Specialized comes in for more criticism than any other bike company save, maybe, Trek. I’ve heard people take jabs at them for their products, needlessly pushing undesired technology, over-the-top presentation, sales tactics that make the bike industry seem less a community than a scrum, aiding and abetting doping, cannibalizing its dealers, a workplace that demands your less your time than your blood, and a marketing vision that places an outsized emphasis on wins at the highest pro level.
That’s a lot of criticism. From where I sit, they may be guilty of a few of those, but not all of them.
The tragedy here is that Specialized is doing some extraordinary work in advocacy, and may be spending twice what any other company is on its many efforts, but they’ve garnered far less attention for those initiatives than they deserve. This may be, in part, their own fault for employing so many employees who are (understandably) fixated on going fast and other people who go fast. Case in point: without Specialized, NICA may not have gotten off the ground; what they’ve put into the organization could be considered Round A financing.
I mention this as a prelude to revisiting my post from this past winter about the reboot of the Specialized Allez. Specialized brought back noted builder/designer/engineer/Renaissance man Mark DiNucci to design a tube set, lugs and hardware for a frame to be built by Toyo. I’ve heard from more than one source that they gave DiNucci a blank check to follow his vision for what steel today can be. It’s a crazy thing to do, to treat an engineer like an artist and to give them a project that is more patronage than product.
I tell you, it’s crazy.
With parts of this quality, and produced by Toyo, arguably one of the finest production building outfits on the planet (they even thinned the points on this thing!), and a price tag of $3500, this bike has the power to reframe our conversation about steel road bikes. But they only built 74 of them. Yes, they gave all the cash to World Bicycle Relief, a laudable thing, truly, but what-the-holy-septic-tank?
They made 74 of them. Read my lips: sev-en-ty-four.
This is the sort of bike that could reinvigorate people’s view of Specialized and of steel. By that, I mean it may help some folks to conclude that Specialized isn’t completely focused on the disposable and it could grow the market for steel. Truly. But only 74.
In the end, it seems like this was an extravagance, which is just what Specialized doesn’t need.
I finally saw one of these framesets this weekend. Glenn Fant, the owner of NorCal Bike Sport in Santa Rosa, bought one on stuck it on the wall behind the register, where it gave off the glow of something beautiful to the point of radioactivity. It’s the first time I’ve seen one in the wild, so-to-speak. I was concerned that he might just leave the thing on the wall, but he told me he plans to build it up with Dura-Ace (mechanical, natch).
As someone who has become familiar with DiNucci’s aesthetic, his taste for simply lines, sharp angles and a form dedicated to function, this frame is clever in the way that it lightly decorates the necessary, disguising engineering in points of steel.
As a material, steel isn’t dying, but it’s not getting a lot of love from those who produce tubing. We’re not far from Indiegogo campaigns for tubing and lugs. My concern isn’t that steel tubing will stop being produced, but that those who do the metallurgy will stop putting resources into moving bicycle tubing forward, which is what makes DiNucci’s work on this frameset so special. And right now, he’s the only guy permitted to build with it.
At the risk of repeating myself, this frameset is a rare event, a special creation worthy of fanfare, if not parades. Over the years, I’ve celebrated the work of many artisans; this is an occasion where we really can’t use too many superlatives in lauding this bike’s position at the pinnacle of steel frame building.
Hey Mike, do the community a solid and put these into full production.