Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4, Part II

Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4, Part II

For Part I, click here.

Evaluating road feel
In the past year I’ve ridden roughly a dozen different bikes for 50 miles or more—enough to get pretty familiar with them. Of those bikes (some of them will be coming through in other reviews I’ve yet to write), the Roubaix proved to be among the easiest to fit to me.

I’ve heard people at Specialized as well as a number of retailers mention the “new” geometry for the Roubaix. It’s a detail I repeated a few times until I actually looked at the geometry chart. Across its six sizes, the bike hasn’t changed by a millimeter. The only significant change I can see that will affect the bike’s handling is that I’m not seeing the bike with that long, conic top cap anymore (and followed by three or four centimeters of spacers). And despite continued assertions by others, I’ve verified this with the manufacturer. No change in the head tube length.

IMG_6532

So while the geometry of the Roubaix remains unchanged, that doesn’t mean this bike hasn’t evolved significantly. The SL4 iteration of the Roubaix introduces yet another expression of the Zertz technology. Where previously the Zertz inserts were inserted into openings molded into the fork and seatstays and were held in place by their contours, they now wrap around the fork blades and seatstays and are secured with small bolts. This change has a two-fold effect; first, it eliminates the extra material required to form those openings, making the bike lighter and, second, the new attachment method has resulted in improved vibration reduction, according to testing that Specialized performed.

Specialized added a new new seatpost, the CG-R that cantilevers the seat clamp in order to create more of a pivot action with the carbon arm that holds the clamp supported by a high-durometer Zertz damper. The combination of Zertz dampers in both the seatpost and seatstays means that even less vibration is being transmitted to the rider’s hindquarters than ever before.

IMG_6536

While Specialized claims that the CG-R offers a whopping 18mm of suspension action, I have my doubts that I got even a full centimeter of travel. So while I quibble with that number, I’d hate for that to obscure the fact that this seatpost does cushion the ride, and I can say that because I tried the Roubaix without that seatpost and I tried that seatpost in another bike; it definitely changes what you feel at the saddle.

I can tell you that this bike was built with Specialized’s FACT 11r construction, but the simple reality is that having typed those words, they don’t really mean anything. This business of constantly coming up with arcane nomenclature mostly doesn’t serve the consumer that well because it doesn’t do anything to enable a consumer to make an apples-to-apples comparison of different bikes. What I can tell you is this: as Specialized has moved from FACT 9r to FACT 10r and now FACT 11r, those jumps have been meaningful enough that they’ve translated to bikes that were stiffer under pedaling forces, lighter and arguably stronger, given that I can report anecdotally I saw fewer riders taking their bikes back to the dealer for frame cracks.

More important are the lengths Specialized had gone to optimize the ride quality for each size. It’s not uncommon for a brand to use the same chainstays or the same wishbone seatstay and the same fork for every single model. By varying tube diameter and layup for each size bike, the Roubaix is one of a select group of bikes that offers such a tuned ride.

IMG_6539

The S-Works Roubaix SL4 is a far cry from the original Roubaix. Honestly, all they really share is geometry. My sense is that the S-Works SL4 conveys a similar amount of vibration to the rider as the original Roubaix, though I have to grant I haven’t been able to go back and ride one of the original bikes to verify that assertion. But I’m willing to put that out there because I know that as frames see weight reductions thanks to better compaction, using superior fibers and cutting the amount of material used, those advancements cause more vibration to move through the frame. In short, the very features that cause the Roubaix to be a better bike today are the wrinkles that make shielding a rider from vibration ever more difficult. Just treading water in this game is a win.

The upshot is that this is one of the most comfortable bikes on the market, easily in my top three, when considered for vibration damping. What truly sets the Roubaix apart from other bikes in its class is that it still has the performance of a sport (or “racing”) bike. As much as I really like the live-wire feel of a bike that makes no effort to shield the rider from vibration, there is something positively welcoming to climbing on the Roubaix. As I’ve put it previously, we may dream of owning a Ferrari, but you would probably prefer to stick with a Lexus for your daily driver. Honestly, smooth sells itself.

IMG_6538

Handling
As I mentioned in Part I of my review, the geometry on the Roubaix hasn’t changed since the model was launched, but this bike is a marked improvement over the original. Several features contribute to that evolution and improvement. Because the bike is both stiffer and lighter now, that improved feedback in handling and reduced mass means it’s easier to ride the bike aggressively. By spec’ing the bike with Roval carbon fiber clinchers and new, lighter Roubaix tires, it’s easier to dive into turns, which allowed me to compensate some for the calm handling, which is imparted by the long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. So, while Roubaix has only 5.6cm of train in the 56cm size, a bit less than its Italian predecessors, its 101cm wheelbase and 7.15cm of BB drop are what give this bike its deliberate demeanor.

When you combine the Roubaix’s ability to smooth out roads and impart confidence to a rider, what you get is a bike that is my preferred ride for rough descents. That’s a quality that is particularly useful in the Sierra where many of the descents feature wide-open turns on surfaces that are sometimes—well, let’s just say I’ve been on smoother fire roads.

Because the Zertz are dead weight in the frame, in order to present a 14.3-lb. bike, Specialized had to pull out essentially all the stops. Details like hollow dropouts, longer fiber runs, and more size-specific features, such as 1 1/8″ steerers in the smallest frames, 1 1/4″ in the mid-sized frames and 1 3/8″ in the largest sizes; this also aids rider comfort.

On the parts side, my bike was equipped SRAM Red as well as an S-Works bar and stem, plus the aforementioned CG-R seatpost. An S-Works crank is substituted for the Red unit. The Roval Rapide CLX 40s with Ceramicspeed bearings follow the example of Zipp’s Firecrest and Enve’s SES wheels which are designed around the idea using the spoke bed as a second leading edge. The way these wheels handled in the wind only served to confirm my previous experience that this rim shape makes a big difference, sending markedly less steering input to the rider than traditional deep-V designs. That said, braking performance was decidedly lacking. It was better than an aluminum rim in wet conditions, but it was far less than I’ve come to (reasonably) expect from a set of carbon clinchers.

My review bike, which included mechanical calipers carried a retail of $8000. Specialized supplanted this version with models sporting either SRAM’s hydro road rim brake or the hydro road disc, which run $500 more. Unfortunately, due to SRAM’s recall of those brakes, those bikes aren’t available in exactly those configurations currently. You may find them on the shop floor; SRAM is providing mechanical disks (cable-actuated) for all those who really can’t wait to have a disc version.

An $8k bike is more than many of us can afford, but here again, Specialized sets itself apart from many of its competitors by offering a stunning 15 different versions of this bike, from the $10,500 Dura-Ace Di2-equipped bike all the way down to an $1800-version. Very few companies come anywhere near this level of selection.

Specialized has taken some hits to its reputation in the last few years, first with the lawsuit against Volagi, then with the C&D letter to Cafe Roubaix. In both situations both parties claimed victory; whether that was true was really a matter of perspective. What was certain for all to see was the hit Specialized’s public image took. It’s a shame that ill-handled actions on the part of Specialized’s legal team should obscure the achievement on the part of the company’s product team. This is one fantastic bike.

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25 comments

  1. Darwin

    That seatpost has a weight limit by the way and I am over it so had to remove it right away when I bought mine. I think it is 200 lbs.

    1. Roumeliotis

      Trust me, I weigh 117 kg, I ride this beauty in greece, which means punishing terrain like you can’t even imagine, and the frame and the seatpost has no problem at all over almost a year by now!

  2. Dean

    This bike strikes me as a great fondo ride. I’m deciding between my Tarmac or Crux for the Battenkill. This would be a great compromise! …..but I’ll probably ride the Crux.

  3. Mike

    Well done, especially the conclusion. Specialized produces great bikes, no doubt. After test riding all the obvious performance options this year while shopping for a new road bike, it came down to the Tarmac and R5. Could’ve gone either way and been happy with the machine, but when it came time to write the big check I was not comfortable giving my money to Specialized after their recent legal escapades. I know it’s business and I know my reasoning may be simplistic, but like Charles Pelkey, I @#$%ing hate bullies. I now ride an R5.

  4. Gummee!

    I owned a ’10 model year Roubaix. LOVED the ride. All the snap of a Tarmac with the silky smooth ride that’s great for long training rides on somewhat less than perfect pavement.

    If the HT hadn’t been so long, I’d still have it.

    So… Specialized, why not make a Roubaix for those of us that DO race? ‘Team length’ head tubes please! (I know you’ve done it in the past)

  5. Old Man

    So Padraig, if you’re looking for a comfortable but reasonably sharp ride, how would you go about choosing between something like say a Roubaix vs a Moots, for example?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: thanks for your comments. Keep ‘em coming.

      Mike: I understand and respect that people are pissed at Specialized for the fiasco with Cafe Roubaix. I do what I can to try to keep it in perspective, which is to say that I’ve got a bunch of Apple products in my home. Both Apple and Microsoft play a much higher-stakes version of hardball than Specialized does, so I suspect that if we were to be consistent in our application of not doing business with bullies, none of us would have computers. I buy Apple because I like their products, but I’ll never be wild about some of their business tactics.

      Old Man: You’ve just posed the classic bike dilemma. The answer is, you can’t screw this up. There’s no wrong answer when those are the choices. I really love the Vamoots (you can read my review here and here). That said, I really like the fit, weight and ride quality of the Roubaix, so today I’d pick the Roubaix, but next week, it might be the Moots.

  6. JB

    Look forward to seeing your thoughts. (Also on H1 vs H2 geometry – a true “race” comfort bike?)

    Spending most of my time on a ’12 Tarmac or a ’10 CAAD8, and the years aren’t getting any kinder, so the next bike will probably be something more forgiving!

  7. RichInMV

    Padraig,I have three bikes and am over 55+ so getting more “sensitive” to ride quality. I tend to do longish rides (80-120 miles), so this becomes important in terms of ride fatigue over 6-8 hours. My three bikes represent an interesting mix of ride and handling, and surprisingly, all three are (relatively) similar geometry, so that’s somewhat controlled for. My Seven Elium is a mix of carbon and titanium, and was my benchmark for smooth and comfortable, and somewhat stiff (though not crazy stiff) laterally. My Parlee Z5 is very “lively” but I’ve realized (after a few thousand miles on the Seven) that this accounts for fatigue after 4-5 hours in the saddle, even with HED Belgium wheels and Vittoria Pave 24mm tires (which are on both bikes, so controlled for wheels/tires). The biggest surprise was (after winning this as a prize!) my new 2014 Specialized Tarmac – I expected it to be a “full race” ride and handling package, and have been pretty amazed at the ride comfort (with Zipp 202′s and Zipp Tangente (made by Vittoria, I think) tires. It rivals the Seven for smoothness, is WAY stiffer than either of the other two bikes, but is as comfortable at 6+ hours as the Seven, and WAY more comfortable AND stiffer than the Parlee. So for those others out there looking for a “comfortable race bike” – I don’t think it’s an oxymoron with the right wheels and tires.

  8. Jay

    I agree with your assessment of the Roubaix. It is everything that you say and then some. I have ridden one since 2010, but it is the bike that I have liked most of all that I have owned. I have told the guy at my LBS that this is the Specialized model best suited to his clientele. In my opinion it is the best all-around bike in their line-up. If you really want to smooth out the ride, put some 700×28 tires on it. The ride is even better and it just as fast (at least for the average rider).

  9. jprumm

    I had been kicking around the idea of a endurance race bike for a couple of years. I was stuck on the word endurance equating it to not really a race bike. I live in a very small town with one bike shop that sells trek’s. The owner is my best friend and riding partner so I popped for the Domane with DA. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. I actually feel fresher after long rides and PR’ed some local climbs. It did take a bit more time to dial in my position. My mind has been forever changed. I just wish I could try a few other companies endurance bike.

  10. Aar

    Trailing off of RichlnMV’s comments, my day-to-day ride is an S-Works Roubaix SL3 and I love everything about it. At a recent demo, I took the opportunity to ride a Roubaix SL4, Tarmac SL4 and a Venge. My greatest surprise from this exercise was the ride quality of the Tarmac. I found the Tarmac to be only slightly harsher than either Roubaix. However, to Padraig’s point, I found the handling of the Tarmac to be much quicker and to require more attention than the Roubaix – to then point that I am appreciably happier with a Roubaix on descents.

    My second greatest surprise was the acceleration and speed retention of the Venge (it’s wheels were aero and heavier than the other bike’s non-aero wheels). However, for me, the Venge’s ride was very harsh in that bumps I don’t even notice on a Roubaix are enough to be a handling matter on the Venge. So, for adding a bike with different character to my quiver, I would definitely consider adding an aero road bike instead of another endurance bike.

    So, that brings up the question of which delivers the superior long ride fatigue payoff – the lower power usage of an aero road bike or the superior ride quality of an endurance bike? My friends are divided into those camps and I’d love to see some editorial commentary to that point.

    In the end, I’d much rather have a “one bike quiver” aero endurance bike. Is composite material science and wind tunnel shaping experience to the point that a bike as aero as a Venge can deliver the Roubaix’ ride quality in the near future? Alternatively, are bikes like the Bianchi Infinito or Giant Propel already there? Do we need to wait for Specialized to put the Roubaix in their wind tunnel and pop out the Roubaix SL5? Would popping aero wheels on my Roubaix SL3 deliver the majority of that payoff? Padraig, I’d love to see you address matters like these as you compose your reviews this year.

  11. marvo larvo

    I’m a Zerts sceptic. Does the bike ride any different without them (now that the are removable) and not even part of the frame? (wraparound sounds the same as bolt on)
    I’m not an engineer, but shouldn’t manipulations in tube shape and carbon selection and layup allow for better and lighter vibration dampening?

  12. Aar

    Marvo: Take a look at Kirk Frameworks’ Terraplane seat stays and, if you can find it in a web search, the work he did at Serotta with and seat stay shaping with and without elastomers. Then compare it to the shaping of Specialized’s Roubaix SL2 and SL3 seat stays. I think you will see too much similarity to deny. That would argue against Zertz’ suspension function.

    On the other hand, take a look at the external VAS system used in Rossignol skis from the 1980′s into the early 2000′s and a few other systems that escape me at the moment. Those would argue for Zertz’ vibration dampening function.

    Also, take a look at Cannondale’s SAVE stays and Bianchi’s internal laminate vibration dampening composite structures. I have no experience with either and just accept their function on face value. Those indicate that vibration dampening and, maybe, suspension can be accomplished through use of fibers like kevlar and spectra in composite structures.

    So, I suspect that Zertz work and they also serve as much of a marketing function as an ISO Speed coupler. It is likely that Specialized’s Roubaix and Trek’s Domane could have accomplished the same suspension and vibration dampening without those features. A feature you can touch, fell and see sells better than one you need to accept on faith. My guess is that the functional penalty is that the Roubaix and Domane are slightly heavier with these features than with the same results accomplished through tube shaping and composite structures.

  13. Full Monte

    What’s interesting about the Zertz dampeners is that this technology has existed, of all places, in archery for the better part of a decade.

    Through my other hobby, archery/bowhunting, I’ve watched manufacturers battle vibration and shock for years. Mathews Archery of Wisconsin was a pioneer in the compound bow market, first by changing the geometry of the bow (long riser, parallel limbs) and then by adding dampeners into the frame, on the limbs, and even on the string/cables. Every other bow manufacturer has followed suit.

    A bow, when shot, is under a great amount of stress. The limbs snap back to their original position. The string flies forward and launches the arrow. For the archer, there can be a lot of vibration and hand shot (think “ptwaaaaaangggggg!). By incorporating Zertz type inserts and add-ons (in archery, the main manufacturer for these products is LimbSavers), strategically placed soft rubber bits dampen much of the vibration (initial shock, and shock duration).

    To Aar’s point, yes, a bit of the LimbSaver and dampener technology in archery is marketing, and I would suspect that there’s at least some sizzle, rather than all steak, to Zertz as well. However, in archery, dampening technology is now regarded as part of the price of entry. Nobody would launch a new bow without some form of it — it does work. Kudos for Specialized for further exploring this technology on bikes as well. Come spring, I’ll see if my bike store has a Roubaix demo and see just how well it works.

  14. CBJ

    Nice review!

    I have a Tarmac SL4 Sworks but have just purchased a SL3 Roubaix Sworks and after reading this I am even more looking forward to riding the bike. I am changing bikes as I found out I do not fit the Tarmac very well. Long legs and short upper body so I need a tall HT. Funny thing is the geo and with a short stem as I will ride it reminds me a lot of the latest geo trend for mountain bikes. Should be a fun bike to ride.

  15. Geoff

    I understand that Spec has to limit the BB drop due to CPSC regs. If one wanted to take the Roubaix geo and, being exempt from having to worry about the CPSC, increased the BB drop to 80mm in the smaller sizes, would any adjustments have to be made elsewhere to compensate? I am assuming that this would slightly reduce the wheelbase as CS and FC measurements are point to point measures, with lower x components as the y increased due to the increased BB drop, whilst the wheelbase is still measured in the horizontal plane.

    Would the increased stability of the lower BB offset the slight decrease in wheelbase?

    Generally wondering if the Roubaix geo would be tweaked for further optimization if the CPSC BB height requirement were not a factor.

    Cheers,
    Geoff

  16. Vincent

    I am the original owner of a 2007 S-Works Roubaix. Simply put this the best road bike I have ever owned. The bike is so good since 2007 I have never felt the need to purchase a newer model of the frame. My bike is Dura Ace, with Zipp 404’s and tips the scale at 16.4 lbs. I could have easily built to weight 15 lbs, but I choose comfort over light weight. Items like my Carbon K-Wing handle bar weigh more. My bike is comfortable and fast. When I show up for the group ride the bike gets lots of compliments. Guys my height in my group ask for a quick parking lot spin and come back with ear to ear smiles. One guy in my group who took the a quick spin, dumped his Look and switched to the Roubaix. When they look at the bike they see the high head tube, long wheel base and zertz inserts, but after the quick spin they are believers. My group has mostly all high end bikes. Colnagos, Trek Madones, Look, Masi, Guru, and Seven are some of the brands that you will see at our group rides. At this point they are now 5 S-Works Roubaix with more guys hinting that they next bike will be more along the lines of a fast bike with comfortable geometry. During our groups rides people have now seen that you do not have to compromise between speed and comfort. When we get back from our long days, they see that the body of Roubaix riders are fresher and our head , neck, and shoulders are not as tense as theirs are. The secret to building a great Roubaix is too spec the build just like you where trying to build an ultra light race grade S-Works Tarmac. Dont go easy on a Roubaix because it is a relaxed angle frame. The Roubaix like to be hammered just like anyother high end race frame. The only thing I find different between my S-Works Roubaix and My S-Works E5 Acuqa Sapone Team frame is that the Roubaix requires a little planning on your entrance and exits into tight corners and hairpin turns. After a couple weeks of ridding it becomes normal and you no longer think about it. The Roubaix’s comfort rewards you on long climbs and pace-lines, because you can just settle in and spin, the long wheel base makes the handling much easier on fast descents. Once you have been out on a ride for longer than 2 hours you will be glad you are on a Roubaix, by the 3rd hour and beyond you will very glad you are on Roubaix. I plan to replace my 2007 S-Works Roubaix frame in the next year or two, just waiting for Specialized S-Works to do a major upgrade or over haul to the frame. Until then I will keep enjoying the one I have.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Vincent: The difference between your Roubaix (which I’ve ridden) and the S-Works SL4 does constitute a major overhaul. That said, if the big red S sticks with its current production cycle, you can expect to see an SL5 in 2015.

  17. Vincent

    Padraig. As I advised in the my previous comment, I am waiting for S-Works / Specialized to do a major overhaul before I purchase a new frame. Part of what I am waiting for is for them to produce an award winning frame. When the magazines use to do End Of The Year Awards, the Roubaix use to win this category hands down. In recent years it seems that they have been beaten by other companies. Do you think 2105 will be the year that Specialized does a major design change that will allow them to go back to being the top bike in this class. Right now bikes like the Giant Defy, Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Black Inc. and the Pinarello ROKH all have beat the S-Works Roubaix in comparison test. The Colnago CX Zero looks like it could be a great bike as well. Padraig do think that Specialized will rework the Roubaix to make it a top of the line performing frame compared to other bikes in it’s class. That is the frame I am waiting for. I see Specialized has done a great job reworking the Tarmac. Do you think the 2015 Roubaix will get the same treatment to make it a class leading frame again? Also what kind of changes do you think they will make to the frame?

  18. Colin McCaughey

    This is very interesting stuff gents, please keep it going. I have 2x Roubaix’s in my garage, a 2012 SL3 Pro, now with all DA running gear and a 2014 SL4 Sport Compact for the training and winter weather riding. I am a big guy at 6 ft 1″ and 240lbs, recovering from a broken back(amongst other things, after loosing a head on with a 4wd on my motorcycle) and i wanted a measure of comfort when the time came for my first carbon framed bike.

    When i bought the SL3 at the beginning of last year, it ended up a straight fight between a DI2 Equiped 013 model Trek Domane 5.9 and the 012 model Roubaix SL3 (both being sold as new, old stock). I had tried similarly priced Giants, Pinerello’s, Williers, Lapierre and a BH before the short list was made. Coming off an alloy framed, low end Giant, so both bikes on my short list felt great and it really was a flip of a coin. The decision was marginal, in that i felt there was a slightly better quality feel to the Roubaix and the selliing dealer spent way more time making the bike right for me before the demo. In saying that the Trek felt slightly lighter.

    So 5000 kms in on the SL3 and all is good and Saturday morning 30-40 km rides have become 50-60km rides, in the year and a bit i have owned it and i have a couple of metric ton’s under my belt as well.

    After a full winters riding, i decided to spend some money to make the SL3 all DA and to keep it for best and get a lower spec bike for winter and all the mid week rides. And this is where it got very interesting, as everyone makes a 105 spec bike(or equivalent), so lots of choice. I trawled all the forums and with what i learned from buying the SL3, it pretty quickly got narrowed down to the Roubaix SL4 Sport Compact, Cervelo R3 and a new old stock Domane 4.7 (with Ultegra not 105). All 3 dealers were given my SL3 for basic set up/fit dimensions and to fit my own saddle and pedals. All 3 bikes were ridden on the same day, virtually back to back and the results surprised me, in that it was so clear cut i nthe end.

    The Trek felt awful, right from the off and i even went back to LBS twice, to have him check things like tyres pressures, seat height etc. It was terrible compared to the 5.9 i had ridden 12 months earlier. It was not comfortable, rattled and vibrated and just did not get along the road very well at all. It got struck off the list right away.
    The Cervelo R3 felt a bit more sporty and got along the road nicely and had a nice quality feel to it, but i was unsure i’d want more than a couple of hours on it. i did not dismiss it right away, but went to ride the Roubaix first.
    Its maybe unfair on the others, but the Roubaix SL4 Sport just felt right straight away, even tho there are slight differences in the 012 SL3 and 014 SL4 frames(headtube height for example). It was compliant, had a quality feel (even at 1/2 the price of the SL3) amd other than a slight more “tinny” or “hollow” feel compared to my SL3, made me feel right at home. Not to jump to conclusions, i went back and rode the Cervelo for a 2nd time and that really made the decision an easy one. Clearly my backside has become Roubaix’tised and thats just fine with me. I fancy the R3 would make a nice bike for a 40km Sportif, on smooth roads, but not for what i want it for.
    So the SL4 Sport has been with me nearly 6 months now and other that some shifting issues, has done all i ask and i don;t get so precious when the weather is not the best and the bike gets covered in sand and grit. Its starting to wear some of the ultegra bits coming of the SL3, as they have been upgraded to DA. That might be part of the shifting issue, as its now a mix of Ultegra and 105. As and when i find the rest of the Ultegra parts at good money(i love ebay and clearance sales), the SL4 will become all ultegra and the 105 and FSA bikts will get moved along. The SL3 is more comfortable than the SL4 on rides over say 90mins, but that may be to do with the different wheels and the fact theres no Zertz insert on the SL4 seatpost.

    So heres where i’d like some advice. The only upgrade left for me on the Roubaix’s, is to go S Works and even with run out sales on last years frames, thats still a $2700-3000 investment. Would i go further, faster, easier on an S Works frame than i would on either of my other bikes? I have started doing the local Sportif time trials and do wonder if a Tarmac would better for the shorter distance events, whereas i was glad i was on the SL3 for Sundays 80kms, on some roughish roads.
    Anyone got any comparisons for frame geometry between say a 2012 SL3 Pro frame and a 2014 SL4 S works frame?

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