Dear Tech Support,
My wife bought me 2002 Giant TCR2 road bike… This is my first fairly nice road bike, so I have nothing to compare it to. I was wondering several things. First, did I get a good bike? My riding buddies frequently remark on the components, materials and geometry of my bike, and my lack of experience makes it difficult to have much to say. Second, along with a fitting, what can I do to make the bike as well suited for triathlon as possible (versus a regular road bike)… Thanks for your help.
Newport, Rhode Island
The Giant TCR2 is a well equipped bike designed for serious recreational riders and entry level competitors. If it fits you well, it is a good bike.
Components – The 105 component group on the TCR2 is not as light or quite as durable as the Ultegra or Dura Ace groups above it in Shimano’s line, but it does have many similar features while offering substantial improvements in terms of materials, bearing/race quality and weight over the component groups below it (Tiagra and Sora).
Materials – Your TCR frame is constructed of aluminum. Aluminum is a popular material for bikes because it is generally affordable, light, easy to work with and available in a wide array of tubing shapes and dimensions. Your TCR uses aluminum tubing that is double butted and over-sized. Double butted means that the tubing has two different wall thicknesses; the tubing is thicker at the joints/welds for strength and thinner in the middle to reduce weight. Over-sized simply means that the tubing is larger in diameter than average. Regardless of material, over-sized tubing will be stiffer than smaller diameter tubing of similar wall thickness and shape – this can enhance the frame’s responsiveness, but can compromise the shock absorbing ability of the frame, especially for smaller riders.
One often perpetuated myth in cycling is that the material a product is made of determines its ride characteristics. In reality, how a material is applied, not the material itself, is what really matters. Aluminum (or any other material) can be made to ride stiff, soft, or somewhere in-between depending upon the size and shape of the tubing used. In the past few years, carbon fiber seat stays have been added to many bikes under the marketing premise that carbon fiber absorbs more vibration than the material it replaced. Research outside of the cycling industry has shown that, at levels humans can feel, carbon fiber is unable to absorb any more or less road vibration than other materials. However, if an over-sized straight tube’s dimensions are replaced with a tube that is smaller and/or curved, the tubing will flex easier and will damp more vibration. So, while some carbon fiber stay equipped bikes absorb vibration better than average, it is because of a dimensional change that alters the tubing’s flex, not because of the material itself.
It is important to note that when a frame’s vertical compliance (tubing flex) is increased to absorb road shock, it will come at the expense of torsional (side-to-side) stiffness. Currently, the only way to avoid this compromise is to address vertical compliance and torsional stiffness independently of the frame’s material with suspension. In the end, each rider should base their decisions on their individual stiffness and compliance needs.
Geometry – Your TCR uses compact road frame geometry. Compact geometry has sometimes been said to be notably stiffer and lighter than traditional frame geometry. Testing indicates that it does not enhance either of these characteristics to any degree worth noting. Compact geometry does provide an aesthetic many people are drawn to and creates a different ride feel (primarily because the frame’s center of gravity is lower) than a traditional geometry. Many manufacturers also use compact geometry because they can produce fewer frame sizes while maintaining adequate stand over height for a wider range of riders – this lowers production costs. For some riders, this can be the downside to the TCR as stand over height is of little importance when it comes to how the bike fits while being ridden and the rest of the fit could be compromised as the bike is currently only available in three sizes (S, M, L).
Before making any changes to your TCR – keep in mind that all TCR frames (including the TCR Aero) are built around road, not aero, geometry. While items like forward angle seatposts, clip-on aerobars and lower stems are common changes for many people looking to make their road bike more triathlon oriented, a road frame’s geometry was not designed to be ridden in such a position and compromises in terms of weight distribution, handling and stability can occur if they are made. Shorter chain stays, lower head tubes, shorter top tubes and a longer front-center (the distance from the center of the crank to the front axle) are just a few of the differences made to an aero geometry frame that allow it to fit and handle properly when being ridden with a more forward seat angle aero position. Aero bikes and road bikes each have their place in a triathlete’s training. It is best to own a dedicated triathlon bike for events and solo training and a road bike to help keep muscle groups balanced while allowing you to safely ride with groups and in stop and go traffic.
Products – If you decide to make changes to your Giant, a properly fit aerobar is the most effective product available in terms of dollars to time savings. 65-70% of your energy on the bike is used to overcome air resistance and the vast majority of this is overcoming the resistance from your body. Aerobars reduce your frontal surface area which lowers your wind resistance substantially. However, aerobars are only able to help you ride more efficiently if you are able to stay in them comfortably and your body position is kept within its range of motion and core strength capabilities. Bolting aerobars to a road bike without making other positioning changes will almost always compromise power output and comfort unless other positioning changes are made simultaneously.
Your TCR already has a more aerodynamic fork than average and when it comes to other changes, remember that the fastest technology in the world can not help you if it is not fit to your body and individual needs properly. For this reason, there is not a product available that can help you lower your times or ride in greater comfort the way a competent fit technician can. If there is not a competent triathlon technician in your area, it is well worth traveling to one as they will help you make informed product decisions for your individual needs and will – make sure that you are positioned on those products properly. This will save you the money, hassle and time of experimenting while giving you the confidence to know you are not compromising or being held back by your equipment or riding position.
Enjoy your bike.
Originally published October 2002/Copyright © 2002
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