It doesn’t feel like three years since Giant released their TCR and Defy range of bikes. A lot has happened since then, the Taiwanese company in my opinion completely and utterly lost its ‘dag tag’. I remember years ago having a friend who worked in a bike shop that sold Giant saying he would never have one. He said they’re ugly, and they’re like a certain part of your anatomy, i.e.; everybody has one. That friend is now riding a Giant TCR and wouldn’t have anything else. In fact, when I told him I was going to the release of Giant’s new range he was genuinely excited, wanting to know what they would have in store.
He wasn’t the only one. When I rode the bikes Giant put us on back then I was truly blown away by their excellence. The company hadn’t just taken a step up, they’d taken a leap. As a friend of mine from a British magazine said when we met in Spain, “I’m wondering how they’re going to improve on what was my favourite bike in 2010.” Those bikes were stiff, responsive, comfortable and importantly, Giant had taken steps to improve the paint work and decals on the bike. This has made the bikes very desirable machines.
So have Giant upped the ante yet again? Lets have a look.
What’s New? In a word, plenty! I’ll deal with each change one by one, but for a quick summary, the bike series stays the same, i.e.; TCR, Defy Avail and so on. All the models, with the exception of the women’s series follow the same hierarchy; Advanced SL 0 is the top-of-the-line, followed by Advanced 0 and the Composite 1. The womens’ bikes begin at the Advanced 0 level. Each bike has had significant improvements in design and manufacturing process and the Defy also gets a top-of-the-line race version called the Defy SL to sit side-by-side with the TCR SL. To improve front-end stiffness they’ve released a new standard in headsets, the 1 ¼ x 1 ½. The female range has also been improved for better fit and handling. Each carbon fibre model comes standard with Giant’s Ride Sense integrated bike computer. This is located in one of the chainstays and sits flat against the frame. These are compatible with any ANT system computer and if you don’t want to use it a special plug is available.
And for the past few years Giant have gradually been rolling out their parts and accessories line. For the most part this has involved Giant branded stems, bars and the like. But they’ve made huge steps in this area releasing a range of wheels, including a deep-dish carbon wheelset and also a range of race tyres. Let’s examine some of this in more detail.
TCR and Defy-Starting at the Top
You may be wondering why there are two sets of bikes when I’ve said “Starting at the Top”? The reason is that the Defy is now on equal level to the TCR race frames. The materials and manufacturing processes are identical, only the geometry is different as well as some extra compliance built into the seatmast. To my mind, this is a bold statement on the part of Giant. Many companies, Giant included, have had relaxed geometries in their bike range such as the Defy and before that OCR. The idea is that not everyone is comfortable or able to reach their full potential on a race geometry frame, so another high quality frame with more upright geometry is made available instead.
The trouble is, in many people’s mind these upright frames are not seen to be as good. Whether it’s an image problem or something else, I don’t know. But I suspect if you were able to get a look at the sales figures for all the manufacturers who provide these two options, you’d find that the upright geometry bikes haven’t sold as well as the pure race geometry. I’m predicting that this will change with the new Defy SL. It’s a big call, but with this model I believe Giant are moving close to the ‘perfect bike’.
What’s so good about it? Well, each frame manufacturer around the world is always looking for the perfect balance between stiffness and comfort and Giant are no exception. They receive a vast amount of rider feedback through their sponsorship of the Rabobank Racing Team, indeed, the two work very closely on ways to improve the bikes. According to Giant’s International Marketing Manager, Andrew Juskaitis, every bit of feedback they get from Rabobank revolves around the frame being stiffer and more responsive. When they want to go, they want the bike respond immediately. The guys at Giant have achieved this in several ways. Firstly, through a stiffer bottom bracket. Giant call this Power Core Technology and it revolves around a BB86 bottom bracket. This year, they have done away with the aluminum BB cups, replacing them with carbon and building a larger core around the BB. A bigger BB means a bigger down tube, which Giant call MegaDrive. In fact, these tubes have been getting bigger and stiffer every year, again as a direct result of Rabobank’s feedback. This leads us to the carbon. Giant are I believe, the only manufacturer who weave their own carbon, which gives them complete control over the process. Chief Engineer Bill Miller says, “Can we actually plan and prepare ahead of time so that no matter what the rider throws at it, the bike will be ready? We all know what it’s like, you’re riding in a bunch up the hill and suddenly you hear a click and it’s someone shifting down ready to attack. Can we make it so that you, the rider will have no concerns, you’ll know that you’re able to follow the move and jump right on his wheel? Or just the confidence do descend down a mountain pass. Can we design the bike so that you know it’s just so much better and you can have that confidence that your bike is better than any other one out there?”
Similar to the previous incarnations, the SL range of bikes have the highest level, in 2012, using Advanced SL Nanotube technology. The next level of bikes down, Advanced, use T700 carbon, while the Composite level use T600. The nanotube technology is particularly interesting where nanotube beads are impregnated within the carbon fibres to bond with the weave and prevent brittleness. Giant claim that the process increases strength by 14%.
But the big thing here in my opinion is the changes in the layup, a process Giant call, refreshingly unimaginatively, Carbon Fibre Technology, or CFT. As you know, a carbon fibre bike is made up of lots of different pieces of carbon that are laid up by hand cooked in a mould. It’s a time heavy process, but Giant have developed a way where less, but larger pieces of carbon can be used. According to Juskaitis, “a frame is made up of hundreds of small pieces all laboriously put together. The overlap of each of those small pieces creates excess weight, and the junction of each of those pieces could possibly be a weak point. What we have achieved with CFT eliminates many of those smaller pieces, replacing them with fewer larger pieces in the front triangle. We’ve been working on it for the past few years and while it sounds like a simple solution it by no means is. Trying to mould up large, significant pieces of composite is one of the biggest headaches our design and manufacturing departments have gone through over the past few years. But we continued to push for it and they delivered with an entirely new manufacturing process that has reduced the overlaps and made significant weight savings as well as increasing stiffness”.
Those weight savings are truly impressive; A TCR Advanced SL weighs 820g for the medium frame. A medium size TCR Advanced is down to 908g. The Defy range is even better, 799g for a medium sized SL and 894g for the Advanced model. In addition, Giant have addressed one of the main complaints regarding their range by completely redesigning the saddle clamp. These now have 25mm of rear adjustment and five millimeters in front. These clamps will feature on the entire road range.