rigidity and acceleration. This is done by sloping the top tube downward toward the seat stays and utilizing Giant’s OverDrive tapered head tube, which extends head tube material towards the rear of the frame. Combined, these features effectively reduce the overall size of the front and rear triangles, stiffening the frame but also making it susceptible to vibrations. To counter this, Giant ensured that the seat stay thin towards the rear dropouts and the frame is paired to a fork with relatively thin blades to dampen road chatter.
Like its more expensive brethren, the sculptured TCR Composite frame features a diamond-shaped downtube, as well as a cutaway seat tube to allow for a shorter (98 centimeters) wheelbase, with the rear wheel positioned closer towards the front of the bike. The chainstays are asymmetrical, with the drive side being razor-straight and narrower yet taller in profile than the non-drive side. This increased height is designed to enhance vertical stiffness, enabling the drive side to better transfer torque from the drivetrain. The non-driveside chainstay bows outward and is quite round, allowing it to remain more flexible than the driveside stay and absorb a touch more road chatter.

Besides being an early adapter of compact frame designs, Giant was also one of the first bike brands to eschew traditional frame measurement numbers and instead rely on the same “small, medium and large” size designations most commonly found with buying clothing. While those designations can be a bit vague, we commend Giant for upping the size offerings to six. Our Small size frame is equivalent to a size 52 centimeter frame.


The cutaway seat tube's aerodynamic profile extends up the seatpost and past the sloping top tube.

THE PARTS
As the least expensive of Giant’s TCR line of race bikes, the Composite is powered by a Shimano 105 drivetrain, which was overhauled for 2011. The crankset features 50/34 chainrings paired with a 10-speed, 11-28 cassette for some climbing prowess. The front and rear derailleurs, shifters and levers are all part of the latest 105 group, but Giant upped the bottom-bracket ante with a Dura-Ace internal press-fit offering. While Tektro dual-pivot brakes provide stopping power, and Michelin Dynamic 23c tires supply the rubber, proprietary components (i.e, handlebar, stem, seatpost, saddle and wheels) complete the build.


The in-line cable adjusters made for easy derailleur adjustments while riding, as they were positioned in front of the headtube.

THE RIDE
With the frame descending from Giant’s pro-level race bikes, the TCR Composite rides like a race bike should: the extensive array of tube shapes combine to create a stiff frame that accelerates exceptionally well. In addition, its compact geometry, sloping top tube and short head tube allowed us to easily contort into a low, aerodynamic position. Conversely, and despite the thin fork and chainstays, the overall stiffness yields some discomfort during longer rides, particularly over rough terrain. Like the ride itself, the lively steering is also race-inspired—descending through fast, tight turns felt very natural and control was excellent. We found it a bit more difficult to consistently maintain momentum through long, drawn-out corners. At times, the steering became a bit too obliging, almost twitchy.

Shimano’s latest 105 group is a definite improvement over previous renditions, but it is not without fault. Shifting was smooth and crisp most of the time, but mis-shifts seemed all too common. This was rectified, however, with simple cable adjustments, made easier with in-line cable adjusters located within easy reach directly in front of the handlebar. Giant’s aluminum bar was comfortable and offered plenty of control, but the saddle felt like a squishy marshmallow and we found it difficult to quickly adjust our seating position. (Note: soft saddles do not equal more comfort). Giant’s own wheels were stiff and, combined with Michelin’s Dynamic tires, rolled quite well.


The TCR Composite puts the power down on the flats and offers exceptional control on fast descents.

THE VERDICT
For $1870, Giant’s TCR Composite is a great value. The frame itself is an efficient, unique offering amid conventional designs with round tube configurations. For an extra $600, you can upgrade to the TCR Advanced 2, with an identical frame crafted from higher-grade carbon fiber and an upgraded parts selection. With its aerodynamic fit, the TCR’s performance- oriented geometry gets the job done. The stiff frame begets punchy acceleration, and its nimble steering will have you weaving through to the front of the group ride. And if not, at least you’ll look good anywhere in the paceline.

PUNCH LINES
• Gorgeously sculpted frame
• Shimano 105 offers crisp shifting but needs frequent adjustments
• Stiff, quick and agile for some; rough, hurried and jittery for others

STATS
Price: $1870
Weight: 20 pounds
Sizes: XS, S (tested), M, ML, L, XL

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