It is unwise to pay too much. But it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better. John Ruskin, 1819-1900
That’s a funny quote to stick on the price tag of a tent (in this case, a Mont Moondance 1). But that pretty well sums up the ethos in which I’d prefer to invest when the choices I make are really put to the test. Not too heavy (or I’d just leave it behind), not too light (and flimsy when the wind picks up); water proof within the limits of reasonable rain without having to pack a submarine instead… Our choices always involve a tipping point over some razor edge of pros and cons. Finding that seat on the edge is the hardest part. Marketing and merchandising muddies the stream. I have 6 tents; but only one that sits right on John Ruskin’s pin-point, tipping-pointy edge. I also have around ten bikes in my shed (well, shed, living room, dining room, office … the bedroom is still out-of-bounds). Finding the micron spot that can hold Ruskin’s value-perfornance balance in place is a bit like a Trek to Shangri-La: hard to find and probably shrouded in (marketing) myth.
There’s a few routines you can run to guide making a good choice. In the case of buying a new road bike, you could simply buy the most expensive bike in the shop and hope the margin you paid will insulate you from all the unforeseens that might otherwise convince you to take up golf instead. Buying a new Pinarello Dogma2 is a bit like that. You KNOW that the price for that thing is padded with the mystique of the brand. You KNOW that this mystique is pretty much as much a myth as the cycling skills to which we might secretly aspire. You KNOW that people who pay that price are pretty much all middle-aged dentists with too much money rather than an excess of talent. We all know about ‘pride of ownership’ (unless you are into Zen). We all know that the premium for this pride also explains the perversities of Ferrari’s and the Rolls Royce. And frankly, spending too much on mystique is, really, all just a bit naff.
I’ve been saving for a BMC SLR01. That’s the bike that Cadel used to win the Tour de France. Priced at around $8,000, it’s at least $6,000 cheaper than the new Dogma2. Yes, I know Cadel could have won on a lesser bike. And no, I am not a Cadel Evans fan. And yes, I DO love the new Dogma2. But not in the colours of Teams Movie Star or Sky. But, if it’s good enough to win Le Tour… it must surely be good enough for me without having to spend $6,000 more for the Pinarello. Isn’t that what this search for John Ruskin’s value-performance balance is all about?
Well, I was saving for a BMC SLR01 until I visited my local bike store two weeks ago. I think I was just after some chain lube and a new inner tube. I got my tube and my lube, but I also left with a brand new Giant TCR SL Rabobank 2012 team issue under my arm. That’s the first time I have ever purchased a new bike without a deeply researched technical plan. If there ever was a bike to which I had never, ever, aspired before it would have to be a Giant. I mean, you can’t get further away from the mystique of the Italian thoroughbred bike maker – while still be standing on Planet Earth – than buying a Giant. Isn’t that the brand with all the mystique of a generic supermarket no-frills bottle of milk? All through this year’s Le Tour I was feeling sorry for poor old Luis Leon Sanchez (my favourite pro-cyclist) having to ride the new Giant TCR when, last year, he got to ride Dogma’s for Caisse d’Epargne. No wonder, I thought, he wasn’t doing too well… Giant? Not for me. That’s the choice an economist would make. But wait a minute… I am an economist (or was). I have the PhD in a cupboard somewhere. But even then… Giant? Nah!
But when Mark Bullen, owner of the Armidale Bicycle Centre (who by now can read me like a book, being my bike fix dealer for going on 20 years…) pulled out his brand new 2012 Giant TCR Rabobank team issue bike. ‘Whatdoyoureckon about this?’ Errrr… First thought that comes to mind: wow. Stunning. Step 1. My interest is pricked. Prejudice is put on hold enough to get to Step 2. Lift it up. This thing is light. Step 3: it’s ALL Dura ACE (right down to the chain and every single cluster cog). If you can’t have Campagnolo, Dura Ace will satisfy. Even the wheels. But Step 4. That’s the killer. $6,500. As is, out the door. Now my thinking was, well, if it rides like a gate, I can always stick all the good gear it comes with on a new Dogma frame. Because at this price, the Giant frame is pretty well thrown in for free.
And then on to Step 5. The ride. After 500km (in a day over a week), I had to return to the shop and have a great big moan. Looking Mr Bullen in the eye with more than a hint of displeasure to impart, I presented him with the issue I now had. ‘What, exactly, am I supposed to do with all my other road bikes now?’ This new Giant is better in every way (except, perhaps, in valueless prestige) than all my Pinarello’s and my S Works Roubaix. Actually, I have never ridden a bike that performs like this. I never imagined that one could. Not at this price. Or any other price for that matter. This is what I was anticipating the new Dogma2 would be like. Which no doubt it is. But remember, this Giant is one third the price!
Let me unpack this startling claim. What does ‘better in every way’ actually mean?
My daily ride starts off with a hill. It’s a nice short, steep, out-of-the-saddle sharp attack kind of hill. The new Giant felt like it might have one of those micro engines Fabian Cancellara was supposed to have hidden away to (ludicrously) explain his speed. I have never, ever, ridden a bike as stiff as this. Every possible micro watt of power is transmitted to the road. Every single bit. This thing has what I’ve always imagined ‘direct-drive’ might imply. OK, but that’s just the first five minutes of my first ride. Cynicism is setting in. I am betting that once the ride takes hold this thing is still going to ride like a farm gate on wheels of steel over the rough roads we have around here. It has, after all, got a dirty great integrated seat post connecting the frame to my seat. Those things transmit every bump straight through to your bones; or so I thought.
No. This new Giant is, somehow, vastly more compliant than that. Actually, it’s marginally less harsh than my Pinarello Prince and slightly more so than my Pinarello Paris (my all-time most sacred bike). It’s about 20 per cent harsher than my Specialized S Works Roubaix, but never to the point that I would wish to be on that particular bike instead. And our roads resemble the crater-scape of the Moon. There’s none of that urban city-slicker smooth tar around here. Indeed, our roads don’t seem to have any tar at all, being largely aggregate rocks held in place more by the persistence of double trailered cattle trucks than via the bonding of our city cousins’ lovely hot mix boulevards. For years I have been thinking that integrated seat posts were for city roads in Europe or the US of A. Never, ever, for around here. Myth busted. Now I never need to worry about carbon assembly compounding my seat posts again.
Next up is a good 20 km of undulating flat. Flat out. I cannot believe how fast this bike is. But perhaps that is just a symptom of first-ride enthusiasm. I’ll reserve my judgement until I have more miles on the clock. And then onto the endless hills. My rides all involve hills. Either that or drive someplace else by car to start off a ride. My daily ride involves 20km of min. 8 per cent hills. Time to test out myth number two. Big deep dish wheels. Now I know 50mm wheels are not particularly deep but the wheels I always otherwise ride are the skinny little things that climbers usually ride. These C50 Dura Ace rims are like time trial wheels to me. Surely they won’t be too great when I get to the hills. I bet I’ll be dreaming of my Fulcrum Racing Lights before this ride is done! Nope. These wheels cut a power trench up every hill on my ride. Far from being a handicap on the hills, these Dura Ace C50′s are at least as good as my climbing rims. What, exactly, is going on around here?!
Next is the long wind blown bit in the valley below. Now that’s where I bet these ‘deep’ dish wheels are going to put me into a tree. I am thinking of wheels like sails; to be caught by every side-wind gust. And side-wind gusts were on tap on this and my next ten rides in this wind blown valley of mine. The actual effect is like a gentle but slight pressure to the side; not at all like being blown off the road as I’d imagined. Indeed, the aero effect of the deeper rims at least counter balances any tendency to catch a side wind when the gusts pick up. I am thinking that these rims are so well-behaved because they have such thin bladed spokes. I bet if they had the big flat paddle-spokes of something like a Ksyrium SL I’d be having different thoughts. These wheels are a perfect choice for this new Giant TCR.
Now I have been keeping records of all my rides for well over 20 years. I have been riding this particular morning ride now almost daily for all that time (the rest of the time I am off on my mountain bikes). On my first test ride, I posted the fastest time for this regular ride for any year in the records I have. But any good scientist will know that experiments need to be repeated. So I kept repeating this experiment of time for the next two weeks. Every ride is always faster on the new Giant TCR than any other ride in my record books. Under any conditions. And that includes the rides on my Pinarello Price. And the rides I used to have when I was 20 years younger and racing at A Grade (Cat 1) at my supposed peak. After over 500 km on the clock, this bike continues to amaze. It’s fast. It’s comfortable, even on extended rides. It’s smooth. And it corners like it’s on rails. Especially flat out down hill.
Indeed, it’s the downhill part I have come to appreciate best. The combination of superb frame stiffness, light weight and the airstream rail effect of my new deep dish rims all combine to open an entirely new dimension to going down hills. I am reminded of down hill skiing at the level of my most fervent skiing dreams. Astonishing.
But that’s not all. There is one other part to this bike’s allure. Something I would never have previously associated with the Giant brand. This bike is quite probably the best looking bike I have ever seen. It’s a total stunner in it’s 2012 Rabobank team issue white, blue and orange. But looks are only as deep as the paint. A top-end bike needs to evidence a flawless finish right through to the inside of its carbon tubes. I have been trying ever so hard to find a flaw of any kind in this bike’s build. There isn’t one. It’s finish and construction are robotically flawless. I am looking hard; I am inspired to look hard to justify the $18,200 I spent on my Pinarello Prince. I am as flawed in this endeavour as the finish and build of this Giant is, almost spitefully, flawless.
And there are some lovely little bits to confirm Giant’s attention to detail. Like the included cadence/speed sensor implanted in the rear chain stay. This little beauty is ANT+ compliant which means that it connects automatically to my Garmin Edge 800 GPS computer. A very nice touch. The integrated seat post is also very well considered. Via two choices of metal mast ends, you can have over 45mm of adjustment if, by some chance, you suddenly discover one day that your traditional post extension has always been way, way, too short (as I did about five years ago). The supplied all carbon PRO handlebars are also a nice choice, and not some token cost saving effort to keep Giant’s accountants happy. While being relatively shallow, if your hands are not too huge, they provide a wonderful ergonomic grip in all positions. The Fizi:k Arione seat is one that most of us would likely choose as first option rather than as a standard offering for future upgrade. And, again, to repeat myself, those Dura Ace wheels are an inspired choice in perfect keeping with the ruthless efficiency of the rest of the bike.
Now I know what it’s like to ‘live’ the concept of John Ruskin’s advice. I have found the perfect balance between paying too much and too little.
But, after all, I do have ONE complaint. Not cynical or snide. I do have a complaint. Presumably Giant are building millions of these things and they can pitch them onto the market on a margin that would send anyone else broke. I am deeply concerned that by pitching their new pro-level bike at AUD$6,500, Giant are going to be sounding an assault on the likes of Pinarello, Colnago, Trek and even Specialized that those makers might not survive. I am wondering if, by buying this bike, I am now complicit in the final decline of the family bicycle artisan traditions so glorified by the Italians, the French and the Belgians since the beginning of bicycle racing times. I deeply care about the continuation of those traditions and the passions for bike building that define them. Is the vastly more clinical, robotic, economic-rationalist Giant empire going to kill off the culture and traditions that so define our sport? I promise to make my next bike purchase one more supportive of those all-important traditions. Maybe I will wait for the Pinarello Dogma3.
2012 Giant TCR SL ISP (Integrated Seat Post) Rabobank team issue (size M/L tested)
|Sizes||XS, S, M, M/L, L, XL|
|Frame||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Seatpost|
|Fork||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Full-Composite OverDrive 2 Steerer|
|Shock||N / A|
|Handlebar||Pro Vibe Anatomic Composite, 31.8|
|Stem||Giant Contact SLR, Composite, OverDrive 2|
|Seatpost||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Design|
|Saddle||Fi’zi:k Arione CX w/K:ium rail|
|Shifters||Shimano Dura Ace STI 20 sp|
|Front Derailleur||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp|
|Rear Derailleur||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp|
|Brakes||Shimano Dura Ace dual pivot|
|Brake Levers||Shimano Dura Ace|
|Cassette||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp. 11-25T|
|Chain||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp.|
|Crankset||Shimano Dura Ace 39x53T|
|Bottom Bracket||Shimano Dura Ace press fit|
|Rims||Shimano Dura Ace 7850-C50-CL Carbon/Alloy clincher|
|Tires||Vittoria Open Corsa Evo Slick, 700 x 23c|
|Extras||RideSense, 2 ISP Clamps Provided: Regular 20mm and XL 45mm|