Frame builder pet peeves: Giant

Among the major bicycle brands, Giant Bicycles of Taichung City in Taiwan is perhaps my favorite. Having been around since the early 1970s as a contract manufacturer for US brand Schwinn, they slowly developed their own brand to face global competition head-on – and, along with it, the Taiwanese bicycle manufacturing industry. On a less macro scale, Giant just gets many things right: manufacturing quality, good value for money, and reliable, repeatable construction.

That said, as much as I do not hesitate to recommend Giant and its products, they are not perfect. Today, I talk about some of my pet peeves.

OVERDRIVE2 FORK STEERER TUBES

While my base-model 2014 TCX SLR 2 has a normal tapered-steerer fork, all the other models get the OverDrive2 fork. The forks and headset bearings can be carried over between TCX models, as all of them have 44 mm head tubes, which can fit both types.

Most bicycles nowadays are built around forks with steerer tubes that are 1-1/8″ in diameter. Within that set, a sizable number of them have these same steerer tubes flare outward to 1-1/4″ in diameter. My best guess is around 80% of bikes have headset bearings and stems built to these dimensions. In particular, stems made to clamp a 1-1/8″ steerer tube are super plentiful.

In the quest to deliver greater stiffness up front, Giant introduced OverDrive2. This is their name for a tapered fork steerer tube measuring 1-1/4″ diameter up top, growing to 1-1/2″ diameter as it meets the fork crown. Look at Giant’s lineup of road bikes and chances are their top-spec models all use OverDrive2 forks, as they have done so for many years now.

You’d think that stems made to clamp around a 1-1/4″ fork steerer tube would be plentiful if you knew exactly how long OverDrive2 has been around. You’d be wrong. The aftermarket has been amazingly slow to adopt this steerer tube diameter. Not many days go by without someone online asking where one could get a stem compatible with OverDrive2 forks.

The Redshift Sports ShockStop stem isn’t compatible with Giant’s forks with the OverDrive2 steerer...
…at least, not until August 8, 2021. Photo credit: James Huang.

On the mountain bike side, the lack of aftermarket support for OverDrive2 meant that Giant got rid of it. I wish they’d do the same on the road. I don’t see roads getting any better (hello, gravel bikes), and an OverDrive2 fork steerer tube is a poor fit for particularly bad surfaces. Sure, you might gain more stiffness, but do you really need it on such crap roads?

NON-STANDARD PARTS…AND SPARES SUPPORT

Giant’s D-Fuse composite tube shaping technology first debuted on my bike, the 2014 TCX.

Hyro’s 2014 TCX chassis just happens to be Giant’s first implementation of their innovative “D-Fuse” concept. The idea goes that reprofiling the carbon composite seat post from a round cylinder into a D shape will allow it to flex more along the flat side (up to 12 mm as per Giant’s claims), which now points toward the rear of the bike. More flex in the seat post means it offers more of a suspension effect.

It’s not immediately apparent, but the D-Fuse concept does work, especially when more of the seat post is outside the confines of the frame’s seat tube. It’s simple, yet very clever engineering; Giant has even adopted the basic D-Fuse carbon tube shaping concept and put it into their gravel bikes’ drop handlebars.

Unfortunately, D-Fuse is effectively a proprietary system. On a bike like Hyro that will not accept a standard round seat post, if something happens to your D-Fuse seat post and you need a replacement…well, you’re not exactly out of luck. But it’s also not as straightforward as it should be, given that Giant’s retail strategy is to have a network of bike shops that exclusively carry their bikes and related wares. Replacement becomes much less straightforward as your bike frame ages.

While I’m glad I was able to get a spare D-Fuse SL seatpost for Hyro, it really should have been an easier process doing so.

That said, at least there are places online where you can get spares of Giant’s parts, proprietary or otherwise. Bicycle Warehouse in the US (Delaware, to be precise) carries a modest selection; I was recently able to secure from them a second D-Fuse SL carbon seat post, an exact replacement for the unit Hyro already has. For more comprehensive parts needs though, the best place I’ve seen is GiantBikeSpares.com, a website run by UK outfit Revel Outdoors. The major drawback with ordering from them is the higher shipping costs, however, and some of the parts they have on offer are on backorder as of this writing due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.

While it’s great that these two places give your aging Giant bike a fighting chance of getting relevant spare parts, Giant’s local bike shop network should really be doing this for its customers. And, while I now have a spare seat post, what I’d really want to see are compatible saddle clamp parts for mounting saddles with oval carbon rails with. Just so somebody like me has the option, mind you.

Also, before you say I forgot – I don’t think the D-Fuse handlebars are “trapped” by the same proprietary nature. I’m also pleased to report that the 2021 TCX models can now accept a 30.9 mm round seat post, should you need to, or should you want to fit a dropper seat post.

AREAS FOR ADDING MORE VALUE

While Giant has a generous 10-year limited warranty for many of its bikes, when compared to brands like Merida or Trek, the company’s road bike frames are a little lacking in terms of protective features being baked in.

This 2014 Merida Scultura has a sacrificial metal plate as a barrier against chain suck damage. Merida has carried this over to their newer frames, such as the 2021 Scultura Endurance. Photo credit: Steve Tan of Hands On Bike.

No matter how careful you are with riding or how clean you keep your bike, there will be instances where you get inside chain drop, or – even worse – chain suck. For the uninitiated, chain suck is an egregious phenomenon where the chain refuses to release from the rear lower part of the chainring as it spins…and holds on long enough to meet the upper run of the chain, and jam the entire drivetrain to a halt.

Merida is quite the example in this department, with some of their bikes featuring metal plates bonded onto the drive-side chainstay near the bottom bracket shell area. These will act as a sacrificial layer of protection in case of chain suck, saving the paint of the frame underneath against uncontrolled motion of the chain being in a place where it shouldn’t be. Many other brands offer a simple built-in chain catcher to defend against chain drop on the inside, where the chain will usually scratch up the paint around the bottom bracket shell pretty badly.

Trek’s Madone aero superbike is just one of the company’s many models with an included chain catcher. Photo credit: James Huang of CyclingTips.

In fairness to Giant, though, one way they’ve created value for the past few years is to set up many of their bikes tubeless right out of the gate. They have been notable for taking care of the tubeless tape, tires, valves, and sealant – all you need to do is ride the bike.

CONCLUSION

Compared to my criticisms of Cannondale, these pet peeves with Giant are nitpicks and nowhere near egregious enough to be deal-breakers. The main takeaway I took from engineering pundits like Hambini, Raoul Luescher, and Peak Torque on YouTube was that Giant builds good bikes, and it does so reliably and repeatably. That, I feel, can make up for the generally more mature, arguably slightly less exciting approach the company has to designing its bikes.

2014 Giant TCX full cable replacement, part 3: Shift cable housings

In this final installment of the full cable replacement series, we’re going over shift cable routing.

The process has actually been mostly covered in previous posts, and part 2 of the series has a guide to threading the cable housings through the downtube. I’ll be discussing only the areas where there is most difference from the rear brake cable replacement job.

In the photo above, the two shift cable housings actually share one cable routing hole, unlike the brake cable housing which has its own, off to the side. Making matters worse, this is a tight fit. I had difficulty with fitting the Park Tool IR-1’s guide cable magnet ends through this hole while it still contained one cable housing, and is otherwise still hooked up to the relevant derailleur via the inner cable.

This is why I recommend replacing the downtube-routed shift cable housings at the same time. While the shift cable housings are empty of a shift cable, you can play and finagle with them so that the IR-1 guide cables can thread into the downtube properly.

Above are the shift cable housing segments. The long segment runs through the downtube, joining the in-line barrel adjuster floating around the head tube area and the relevant cable stops. It is pretty much the same length for both front and rear derailleur, since they all terminate around the bottom bracket shell area.

At the bottom of the downtube, both shift cable housings also share the same cable routing hole.

Thread the housing segments one by one through the downtube, and hold off on the shift cables until they are both routed cleanly through.

Here’s the result. The cable housing in the background arcs backward toward the rear side of the seat tube, where a cable stop awaits for the front derailleur. The cable housing in the foreground feeds into the drive-side chainstay, where a different cable stop awaits…one with a cable liner in it. Both these cable housings need ferrules on their ends.

 

Crank arm set parallel to the downtube. All the cable housings exit the downtube and loop over the bottom bracket shell before continuing to their destinations. Sandwiched between the seat tube and the rear fender is the cable stop for the front derailleur.

As before, once the shift cable housings are correctly routed, the replacement job is 90% complete. All that’s left is to complete the rest of the rear shift inner cable routing, hook up STI levers with derailleurs, and tune properly.

2014 Giant TCX full cable replacement, part 2: Brake cables and housings

Tools, check. Supplies, check. Now on to the nitty-gritty of actually replacing the cables.

FRONT BRAKE CABLE REPLACEMENT

Let’s start with the front brake, since that’s the easiest as it’s a fully external run. If you run a front fender like I do, start off by removing that.

Giant uses a plastic retaining clip to keep the front brake cable out of the way, held in place on the underside of the fork by a small 3 mm hex bolt. Undo that and set it aside.

Remove the bar tape, and clean off any adhesive residue from the handlebar with a wipedown of isopropyl alcohol. Cut open and remove the electrical tape holding the cables fast to the handlebar.

On the Spyre brake caliper, snip off the cable end cap, then undo the clamp bolt. On the Shimano 105 ST-5700 STI lever, pull the brake lever, work the brake inner cable head out of its seat, then pull it straight out.

With the inner cable out, it’s just a matter of undoing the front brake cable housing. On my bike, this is also the only segment of housing that doesn’t have an in-line barrel adjuster, making replacement straightforward.

Lay out old housing against new, and use it as a guide for measuring the proper length.

5 mm brake ferrule. Jagwire’s POP ferrules have an additional piece that goes between this and the cable housing end.

Cut the new housing. Because the end can get a little squished by the cable cutters, I like to round out the liner of the freshly cut end so the brake inner cable can enter smoothly. Once done, cap one end with a 5 mm brake ferrule; this end goes into the brake caliper. (Jagwire includes a pack of two-part “POP” brake ferrules with their compressionless brake housings.) The other end with no ferrule goes into the 105 STI lever.

At this point, you’ll want to have the fresh brake inner cable ready. Shimano’s retail brake cable kits include enough brake inner cable and spiral-wound housing for one front brake (the shorter one) and one rear brake (the longer one), plus two chromed ferrules and end caps. As Hyro has TRP Spyre calipers, we’re not interested in Shimano’s brake housing; all we need are the brake inner cables and end caps.

 

With the front brake cable housing hooked up, thread the new brake inner cable through the STI lever the same way it came out. Push it in and pull it through until it is fully seated.

 

At the front brake caliper, wind in the barrel adjuster all the way by turning clockwise, then back it out two full turns to leave some room for adjustment. Pull tight on the brake inner cable, pre-load the actuator arm, then tighten the cable clamp bolt. Put the cable end cap on to keep it from fraying and injuring others.

Job done.

REAR BRAKE CABLE REPLACEMENT

Compared to the front brake, cable replacement for the rear brake is more involved. The cable enters on the left side of the downtube, reemerging at the bottom bracket shell and going around it, then finally threading through the left chainstay, where it pops out just in front of the rear brake caliper. In addition, there are four rubber grommets that the brake cable housing runs through as it pops in and out of the frame tubes while bridging STI lever and brake caliper.

I highly recommend the Park Tool IR-1 internal cable routing kit for this job. Some patience is also required, as the compressionless brake housing’s┬áreluctance to bend can make clearing the entry and exit holes a bit of a challenge.

We start the same way as before: Undo the cable clamp bolt at the rear Spyre brake caliper, remove the cable end cap, then remove the rear brake inner cable clear of the bike by pulling it out of the STI lever. From here on out, we’re mostly concerned with the brake cable housing and getting it to where it should be.

First we will have to take care of the four rubber grommets along the run of brake cable housing. Two of them are rectangular, and have to be pried open and away from the frame, either by finger or with a flat head screwdriver. One lives on the inside of the left chainstay in front of the caliper, and the other lives underneath the downtube. On these rectangular grommets, the cable housing has to be threaded through them.

The brake cable here is in the foreground. The other length of housing in the background, closer to the chainrings, is for the rear derailleur.

The other type of rubber grommet is oval. The underside is in two halves, so the grommet basically wraps around the cable housing while being held in place by the relevant routing holes in the frame. These are on the left of the downtube and on the underside of the left chainstay, near the bottom bracket shell. Once they’re off the routing holes, they can be detached from the housing.

Two lengths of old compressionless brake housing interrupted by an in-line barrel adjuster.

Once all the grommets are off and the old brake cable housings pulled from the frame, here’s what you get. That long piece is an uninterrupted run from brake caliper through chainstay and downtube, all the way to the in-line barrel adjuster.

The two shorter pieces on the right run from the barrel adjuster to the STI lever, and technically can be replaced by one single piece of compressionless brake housing. The silvery piece is from an old Jagwire cable kit, called an “EZ-Bend” housing segment. It acts as an extra-long brake ferrule and handles the cable run underneath the bar tape.

At this point, we break out the IR-1. Of its three guide cables, we’ll need the one with the threaded barb, which we screw into the end of the cable housing. Screw it in as far as it will go.

Drop the magnet end of the guide cable into the cable routing hole at the left side of the downtube. Once it’s in, chase it with the guide magnet from the outside of the downtube until it gets attracted.

From there, it’s a matter of feeding the guide cable in and pulling the guide magnet along the outside of the downtube, until it emerges from the cable routing hole.

Pull the guide cable all the way through, and it should drag the new brake cable housing along with it, emerging from the bottom of the downtube. At this point, you can go ahead and thread the housing through the rectangular grommet and reinstall it into the routing hole on the downtube.

Two more routing holes to go, this time through the non-drive side chainstay. The same trick with the guide cable and guide magnet applies here, though. Take your time and be patient.

This final cable routing hole is the biggest challenge. The guide cable is very flexible and can clear it with no issues…

…but the much stiffer compressionless brake cable housing will require a bit of persuasion to come out. This is where inserting the threaded barb into the brake housing as far as it will go will help a lot.

Once all the brake housing is correctly routed through the frame, you’re 90% done. Thread the housing through the remaining rectangular grommet, and wrap the housing with the oval grommets and push them into their relevant routing holes.

Connect all the housing segments and barrel adjuster into a continuous line as you push the rear brake inner cable into the STI lever, then hook up the inner cable into the Spyre’s actuation arm. Tune and adjust the cable properly, and that’s job done.

In the final installment, we will look into the shift cable routing.