Specialized Unveils the New Tarmac

Specialized Unveils the New Tarmac

Consumerism is one of the realities of modern American life that gives me a rash. Buying something just because it’s new or because some cool person has it has never held any sway over me. I’m not against great technology—I do have the iPhone 5s—but with most technology I upgrade every other generation or less, basically only after the improvements are so numerous that my old tech begins to struggle with all the software. However, if there’s little or no software involved, I’ll hold on to something for years if it’s working well. My car model has been redesigned twice since my edition hit the road … 130,000 miles ago.

I’ve had an inconsistent relationship with new bike tech. I thought 8-speed drivetrains and integrated control levers were stupid. But I was perfectly okay with 9-, 10- and 11-speed. I favored titanium and steel over carbon fiber until the composite frames were too good to ignore. Don’t get me started on electronic shifting and disc brakes, will ya? I don’t want to spend this post dining on Corvus brachyrhynchos.


Which brings us to the subject of this post, the new Specialized Tarmac. The idea of an S-Works SL5 didn’t interest me. I don’t want a new bike just to have a new bike. When I asked ahead of the intro if they’d worked with McLaren on this bike, the phone went silent. Oh, well in that case, count me in.

Until now, Specialized had been on a two-year development cycle with the Tarmac and Roubaix, introducing new Tarmacs in odd years and Roubaix in even ones. This latest edition of the Tarmac took a bit longer to develop than the previous iterations, though. The big reason for this is Specialized’s relationship with McLaren. Thanks to McLaren Applied Technologies, Specialized was able to put new tools to use in the design of this Tarmac. The tools came in the form of both hardware for data capture and software for data analysis. The upshot is that for the first time since introducing the Tarmac, Specialized had the tools not just to make an iterative improvement to the frame and fork, but to rethink it from the ground up.


The progression of the Tarmac is an interesting one, and probably emblematic for at least some of the companies out there, but for now I’m going to focus on the changes to the Tarmac in broad strokes. I’ll drill down more deeply when I do a full review of this bike later this year.

With the new Tarmac, Specialized is using the tag line “rider first engineered.” By this they are referring to their effort to design each size of bike as if it were a model in its own right. Normally, what bike companies do is design a 56 and then extrapolate up and down the size range for what the tube size, layup and resulting stiffness should be. The new philosophy of “rider first” is a huge improvement over most carbon fiber bikes on the market. Compared to how carbon fiber bikes were being made in the 1990s and early 2000s—when most models were plagued with a reputation for a terrific 56, great 54s and 58s, small bikes that were too stiff and a 61 that rode like freshly cooked pasta—these new designs make of joke of that era’s engineering.


In designing the new Tarmac, Specialized was able undertake the task of making sure that the both the 49 and the 61 felt just like the 56, giving riders a consistent experience, no matter what their height. To do that, they had to produce sample bikes for each size. It’s a level of prototyping I’ve never heard another company undertake. Not only did they produce those bikes and test them in the lab, they went out and rode them and collected data with the help of the hardware from McLaren and then analyzed that telemetry with the help of the software from the British manufacturer. It can be said that McLaren is in many ways a technology company rather than just a car company.

The root problem that Specialized discovered was that for every 10 percent you raised a rider’s center of gravity, you increased loads by 18 percent. It’s a relatively simple piece of math, but it’s an equation that no one knew until Specialized and McLaren worked it out. Specialized’s engineers have long maintained that rider position has a bigger effect on handling and flex than rider weight and this math finally proves them right. The upshot is that the smallest frames have surprisingly small diameter tubes—almost like oversize steel—while the down tube on the 61 looks like a drainage culvert.


Yeah, but
While the size run and handling geometry remains unchanged, everything else about the bike is fresh. We spent two days riding the new Tarmac. I rode the 58, a size that I was told would show off the new bike’s best qualities. I wasn’t sure what to expect; The S-Works Tarmac SL4 is a pretty terrific machine. Following my first high-speed descent on the new Tarmac, I was willing to dismiss the SL4 the way I would some open-mold frame from China. The new Tarmac demonstrated to profound differences compared to its predecessor. The first was a matter of control. The new bike handles more precisely and consistently and that’s saying something as the old Tarmac is one of my favorite bikes on the market. The greater precision and consistency in handling owes to its other banner quality, namely, how smooth it rides. This bike has an ability to smooth road surfaces on a par with many company’s grand touring bikes. This thing might be as comfortable as the Roubaix.

There was no way to fool us into thinking the bike was better than it was. For the launch, we were based in Santa Cruz and rode into the mountains north of there for both days. The rides long, the climbs rough and steep and the descents ranged from screamers with placid pavement to hack jobs the required careful vigilance. I was in heaven.


The recurring theme I found was how because of the bike’s ability to smooth road surfaces and reduce road shock while still delivering enough high-frequency road vibration to let my hands know what was going on with the road, I often pedaled a lower gear at a high cadence. If a bike chatters over a road, I’ll shift up a gear so that my lower cadence reduces some of the bouncing. This was the opposite effect and it kept my legs fresher considering just how long and hard these rides were. If you’re friends with me on Strava, you can look up the rides “Holy Jeez” and “16 kinds of amazing” to see what we did.

Our final big descent of the rides was down San Jose Soquel Road. It’s a descent I’d done two other times, which means I had some familiarity, but was far from having it memorized. I knew the pavement was smooth and that I’d be able to follow our group in a full tuck. One of Specialized’s product managers, Don Langley—a masters World Champion and the dude for whom the Langster is named—led the way and I ended up posting a top-ten on Strava. I care less about a result on Strava than the idea that this bike may be helping me get my descending mojo back.


Did I mention
Specialized, you may have heard, has it’s own wind tunnel. Naturally, this bike received significant CFD treatment and was tested in the wind tunnel. While it’s no Venge, we were told this Tarmac is more aerodynamic than previous iterations.

The new Tarmac will come in a variety of spec, but one of the more interesting variants is a disc-brake, Di2 version. This ain’t your daddy’s road bike. Hell, this ain’t my first road bike. For all the resistance I’ve shown disc brakes, Shimano’s system with 140mm discs has all the stopping power of Dura-Ace calipers with better modulation. I’d prefer this version to the full mechanical Dura-Ace. There, I’ve said it.


On day two (16 kinds of amazing) we did six repeats of a road at the edge of Scotts Valley, Bean Creek. I did the first two descents on the Dura-Ace 9000 rim-brake bike, the next three descents on the disc-brake bike and the final descent back on the rim-brake bike. The road had enough broken pavement, sand and debris on it that I wasn’t willing to go all-out, but I did find that I was more willing to go into a corner hot and brake as late as my brain stem would allow with the R785 disc brakes.

Two days of riding isn’t enough for a full review, but it was enough to convince me that I’m desperate to get on this bike and ride it over roads I know intimately.


This is an arms-race sort of bike. It’s going to force other manufacturers vying for that spot at the top of lustful lists to work even harder. The biggest winners here will be those at the shallow ends of the bell curve, riders tall and small, but even those of us who are more traditionally proportioned will benefit.

I was concerned that this bike would also set off a new round of moon-shot pricing. Amazingly, that didn’t happen. The Di2, R785 hydraulic disc model with Roval Rapide carbon clinchers retails for $9500. That’s major cash, but honestly, I was scared it would go for $12k. The Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical bike with the same wheels will go for $8250. There will be five other versions; prices to come.

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  1. Rocket

    First your plug for Giro, now this ad for Specialized. If I wanted to read press releases I would go to Road Bike Action. Frankly I expect more from you and this site.

    1. Luke

      Rocket- question, It is possible that Padraig is reviewing truly impressive things and being honest about them?
      I work in the industry and have had the opportunity to use some products that were huge leaps above and beyond the already great products they replaced. I haven’t personally ridden the new Tarmac, but I can certainly believe that they are capable of making a bike that is everything Padraig says here. Not to say that I love the big S as a company, or that I ride any of their bikes (I don’t), but I do sell a decent bit of their gear, and that is because they make high-level shoes/kits/pumps/etc and that puts them into the conversation for what my shop carries.

      Since I’m quite sure that YOU haven’t ridden this bike, maybe give the person who has ridden it a bit of slack?
      There are probably 3 companies in the industry I’d believe could make this kind of investment in full-spectrum bike design, and the S is one of them. I’ll probably ride one of these at some point and then make my own judgements- but for my $0.02 worth, I’ve never found my opinions of product testing for what I carry & sell to be wildly different than the author’s (his review of the Focus was a great case in point), so he has at least earned my trust until proven wrong.

    2. Alan

      You should ask for your money back. You’ve clearly been duped.

      (Disclosure: I also ride a Specialized. 2 of them now)

    3. Jeremy W

      Apparently you weren’t around during the Cafe Roubaix scandal. This website did not have too kind of words for Specialized. If you haven’t noticed Padraig doesn’t review things based on data, specs, and weight, but rather the feelings he gets from riding when using them.

    4. Darwin

      Hey Alan, buying a Specialized bike or two as I have done does not mean I drank the Kool-aid. I am still capable of critical thinking and don’t have to blindly justify every purchase I have made. Imagine that.

    5. Author

      Darwin: Given the hostility and snark that recurs in your comments, I’d like you to remind you of our commenting guidelines. This is a space for reasoned discourse.

      Here’s a link: http://rkp.wpengine.com/about/comment-faq/

      That said, if you don’t like (or respect) the content here, then I’d encourage you to go somewhere else. The snark and negativity is tiresome.

  2. peter lin

    I look forward to the full review. I’ve been thinking of saving up for a tarmac, and this just wet my appetite.

  3. peter lin

    I just went to specialized.com and noticed the picture they used for kids bike looks very familiar!

  4. AA

    Hi. I normally read your articles with interest. However I must say that I was disappointed by the lack of critical insight. It reads like marketing script. I’m no pro but even I was able to question a few claims. For example:

    IF you don’t ride a very big or very small size frameset then, disc brakes aside, the bike is pretty much the same as the previous Tarmac SL4 in terms of geometry, carbon (11r) and technology. Therefore if you ride a 54 or 56 the machine is not really that different from the previous model launched 3 years ago. I expected better returns on the heavy R&D they claim to do.

    Others have rightly pointed out that they are generalizing size. They are assuming that somebody who rides a 56 and larger frame is a heavier rider. That may not hold. You could be taller and lighter, not necessarily heavier. What if you ride a 54 or 52 frame but are more muscular/heavier or prefer not to be stretched out on a bike? While “every 10 percent you raised a rider’s center of gravity, you increased loads by 18 percent” maybe correct, some serious cyclists I know deliberately choose larger sizes to be “stretched out”.

    A graph on their website illustrates that the “STEERING RESPONSE” of smaller frames has been reduced when compared to the SL4.

    Spesh’s marketing video claims “15-17% increased power transfer” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKZywmTsVnI#t=1077). If that is the case then why haven’t they provided size specific conventional tortional stiffness data to back it up instead of their new made up “rear triangle stiffness” and “steering responsiveness” metrics. I have a feeling they have changed this because in terms of conventional tortional stiffness it is no better than the old SL4. Spesh themselves used to claim on their website that power transfer is a function of bottom bracket stiffness and tortional stiffness (In fact Giant have been criticising how Spesh calculated it http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-gb/showcase/tcr/#videos but nonetheless they did present their tortional stiffness data!). Unfortunately, I am sceptical and await independent testing by Velo (Velo Lab) or Tour Magazine (most thorough and respected bike testing around).

  5. DJ

    Does this mean that if I already ride a 56 Spec. bike, that there won’t be too much of a discernable difference between the ’14 and ’15?

    1. Peter R

      I finally had a chance to ride the new S-Works Tarmac (non-disc) for an extended period of time. Currently, I have a 2013 S-Works Tarmac SL4 in a 56cm and a BMC GF01, both of which see equal usage. The SL4 was a warranty replacement for my 2011 S-Works SL3. I have gone through too many bikes in the last few years, and like to try everything new. The new Tarmac was no exception, and I was looking to justify why I needed to buy the new frame. I can honestly say that if I was blind-folded, or if I wasn’t allowed to look down at the frame, I could absolutely NOT tell the difference in the frames. Looking at the marketing info from Specialized and seeing their scale on the metrics shows that there is little difference between the old and new models, and this is what is being used to sell the new bikes. The extra inch of seat post that extends out of the frame isn’t enough to make a difference in comfort.
      Even though I want the latest and greatest, I can’t justify the new frame over the old. I will probably make a change when I really want to have disc brakes, but living in California, I don’t have to ride in wet conditions, so this hasn’t been a pressing issue.
      I can’t speak for the 58cm size, but the 56cm in the new Tarmac in the real world isn’t better than the SL4, and there are too many variables to tell any difference (e.g., road surface, tires, pressure, bar tape, handlebars, seat, wheels, fatigue, gloves, padding in the shorts, etc.) In fact, I did a bunch of back to back rides where I switched the wheels, measured the rides using my Garmin and Stages Power meter, and I found no difference.
      This is nothing bad, Specialized, like all companies, has to change the bike to generate sales, and consumers get good bikes, but we have gotten to the point of diminishing returns. This is not too dis-similar to what processor is in your computer. The new one is technically better, but who notices the difference?

  6. John K

    My first experience with disc brakes was on a new Scott 930 hard tail. My thought was, ok, now I get it. They worked beautifully. But the bloom went off the rose quickly, dragging, squeaking, and surprisingly frequent pad replacement that I don’t feel comfortable doing myself. (I am no mechanical ace.) Issues that I can put up with on my mountain bike but I feel would be intolerable on a road bike which I ride about 5x as often. I wonder how people will feel about the road discs long term. My other question is aerodynamics. Do they render null all the recent advances with aero wheels? Right now it does feel a little like marketing — making you feel not quite as good about the 10K bike you bought last year so you line up to by another one next year so you feel bad about that one when they FINALLY add ABS and traction control the year after.

  7. LesB

    For the last couple of years reviews in the cycling press has been rife with something akin to “Stiff handling but smooth riding.” So much so, the the stiff-and-smooth genre of bike seems now a Cliché. Every issue of Bicycling I expect to see at least one such description. And it seems to me a good turn that the technology is at the point that a bike of this nature not only exists now, but is widespread amongst brands.

    But as one who doesn’t ride a wide variety of bikes, it make me wonder how these s-but-s frames compare with each other. Are they all “just another one of those” or are some game-changers in the genre. I suppose a Consumers Report of cycling would make me happy in this regard, reducing comparisons of bicycle parameters to neat tables (Realizing here that a bike has a lot more nuanced than a washing machine and not so easily reduced to a spreadsheet).

    So, taking your review of the impressive Seven Cycles 622 slx, in which you wrote:
    “I haven’t ridden another bike that offered as vibration-free a ride while maintaining a lively, responsive nature.”

    And of the new Specialized Tarmac here, you swoon:
    “The recurring theme I found was how because of the bike’s ability to smooth road surfaces and reduce road shock while still delivering enough high-frequency road vibration to let my hands know what was going on with the road, I often pedaled a lower gear at a high cadence.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me you are saying approximately the same thing about the two bikes, only in different dialects. When I read each statement, I feel, “This is the bike I gotta get!”

    I don’t know it this is a fair or reasonable question, but for a frame of reference, could you Consumer-Reports-ize these statements and give some comparison of the two vehicles? It would give some frame of reference for those of us who don’t get to sample a lot of different bikes.

  8. MCH

    I’m excited about this bike. I’ve ridden Cervelos for the past 8 years (currently an R5), and am not a Specialized fanboy. I like that Specialized is applying technology in subtle, but meaningful new ways. Actually analyzing, quantifying, and optimizing ride quality?!? What other manufacturer does that? Analyzing and optimizing each frame size?!? Again, what other manufacturer does that? Some may dismiss the importance of this last point. As a rider of a 61, I’d say to any naysayers you don’t know WTF you’re talking about. If it is as good as reported, this is a really, really big deal.
    I also really like the integration of discs onto a top-end race bike. Sure, discs on road bikes are pretty common now. Specialized, I believe, is the first to mass produce a top-end race bike with them. Being first is always a big commercial risk. I commend them for it.

  9. CEB

    On another website with a forum, a former Zipp manager described briefly a test they ran in-house. Perhaps to test the ‘ridability’ of their wheels. They had carbon, aluminum and steel frames, and perfectly matching components. Every bar, saddle, wheel, tire, tire pressure, etc. Riders were NOT able to tell the difference. Only after seeing the frames (which were previously covered), could they start to discern differences. I believe this was originally done a number of years ago as well outside of Zipp by some materials engineers.

    Tell us about the new bikes. Love that stuff. Telling us how it rides is ridiculous. I like latex tubes. My road-feel is different the second it leaves the shop since the first thing I do is swap it out. What about all those guys who ride their race wheels? Different ride quality there too. 120lbs or 100lbs or pressure? Different. You prefer a particular saddle? Yep, different road feel for those people too. Thicker bar tape? Different tape? Gel insert under bar tape?

    As an aside. I had an aluminum Felt and traded up to a Tarmac. Great bike. Light. Looked cool. Potholes still felt like potholes. Cracks, still felt like cracks. And no, I was not faster. I ‘downgraded’ to a cheap Cannondale carbon frame, and had the best season ever. I’m going to ‘downgrade’ again to aluminum next year and expect an even better season. The only performance difference isin aero. Please tell us about that.

  10. Hype

    “Following my first high-speed descent on the new Tarmac, I was willing to dismiss the SL4 the way I would some open-mold frame from China.”

    Did you REALLY just compare the SL4, one of the most well regarded road bikes that was still winning on the Pro tour in 2014, to a open-mold frame from China? REALLY?!?!

    Ironic you start the article complaining of consumerism, yet write an article to fully support it…

    1. Author

      Everyone: It would be facile of me to dismiss all the negative and insulting comments as “haters gonna hate.” At a certain level, those comments merit nothing more than that. I will, however, give you the credit for expecting standards and critical thinking here at RKP. I suspect that writing anything positive about Specialized will gin some of you up in a lather and perhaps you’re stopping by here because VeloNews and some of the other outlets simply won’t put up with the BS comments anymore. Frankly, I don’t care. I went to the product intro because I’m always curious about new bikes. I’ll probably never stop being curious about new bikes. As to the criticism some of you made that I review based on “feelings,” yep, I do. Numbers are a way to design and build something, but you can’t ride by numbers. Riding is a human experience. The Focus Izalco Max was a bike that was all about the numbers and what could have been a great bike ended up being a really unpleasant bike to ride.

      Yes, I’ll grant that the “torsionally stiff but vertically compliant” line has become a complete cliché. However, there’s no changing that every bike company on the planet that actually employs engineers is working feverishly to crack exactly that nut. Did I call the Seven 622 slx and the new Tarmac the same thing by different language? No. Not even close. The thing the 622 does is damp vibration. It also has a fair amount more flex than the Tarmac. The Tarmac still allows a notable degree of high-frequency road vibration to come through the frame so the experience of the Tarmac on a rough road is quite different. The crux of the vertically compliant/torsionally stiff thing is that you want your bike’s wheels to track predictably but you don’t want every single bump launching your bike in the air. I rode a Look fork once that was so flexible that I had trouble controlling the bike on a descent I knew by heart. That’s feel, not numbers. Along similar lines, I’ve flexed one of the old True Temper forks enough (side deflection) that my tires have worn away a bit of clearcoat in the crown area. I don’t have numbers to support that assertion, but basic anecdotal evidence.

      Regarding discs, I’ve heard from an engineer with one of the bike companies that they tested one of their frames in a wind tunnel with calipers and with discs and found a negligible difference in aerodynamics. The biggest single difference they were able to note was a slight negative drag (sail effect) from the discs at high angles (crosswinds). It was, however, nothing they felt confident enough about as a performance benefit that they were willing to put in marketing copy, but they said the effect was definitely there. As to maintenance issues, changing disc brake pads is a simple operation, far quicker than replacing brake shoes on caliper brakes, at least, in my experience.

      And to the idea that anyone is going to improve their performance by downgrading the equipment they ride, that’s so demonstrably false, it’s laughable. If riding worse equipment yielded better results, we’d all still be on Schwinn Varsities.

      I could continue to address minor points here, but there’s a real bottom line. I write about bikes because I find them interesting. Full stop. I don’t give a shit whether anyone else thinks I’m chasing rampant consumerism because I know I’m not. What I’m chasing is a more seamless experience in a bike ride. I know that the less I think about the bike I’m on, the more it disappears beneath me, the more likely I will be able to enter a flow state and make the world go amazing. And the opposite is true as well. If I’m riding a junky bike, I’ll stay focused on the rotten shifting, the rough ride, the discomfort of my hands or my butt. What’s kind of sad about some of these comments is the incredible suspicion and mistrust that underlies them. I respect that many people think Specialized’s business practices are vile. Some of them are. I feel the same way about Apple, but I continue to use their computers, their tablet, their phone. We live in a problematic world; however, to equate some of Specialized’s business practices with making bad product, that the company would at some level attempt to cheat the consumer by selling them a product that deprives them of real value is just insanity. I wish I could hold an open house with a bunch of product engineers, not just from Specialized, but from Zipp, Shimano, Giro to give people a chance to see that these folks are bike geeks, no different from you or me. Given the chance to unleash their creativity, these people are chasing the best ideas they can muster.

    2. JMH

      He is using an analogy for emphasis. Had he written “I was willing to dismiss the SL4 like it was covered with warts,” that would not mean that it was literally covered with warts or that warts had similar handling characteristics or are capable of being ridden like bicycles.

  11. John K

    Certainly wasn’t trying to hate or point the consumerist finger at this website which I enjoy and look to for guidance. (took recent delivery of a beautiful custom steel bike with Dura Ace 9000 — swayed greatly by your excellent and thorough review of the gruppo) I was genuinely interested in people’s opinions on their day to day experience with the road discs. We’re all in the same consumer world and wouldn’t be reading this stuff if we weren’t interested in what was new. And by the way, my new steel bike? Stiff and compliant!

  12. harris

    I have no particular opinion about Specialized, having never owned one; I am not in the market for a new bike (or at least not one similar to a Tarmac or anything from another manufacturer like a Tarmac); probably won’t get a disc-equipped road bike for some time; and I don’t ride mechanical Shimano components much anymore; not remotely interested in purchasing electronic drivetrains.

    All that said, I enjoyed reading the review because now if I run into someone riding the new Tarmac, at least I can ask a few (semi)intelligent questions. I wish I got to test ride new equipment as a part of my job, because I surely won’t be racing it for a living.

    Thanks for the review, Padraig.

  13. rich

    I was going to say, Its a good thing the Tarmac left your rear un chewed because some or your readers sure took a bite.Look forward to a full review.

    1. Darwin

      Right..a review..not an ad. The actual reviews I have read say this bike is a little better than the existing Tarmac but not amazingly so.
      No, I’m not a Specialized hater since I own a 2014 Roubaix and am probably going to buy an SL 4 Tarmac as well.
      I guess Specialized is saying up to now they phoned in the design of different sizes up to now…like other carbon makers don’t do specific things for specific sizes…get real.
      Oh and Padraig for someone who claims they don’t care you sure speed a lot of venom saying how you don’t care. I really doubt all of us who saw this as marketing fluff somehow hate Specialized.

  14. Rocket

    What got me started was this quote from the other day when you spoke about riding a tandem with your son:
    “The other detail worth mentioning about these rides is that I do what I can to minimize the Captain Lycra look. I’ve been wearing Giro’s New Road apparel and a couple of casual pieces from Panache that will show up in a coming review. ” To me that seemed a completely unnecessary endorsement of clothing you had conveniently reviewed just days earlier.

    Now in this article you write: “The root problem that Specialized discovered was that for every 10 percent you raised a rider’s center of gravity, you increased loads by 18 percent. It’s a relatively simple piece of math, but it’s an equation that no one knew until Specialized and McLaren worked it out.” REALLY? They discovered it? Didn’t they also tell us the owned the trademark to Roubaix? I am very skeptical when we take ANY manufacturer’s claims as fact.

    Product reviews and personal observations are fine. For me your most personal writing is your best. So keep writing and I will keep reading because much of the stuff on this site is really good.

    1. Author

      Rocket: My post on tandeming with my son was a response to reader interest. I presented what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been using. Those are objective facts. An endorsement (which I wouldn’t mind giving the Giro New Road stuff, but that’s another matter), would have included something unabashedly positive, such as me claiming that it was better than stuff from Brand X. Or a preference for it over lycra, which isn’t the case. I’m not sure what you mean with your “conveniently” remark. Posts go up when they go up. If you think there’s some grand conspiracy to convince you to buy shit, you might want to talk to a professional. The equation I reference I’ve never heard anyone else talk about. I included it to be deliberately provocative; if some other company is aware of that math, I’d like to hear from them. My take is that it took McLaren’s expertise to find that out. Finally, your charge that Specialized claimed that they owned the trademark is not something I’m aware of. I don’t recall that claim being made. While I find it problematic, as a licensee of the trademark, they are apparently under the same responsibility to protect that mark or lose it. It puts Fuji in the enviable position of not having to lift a finger and make Specialized spend all the money on an overly aggressive legal team. Dude, there are enough Monsantos in the world to worry about. I’m in the bike biz because I believe in the people I get to write about. I’ve never written a positive piece about anyone who would put my safety at risk in favor of their profits. If you or anyone else can’t take me at my word on that point, I encourage you to read something else with less impeachable ethical standards. Again, I go back to the real point of the comments section here. This is a place for constructive conversation, a way to discuss what are often new ideas. As I wrote in the Commenting Guidelines, think of the comments as a paceline. You don’t have to pull through, but don’t screw it up for everyone else with paranoid suspicion.

  15. Larry T.

    Rider first? Does this mean this bike comes in sizes other than “too small, too big and close enough?” It’s probably just me, but something marketed with the same approach as an Armani suit and with a price to match, oughta come in a size to fit. If not, someone’s yanking your chain pretty hard. I’m amazed with all the fitting studios and paid-for coaches out there, the positions I see riders in these days are pretty awful compared to back-in-the-day. This of course doesn’t blame the big S specifically except they CHOSE the “rider first” marketing slogan you refer to.

  16. Sophrosune

    For me, Padraig is the most thorough bike reviewer currently out there and I read a lot of them. While some may have raised some valid points here, it’s inaccurate, and frankly a cheap shot, to suggest that he is some kind of PR flak for the products he reviews. I value your reviews, Padraig, and it’s what has been keeping me coming back to this blog since you started it. Keep it up.

  17. Peter Lin

    Being a short guy, I am especially interested to read more reviews about the new Tarmac. When I was looking for a new bike 2 years back, I tried several bikes with “race” geometry and found them less comfortable than “relaxed” geometry. I ended up getting giant avail, which worked out great. When I tried Madone, my “lower region” was rather unhappy and the handling felt “jarring”. Basically, it felt like some one kicked me hard where it hurts most. Going down wachusette mountain it didn’t handle well for me compared to the specialized dolce I had. When I compared it to my giant, the giant handles better and I feel more stable.
    If specialized really has improved handling for shorter riders like myself, that’s great news. RKP writes good reviews, even if some people are nitpicky or have an axe to grind. I look forward to an in-depth review of the new Tarmac. Even better, if RPK could compare it to cannondale Evo that would be great.

  18. BillBochnak

    For what is worth Padraig i had an opportunity via my day job to work a few years back with one of the enginers who helped on the development team for the new Tarmac. He was a custom builder, passionate about his work and quite possibly one of the nicest guys I’ve ever meet. When his company had to close it’s doors, he took a job with the Big S; while I was sad for him and his dream of crafting hand made bikes coming to an end, the fact that part of his gift in crafting such beautiful machines was being added to a company like Specialized, to me, was pretty cool and impacted the way I view and thought about such a big company. No company or person is perfect but from what I have experience from afar they are ok by me.

    I have found you up front and honest with you relationship with Specialized and can’t seem to wrap my arms around or noddle why people would have such an issue with this or for that matter most reviews. I come to RKP for a lot of different reasons, i happen to enjoy you and your fellow contributors writing style and point of view, I then to think it makes me a better cyclist and person, thoses included the times I agree and disagree with some of the this I read. I am glad you do what you do and hope it continues.

    1. Author

      Peter and Bill: Thanks.

      What I think many people don’t appreciate is that often times, working for a company like Specialized means a chance to do the very best work you can do without having someone tell you, “No, that will be too expensive.” What I know of Specialized in particular is that if you work for them, you’ll never work harder, but you’ll never get more latitude to chase your best ideas.

  19. AA

    @ Padraig. You said it “Riding is a human experience”, that is the problem. The weather, the sun, the wind, your mood that day, how much sleep you’ve had the night before, how your legs feel that is before we even get to tire pressure, saddle, bar tape, gel, true tyre width, chain lubrication etc. the list goes on all impact on how you perceive the ride quality. This is why, in my humble opinion, we need more objective lab verified numbers to back up performance claims. Obviously, goes without saying, that you need to ride, but we also need data and analysis, because we are human. By that I mean we find it difficult to be objective and not to be swayed by the herd. This is nothing new sociologists, marketing managers, social psychologists, evolutionary biologists have researched and documented this (in fact the owner of Pinarello is well aware of this as he loves to talk about “Italian passion” – as if no other people on the planet were passionate). Would I just buy a bike by numbers without riding it, of course not, would I buy an expensive bike like this after riding it? No I wouldn’t do that either, not unless I get to ride it a many times while “attempting” to account for all variables mentioned above. Most of us don’t have the luxury of long complementary test rides. That’s why we need numbers. I look forward to your in-depth review which will hopefully compare it in detail with the SL4.

  20. smitty

    Good initial impression. What’s disturbing, and it certainly isn’t the fault of Specialized, is that this bike is well out of reach of the vast majority of riders who have real world bills to pay like health insurance and who try fund kid’s a college funds. Maybe the tech will trickle down to bikes the rest of us can afford.

    1. Author

      Smitty: Even if it’s true that this bike is out of reach for the “vast majority of riders” (and I’m not convinced that is true), it’s also true that Specialized dealers don’t have trouble selling S-Works-level bikes. If they couldn’t sell bikes in this price range, they wouldn’t make them. On the plus side, this technology trickles down through their line. The pro, expert, comp and elite bikes all use the SL4 frame design now.

    2. Darwin

      Newsflash Padraig..the vast majority of riders are not spending 8k and up on bikes.

  21. Rocket

    If you want to be fully transparent to your readers, when you do product reviews perhaps you could publish a list of any benefits you may have received. For example, did you receive free clothing, transportation, food and lodging. Having that full disclosure would help the reader to understand if there is a potential conflict of interest.

  22. Gerb61

    Perhaps this is a little off topic. If so my apologies. Rocket bring up a point that I’ve often sometimes wondered about. How are items selected for reviewing at RKP, or any other website or publication ? Do companies seek you out or vice versa? And how is the field of potential product reviews narrowed down? Just curious how this all works. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes could, to my way of thinking, affect how I look at said reviews.
    Finally, I stumbled on to RKP quite by accident. I enjoy the articles very much. However I must say that it’s the commenting that keeps me coming back. That there can be so many differing viewpoints and opinions and it still remains polite and respectful is the best feature of all. Keep up the good work!

  23. Randall

    I wanted to give a bump to what Peter Lin said about comparing multiple bikes of different manufacturers.

    For example, Velo posts it’s lab tests and reviews, but it is not usually the same person reviewing each bike. I think the type of descriptions Padraig uses, if they were applied to multiple similar bikes (e.g. tarmac, madone, supersix), would be really awesome. Most consumers can’t do side-by-side comparisons like that.

    Back on the topic though, I’m super excited about the hydraulic disc mechanical groupset!

    1. Author

      Rocket: Transparency isn’t the issue. No amount of information I can give you will cause you to change your mind if you don’t already believe that I do my job honestly. Let me go a step further: My praise isn’t for purchase. I get numerous offers for paid-for content. My family could use the money; we live insanely close to the bone, but I turn down every offer for paid-for content, and some of the offers have been for delicious amounts of money. I own RKP outright. This is a chance to do my job in a manner that I both enjoy and allows my conscience the peace necessary to sleep at night. I don’t see how anyone could read my personal work and then think I’d turn around and sell my opinion. The only reason I engage these distractions in our comments is out of a regard for the other readers, so that with a little direction, we can get the conversation back on track.

      Gerb61: The answer is yes. Or D, all of the above. Some companies seek out RKP because they believe in our content and they are eager to have us review their products. Sometimes, I chase stuff down that I find interesting. On a few occasions, I’ve had people introduce someone to me because they think we should be covering them. When it comes to new ideas, and opportunities to write about interesting people/places/stuff, there are no rules.

      Randall: Consumers love shootouts, and with good reason. They give consumers a bottom line. Here’s the one you should buy. It works great for Consumer Reports and their reviews of commodities because they enjoy an independence that is utterly impossible for any niche publication. I’ve written all sorts of shootouts and buyers guides and got away from it for a few reasons. The first, biggest, reason is that any company that doesn’t outright win is pissed off. They can show their displeasure by pulling advertising, and while most publishers can weather that storm, there can be hell to pay within the staff because something you wrote made someone else’s paycheck smaller when they lost that commission. The second reason is that I’ve yet to run across a bike that you really need to be warned about, so finding a winner can be exceptionally difficult. I’d be perfectly happy owning an S-Works Tarmac SL4, a Cannondale SuperSix EVO, a Scott Addict or a Felt F1. I honestly don’t know how I’d determine a winner in a shootout between those bikes. Ultimately, I’d be likely to recommend a bike based on sizing and the reader’s relationship with the local retailer. There’s no way to shoot that out.

      One final note: There are no plans for a Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical group with hydraulic disc. This is strictly a Di2 product.

  24. Souleur

    As a long timer cyclist, seasoned and like mentioned, who can revert to ‘down tube’ shifting, pre-indexed, and yes..steel clad rides….I have to observe that ‘we’ cyclists are a peculiar group. Take it complementary, because it is. We are peculiar in that what other breed of sport and passion, do we observe the scrutiny for novel approaches. What other sport and passion do we observe the polarizing duality of ‘big business’ and that of the ‘little LBS’. We both love and love less all of it, really, if you think about it. If it works, we love the new eye candy. Carbon hoops, now disc brakes, wider profiles, dare I say electronical gadgetry here?? When…its been proven after more for some, less for others…but once proven, we love it. And I simply say that to say this, this is a perpetual dare I say ‘cycle’ we see in our love an passion for all things cycling.

    I do appreciate the fact that ‘we’ cyclists do enjoy the discussion and arguing more here than at other websites, dare I say propaganda pushers?? For other sites, I really don’t even waste my time, in that they are so joined that they have no objectivity, and it seems we are just given purple koolaid to drink, and I simply want facts, not subjective only propaganda that backs the brand. And in that, I do share the sentiment with others, that based on the past, I am quite skeptical reading and accepting the newest goods from some companies, yet I have to admit, if it weren’t for them investing so heavily in relationships with others, we would not make progress as we have seen. But it is what it is, and I use my judgement on what appears to work and not work.

    And I do share the sentiment with others, based on the past, about marketing, which is to me so vanilla anymore that it isn’t very authentic at all. I’m sorry, but for me a ‘rider first’ approach is bordering on insulting to the mastercraftsman of our trade. The box stores and industry may see this as novel, but to the mastercraftsman that hand fillet brazes his art, its all about the rider first, every single mm, every single angle…is considered, based on ‘me’

    And I say that to say this.

    I welcome novelty. Spesh has the right to knock themselves out, and I hope they do. I hope they bring more to the table. I personally have never owned one, but don’t know what the future holds. Who knows. I do know, I hope they bring new technology that trickles down and throughtout the entire industry, because we all do mutually enjoy it eventually.

    In terms of marketing, I am the skeptic whether its buying a frame, a car, a bag of coffee-beans…or whatever, just show me the evidence, facts, figures, background and let me determine if its real, new, superior, and improved.

    But we should all be able to talk about it, and I’m glad we can here at RKP

  25. Smitty

    Well, count me in the minority then because I’ve got so many other financial priorities that I simply can’t justify spending 10K on a bicycle. I’ve no doubt that they can sell expensive bikes and i’m glad they are pushing the envelope because like I said, and echo Soleur’s comment, that eventually we all enjoy the trickle down effects. I’m just glad I bought a Moots 5 years ago that will very likely serve me well for the rest of my life so that I don’t have to worry about only being able to afford a “junky bike.”

  26. Kc

    Well, their still pinching pennies when It comes to the 61cm. The front end geometry, specifically the trail is too little. Easy to fix, but it would require making a 3rd fork rake, or slackening the head tube to 73.5 or so. Don’t care what they do with the lay up the 61 will always be nervous until the fix that. I imagine they sell very few 61s, and get little to no feed back from pros given that even the tallest pros, 6’5ish, are riding 58cm’s ! I’m sure the bike is tits but really disappointed they didn’t correct the front end on the big bike.

    1. Author

      Souleur: I want to briefly respond to one point you made, which is the canard that custom builders have more control of the bikes they build. Fundamentally, they are still just choosing commercially available tubes. Yes, there are lots of choices out there, but many builder still just build from what comes in the box, which is why builders like Spectrum, which chooses each tube one at a time, are notable. Companies like Specialized are designing their own tubes exactly as they see fit. That’s a big deal.

      Smitty: I’m not suggesting you are in a minority. There’s a reason why companies like Specialized, Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Felt and so on offer many different kinds of bikes at a billion different price points. There is no one answer that’s right for everyone. That speaks to another point about some of the resistance to reviews of $10k bikes. I’m not suggesting you need to buy this bike. I’m not advocating that you need to spend $5000 or more on a bike. However, these flagship bikes are where the conversations are most interesting, where the most interesting features begin their trickle down to less expensive models.

      Kc: We discussed fork rake in some detail the evening following our first ride. One of the engineers intimately involved in designing this bike rides the 61 and served as the benchmark tester for that size. Their determination was that opening a new mold for another fork didn’t make as big a difference as getting the layup right and as I understand it, they tried a bunch of variations. I’ll add that going back several years, in conversations with Chris D’Aluisio, who is head of advanced R&D, in having a broader discussion about geometry and handling he told me his experience was that the stiffer the bike, the less trail you needed; my experience supports this as well. It’s also important to note that Tom Boonen, at 6’4″, rides a special Boonen 58 (a few teammates are on that frame as well), not the stock 58. The Boonen 58 shares many attributes with the 61, but not head tube length. That Specialized would cut a mold for only a few guys to ride suggests maybe they aren’t that cheap, after all. I would really encourage you to test ride one and I’d love to hear back from you once you did. Maybe you won’t like how the bike handles, but maybe you’d be surprised. Either way, I’m interested.

  27. MCH

    Many seem to have missed the fact that RKP is essentially a one-man show, not some mega-million publishing empire. As far as I know, RKP doesn’t have access to every bike on the market, nor do they have an ultra-sophisticated bike testing laboratory. Rather, what I like about RKP is that we’re getting one man’s opinion – not a bunch of stats and data. Not that there’s anything wrong with stats and data, but that’s not what I come here for. I come here for Patrick’s opinion. I trust it and value it. Don’t change a thing.

  28. DJ

    I still want to know if a size 56 2014 S-works from is any different than a size 56 new tarmac? Trying to figure out if I should continue my brand loyalty and keep hoping they update the Venge, or move along. Thanks for the review Padraig!

    1. Author

      DJ: The folks at Specialized told me they aren’t changing the sizing or geometry.

  29. Cogfather

    I’m not that old (40) but the notion that $9k+ is reasonable pricing for a bike is insanity. I have children, there is 0% chance I’m coughing up more than maybe $2k for a bike. Carbon, electronic shifting, featherweight deep section wheels are not even in my realm of consideration. I ride a 100% aluminum fixed gear & routinely drop guys on their $10k carbon “halo” bikes. I like reading Patrick’s stuff. I think he gives honest reviews. He’s lucky to get to ride all these astronomically priced components & bikes & get bikes comped for free. That all said, reviews of bikes like this don’t mean a whole lot to me. I don’t get paid to ride, so I have no use for a bike that costs the same as 6 months worth of mortgage payments. Even if I could afford a bike like that, I wouldn’t buy one. It’s a waste of money unless you’re at least a Cat 2 serious racer. I might feel different if I were independently wealthy, but I’m not so I don’t

    1. Bryin

      To me spending $$$ on a made in ROC bike is laughable. For the cost of this Tarmac there are many custom, made in the USA bikes you could buy. When you buy a Trek, Giant, Specialized all you are doing is paying for the marketing (which means supporting the doping program of their pro teams). If you feel that spending $$$$ on a bike is something you need to do, at least spend on a quality, handmade in the USA frame.

  30. LesB

    Padraig, thanks for clarifying the difference between the Tarmac and the slx. I find this kind of thing very interesting. If you haven’t yet, I’d recommend a tryout on the BMX Impec. When I took this one for a test ride, it felt like someone took a steam roller and smoothed out the familiar roads I’d been riding for years.

    As for people accusing Padraig of malfeasance of one sort or another, I recommend you hang around RKP a while. I suspect you are newcomers and just haven’t learned. In the 2-odd years I’ve been around I have found him to be quite credible, a man whose values can be trusted. Your accusatory comments seem just so off-kilter in this venue. Believe you-me.

  31. Peter Lin

    @Padraig – I was reading up on other bike brands (trek, cannondale, bmc, felt and orbea) to see if they do something similar to what specialized is doing with the new Tarmc. As far as I can tell, some other brands vary the tube size, but not necessarily the shape or the lower headset bearing. To what extend do other brands vary tube shape, performance targets and layup for different frame sizes. Since I’m not a bike frame engineer, I don’t know what those difference would be. Is it really necessary or optimal to change the lower bearing size based on frame size? Does changing tube shaping have that big of an impact on the perceived comfort of a bike? These are all interesting changes. It would be great if specialized could provide some of those numbers to educate the public. I’m hoping you can tease those details from specialized. thanks

    1. Author

      Peter: Responding to your question probably merits a whole post, but I’ll try to give the brief version here. It used to be there was no variation in tube size or layup. The 49 was overbuilt and the 61 was a noodle. Then layup began to be varied some, which helped. Later, companies began varying the sizes of the main tube diameters. It’s only been more recently that companies have begun to vary the stays as well. I’m not aware of any company varying the lower bearing diameter other than Specialized. And this came about in direct response to pros who thought the SL3 was too harsh. Changing bearing size allows a company to go to a smaller, less stiff steerer. With the new Tarmac, they are using three different bearing sizes. The effect of tube shape on ride quality (independent of layup) can be remarkable. I’ve ridden 1100g frames that weren’t all that stiff, and I’ve ridden a 750g frame that knocked out fillings. I’d love a chance to ride some of the prototypes generated to experience the differences in layup alone.

  32. peter lin

    @Padraig – thanks for the info. Perhaps someone at Specialized can share a little of that story with you without revealing trade secrets. The software engineer in me is curious to hear the differences and get a better understanding. I was watching this old video from Giant to get a better understanding http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-gb/showcase/tcr/#videos , sadly I lack the background and knowledge to really get much out of it. I can’t be alone in this. It’s one thing to have experimental data, but it’s another to have the context of what that means on an actual rider.

    1. Author

      Peter: For now, the best I can get from them goes back to the math I mentioned in the post, that for every 10 percent increase in saddle height, loads increase by 18 percent. I’m unaware of any other bike company working from those numbers. I’m also unaware of anyone trying to refute those numbers with different numbers. Previously, changes in a frame’s stiffness, for those companies that varied both tube size and layup, was—to the best of my knowledge—handled on a one-to-one basis. So if a frame size increased by 10 percent, they increased the stiffness by 10 percent. It shows why small frames have typically been too stiff and why big frames weren’t stiff enough.

  33. Peter Lin

    @padraig – Thinking back to when I tried Trek Madone 3, some friends said they liked it. When I tried a 50cm Madone, my butt agrees with what you’re saying. It felt like someone was kicking me. Central MA has lots of pot holes. Descending wachusette mountain definitely didn’t feel good and convinced me to return it. For us short people, I hope the industry follows specialized. For the tall over 6′ people, they’ll benefit too. Can’t wait to read all the reviews from writers of all sizes.

  34. Ryder

    Thanks for the review. I guess all of us here can’t just based our purchases just by reading reviews as the ‘ride’ is different from reviewer to reviewer. Some reviewers say that they feel X and some reviewers swear they don’t feel any X at all.

    I’m waiting for your thorough review, on the comparison between the 2014 Sworks SL4 and also the new Tarmac as I’m about to buy either one. Looking at it, there’s gonna be a price dropped on the SL4, and at size 52 I prefer my bike to be stiff, not a reduced stiffness anywhere. (this coming from someone with a flexy aluminium bike).

    Hope you do the review soon!

  35. ken3737

    As a 5’6″ rider, I find this exciting. It makes me wonder if I’ve forever been riding frames that are really stiff/jarring. I mean, how would i know what a 56cm frame feels like?? I currently ride a Ritte Bosberg and am keen on the new Tarmac. Gotta hand it to the Big S — even if it’s just marketing bs — it’s brilliant marketing bs…

  36. darrel

    i find reviews interesting but, riding the actual bike is the best way to form an opinion. keep up the good work RKP!

  37. Jeff Wu

    I enjoyed your preview. I stand 72-inches tall and the 56-cm frame has been my size across all mfg’d bikes, so I’m really lucky to be so average. My road setup remains 06 Madone 5.9 with DuraAce group. After putting thousands of miles over 8-yrs I’ve owned and cared for my bike, I decided to look into an upgraded experience … better shifting, more dampness in the ride w/o removing the feel of the tarmac (excuse the pun), and less aggressive race geometry. Now, “rider first” marketing never appealed to me because I’m in the model group for most mfgs, as I mentioned. What really interested me was disc-brakes and what I keep reading about in terms of better modulation. When I ride down a Wasatch Mountain pass, except for very very familiar terrain, I do not go all out because I cannot trust my braking, and this from a skier hell bent on launching 40-ft plus cliffs, or BASEing at Canyonlands, so not feint of heart. But just something about rocketing down a mountain pass at 50-mph in spandex worries me. So my question is whether disc-brakes are that much better? Thanks for this preview.

    1. Author

      Jeff: What I’m finding with disc brakes is that because they offer greater modulation, and by greater modulation I mean that there is more lever travel before the brakes lock up (at my weight). Practically, what that means is that—at least for me—I can make greater use of the brakes’ power without fear that I’ll reach the point of lockup. I have to admit that I feel more confident on dicey descents. Honestly, I can’t wait to get discs on some of the Malibu descents.

  38. Jeff Wu

    @Padraig – thank you for your prompt reply Patrick! I’ve now demoed the ’14 Madone 7.9, and the ’14 Giant TCR Advanced SL. What I found is that these newer models, even with the rim brakes are much better than the brakes on my good ole’ Madone 5.9. For instance, when am descending down a mountain pass and apply the brakes on my bike, I sometimes feel what I can only describe as a throbbing feeling — and my bike just got a full tune-up, and I always check my brakes before a ride. On the new bikes I’ve demoed, the rim brakes seem not to have same throbbing feeling albeit I couldn’t take the bikes too far away from the shops. This is why the new disc brakes on the Tarmac are so intriguing to me — they managed to keep the same chain length although the trade-off is Spesh’s proprietary wheels. That’s why I think the folks over at Spesh deserve some credit — for their innovation in adopting what appears to be a safer braking option. Nobody else as far as I know has put disc-brakes on such a high profile race bike. Not sure I want to be an early adopter here, but if it makes my riding downhill more pleasant, then maybe it’s good to early adopt Spesh’s proprietary setup. Unfortunately, my dealer tells me they won’t see the new Tarmac until probably later in June, or early July. Stay tuned … and again, thanks for the useful information you provide here for cyclists.

    1. Author

      Jeff: A throbbing or pulsating feeling under braking is a common problem. Causes can include the wheels being out of true (either vertically or laterally) and residue on the rim(s). And yes, that can undermine one’s confidence in a bike at speed. A test to perform is to find a slight downhill and then apply each brake alternately so that you can determine whether it is the front wheel, the rear wheel or both. Once you know that, you can go back to your shop to ask them to address the issue. It’s true that no one has done discs on a top-end production race bike yet, but there will be others plenty soon.

  39. Josh

    Padraig, do you know if the disc version will fit 28s? Beyond the braking performance, discs can enable some more varied choices in tires. As a race frame, I’d bet 25s would be wide, but having an option for a tiny bit bigger would sure be fun…


    1. Author

      Josh: Yes, the new Tarmac will take 27s. One of the things I didn’t talk about in this review was the introduction of a new tire that comes in 24mm and 26mm widths. We rode the 24s and they had loads of clearance. I imagine that you might be able to run some allegedly wider tires (not all tires measure their advertised width). Also, that old problem of not being able to run Zipp 303s … all gone.

  40. Kim Roberts

    I feel it important to raise one simple point: if you do not agree with a review, you think a review is cash-for-comment, or you otherwise are turned off by what you read here; leave. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like RKP, don’t visit.

    I for one have been reading with interest the reviews here for a long time. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. But I have enough basic respect for the person who is providing the content I enjoy to NOT lambast, disrespect and attack them in a public forum.

    Have some respect for someone who is (the vast majority if the time) providing you with educated, well written content. He’s gone out if his way to create a place for you, if you don’t like that place: leave, but don’t walk in and simply defecate your own misery on his virtual rug. Grow up, learn respect and maybe take a leaf out of Padraig’s book and start actually creating something yourself.

  41. Deckard


    Well, you just hoisted yourself with your own petard there! Cycling Tips is known to be a cash-for-comment business! Ha! The irony! You rag out a guy who won’t sell out, yet promote a guy who does!!

  42. Jim

    I have had the Tarmac Di2 disc brake S-Works for almost 1000 miles. I had a Tarmac SL2 with Campy Super Record. At first the disc brakes was not something I would have thought a plus, the Campy carbon pads work very well. But this bike is just amazing. Works as close to perfection as any bike I have ever been on, 58cm size. Noticeable improvement riding over expansion joints compared to SL2. .

  43. Darwin

    I just picked up a 2015 Tarmac Expert today. Ultegra and costs $4000. Rides great. Very smooth, stiff, and comfortable. I’m a 58 which is where they say you notice the difference in 58 and 61. I was surprised to see it in the sop already as I thought it would end of September but there it was and in my size too. I have a 2014 Roubaix and like the handing and stiffness on the Tarmac better but we will see how it is on longer rides.

  44. Darwin

    Ok a couple rides later I can say I don’t remember owning a bike that is as much fun to ride as the new Tarmac and I’ve had everything you can think of going back to the late 70’s. I ride a 58 and know someone who rides a 61 and the improvements are not BS at all. It’s made my 2014 Roubaix feel ponderous and slow…
    I’m eating my words on what I thought was marketing hype…. Ride one yourself especially if you ride a larger size.

    1. Author

      Darwin: That’s terrific to hear. I was super-impressed with the bike in just a couple of days of riding. It’s nice to hear from someone who committed to one. The best recommendation of all. Better yet, have fun.

  45. Troy

    I became enamored with the SL3 (expert) a few years ago upon first riding it and ultimately purchased one (instead of the SL4) and have enjoyed it greatly since. After making that purchase, I stumbled across Padraig’s review of the SL3 iteration of the Tarmac. His enthusiasm for the handling and overall feel of the SL3 mirrored my reaction. Despite the touted objective improvements from the SL3 to the SL4, I simply liked the feel of the SL3 more than the SL4. (Personal preference). I don’t recall Padraig disputing the SL3-to-SL4 improvements, but his subjective reaction to the SL4 seemed muted by comparison to his SL3 review. In short, I put a lot of stock in Padraig’s subjective reactions to the products he reviews. Now it sounds like I need to stay off the 2015 Tarmacs until I’m ready to write a big check.

    1. Author

      Troy: It took some time for me to get accustomed to the handling of the Tarmac when it first came out. I did come to appreciate the Tarmac SL; at the time I was mostly riding bikes with more relaxed handling, but I eventually came to appreciate that I could rail the corners better on canyon descent on the Tarmac. I thought the S-Works SL2 was too stiff and in a way a step backward. The S-Works SL3 was a definite step forward from the S-Works SL2, while the S-Works SL4 was also a step forward from the SL3. The layup of the S-Works bikes is different than you find in the Pro and Epic-level bikes, so some of these differences that I’ve experienced don’t occur in quite the same way in the other spec levels. That said, where real dollars are concerned, there wasn’t a huge improvement from the S-Works SL3 to the S-Works SL4, so if someone could save $1000 by purchasing the SL3, that would make sense. However, the jump to the new S-Works Tarmac is phenomenal. I’d recommend ditching almost anything that’s currently on the market. There’s not a lot out there that’s this good.

  46. Troy

    That’s a valid point about how the changes at the Expert/Pro level from one generation to the next would not necessarily correlate with the differences occurring at the top (S-Works). In any case, it seems that we are living in an interesting age in terms of road bike development if Specialized can make such a big improvement in one generation at the S-Works level. We’re lucky to be healthy and able to get out and ride with this great stuff available. Thank you for your contributions to the sport.

  47. Shane

    Padraig are you able to compare the ride and handling of the 2015 Tarmac with that of the SLR01?

    Can anyone comment on whether the Tarmac’s wheel quick releases compromise disc/pad alignment? Have any owners had any problems with the Tarmac’s discs?

    1. Author

      Shane: The SLR01 is a significantly different bike from the Tarmac, geometry-wise. I’ll venture to say that the Tarmac has handling that is quicker than most novice riders should be on. It truly is a bike for an experienced racer. On the other hand, the SLR01 has the highest trail (slowest steering) of any bike being ridden in the pro ranks, even slower than the Treks, which is saying something. The SLR01 is a bike with a deliberate nature and calm demeanor. It won’t turn until you tell it to. As to ride quality, it really depends on what you’re looking for; the two bikes are different. The Tarmac is known for presenting a fair amount of road feel to the rider, where traditionally the SLR01 has given less road feel for a more comfortable ride. I can’t say one is better. My personal preference is for more road feel. Regarding your question about QRs and disc/pad alignment, I’ve used the Shimano system as well as SRAM’s and am not having issues with alignment when removing/installing wheels. I’ve yet to have an occasion to swap for a different set of wheels.

  48. Shane

    Thanks Padraig. Interesting to read and I hadn’t noticed the SLR01’s trail figures before. They’re surprising. I own a GF01 which handles in a manner similar to your description of the SLR01.

    Regarding disc equipped road bikes, in addition to concerns about using either QR skewers or thru-axles, the other concern is Shimano’s requirement for min chain stay length of 415 mm. Surveying the range of disc road bikes and excluding those intended for endurance/sportives, what remains is either the Tarmac and Cayo 3.0 or 4.0 disc. Specialised have kept the Tarmac disc’s frame geometry the same as their caliper equipped frame and that means the chain stay length is less than 415 mm. Therefore you must use Specialised’s Roval wheels. These have bespoke hubs that locate the cassette in the same position as if the rear dropout were the same as that on the calliper version.

    Focus on the other hand have lengthened the chain stays on the disc versions of the Cayo relative to the calliper versions (see the Cayo press release).

    So does one:
    1. Wait for other alternatives
    2. Wait even longer for the dust to settle
    3. Wait for BMC’s take on all this and remortgage the house to buy one (because why buy a disc road bike and not equip it with Di2?)
    4. Buy the Tarmac and possibly never be able to use any other brand wheels. What worries me about this is how the Roval Rapide CLX40 handle cross winds? This is the most shallow rim on offer. The Tarmac disc is a bike that cannot be used without a wheel rim profile of less than 40mm – because of the short chain stay and the range of compatible wheels.
    5. Buy the Cayo disc and wonder about the change of handling due to the longer chain stays.

    Pandraig have you ridden the 2015 Cayo caliper and Cayo disc bikes? I wonder how they compare with one another, and compare to the Tarmac? I suppose the Tarmac would be the better handling bike but never being abel to use any other brand wheel is a big concern, nor use any wheel with profile of less than 40 mm. Big call, no?

  49. Shane

    Tarmac disc wheelbase in size 54 = 978 mm
    Cayo disc wheelbase in size 54 = 994 mm

    Otherwise, stack, reach and head tube length are all very similar.

    Apart from differences in weight then (which I can’t find), it seems the Cayo disc would be a slower handling Tarmac disc.

  50. Author

    Shane: I think the shortest, least laborious answer to your question is that if you like the BMC GF01, I’d sell the one you have and replace it with one with Ultegra Di2 and discs. It sidesteps the issue of handling as well as the question on wheels.

    To go a bit deeper, no, I haven’t ridden the new Cayo, in either version, though I’d be interested to. Focus continues to impress me even if some of their results haven’t been to my personal taste. As to the dust settling, that’s going to be a while yet. There’s enough good work going on right now, there’s no need to wait.

    Honestly, I’d go with the bike that handles the way I want and fits me, and then figure out the component choices.

  51. Shane

    Thanks again Padraig. Was funny to plug the geometry of the GF01 and Tarmac into http://gearinches.com/blog/misc/bike-geometry-comparator (both about 560 stack). There was very little difference; my hands would move 10 mm forward and steering would have slightly less rake. Difference in trail is only 1 mm though and the wheelbase of the Tarmac’s only 7mm shorter than the GF01. Of course this isn’t able to explain differences in dynamics between the two. Sometimes on very steep climbs using the 32 ring sprocket I think I notice flex in the GF01’s front end – but such steep climbs are rare. While the BB stiffness of the two bikes is similar, the Tarmac’s head stem stiffness would be much higher, as well as the lateral stiffness of the fork judging by Tour Mag tests of the SL4.

    Can anyone comment on how the Roval Rapide CLX40 handle cross winds and whether there have been any other issues with them ? In regards to the Tarmac, if they’re compromised then the entire bike is.

  52. Anthony L

    I placed an order for the 2015 Specialized S-Works Tarmac Di2 Disc two days ago, I was told the wait would be 8-10 weeks. My last bike was a Dogma 2 w/Super Record EPS Group. I’m not a big person only 5′ 7″ and rode a size 50 frame for the Dogma 2 and will be riding a size 49 for the Tarmac. I’m very excited about all the great reviews I’ve been reading on the New Tarmac and can’t wait until I get my new bike.

  53. Sam

    Have followed this site for a while, back to the days of deciding between a Spez Tarmac SL4 or a Focus Izalco Pro, I’ve always found RKP reviews to be refreshing and informative.

    However the Focus is now no more due to a close encounter with an SUV, so I’m back again on the lookout for the next ride and found myself being tempted by disc.

    Encountering the same dilemma as Shane regarding Tarmac/Cayo Disc and looking forward to more development on that topic here, either in the form of reviews or the excellent comment section. Cheers!

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