Road test: Giant TCR ZERO

Stealth Fighter

By Anthony Tan

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Stealth Fighter
Photo: © Crispy

Never heard of Giant Bicycles? Surely not. Giant has been around for almost 30 years, with their inception way back in '72, in Taiwan. The company's philosophy is to cater for the needs of many rather than the few, and it produces approximately three million bicycles per year, from round-town knockabouts to pro quality race bikes like the TCR team and TCR ZERO.

Giant has come a long way in those thirty years. Just a decade ago, you could make a good case that Taiwanese bicycles were still inferior to the established European brands. Times have changed, and the build quality of Giant bikes is now competitive with just about anyone in the world. In 1997, Giant became the bicycle of choice for the Spanish-based ONCE professional cycling team. Riders such as Abraham Olano, Laurent Jalabert, and David Extebarria have all been successful on Giant's TCR compact road frames.

The compact revolution

Many people considered Giant's compact road frames to be strange when they were introduced, and not worthy of being ridden by European professionals. However, from what we've seen at the recent Milan bike show and Eurobike, some very traditional European frame builders are getting in on the act, and are now going compact (no, this is not a poem). And perhaps the most traditionalist of them all, signore Ugo de Rosa, made a particularly pointed statement with his top of the line all-carbon road frame for 2002, the "King", adopting the compact style. And the Americans are having a go at this design too - remember the K2 I tested a few months ago?

A closer look

This isn't a history lesson, so let's take a look at this tasty little morsel, Giant's top-shelf road machine, the TCR ZERO. The 2002 model was apparently "almost banned for being too good", accordingly to sources at Giant. The frame is essentially the same as the 2001 model (using Giant's 6013 ALUXX SL double-butted, welded aluminium), with the seat tube modified slightly, allowing an integrated tube/aero seatpost combination to reduce drag.

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The rear derailleur sits on a replaceable dropout
Photo: © Crispy

Further enhancements to the 2002 model include the full Dura-Ace group. The shifters on our early sample test bike are Ultegra, but production bikes will be Dura-Ace. A hybrid alloy/carbon stem manufactured exclusively by Giant, some sweet Cinelli Solida handlebars and an ultra-sweet (I really like that word) set of Mavic Ksyrium wheels complete the list of upgrades from the 2001 model. The seat is also a newie for 2002, a Selle Italia SLR XP Vanox Leather. Translation: an almost identical profile and feel to the Selle San Marco Era saddle, although with slightly less padding. In fact, you can buy this baby with absolutely no padding at all if you really want to save 70 grams.

The seatpost is a very aero, very light, and very carbon number, worthy of the Nobel in industrial design. And it's fully adjustable, so no problems with setback unless you've been riding a custom C-40 like the boys from Mapei, who, being the drivers they are, ask for 80+mm of setback (distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the nose of the saddle). Tyres are Hutchinson Carbon Comp 700 x 23c. Super fast, but a soft compound means these guys are suited best for racing, not for everyday training rides. Chainring/cassette combination is 39/53 and 11-23 respectively, allowing for the full range of terrain types, from ascending Mount Ventoux to the final sprint along the Champs Elysees.

Being the shallow creature I am, by far the best upgrade (if you can call it that) is the new stealth colour scheme. The whole frame is anodised black - discreet yet sexy, unassuming yet distinguished. To be honest, the only people who looked the part on those blaringly obvious yellow and black ONCE Team replicas are the guys from ONCE themselves, and word has it that even they struggle to cope sometimes. Actually I made that last bit up.

Goin' down to the mountains, Snowy Mountains that is

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Worm's eye view
Photo: © Crispy

I think I heard someone say: "Get on with the bike test, you cretin!" so onward and upwards we go. Or downwards - 600km south from Paddington, Sydney to Jindabyne, Snowy Mountains; home of the biggest women's stage race in the southern hemisphere, the Tour de Snowy. The Snowy is now UCI classified 2.1, meaning it is the hardest stage race you're likely to encounter apart from the three Grand Tours.

I hate being on my lonesome, so I watch the movie "The Negotiator", drive straight to photographer Crispy's house and carefully explain how taking photos of me looking lean will prepare him to become the next Graham Watson. He says cool, I say sign on the dotted line. Then I tell him we're off on a six-hour drive to Jindabyne.

The drive is not so bad, and after an early start, and some fine "Sega Rally" manoeuvring, we end up in Jindy one hour earlier than estimated. Did I mention that this area is actually a ski-town? This equates to mountains, more mountains, and more mountains on top of those more mountains. From the centre of Jindabyne, Charlotte's Pass at 1840m is 40km away, and Thredbo at 1380m is also roughly 40 clicks away.

On the road

Just a quick plug to my mate Mark Rowling from Turramurra Cyclery for the awesome tune up - I really owe Mark a bottle of '76 Penfolds Grange Hermitage for the number of favours he does for me. He'll hold me to this - lucky my old man has a few bottles lying in the cellar!

Being December, there's plenty of sunshine rather than snow, so no probs with the shrinkage factor (sorry ladies, it's a guy thing). Crispy and I decide to tackle Stage 5 of the 1999 Tour de Snowy (here's for a map and course profile). This involves leaving from Jindabyne, tackling the 28km climb to Charlotte's Pass, doing a U-turn almost all the way back to Jindabyne (but taking a right hand turn just before) and tackling the up and down climb (mostly up) to Thredbo Village. A total of 105.5km, with 40km of pure climbing.

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Sleek seat, with plenty of setback
Photo: © Crispy

I thought it was appropriate to tackle this course, given that this was the stage where our own Tracey Gaudry single-handedly made her mark over an in-form Karren Kurreck (ex World Champ) from the USA (and the rest of the field for that matter). She established an unbeatable margin to win the Tour by 1.43 over Kurreck. How do you do that? Pure determination, a big VO2 and super legs. Trace broke away with about 60km to go and never looked back.

We set off with arm warmers, undershirt and jersey (and a vest for the descent) along the cycle friendly roads that make the Snowies a training heaven for all grades of riders during the summer months. Although the roads are rough (coldmix, as opposed to the super smooth hotmix that you get on most of the city streets and highways of Sydney), the TCR's chunky-looking carbon fork absorbs almost all the vibration. The TCR rolls beautifully, aided by the superlight Ksyrium wheels and Hutchinson Carbon Comp tyres that provide great road feel.

Up to Charlotte's Pass

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The fork: Aero, carbon, sexy
Photo: © Crispy

After ten kilometres I begin the climb of Charlotte's Pass that normally takes skiers and snowboarders up to the ski resorts of Perisher-Smiggins or Mt Blue Cow. Please don't ask me where they got the latter name from - my guess is that someone smoked some of that green stuff one New Year's Eve, went walkabout to search for a 7-Eleven after getting the "munchies", and with the full moon shining bright, saw what he believed to be a blue cow in a then-undeclared ski area.

The climb is a fairly steady gradient, not your traditional Alpine climb with multiple switchbacks. However it doesn't really let up for the first 10km, with a steady gradient of around eight percent, pinching on the bends, where it's wise to get of out the saddle to stretch the legs and also keep the ol' butt muscles from going numb.

At 22.5km (after 12.5km of climbing), I reach one of the main peaks of the climb, Rennix Gap at 1590m. It's blowing a gale up here. This climb is totally exposed in many sections, very similar to the Col du Galibier in the French Alps. I put my arm warmers back on, before a fast dip of approximately 1.5km, and then up again at for 2km at eight percent into a block headwind to Dainer's Gap at 26km. My legs thank me for taking it easy on the first part of the climb, as the altitude necessitates slower, deeper breaths.

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39/53 Dura-Ace rings
Photo: © Crispy

Stamping as hard as I can in the 39x23, out of the saddle, the TCR feels real comfy, with no loss in transmission of power. The compact frame, carbon seatpin and fork and Ksyrium wheels provide an extremely rigid yet forgiving structure.

Down again for about 1km and up for 4.7km at six to seven percent enables me to reach the ski resort of Perisher-Smiggins, where the road flattens out for about 600m. Just before, a magpie swoops from behind. It angrily bites into my helmet on the first swoop. It swoops again, and I inform the magpie in a state of total uncalm to kindly f&*$! off. On the third swoop it appears to try to go for my butt - I know I've got a cute tush, but this is getting ridiculous. It flies away - obviously on closer inspection it found my butt not so appealing after all.

Maybe it's the altitude, but ski villages look particularly strange in the summer. Perisher almost resembles a ghost town, with an empty car park, no snow and no people. A perfect environment for someone like Santiago Botero who enjoys spending massive amounts of time on his own training at altitude, but personally I find this lack of activity slightly depressing. It's much better in winter with all those cutesy bootsy ski bunnies in lycra looking pretty and sipping strawberry daiquiris.

Maybe that's why I never turned pro - I just don't like being on my own. Actually, no, the real reason is a combination of a very small motor, a passion for frites and mayonnaise, and spending five weeks in the Greek Islands partying till 6am after my first season in Belgium when I was only supposed to spend two weeks in "active rest" mode. I thought I was drinking orange juice (honest, I swear) and unknowingly went into "active party-animal" mode.

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A bird's eye view
Photo: © Crispy

The last 8.8km are relatively easy, with the gradient averaging around three to four percent. In fact, I even threw it in the "big dog" (translation: big chainwheel) for about 3km, still trying to maintain a steady tempo while alternating between the different muscle groups. The golden rules of climbing are breathing and rhythm, which is why I'm surprised Bob Marley or Jim Hendrix never turned pro. Sorry mon, I'm going off the beaten track here.

The last 200m to the top of Charlotte's Pass is definitely an out of saddle affair, and you really do feel like you're on top of the world when you reach the summit. It's at least 15 degrees colder than at sea level, colder still taking into account the wind chill, so I put on my vest and head back towards Perisher.

Undetectable by radar

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Confidence-inspiring rubber
Photo: © Crispy

As I wind it out in the 53x11 on the way back to Jindabyne, the TCR feels secure at speed. The Dura-Ace front mech makes the familiar "snap" sound as I change down to the small ring under pressure on the two Cat 2 climbs of Dainers Gap (at 57km) and Rennix Gap (at 60.6km). These little pinches really test out the fuel reserves and my climbing legs; thank God I chowed down on some dried fruit and muesli bars not so long ago. Repeatedly shifting into a larger cog when tackling these little nasties again makes me wish I had the Dura-Ace shifters that this bike's supposed to come with. The Ultegras are good, but the Dura-Ace shifters have the feel of serious precision machinery.

After Rennix Gap it's 10km of glorious downhill. The TCR ZERO fuels my confidence, and with the wind behind me, I go for the full tuck position at 90 clicks an hour. No worries at all, this stealth fighter is perfectly balanced, and at this speed, totally undetectable by radar.

On the way to Thredbo: Begging for mercy

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Tidy head badge
Photo: © Crispy

Just before the centre of Jindy, I take a right and begin the climb up to Thredbo ski village. I tackle the first 2km at 12 percent with caution in the 39x19. I've seen some eager beavers dance up this section before and blow to the poo-poo 200 metres later. Me here for good time, not long time.

After this pinch, the next 8km up to the 90km mark are very flat with only two small pinches that I easily roll over from pure momentum. I feel like I have got my second wind - then I see a wall before me; a particularly long drag, around 3.3km long that curves out of sight to the right. I start talking to myself. This usually is a sign of fatigue:

"If there is a God, may you give me good legs for another 10km. I promise to be good. I promise not to get too smashed at Bart and Belinda's wedding tomorrow and act like an idiot. I promise not to do any more nudie runs, exposing myself when inebriated."

It works! Thankyou God - he has given my strength, and I dance confidently on the pedals and peak the Cat 2 climb at Ivo's Farm (at 93.3km) before I know it. As I stamp on the pedals, the TCR Zero responds immediately and effortlessly, and appears to be enjoying the moment as much as I am. Just a bit over 12km till I reach pastry heaven, where I will drown myself in danishes and molti cappucini. A couple of annoying undulations sap the remaining energy in my legs, a gentle reminder that I need to park up soon.

Park up

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In case you forget
Photo: © Crispy

Thredbo village is totally different to Perisher Smiggins. It's buzzing with activity. People come here in the summer for all sorts of reasons - mountain biking, fly fishing, bushwalking, maybe even a dirty weekend (and I'm not talking about mountain biking in the mud). Having spent a couple of seasons in the winter and the last four summers in the Snowy Mountains, I know exactly where to go. Destination: Thredbo village bakery. Objective: Stuff my face.

Crispy and I chill out, and talk about nothing at all really. Isn't this what we all do when we park up at the local coffee shop? Some touring bikers approach us, and heads start turning. "Is this yours?" one asks. "uuumm… of course it is!" I say with the confidence of a village idiot. After all, it is for a few weeks anyway.


Once you have committed yourself to spend this sort of moolah on a bicycle, you know you're going to get a sweet machine. At this price level, the variation in high end road machines essentially lies in your choice of component group, paint scheme, origin of frame builder (Italian frames will always be more expensive) and wheels. The variation in road feel from different frame materials is very much a personal choice. Those who say otherwise have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

The TCR ZERO is a machine for the serious roadie. Giant have gone for all things super light but this has by no means impacted on the bike's feel on the road. Its rigid structure - a combination of aluminium and carbon, coupled with super stiff Ksyrium racing wheels - implies that this machine is best suited to those weighing less than 80 kilos. Responsiveness is excellent, and cornering at high speed is no problem, aided by some beautiful Hutchinson soft compound tyres. These babies are by far the sweetest-feeling tyres I have ever laid on tarmac.

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Where's the Taiwanese flag then?
Photo: © Crispy

After 40km of climbing in one day, I believe I am in a good position (no pun intended) to say that this is a great climbing steed. And at 7.25 kilograms, it leaves you 350 grams to play with and still be within the UCI's minimum weight restriction of 6.9 kilograms. Whichever way you look at it though, anything under the magical eight kilo line is ridiculously light, and will help propel you into the clouds.

There is not a lot to say about Dura-Ace, other than that it works perfectly, day after day with minimal servicing. The Selle Italia SLR XP Leather saddle was surprisingly comfy - although maybe not quite as good as its look-alike predecessor, the Selle San Marco Era. However the choice of saddle is again a very personal decision, and I'm sure your local bike shop would let you swap your favourite saddle over if you really wanted to.

Full specification: Giant TCR Zero

Frame: 6013 ALUXX SL smooth welded aluminium
Fork: Giant Aero carbon straight blade with carbon steerer
Material: 6000 series super light aluminium
Anodised black
Weight: 7.25kg/16lb (without pedals)
Sizes: Small, Medium, Large

Cranks: Shimano Dura-Ace 39/53T
Bottom bracket: Shimano Dura-Ace cartridge splined
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace
Brakes & levers: Shimano Dura-Ace Dual Pivot
Rear sprockets: Shimano Dura-Ace, 11-23, 9 speed

RRP (complete bike): AU$5,999

Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium SSC 18h front 20h rear 700x23c
Spokes: Mavic Ksyrium SSC, Zicral bladed
Rim: Mavic Ksyrium SSC 18h front 20h rear
Skewers: Mavic
Tires: Hutchinson Carbon Comp 700x23c

Stem: Giant carbon/alloy with micro-adjust
Bar: Cinelli Solida racing
Tape: Cinelli black cork ribbon
Head set: FSA 1"1/8 threadless

Pedals: Not included
Seat post: Giant SL carbon with micro-adjust
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR XP Vanox leather

More information: Giant's website