The dust may have settled on another epic Tour de France and but there is a way to keep the memories alive: by riding one of the showpiece bikes of the 2017 edition. Happily, there are also plenty of multisport benefits to the bikes chosen by cycling’s greatest riders. They
offer versatility for tackling flat courses and hilly routes, will adapt for both training and tri racing experiences and with a pair of clip-on tri-bars attached, will provide plenty of multisport-friendly aerodynamic benefits.
A Tour bike purchase also doesn’t need to break the bank. While the 198 pro riders at the Tour were racing bling-laden bikes that are out of the price bracket for most of us, thanks to trickle-down technology you can enjoy much
of the experience of riding a Tour-quality bike for a couple of grand, in some cases with the same or very similar frames.
The three Tour de France flyers here come from different countries, and from companies with very different histories. One of them is a full-on aero road bike, while the other two have prominent aero features. But to keep traditionalists happy there isn’t a disc brake in sight, though some of the bikes are also available with disc brakes.
At the Tour, Taiwan-based Giant’s bikes were ridden by Sunweb’s riders – including Tom Dumoulin who took this year’s Giro D’Italia on a TCR similar to the TCR Advanced 1 we’re testing – which looks very impressively kitted out with full Shimano Ultegra and an appealing sub-£1,800 price tag.
The French team Direct-Energie have Thomas Voeckler in their team and ride bikes from a less common visitor to these pages, the Spanish company BH, whose G6 aero road bike we’re putting to the test.
Our final entry is another headline team sponsor. The Cannondale-Drapac team includes Pierre Rolland in its ranks. They’re on exotic, super-expensive SuperSix Evo machines from the Americans; we’re on a £2,100 SuperSix with Shimano Ultegra and 24mm-deep Mavic Aksium wheels.
The Giant TCR is one of the longest-standing designs in road cycling and, though a lot has changed since its birth in the mid 1990s, its creator Mike Burrows would probably still recognise his handiwork. But the round and skinny aluminium tubes have gone, the far-too-flexible adjustable stem consigned to history and the frame isn’t as strikingly compact.
This Giant is also made in six sizes rather than the original three, which makes it easier to get a correct fit, though goes against Giant’s original ethos of making drastically fewer sizes to reduce tooling and manufacturing costs. As with some of the original models it comes with an aero seatpost, which Burrows always considered an important part of a bike’s aerodynamic armoury.
As is often the case with Giant it scores immediately with its kit. Most bikes this far under £2,000 come with Shimano 105, perhaps even with cost-cutting non-standard chainset or brakes; the Giant has a complete Ultegra groupset save for an 11-speed KMC chain. As a bike with all-round credentials it has the slightly less racy 50/34 compact chainset paired with the 11-28 cassette, which covers what most of us will ever need and is pretty much the go-to choice.
Shimano 105 and Ultegra are similar, but it’s impressive during these days of the free-falling pound to find a complete Ultegra groupset at this price. And very welcome. The Giant’s shifting and braking are faultless, and it shaves a few grams compared with its slightly lesser
Like some other bike makers (see Orbea), Beistegui Hermanos started off manufacturing weapons, in BH’s case making rifles way back in 1909. It moved on to bikes in 1919 and now makes 200,000 a year. It sponsors the French Direct Energie team, and one of the bikes in their line-up is the BH G6 Pro aero road bike. Voeckler and co. will be on very similar frames, albeit with swankier kit and wheels than our bike.
Aero road bikes have been with us for a few years, and the earliest of the species were leaden-feeling and heavy. Fortunately, things have changed, and the weight of this BH is within a few grams of both the Cannondale and Giant – an immediate score for BH, whose designers have clearly worked hard. The frame has a claimed weight of just 860g, a fine achievement for a £2,000 aero bike.
AN HONOURABLE HISTORY
American brand Cannondale’s SuperSix, meanwhile, has an honourable history, and the 2017 incarnation looks like it’ll live up to the heritage when we unbox it. It’s bang on what you’d expect at north of £2,000: Ultegra rather than 105, a slimline carbon seatpost, an oversized head tube, pretty much oversize everything else and, because it’s a Cannondale, it has the BB30A bottom bracket system the company helped to developed. The just-under 8kg weight is also typical; light-ish but still a kilo more than a Tour bike ridden by the likes of Pierre Rolland.
Although Cannondale cut its competitive teeth with aluminium back in the days of Ronald Reagan, it’s been manufacturing in carbon since 2005 after a brief flirtation with the carbon/alloy Six13 frame in 2004. The all-carbon SystemSix followed in 2007, leading us a decade later to this silver and green bullet. (Wondering about the numbers? Six is the atomic number of carbon and 13 is aluminium).
The kit is mainly Shimano Ultegra. It works - and very well. The only groupset deviations are Cannondale’s own chainset and FSA rings in the slightly racier 52/36 combo, paired with the near-ubiquitous 11-28 cassette. It shifts as well as full Ultegra and frankly we’d be hard pressed to feel the difference, though the Si/FSA unit helps the Cannondale stand out from the crowd. The wheels are Mavic’s familiar Aksiums with their 25mm Yksion Elite stablemate tyres. They’re not that light but they’re tough.
BIG FRIENDLY GIANT
Even in these days of oversized and tapered steerers, the Giant is, well, a giant, with its huge 11/2-11/8in ‘Overdrive’ steerer. This contributes to impressive control, quick and precise whatever the circumstances. And while all the other bikes hover within a few grams of 8kg, you can feel the Giant’s lower weight when you lift it up and, more importantly, when you’re climbing. Its stiffness and more compact frame make for a rewarding climb in or out of the saddle, and it descends with nigh-on perfect control.
As for geometry, there’s little to differentiate the TCR from the opposition: tried-and-trusted parallel 73° angles, short head tube, sub-metre wheelbase, aggressive reach and stack figures. It all makes for taut handling and a sharp responsive ride. So far so good, but nothing out of the ordinary. What really separates the TCR from the others is just how smooth and comfortable it is, the equal of most endurance bikes. And Giant’s own components help here, with quality bar, stem, tape and carbon aero seatpost, which copes with everything apart from the very biggest bumps. But it purrs along even on light gravel, and over a couple of miles of unsurfaced singletrack on our test route you could up the speed with confidence and stay comfortable.
There’s no mistaking that the Cannondale is a racing thoroughbred, its 73.5° head and 73° seat angles combining with the tapered head tube for sharp, dynamic handling. The sub-metre wheelbase, short chainstays and short head tube are also testament to its competitive credentials. This isn’t a bike for pootling but pedalling at full pelt, where it’ll offer a slick and rewarding ride. But it’ll do all this and leave you coming back for more day after day without leaving you beaten up.
The slimline 25.4mm seatpost contributes to the comfort, as do the Delta seat tube, skinny seatstays and Prologo Kappa saddle. But let’s not forget that this isn’t an endurance machine, this is a race bike; fast, easy to manoeuvre and throw around, and solid as a rock around bends and on descents. Okay, the disc version will have better braking – though this bike’s excellent Ultegra calipers are about as good as rim brakes get – but you’re saving yourself £600, which isn’t to be sniffed at. Unusually, all of the cabling apart from the rear brake is externally routed. Not quite as neat perhaps, but lighter and easier to service.
While the Giant and Cannondale here are big all over, the BH combines svelteness in some areas and maximum volume elsewhere in order to combine aerodynamics with efficiency and power. So the chunky head tube houses a 11/2in headset steerer like the Giant’s, and there’s a chunky bottom bracket shell for the BB386 Evo bottom bracket; BB386 allows for a stiffer, more efficient carbon layup. But that tapered head tube morphs into a slim top tube and truncated aerofoil down tube, all pretty standard for an aero bike.
At the back-end it’s all pretty familiar, too: deep chainstays to cope with pedalling forces and gently arcing pencil-slim seatstays for rear-end comfort. Both the brakes are direct-mount 105 units, though the front feels better than the rear, which is okay without being impressive. And as it’s sited directly behind the bottom bracket it’ll pick up road-borne crud like it’s going out of fashion. The seatstay bridge isn’t drilled for a brake, so it’s the only option.
PACE, POISE AND PLUSHNESS
The Giant PR-2 wheels are well constructed and fine for a bike at this price, but a lighter or more aero set would allow the TCR’s inner beast to be fully unleashed on the triathlon course. As it stands, though, and considering the £1,775 price, it’s incredibly hard to fault the Giant TCR Advanced 1 – better still if there are any end-of-season sale offers on. It’s light, fast, comfortable, ideal for racing, long rides or just about anything you could name. Even the two-tone paintwork looks better in the flesh than it does in photographs or online. And its bigger Advanced SL0 brother propelled Tom Dumoulin to Giro victory this year, so it has cachet, too.
The ride of the BH itself is a treat. Its handling is as good as anything here. It gets up to speed smoothly and effortlessly, and it feels like you can eke out every watt as you ease up through the gears. The frame and semi-deep Vision wheels handle breezes well. There may have been a little more flex in the frame when climbing, but it isn’t enough to hamper the handling, and the same is true on descents as well. It’s not quite as flickable as the Cannondale, but it’s no slouch.This efficiency does produce a slight comfort penalty, however.
The BH comes with a seatpost that extends above the top tube junction: advantages include a stiffer, lighter frame, but transporting the bike is trickier and selling it on could prove more problematic, as it can’t be cut down. And even with skinny seatstays and 25mm rubber you can feel the firmness of the ride. But BH’s G6 Pro is still a strong challenger to aero bikes from bigger names, with a light, well-priced bike on a good set of wheels.
Just as with the SuperSix Evo Disc, you’re getting just about the spot-on balance of pace, poise and plushness with the Cannondale. Yes, you can stretch your racing legs on this, but, equally, if you want one bike for challenging your own PBs, besting your team-mates on your club ride or notching a ton in double-quick time then Cannondale’s silver-and-‘Berserker’ green is worth a very serious test ride
The overall verdict
As you’d expect if you parted with £2,000, you’ll get at the least a very good bike, and at best one that’s hard to beat. The Spanish company BH has delivered an aero road bike that handles well and, thanks to its light frame, comes in at a very good overall weight, though the seatmast-like seatpost makes the ride pretty firm. The SuperSix continues Cannondale’s reputation for making high-quality road bikes that should appeal to anybody who appreciates speed and slick handling.
But no matter how good the other bikes are, there can be only one winner, and it’s Giant that takes the gong with a very, very high rating. We score highly for ‘exceptional’ bikes and ‘genuine class leaders’ and we believe the Giant represents both those things. It’s the lightest here, has a full Ultegra groupset, a carbon seatpost and a performance that provides pretty much anything most of us could want. Its handling is pin-sharp, the acceleration snappy, the comfort first rate.