Monday, September 24, 2007

Review of My New 2007 Giant TCR C2!

Yup; I got a second road-bike! This is only the third real road-bike I've ever owned (not counting the Sears 10-speed I bought in 1974!). I've also owned three mountain-bikes, and a few town bikes and cruisers. For an old guy who has always been an avid cyclist, that's kind of surprising, even to me. I guess I like hanging on to bikes for long periods.

Why another road-bike? I could actually justify a new mountain-bike more, as my old 1998 Specialized Stumpjumper is "antiquated," according to Mike Evans, and I feel that bike choice is more important in mountain-bike races. But I don't ride on dirt nearly as often as on pavement, and it was just too much hassle hauling my 2003 Specialized Allez Elite over the hill once or twice every week so I could use it for both bike-commuting and weekend training rides. I plan on leaving the Giant at home, mostly, and the Specialized in Los Gatos at my wife's office for quick turnaround when I bike-commute. (We usually carpool to Los Gatos from Santa Cruz, and I ride to work in Palo Alto from Los Gatos.) The Giant, is, therefore, primarily for training and racing.

The frame is at the heart of any bike, especially since no real bike manufacturers make entire bikes themselves, but bolt components, wheels and accessories from companies like Shimano, Mavic, SRAM, and others onto their unique frame designs. In that sense even the smallest custom frame builders, like Rick Hunter, of "Hunter Cycles," and Paul Sadoff, of "Rock Lobster," are on an equal footing with giants, literally, like "Giant." That's kind of cool. In fact, I considered getting a frame custom-built to my exact body dimensions by one of these shops. But...

I got a nice deal on the Giant from my new sponsor, Bicycle Trip bike shop in Santa Cruz, since it was one of their last high-end 2007 road-bikes in stock, and I didn't want to wait weeks or months for a special-order frame. The lure of a carbon-fiber frame was also hard to resist. I considered the Giant OCR models too, but the geometry of the TCR frames is much more suited to racing. And I prefer the lower position anyway, since my body is permanently frozen into the typical racer's stance by now! ;-) Speaking of stance; Aaron, the store manager, gave me great personalized attention and made sure my bike was carefully fitted to me. We ended up flipping and lowering the stem, and the seat was moved all over the place, of course. He double-checked the setup, based on the dimensions I saved from my Specialized, and everybody was happy.

The verdict: I absolutely love this bike!

I picked the bike up yesterday morning, and immediately rode it north on HWY1, through Davenport and around the Swanton Road loop; a gorgeous 48-mile ride along the Pacific Ocean, with varied terrain and pavement surfaces. This bike is better than my aluminum Specialized in every way. It is much more comfortable on bumps, is more responsive when jumping hard on the pedals, is lighter for easier climbing, tracks better through bumpy turns, and puts the power to the pavement better when sprinting on rough pavement. What else is there? I think it may be better aerodynamically too, but who knows. Funny thing, though: I actually hear it whistle at high speeds. Never had a bike whistle before! My wife told me it's the wind whistling through my ears, but she may have been kidding.

The full carbon-fiber frame design is truly remarkable, though the paint and graphics are in a boring gray scheme. I expected the bike to have a smoother ride, and to be lighter, but the difference is still amazing when you first experience it. Thanks to the flexibility of carbon-fiber frame construction, it's very easy to create a frame in any shape your sophisticated design software tells you is optimum, and to add extra material to stiffen the frame in critical areas, or soften it in others. You can even use the direction of the fibers to fine-tune the feel of the frame. Materials like aluminum, steel and titanium are much more limited in that regard, especially if you're trying to mass-produce them affordably, and therefore require more compromises.

As for the rest of the bike:

The Shimano Ultegra components are awesome. My Specialized has mostly Shimano 105 components, which are fine, but the 20-speed Ultegra shifters are way quicker and smoother. I don't think the derailleurs get the credit, because my 27-speed Specialized already has an Ultegra rear, and the 105 triple front isn't a fair comparison. The Ultegra levers also don't rattle on bumps like the 105s do. I'm very glad I got Ultegra components, though I suspect newer 105 components work better than my 2003 model-year 105 components. Oh, my new brake calipers are 105, but work very positively so I am happy with them.

My bike came with Mavic Aksium wheels, which may be causing that wind whistle; I'll put my other wheels on and see if that changes it. Anyway, they are fine all-around wheels, with bladed spokes that are mounted straight into the rear hub but J-hooked radially onto the front hub; nothing special really. They don't feel as stable on fast descents with a cross-wind as my other wheels do though. I may replace them with deep-dish wheels for most of my races, and use my Easton Ascent IIs for hill-climbs and such.

I don't like the Fizik Aliante saddle much, but that's a personal fit issue anyway. I feel it's too padded without adding any comfort. In fact, I think it's less comfortable than my firm Selle San Marco Aspide saddles.

None of the other components caught my attention, which means they must be working great. You can see the full specs, albeit for the 2008 model, here.

As I mentioned in my earlier post here, I'm still not convinced the stiffer frame actually increases my pedalling efficiency, even though my subjective feeling says it does. I trust stopwatches and proper testing equipment, and I haven't seen any data backing up that theory. Perhaps it does, but who knows. But I'm absolutely certain it does help whenever the pavement is rough. And the improved ride alone makes going with a carbon-fiber frame an easy choice for me.

I'm bummed that I will still spend most of my riding time on my old bike, but on the plus side I will appreciate the Giant that much more!

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