Specialized Unveils its 2014 Line

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This past week I and at least one journalist from every reputable cycling media outlet flew to Colorado to attend the launch of the 2014 product line for Specialized. I heard at least five languages other than English spoken, and no less than six distinct accents of English uttered. At one point at the mountain bike demo tent one of the mechanics called my name so I could go over for saddle height adjustment and suspension setup and I responded with, “C’est moi,” which I do from time to time when I’m kidding around. Well, given the population assembled at the oxygen-deprived locale of Copper Mountain, the tech turned and said, “Oh, sorry, are you from France? Are you with a French magazine?”

Me and my sense of humor.

In addition to all the journalists, many of Specialized’s top dealers were in attendance as well. I’d prefer not to contemplate the logistics (and expense) of assembling so many people at a ski resort; it’s just too overwhelming. But for a big bike company like Specialized, such a gathering makes a lot of sense. Rather than try to introduce all the new products in a noisy trade show booth, they can make a deliberate (and rehearsed) presentation in a function room, complete with projector and sound system to make sure everyone follows along.

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I attended presentations on the new road line, the mountain line, the women’s line and what they are now calling the “core” line. Core refers to all those bread-and-butter items in a product line—aluminum road bikes, entry level mountain bikes, including some oddball stuff like a go-anywhere touring bike and even, yes,  a fat bike.

I’ve not been invited to this event for some years. Previously, when I attended I focused exclusively on the products I was most likely to review in the coming year. This time I decided to do things in a different way. Because I tend to get to ride the S-Works and Pro level bikes, I figured I’d branch out and ride some of the bikes I’m less likely to review. Well, mostly.

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My first ride after the presentations were over was on a Venge Pro Race Force, which is to say a frame one step down from S-Works equipped with SRAM Force components; it retails for $5800. I’ve been meaning to ride a Venge for ages, but circumstances just haven’t lined up. Until now. We rolled out from Copper Mountain and headed downhill to Frisco, where we did a loop on the bike path around Dillon Reservoir, a place that gave my colleague Dillon Clapp of ROAD endless opportunities for self-referential jokes. I concede, he set them up well, even when I saw them coming.

Under ordinary circumstances, I can learn 80 percent of what I’m going to find out about a bike in the first five or ten miles … provided I can make some efforts. Given my current state of fitness, which can easily be described as one in which a 12-year-old paper boy with a full load of papers and one leg tied behind his back could drop me, being at 9700 feet of elevation (the height of the village at Copper Mountain) left me with as much operating bandwidth as someone trying to watch a YouTube video over a dial-up modem. I could stand up long enough to make five or six pedal strokes (okay, maybe it was a dozen), but then I’d have to sit back down and stop pedaling and pant like a dog stranded in the Mojave.

What I can say for sure is that I’d happily do more miles on the Venge. It’s not nearly as harsh a ride as the Cervelo S5 and it was stiffer in torsion than some of the other aero bikes I’ve ridden. Specialized likes to say the Venge is more bike than aero, and I get what they are claiming. Just how aero it is when compared to other aero road bikes is what would require some research.

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It was during the “Core” presentation that I was introduced to the latest iteration of the Specialized Allez. The bike has been around in its current form for a year, but it completely escaped me. I don’t have any notes or photos of it from the last Interbike, which is a shame because I was suitably impressed by the presentation to feel that riding it was warranted.

What makes the bike remarkable is the aluminum tube set. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Specialized’s Chris D’Aluisio invented a new process, now patented, called Smartweld that increases the strength and stiffness of the front end of the bike. The top and down tubes curl inward, like the bottom of a soda can, and meet a hydroformed (and size-specific) head tube with similar inward-curled sockets for the top and down tubes. This creates a kind of 360-degree trough for the weld bead, making it easier for a less-than-expert welder to perform the weld correctly. Afterward, there’s less grinding away of material.

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The frame is anodized to keep weight down while giving the bike a stylish finish. You can see the Smartweld as a vertical stripe in the top and down tubes. While the Smartweld is ground smooth, the other welds on the frame, such as those at the bottom bracket, have the traditional look of a Dynafiled weld bead.

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Specialized is offering an S-Works edition of the Allez and the frame, rather incredibly, bears a claimed weight of only 1060g for a 56cm frame. I rode both the  S-Works version as well as the Comp. The Comp has a mostly 105 drivetrain with an FSA crank and retails for $1350. The S-Works version featured the 11-sp. Dura-Ace group, and while last year’s bike was $7k, there’s no word yet on what this year’s version will go for. And yes, Virginia, that is a lot of money for an aluminum bike.

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What I can say about the ride quality of the two bikes is that they are impressive. The Comp was as good as anything I’ve ridden in the past, while the S-Works was easily the finest-riding aluminum frame I’ve encountered. Because there are multiple price points for this bike, the tube sets vary some as well. I’ll go as far as to say that I preferred the ride of the S-Works Allez to some carbon frames I’ve been on. What I can’t really speak to is just how stiff the bike is in torsion. While I made some efforts, they were so compromised by the altitude I doubt I generated 200 watts on any of them. It’s possible this bike won’t be quite as impressive if I take it on a sea level group ride.

My first day-and-a-half of riding left me with the desire to spend more time on the Venge and the Allez. I’ll be honest and say that I find S-Works stuff far more interesting (and satisfying) to ride. The pricier bikes simple feel better as I ride them and that has nothing to do with how much better a Dura-Ace shifter functions as compared to a 105 (and the difference is dramatic).

That said, I’m aware that not everyone has enjoyed the benefits of President Reagan’s trickle-down economics (maybe because it didn’t work), meaning not everyone is going to spend $5k (or more) on a bicycle. Most folks have the good sense to own a home and have a college fund for their kids, which means a $14,000 bike is a recipe for nothing so much as a divorce. I anticipate I’m going to revisit both the Venge and the Allez in a longer review, even though the rides I did at the press intro were supposed to cure me of that urge. Go figure. My sense is that if I was still racing, rather than risk killing an expensive carbon frame in a crash during a crit, I’d purchase something like an Allez or a Cannondale CAAD10.

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13 comments

  1. RPB

    Have not been much of a Big S fan in the past, but I recently built up a Crux Pro (with Ultegra di2 and the TRP Hy/Rd discs–CX season’s coming!) and I have to admit I am hugely impressed. I could ride that thing every day, dirt, road, whatever. I hide my head in shame when I walk past the Bianchi in the garage. Specialized is making some pretty cool stuff right now; I look forward to your in-depth reviews.

  2. LesB

    ” rather than risk killing an expensive carbon frame in a crash during a crit, I’d purchase something like an Allez or a Cannondale CAAD10.”

    Korrekt me if I’m wrong, but I understand that unlike carbon frames, the new generation of thin-walled aluminum frames are not repairable.

  3. Sam Findley

    Yeah, but if you crash anything hard enough, you ain’t fixing it. I’d rather that happen to a 1500 bike than to a 7000 bike. Besides that, I always feel that crash 4′s like me benefit more from a swank wheel set than a swank frame.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Sam, Les: My thinking on crashing aluminum vs. carbon is that if I’m going to kill a frame in a crash, and I’m assuming that crashing most carbon and most aluminum bikes will kill the, that it will be cheaper to replace the aluminum frame. The S-Works Allez throws something of a wrench in that idea, but there are less expensive versions available. Fixing an aluminum frame isn’t on my mind. And while carbon can be repaired, in the event of a bad crash in a race, I’d be too concerned about other, hard-to-find damage to want to get it repaired.

  4. LesB

    “Yeah, but if you crash anything hard enough, you ain’t fixing it.”

    If I crash a bike that hard, I may end up unfixable. Yikes!

  5. bigwagon

    Anything can get broken in a crash. I’d prefer to race on stuff I won’t be crying over if I have to replace it. I know two guys who wrecked brand-new carbon wheels in crits this year (HED and Enve). I don’t care how much the marginal gain in aero is, tossing a grand down the drain to win a pair of socks in a prime or 50 bucks for a win ain’t worth it to me. I dinged up my CAAD10 pretty good in a crash this year and it’s still going strong.

  6. harry meatmotor

    The real trick is picking up the Allez as a frameset – $880 retail i believe. pretty hard to beat that for sub 1,100 grams (claimed).

  7. Joe

    You mention the Allez Comp has mostly 105 components, but the 2014 catalog and the S website says Tiagra. I thought this downgrade to Tiagra was weird because the 2013 Allez Comp Mid-Compact has a mix of 105 and Tiagra components, and is $1450 (compared to $1350 for the ’14 Comp). For comparison the 2014 Race carries 105 group, just like the ’13 Race 105, and both retail for $1700. So I was a little disappointed to see a downgraded group for the Comp.

    Either way, the Allez Comp now wears the Smartweld frame (although I don’t believe it is identical to the Allez Race frame, they have slightly different descriptions on the website), and this definitely should be an upgrade from the ’13 Comp.

    The ’14 Allez Comp seems perfect for someone who is looking to buy a bike with a frame that is worth upgrading components on, but even without upgrades it would be a bike that they could ride for a very long time with room to grow into (skill wise).

  8. LesB

    Enter the Cannondale Synapse into the stiffer/more comfy sweepstakes.

    Road Bike Action Mag had a preliminary review of this good-looker in their July issue. It would be of interest of me if you (Padraig) were to have the chance to review this bike so that comparisons could be made to these Specialized bikes and the Seven Cycles bike described with much love in another posting of yours.

    As mentioned in the article, the Synapse is designed in the category of a race/comfort bike, but it’s enough of a race bike that Sagan took it on some wins. It’s innovations are a cool-looking split in the seatpost where it joins the BB, complex helix seatstays and internal seatpost binder. RBA will be doing a complete test in the future. Maybe you’ll have a chance to do at least a test ride at some time.

  9. richard mclamore

    i’ve got more than 25,000 miles on a 2011 allez e5. was riding an isaac before. chose the allez cuz after riding a bunch of carbon frames i couldn’t tell enuf difference between ‘em to justify the price. and, i figured i could crash 4 allezs and still be ahead of what i would have spent on a carbon frame.

    it’s a really good, reliable, frame: i’ve raced it, ridden it on jeep-tracks, and pretty much every thing in between.

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