Specialized Roubaix Armadillo Elite Tire

We’ve had a number of tangents in our comments following posts that concerned tire clearance and bigger tires. Partly because they were already in the works and partly as a response to those conversations, I’ve been meaning to post two different tire reviews. The first of these is the Specialized Roubaix tire. This is a relatively newish tire, introduced around the time of the re-introduced Turbos.

The PR machine at Specialized (my God, they are effective—other companies would do well to emulate them) brought these to my attention following a little field trip to Finland they made with a few of my colleagues including peloton‘s Ben Edwards and Bike Radar’s James Huang. So why Finland? That’s where one of the only neutral—as in not brand-affiliated—bicycle-tire testing facilities in the world is based. James produced a really interesting piece based on his visit, which is worth checking out here. So what did Specialized have to crow about? Well, they got a little surprise when they visited Wheel Energy. Long before they took any journos there, they’d conducted loads of tests and concluded that their new Turbos were a good bit faster than their old tires. They also discovered something a little surprising. Of all the tires they tested, the tire with the lowest rolling resistance, i.e. the fastest, was the Roubaix.

This was a surprise to all involved, I’m told. The Roubaix Armadillo Elite is, by virtue of its containing an Armadillo Elite puncture-resistant belt, a tire that should theoretically be a bit slower. Okay so what’s the key to the Roubaix? Well, it’s a pretty fresh take on what a wide(r) tire can be. You see, the Roubaix features a 25mm casing but only a 23mm tread. The way it was put to me is that you get the benefits of a larger casing, which means less resistance-causing deformation at the footprint while getting the smaller footprint of a smaller tread. I suspect the answer is a bit more complicated than that, though.

My own experience in riding this tire is that it does feel fast. Get it up to speed and it just rolls well, especially on rough surfaces, and you can feel free to extrapolate that all the way to dirt roads because I’ve taken this thing off-road. Now what Specialized’s machine didn’t mention is that while this thing rolls like a ball bearing on glass, it’s 50 percent heavier than the lightest open tubulars I’ve ridden. I weighed one at 308g, which means these things are somewhat porcine. So there’s the whole “getting it up to speed” bit. And no, I didn’t have the sense that I was receiving a flywheel-type benefit once they were at speed.

I don’t think I’ve ridden a more versatile tire. They were perfectly acceptable on group rides, were impervious to every surface and bit of debris I rode over and handled enough like a racing tire on descents that I didn’t have to do any extra braking while on the drop.

Maybe the truest measure of how much I like these tires—despite their weight—is the fact that I’ve mounted them on three different wheel sets. That’s got to be a first for me. And at $60, anyone serious about their cycling can afford to run these. But don’t get the wrong idea; I’d still run the Turbo or a similar racing tire for most of my riding, but any time I needed rubber with wider margins, I wouldn’t hesitate to mount these up. Paired with a set of Zipp 303 clinchers and I’d give these a try on some cobbles, maybe even the Wallers-Arenberg Forest?

, ,

8 comments

  1. thrash

    I have been a convert to 25’s and lower tire pressure for the last few years. I don’t feel slower(other than age related)but I do feel more confident and I think that translates to higher speed. It especially holds true in the fast or tight and twisty arena.

  2. Wsquared

    I usually take industry tire comparisons with a large grain of salt. I find that they either pump all the tires up to max psi or pump them all up to the same psi, rather than pumping each one up to the manufacturers recommended psi for a specific rider weight. In other words, if the test subject rider weighs 175lbs, each tire should be inflated to the recommended psi for a 175lb rider, which may not be the same for each tire, but more accurately reflects real world riding. If you inflate two different tires to 120 psi, one may roll faster but also be too uncomfortable to ride at that pressure.

    I am a long time convert to 25s, but I recently discovered I get as good or better ride characteristics with tubeless Hutchinson 23s. Then I don’t have to worry about tight 25 tire clearance on some of my bikes. It would be interesting to see a comparison in rolling resistance between 23 tubeless & 25 clinchers. I believe the footprint of a 23 tubeless is different than a 23 clincher.

  3. Craig

    I’m not affiliated with the bike industry even though this will sound like an infomercial. I use Roubaix tires and think they are great. Last week, I rode 128 miles from Chicago to Central Illinois. Many of the miles were on shoulders with heavy truck traffic so the shoulder was littered with shredded tires, metal, glass, rocks, etc. which I inevitably ran over. No punctures. These things seem bullet proof. I don’t race and haven’t ridden expensive race tires or tubulars, but these are great if you like to put in miles and don’t want to repair flats.

  4. Mr. Fly

    I’m curious how the Specialized Roubaix tires compare to the Challenge Parigi-Roubaix tires. At about 300g, the Specialized is in the same ball park in weight as the Challenge but the Challenge offers much more width (read: volume) at about 29mm even on a 19mm wide rim. I’ve been running the Challenge PRs on all my bikes that can fit such a fat tire and have been extremely pleased. They feel like big fat comfy Vittoria Open Corsa CXes to me if I get the tire pressure right (which incidentally is quite a bit less than Challenge’s recommended pressure).

  5. WV Cycling

    @Mr. Fly – My bike won’t fit anything more than a 26mm width in the rear, so I’ve been using Challenge Elites. LOVE THEM. They’re a 23, but manufacturing tolerances often leave them anywhere from 22.8-24.7 (I’ve had six or seven of these tires in the past couple years)

    What I love is that the rubber tread, while inflated is not tensioned or tight, It’s still “rubbery/gummy” feeling due to being hand glued on. I ride my road bike on roads that are less than quality. like Hillybilly Roubaix rough. Not just tar and chip, but I mean completely abandoned county roads. (I like to explore)

    I have had one of the tires’ tread start to lift up from the carcass after about 500 miles. Attempted to glue it back, but it didn’t hold. I’ve contacted Challenge, and have heard nothing. (five or six months ago) Still love their comfort. It feels as if they’re underinflated at proper pressures. Bike and I are 150lb, and I have front at 105-110psi, and rear at 110-115psi.

  6. Darwin

    Most people would be better off with 25c tires. I don’t find the Specialized tires to be particularly protective compare to others like the Continental Grand Prix or various Gatorskin models and I think the minimal 23 mm tread on a 25tire feels odd. Currently my favorite tires are Continental GP 40o0s in 25. Great ride, stickiness, and reliability.

  7. tinytim

    Why does specialized put a smaller tread (23mm) on a larger casing (25mm)? The most benefical aspect of riding 25mm tires is the larger tread interface with the road. The larger surface area of the 25mm enables the tire to be run at a much less bar/psi resulting in a tire that deformes over imperfections, increases tire/road grip in turns and down descents, and be generally less flat prone. Personally, my favorite larger volume tires are the michelin optimum. These tires are front/rear optimized so you never have to rotate the tires. They are a stated 25mm size but really are 26-27mm wide, they are light (front=200gm rear=250gm), last me about 2500-3000 miles before they square off, and can be purchased for $40 each. The best thing about big tires is bombing tight descents and riding over gravel cause the tires don’t give a damn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>