Giant has been working with carbon since 1984 and has always been right at the front of the current development wave. The TCR range exhibits their very latest technological advances, and they’ve been constantly tweaking the design and manufacturer process year on year. And by supporting the T-Mobile squad they get plenty of feedback from the pros. We’ve been riding the Zero, one step down from the integrated seatpost top-end model that Linus Gerdemann rode to victory on stage 7 of the Tour de France.
The 2007 TCR family, of which there are three models to choose from, are made from the Giant’s new T800 carbon. It’s a higher modulus [stiffer grade – ed.] than the previous T700 grade of carbon, and utilises the latest development in carbon, nano-technology. The process involves using carbon nanotubes (tubes made from bundles of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal layout, like the pattern on a football) impregnated into the resin mix. The end result is an improved stiffness-to-weight ratio.
Giant claim the material is 10% stiffer, for no weight penalty. Each tube in the frame employs Finite Element Analysis (FEA), allowing for precise control over where the carbon is placed. It allows the designers the ability to add more carbon in higher stress areas, fine-tuning each frame to achieve a desired balance of stiffness, weight and ride quality.
There’s some serious manipulation of the tube shapes at the key junctions to ensure the frame is stiff. The bottom bracket is heavily reinforced with extra carbon, while the chainstays are really fat where they leave the bottom bracket, slimming to meet the dropouts. The seat stays follow a gentle inward curve to the large wishbone at the top. The head tube is held in placed by a massively flared down tube and a tear-drop shaped top tube. The seat tube is ever-so-slightly aerodynamically shaped and runs very close to the back tyre.
To achieve these shapes Giant make the front triangle as a one-piece monocoque using an air bladder technique: the bladder is wrapped with 500 pieces of carbon uni-directionally, by hand, piece by piece, with aluminium sleeves in the head tube and bottom bracket. Next, it’s all placed inside a mould, the bladder inflated, and the carbon compressed into the desired shape. Giant is one of a few companies that starts with bare carbon thread, instead of sheets or tubes, which gives them a lot more control over how they use the material for more precise control when they’re building frames.
The headset is an integrated item holding in place Giant’s own carbon fork, which matched the frame well. It smooths over road imperfections nicely while maintaining a high level of stiffness at the front. Giant’s sizing always seems a bit odd to us, but we tested a Medium/Large 53.5”, which suited this 5’11” tester perfectly. The top tube measured a roomy 57cm, with a 73° head angle and a 72.5° seat angle keeping handling predictable. Another nice touch is the double bolt seat clamp – we had no problems with seat post slippage.
As seems to be a growing trend, the top of the range Advanced Team gets an integrated seat post, but the Zero makes do with a standard seat post in place. The Zero seems a better choice to us if you’re in any way worried about cutting the carbon seat tube yourself, and won’t limit your chances of selling the frame when it’s time to upgrade. Five sizes are available from 46.5” to 58.5”.
There are three bikes in the Advanced range, with the Zero tested here sitting right in the middle. A full, uninterrupted Shimano Dura Ace groupset complements the frame perfectly. There really isn’t much to say about Dura Ace that hasn’t been said before: shifting is incredibly slick with changes happening in a spilt second, with great ergonomics. The cranks with Hollowtech II bottom bracket help with instantaneous power delivery, and it’s all built to last. Wheels are the respectable Mavic Ksyrium ES’s; light, stiff and responsive, and wrapped in Michelin Pro2 Race tyres.
Finishing kit is the very good looking Easton EC70 composite stem, bars and seatpost. Easton is arguably a leader in developing carbon components, and was one of the first companies to employ nanotechnology. Their Enhanced Resin System technology uses carbon nanotubes impregnated into the resin mix. The end result is an improved strength-to-weight ratio. It certainly seems to work, too. The bars were a good width with an ergo shape, with a nice aero tops for cruising on, and the stem was just the right length for the tester. There was an issue with the amount of flex inherent in the stem and bars though, which was a little unnerving to begin with. While great for ride comfort, bigger riders or sprinters may prefer a less flexy alternative. The seat post was a simple one bolt clamp device which was easy to setup and, once there, stayed put. A colour coded Fizi:k Arione saddle with titanium rails completes the package.
Designing a bike to be stiff, light and comfortable is no easy task. We’ve tested many bikes that have failed with at least one of these criteria. The Zero however, manages to deliver on all fronts. The frame is light, stiff, but also very comfortable. In fact, let’s say it’s one of the smoothest bikes we’ve ridden. And despite the low weight, it never felt skittish or nervous, just planted. It’s very sure-footed, and right from the first ride inspires a lot of confidence in the rider. And it flatters the rider too, taking whatever skill and fitness you’ve got and doubling the output. How rewarding.
But the most appealing aspect of the Zero was just how endearingly solid the bikes feels. There were never any situations where we had to ease up or go light – the Zero just rides through the worst of it without flinching, and on longer rides the ride comfort was supreme. It felt just as happy on long training rides as it did around the smooth tarmac of the Hillingdon circuit, where it helped the tester win a sprint finish at one of the winter series races.