When I was in fifth grade, I got the flu the week of my birthday. I missed the party my class would have held for me and only strayed—woozily—from the couch to head to the kitchen for more orange juice. On my birthday, my mom headed out in the morning to do some shopping; little did I know she was shopping for me. She returned home and began presenting me with gifts to open. Perhaps she took the time to wrap them; that part of my memory washed away with the fever.
That song single-handedly delivered me from my malaise. In its opening chords the song’s mood promised much, a triumphal chest-beating celebration. I had no idea who Susan B. Anthony was or the meaning of the term suffragette, but the energy of the song did not escape me. Within a day I was asking myself how I had survived 11 whole years without that song.
The very best things in life have the same quality to make you wonder just how you would manage in their absence. Refrigerators, toilet paper, the quick release, the best inventions have done more than just make life easier, they make us wonder how we’d get by without them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000, a group I do not wish to live without.
Many of your are pausing in the middle of this sentence to go back and re-read my last statement for obvious reasons. I might as well have just switched not just political parties, but from bleeding-heart liberal to sovereign citizen. I am truly a hardened-in-die fan of Campagnolo. I still save my Campy boxes, much to my wife’s chagrin. And I’ve welcomed the incredible work that SRAM has done in re-thinking how road components can function, not to mention starting from scratch in design and manufacturing.
Backpedaling complete, 9000 is the group we have all wanted ever since we started riding. Srsly. It’s got more cogs than your Schwinn Varsity had gears. It’s as easy to shift as it is to flick the turn indicator on your car. Chain movement is as smooth and flawless as the action of a doorknob. There are as many cassette choices as there are flavors of bagel at a Jewish deli. Brake action is light as a page of a book and easier to modulate than the temper of a toddler.
I submit: What’s not to like?
To be sure, this group isn’t new in the sense of heretofore nonexistent features; it’s a refinement of existing ideas, but sometimes that’s the space from which the best products emerge.
Unfortunately, the best way to frame the excellence of this group is by comparing it to its predecessor and competitors. If you rode the previous iteration of Dura-Ace (7900), think of all that you didn’t like about that group. Front derailleur shifts required a concerted effort accompanied by audible grunt. Rear shifts were easier, but still required a bit of forethought if you were going au bloc. Then there was the blocky shape to the levers. They weren’t difficult to grab, but their contours weren’t something you’d want to hold all day. Brake action might have been invented by Bill Gates in its binary, 0 or 1, on or off action. Modulation? What modulation?
The heart of any component group is its shifting. Get the shifting right and many people will overlook other flaws like flexing crank arms or chain rings, weak brakes or short-lived cassettes and chains. 9000 features the lightest shift action of any group I’ve used, including the new Red group and the precision of each shift exceeds that of Campagnolo’s Super Record group. There’s still some play in the lever before you begin up- or down-shifts, but because lever throw has been cut by 30 percent and the action is so light, it no longer bothers me. The 9000 group also sets a new standard for out-of-the-saddle shifts from small chainring to big. Honestly, the only other group that has performed nearly this well on that particular shift is the old 7800 group.
Also worth noting on the front shifting is the return of shifter trim and how it’s executed. The 7900 front shifter lacked trim and I never, ever got it set up perfectly for even one day; I really welcome trim. When downshifting from big ring to small, the shifter returns the front derailleur only part way; this offers two benefits. First is that the gears it makes immediately available without rub are the middle and high cogs of the cassette. It also prevents the chain from being dropped off the small ring without the aid of a chain catcher. I can attest to never having dropped the chain even once while riding this group.
For those of you who, like me, adjusted the lever throw for non-NBA-player-like hands, you’ll welcome the new design to the lever face which eliminates that slack-jawed look caused by the adjuster screw. It also eliminates the dirt-intake the lever opening created. You’ll notice that the hoods are two different colors; the light gray is a softer durometer material giving you a better grip, especially if you ride with no gloves. Best of all, the ergonomics of the new hood and lever body top anything Shimano previously offered. I’ve often struggled to decide just which previous design was my favorite. The 9-speed Ultegra featured one of my favorite lever bodies, but the 9000 has a smaller hood circumference, making it easier to grip with gloves or without, even if your hands are July-in-New Orleans sweaty.
Shimano claims that with their new polymer-coated cables front shift action is now 43-percent easier and rear shifting action is 47-percent easier, practically half the force required to shift as the previous group. Is that absolutely accurate? I wonder, but only because I suspect that the last 7900 group I rode probably didn’t work even as well as they claim it should have. I possess this generous suspicion that the improvement in shift action is more like 100 percent. Whatever the numbers are, the upshot is how I find myself shifting far more often than I used to.
Shimano is offering five cassette choices: 11-23, 11-25, 11-28, 12-25 and 12-28. That they have resisted the urge to offer nothing but cassettes that begin with an 11t cog had me doing a little happy dance in my garage (cue the Vince Guaraldi). The reality of the strength of the average cyclist is that an 50 x 11 gear is too big to effectively use. A 53 x 11? Yeah, and I play Peter Sagan in my dreams. There’s a comically contradictory effect to giving mortals like us a 50t chainring to create more usable gears while in the big ring, but then sticking an 11 on the end of the cassette. What the maker giveth, he taketh away.
Now, if they’d just offer a 12-23 for all that time spent on the flat lands.
When Oakley introduced the M-Frame and Heater lens in the early ’90s, I recoiled from them the way I do from slugs and flesh-eating bacteria. At some point I realized I couldn’t live without my own pair of slugs, I mean Heaters. I’m not sure what happened. I have this suspicion there will come a day when I have the same affinity for this crank set, but I delight in reporting that day has yet to arrive. I detest the look of those cranks, particularly the asymmetrical spider, which carries all the grace of a boxy pedal stroke.
Toothless hooker looks aside, Shimano deserves credit for offering the cranks in seven (7!) lengths—from 165 to 180mm in 2.5mm increments—and six ring configurations—50/34t, 52/36t, 52/38t, 53/39t, 54/42t and 55-42t. Whew.
It’s worth mentioning that the ginormous parallelogram of the front derailleur demands that the cable be trimmed manscape short, unless of course you want that cable end brushing your calf every time you shift into the big ring. So good is this group that all that’s left to complain about is the look of the crank and how much you trim the cables.
At 1978 grams, this group is heavier than Super Record and Red. That ought to be the sort of third-place finish to make me rethink my interest in the group, but it’s not. The weights are so close that the group’s ease of use is not only enough for me to want this on every bike I own, it’s enough to make wonder why Shimano even bothers with a Di2 version. Yeah, the shifting is that good.
Years from now there will probably come a day of reckoning, a point at which I’ll realize just how much Shimano got wrong in this group. I eventually came to recognize how nearly every song on Band on the Run was just hacked up reggae, but I enjoyed 30 years of adoration for that album until I wised up.
I get a lot of press releases. Most require no reading. However, the press release announcing a left-handed bicycle was so mirth-inducing as to elicit giggles from me even as I was making my peanut butter sandwich for lunch. When a press release for a product I don’t actually want stays with me that long, well I have to think about why.
Then I thought about the date, so I clicked on the link. Nothing happened. I don’t know if this is a joke or not, but I figured, why should I decide? I’ll let you all be the judge on this.
Here’s the text that was included:
My relationship to my weight for the last five years or so has been one that isn’t entirely dysfunctional, but it doesn’t operate by any of the norms that characterize the rest of my life. I can make significant efforts for whole calendar sheets and see nothing in return. Or I can take a vacation from all discipline for a weekend and pay dearly. I’m someone who needs a scale, if only to remind me that discipline is a daily task.
So when my old scale died a watery death thanks to my toddler sending his bathwater skyward as if he were the tiniest cetacean going, I figured I’d upgrade to a scale that would give me solid body fat percentage numbers. Truth be told, while I wasn’t psyched to be buying another scale, the death of this one was just the occasion I needed to purchase something that could determine my body fat composition with at least rudimentary accuracy. The dead one claimed to do it, but the numbers were so high I don’t think it would have been accurate even on a sort of normal person.
I ran across the Fitbit Aria while in the Apple Store. My sense is that the few non-Apple items that are carried in an Apple Store are pretty well curated. If the Aria was the only scale they were carrying, well it must be okay, right? I will admit that the $129.95 price tag gave me pause, but I was already prepared to drop $80 or so on a Tanita unit and what intrigued me about the Aria was the ability to use the wifi in my home to send my daily weight to my computer and track it the way I track my time on the bike. Maybe, just maybe, that would give me the extra input I needed to better control, well, I’m not going to say just what needs controlling.
In broad strokes, the scale’s setup seemed simple enough. Pull out a battery and reinsert it to put it in setup mode, make sure the scale is within 12 feet of the wireless router and then a few other steps to make sure the computer was seeing the scale.
This would be where everything went to hell.
In short, I was never able to pair the scale—to anything. Not my desktop unit, not my laptop and not even to my phone, which struck me as a ridiculous suggestion, but one that came up in my reading through of their troubleshooting FAQ. After spending two evenings working on this rather than hanging out with my family, I emailed the company to ask what other suggestions they had. My worst fears about their tech support were realized when, despite a thorough description of actions I’d taken which included (from my email to tech support):
I have restarted my computer (as stated in my previous email)
I have placed the Aria within 10 feet of the router
My router is compatible with 802.11b protocol
My wifi password has no spaces and does not exceed 31 characters, nor does it contain any unusual characters
I have spelled the password correctly
I turned off my Airport Express during setup (as stated in my previous email)
I have tried setting up the scale using my iPhone
Tech support bro Fernando suggested, among other things that I might try restarting my computer and making sure my Airport Express was turned off. I even gave them the make and model on my wireless router and checked to make sure the scale’s firmware was up to date; I went so far as to provide them with the version of the firmware in question.
I should note that I made this purchase more than a month ago.
I’ll cut to the chase: I never, ever got the scale to work. Part of the tragedy in this for Fitbit is that because the scale won’t work at all until it is connected to your computer via wifi it does nothing. Had the device at least functioned as a traditional low-tech scale, I’d have been incented just enough to keep trying. However, because it performed none of its advertised functions, I harbored no hope for future success because following my most recent inquiry to tech support five days have passed with no response.
People wonder why they don’t see more negative reviews on RKP (for the record, until the publication of this post there had been exactly one bad review). The point I’ve made previously is that there is so little drive for it; I just don’t believe there are many products out there that you need to be warned against. It is entirely possible that there are scores of these scales out there and functioning as advertised. Some of them may even be in use among you. The point of this post isn’t that this product can’t work, it’s that if your tech support is monumentally ineffective, you can end up with an utterly unusable product.
Let me hasten to add that I was excited about this product; I wanted it to work well. This is not some Venus Flytrap of a review like the New York Times did on Tesla where they gave an electric car to a reviewer who hates electric cars. That review resulted in quite a lot of controversy, not the least of which is Tesla CEO’s accusation that the bad and inaccurate review cost the company $100 million—the actual value of canceled orders. Even the Times’ public editor found problems with the review.
I bring this up because when I read about the controversy, my feeling was that the Times had sandbagged Tesla. It looked to me like the reviewer could have spent some time talking to Tesla to better understand the car and thereby give it a fairer shake. It’s my personal belief that by the time you write a review of a product, you had better know it nearly as well as the company’s PR team, if not better. I didn’t believe that the reviewer, John Broder, had really done the job of a responsible reviewer; worse, his bias against electric cars suggests someone else with a more open-minded outlook should have reviewed the car.
Like I said, I wanted to like this product. After my final request for assistance to their tech support folks, 12 days elapsed before they got back to me with a half-baked excuse about their email not working right.
I swear, I’m not making this up.
Tech support and customer service are aspects of a company’s function that have the ability to make or break a brand’s reputation. I hear complaints from friends about various bike companies’ customer service departments from time to time. In nearly every instance, I’ve heard a countervailing experience from someone else. But bike stuff has the benefit of (usually) being so obvious in function and installation that very few people ever experience a problem that renders a product completely inoperable. That said, I’d love to hear some worst-case-scenario stories.
I’m still fascinated by what this scale might do, but it seems unlikely that I’ll ever find out. I will say that I’m grateful to Apple for extending me a full refund, though they were unwilling to do so until I showed the manager a photo of the Deuce in the NICU.
For purposes of my own entertainment, I plan to send a link to this review to Fitbit’s tech support guys. I’ll let you know if they ever respond.
In my efforts to (unsuccessfully) get back to my mandated editorial duties, which is to say posts in which cycling is the primary concern, I’ve flashed on a few different products I have reviewed previously and for one reason or another have felt a need to update readers with insights gained from my ongoing experience with them. I don’t normally feel a need to do this. I try to make sure that by the time I publish a review of something I’ve digested that product well enough that I am unlikely to have any further insight into its use or function in the coming months.
Every now and then I find out otherwise.
A great example of this is my review of Rapha’s shaving cream a few months back. I lamented how the high cost of the product ($20) was likely to keep some consumers away. At the time, I reasoned that the 150ml tin wouldn’t go far. In my head, I expected it would last me two months, tops. That made its per-use cost quite high—$10 per month for shaving cream is a bit luxurious for my household. Since my review, I’ve realized that I need far less of the cream to execute the perfect shave. I estimate that I used the first third of the tin in about three weeks. I’ve gotten through about another third of the tin (not quite, actually) in the two months since my review.
What I learned is that I just need to wet my face a bit more before applying it. Perhaps if I had one of those old horse-hair application brushes I’d have gotten hip to this sooner.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, I really think I owe it to anyone whose product I review to give it the fairest shake I can. I’m sensitive to the ongoing criticism that Rapha receives in the U.S. because their products carry such a premium. I have observed that some of this isn’t their fault: They can’t adjust the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar. That said, they deserve to have word circulate when a reviewer realizes a product is a better value than originally perceived.
The second reason is this stuff is just ridiculously good. Since my crash last fall, I haven’t been—ahem—enamored of my face. While no one else notices the change in my smile and no one else can feel the scar tissue in my lips, looking in the mirror is something I’m still adjusting to. That shaving my face (despite the ongoing numb spot) can bring me any pleasure is as odd and ironic an outcome as I could have this week. The way my skin feels and the way my face smells after shaving with this stuff is something that makes me genuinely happy. I figure if it’s my business to tell the world what I think of something then they deserve to have me be honest about this.
Next up, I need to go on record and say that as much as I love the revised SRAM Red group, I’m finding the new generation of Red brakes to be rather finicky. Keeping them perfectly centered while balancing left/right side spring tension isn’t as easy as with any of the competing dual-pivot calipers. Much of this has to do with the stamped-steel spring. While on one hand the spring gives the brake very light action, something that SRAM can get away with due to the used-car-salesman-slick Gore Ride-On cables. The issue isn’t that I can’t adjust tension or center the brake; the issue is that it just doesn’t seem to keep the adjustment for more than a couple of weeks. Still, if you accept the idea that any time you make a brake set lighter you’re going to give up something, I’d prefer finicky adjustment while keeping overall brake power, rather than what happened when Dura-Ace went from 8-speed to 9-speed: The brake set gave up power.
Some years back, when the bulk of my work was appearing at Belgium Knee Warmers, I reviewed the Assos Summer Gloves. The review appeared in 2009 after having used the gloves for more than a full season. By the time I wrote about them, as I noted in my review, I was completely in love with them and I reviewed them only because my strong feelings for their quality, fit and finish were so unexpected.
Well, I finally killed those gloves recently. That’s the pair I’ve been riding all this time, pictured above. The pink peeking out of the one palm pad is the padding creeping through a rip in the stitching. Yes, I mean that I killed that particular pair of gloves. The actual date they were pressed into service is no longer known to me, but I can say it was probably some time during the summer of 2007. That’s more than five years of use. It’s fair to ask though, just how many uses that was. We can factor out four months for late fall, winter and early spring, during which time I wear long-finger gloves. And we have to siphon off a fair chunk of the spring, summer and fall due to other gloves I’m sent to try. Conservatively, I think that leaves me with at least 100 days of use per year. These have absolutely been my go-to gloves for all rides where the temp is at least 60 degrees at the start. Factored another way, I can say that I’ve usually worn these gloves at least three days a week, and I’d guess for a good 30 to 35 weeks each year. That’s probably in the neighborhood of 600 uses. That works out to, what, a dime per use?
While I’ve worn some gloves made from Pittards leather that were as comfortable in the palm as … hell, I don’t know what to say here that won’t sound unintendedly sexual. The thing is, Pittards leather gloves are supple the way we wish our own skin still was. In that regard the first few wears are experiences that carbonate our senses with the infatuation of a first date. They possess magical properties to beguile our hands if not our senses.
If only they lasted as long as even the average romance. I’ve yet to get 100 wears out of a pair of Pittards gloves. There’s a distinct possibility that I’m part, if not most, of the problem. I’ve yet to figure out—even after following instructions—just how to properly clean Pittards gloves without them getting dried out and stiff like 20-year-old boot leather. Maybe it’s easier than I think. The thing is, I don’t want the graduate seminar in leather glove care. This is precisely why I love the Assos Summer Gloves. They have required no greater care than a jersey. I toss them in the wash and never worry about how they’ll come out. Because they are closure-less they have a clean appearance and lack all that bulk of material on the back of the wrist, making them more comfortable and giving them less material to soak up sweat.
You’ll pardon me if I think the care and feeding of a pair of gloves should be simple, a process as thought-free as drinking a glass of water.
As worn as they are, I’m going to continue to use these gloves for mountain bike rides and dirt road rides on my ‘cross bike. I figure they’ve got at least another season like this before there’s damage bad enough to toss them in the trash.
Okay, glad to have that off my chest. Seriously, these little details have been eating at me.
Bicycles and headlights have had a relationship as fraught with unhappiness as Liz Taylor and each of her last 14 or 15 husbands. Cyclists have suffered weak lights with no staying power but were easily mounted, weak lights with plenty of staying power that were difficult to mount, powerful lights that had no staying power but were difficult to mount and occasionally powerful lights with great staying power that took forever to mount and ate up a bottle cage and weighed more than a regulation bowling ball.
As a set of choices, they all left plenty to be desired.
I don’t mind admitting that my core philosophy states that if the sun is not yet up or has gone down for the day, I need to be off the bike. Call that a bias if you like, but I couch it terms of self-preservation because if something doesn’t get me in the dark on the road, I still have plenty to fear when my wife looks at me and asks (in her most disdainful tone), “You were riding where? When?
But riding at the margins of the day, when I’m least likely to be missed means that this time of year, it’s a good idea to have some lights to try to notify less than fully awake drivers that I, too, am on the road and would like to survive the experience. A guy can dream, right?
What I learned some years ago was that the darker it is, the less powerful the light needs to be to illuminate your way. I was working on a light buyer’s guide with co-workers and found that the lights that didn’t seem to be on at dusk were pretty effective at midnight. The converse was the real eye-opener, though. Only the most powerful lights could be perceived as helping illuminate your path at dusk. It takes a lot more power to overcome the ambient light available and the relative dilation of your pupils to pierce dusk than full dark.
That was a disheartening realization for a simple reason. I’m far more likely to be caught out getting home late for a ride and need riding them than I am to need enough lighting to help me ride to the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Only the most expensive lights would help. Dang.
The 2012 Interbike show is scarred in my memory because that was the occasion when I made the mistake of staring at a 1000 lumens Lezyne Mega Drive when it was turned on. The entire convention center went fluorescent purple as my retinas attempted to recover. Wow.
Here’s what I hate about most lights: They don’t last long enough. They are hard to mount and remove. They are awkward thanks to cables that have to be strung to battery packs. And as previously mentioned, only depleted uranium is heavier. They are crazy expensive. The Mega Drive solves almost all of these issues.
The light features four modes: the 747 landing-light-esque 1000 lumens, which will go for 1.5 hrs; then there’s the enduro mode which offers a remarkably effective 500 lumens for 2.5 hrs; there’s the economy mode that offers 250 lumens (bright enough for a slow ride on a bike path in darkness) for a whopped in 5.5 hrs; finally, there’s a 250 lumens flashing function that will last for 10 hours—long enough to ride a Tour de France stage at night. It comes with quick-to-mount clamps for either 25.4mm or 31.8mm bars and the mount includes a swivel that will allow you to point the light to the exact spot ahead of your bike where you most want the light, not a foot to the right or the left.
Did I mention that it has the good fortune to look like something that would power Billy Blastoff’s next moon mission? It’s space-agey in a funnily retro ways, but that corrugated surface has actual engineering behind it; the casing is the light’s heat sink. My light, with 31.8mm clamp weighs all of 287g. I’ve eaten bananas that weighed more than that.
The battery is in the light, not at the end of some damn spiral cable nor does it take up a whole water bottle cage. The quick release mount means that it’s easy not just to do a ride without the light, but also to recharge it with a USB cable.
The rides I’ve done with this light have gone so well I’ve literally ceased to notice that I’m riding at night. While I’ve tried the light on the enduro mode, my rides in darkness have been short enough that I haven’t seen the point in cutting the power. Another liability of weak lights is that if you ride fast enough, you’ll outrun the light, meaning that you reach what enters the beam faster than you can process it. I can say with some authority that’s a bad thing if your path is being crossed by bunny rabbits. Been there, almost hit that. I’ve not ridden with another light that didn’t frustrate me at some level.
True story: Our son went missing at home a few months ago. While my wife looked for him, frantically waving a flashlight in closets, I grabbed the Mega Drive and used it in my search because … well because it was brighter than our flashlight.
Okay, so it’s $199.99. That’s not cheap. I won’t argue the point. But this is the first light I’ve run across where I saw the light (was blinded by it, actually) and then figured it was worth every cent.
I still don’t like riding at night, but thanks to the Mega Drive, I’m not so frightened anymore.
Zipp assembled a number of journalists to introduce the 650c Firecrest 404 Carbon Clincher, Vuka Stealth bar, the new 30 and 60 wheels and Elsa and Riken Quarq cranks. There’s not much point to bringing us all together just to talk about this stuff. The hope had been that we’d ride three days, but the Tucson weather had other ideas.
There’s a belief that Tucson, Arizona, is a place to go when you’re tired of winter elsewhere. Just how this belief came to proliferate, I can’t tell. In my two visits to Tucson during the late fall and winter, I have to say this place is colder than most of California and it’s hard to make a case that you’re a winter-free locale if snow can fall there, something that did happen on Monday, killing that day’s ride. This isn’t a criticism of Zipp; it’s a curiosity about the source of what strikes me as a fundamental fallacy. There are stories enough about Discovery/RadioShack training camps with Belgian weather occurring in Tucson that you’d think someone would have amended the Wikipedia entry.
We did manage to get out for two rides thanks to excellent support from Jose Alcala, Justin Koch and Chad Contreras at SRAM NRS. We were provided with Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4s (those of us who were riding road bikes—guys checking out the Vuka Stealth were on Cervelos) equipped with SRAM Red which was great for me given I’d just finished riding a Tarmac.
For both rides I went out on the new 30 wheels. As I clipped in for my first ride, which came before our tech briefing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d already seen the rim shape and wondered how they would performer. Of course, that first ride was miraculous. What really made the difference were the special edition testosterone and dopamine-laced Clif Shot Bloks, but I didn’t suspect them at the time. As we were rolling out from the Starr Pass resort, I delivered a 1350-watt 20-second effort, jumped a flock of road runner and then skidded sideways to a stop without folding up the wheels.
Okay, so that didn’t happen.
What did happen was as we descended out of the resort I felt that familiar difference in acceleration that I experience with more aerodynamic wheels. I’ve just spent a bunch of time on the latest Dura-Ace hoops and while they rolled strong, true and reliable, they are to aerodynamic what Marlboro is to healthy living.
Numerous studies have shown remarkably consistent application of the Rate of Perceived Exertion by athletes. I bring that up because a couple of weeks ago, troubled by my inability to think of a more objective way to quantify the difference in experience I have with aerodynamic wheels vs. standard wheels, I began thinking about whether I could view it as a difference in RPE. Bingo. I’ll probably do a survey of my experiences in a separate post if I can put together something that seems sufficiently rigorous to report as responsible analysis. Let’s suffice to say that my experience at effort placed these distinctly ahead of box rims, but not nearly as fast as something like the 303s.
Despite the fact that these aren’t what I’d call light wheels (in my head, 1500 grams is the big dividing point), they were easy to wind up. My takeaway on that is a reinforcement of the wheels’ notable aerodynamics.
According to my Garmin, I’ve got about four hours on the wheels in two rides. I’m impressed by them, full stop. I’m well aware that not everyone wants to spend $850 on a pair of wheels. I’m also aware that there are RKP readers who can spend that much for a set of spares. If $850 is more than you want to spend, that’s fine. But in that $750 to just less than $1000 range, I think these are a fairly remarkable set of wheels.
I love the chance to ride new products; some end up amazing, but others … not quite as much. The funny thing is going to these events is often less about the products themselves than the people there. I had plenty of reasons to stay home: My wife is pregnant. I missed the chance to do a fun ride in Malibu with friends. I also missed a chance to take my son to the skatepark. The days were long, and while the quality of the room was stellar, Having a few boxes show up at home while I stay put would be easier. I go to these events in part because I’m honored that they ask, but also because it’s invariably an opportunity to talk with other people—smart people—passionate about bikes, people who are passionate enough about bikes that they gave up the chance to earn more in another industry by sticking to what most of the world thinks of as a kid’s toy. Just showing up means a chance to learn something.
There’s a lot in the bike industry that excites me, but it’s not everything by any means. In writing about new equipment I’m chasing the promise of something that makes the experience fresh, that renews what it feels like to get on a bike for the first time. These wheels are a great option for those who want a great set of wheels but don’t want to spend top-shelf cash. But why take my word for it? I’ve already heard from friends who were asking how soon they’ll be available so they can purchase a set.
Zipp is launching a bevy of new products and assembled a few of us journalist types in Tucson, Arizona, for some riding and in-depth presentations about these new products. The weather hasn’t been quite as cooperative as expected; so far I’ve managed only one ride, though we’re hoping today our ride won’t be canceled by falling snow.
You may have heard recently that Zipp has introduced two new wheels sets, the 30 and the 60. In broad strokes, these wheels are (compared to other Zipp wheel sets) more budget oriented and specifically made for day-in, day-out use. They both feature aluminum rims with a parallel brake track (not the canted brake track that is such a signature part of other Zipp wheels) for predictable braking under the harshest of circumstances.
All those of you who have wanted Zipp aerodynamics with aluminum reliability and a less painful bite to your wallet, you may now rejoice.
The 30 wheels take a low-profile rim approach. The “30″ refers to the rim depth of the wheels—30mm, which puts it on a par with the 202 and 101. The 60 is the more distinctly aero wheel and features a roughly 60mm rim (58mm, actually), which puts it on a par with the 404, in terms of depth. They use the same hubs featuring preload-free stainless steel bearings compatible with both 10- and 11-speed drivetrains from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. Both sets use an 18-spoke front wheel and a 20-spoke rear wheel. The spokes are Sapim CX-Ray stainless spokes with Sapim’s new locking nipples for the most maintenance-free build possible.
Both rims feature a hybrid toroidal rim shape and the aforementioned parallel brake track. The rim design nicely characterizes the overall design of the wheels themselves. The canted brake track found in Zipp’s Firecrest wheels is faster, period. But it’s harder to manufacture and requires much more stringent tolerances for vertical truing so that you don’t have braking issues if the wheel comes out of true. The 30 rim is an all-aluminum rim, while the 60 rim is very much like the old 404 clincher using an aluminum brake track with carbon fiber fairing. However, Zipp’s David Ripley cautioned the journalists present not to think of the 60 as an old 404 clincher redux. Zipp engineers beefed up the aluminum and carbon fiber to prevent the occasional rim failures they saw at the spoke holes. Ripley stressed repeatedly that they wanted these wheels to be absolutely bomb-proof wheels suitable for daily use. [CORRECTION: Zipp informed us that the 60 rim employs a structural carbon rim with an aluminum hoop (the brake track) co-molded. This is a significantly stronger and more durable design than had the carbon just been a fairing.]
Both wheels take a page or two from current Zipp designs. The 30 features a 21.5mm max rim width while the 60 features a max rim width of 22.5mm to give tires a wider footprint, better traction and lower rolling resistance, not to mention increased rider comfort.
The wheel weights we were presented weighed 1655 grams for the 30s and 1780g for the 60s, so they aren’t especially light wheels. What really sets these wheels apart from other wheels in this price category are their aerodynamics. The 30s are a bit slower than Zipp’s Firecrest 202s and 101s, but not hugely so. The 60s, while not as fast as either Zipp’s Firecrest 404s or Firecrest 303s, are notably faster than many competing wheels. Drag numbers for the 30 put it easily ahead of the Mavic Ksyrium E5 and even faster than the Easton EC90 Aero 56.
A set of wheels includes quick releases, tubes and rim strips (brake shoes aren’t necessary thanks to the machined aluminum brake track).
I’ve had a single ride on a set of the 30s and experienced a quick, trouble-free ride, which is what you’d expect—at least the trouble-free part—for the first miles logged on a set of wheels, but it occurs to me that at $850 for the 30s and $1500 for the 60s, these wheels really change what people can expect for aerodynamic performance from a set of wheels at a significantly lower price point. With the 30s especially, this should be the beginning of the end for the box rim.
Zipp has also added a 650c version of their popular Firecrest 404 Carbon Clincher. Compared to a 66mm-deep V-shaped 650c rim, Zipp’s testing indicates the new 650c 404 will shave 127 gram of drag off of the V-rim’s 194g, for only 67g of drag. It’s a pretty staggering reduction in drag. We’re told the wheels weigh in at 1465g total, have a spoke count of 16 front, 20 rear, use Zipp’s proven 88/188 hubs and are compatible with 10- or 11-speed drivetrains from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. Included with the wheels are quick releases, tubes, rim strips, valve extenders, wrenches and brake shoes. Suggested retail is $2725.
For those of you who do time trials or triathlon, Zipp has introduced a new integrated carbon fiber bar/stem combination called the Vuka Stealth. To give you some idea about the new bar and stem’s aerodynamics, the Vuka Stealth is said to have the same aerodynamics with its UCI-legal 3:1 aero profile as the 4:1 profile Vuka Aero with the SL145 stem. Cable routing in carbon aero base bars dispenses headaches like Coke machines do soda, but the Vuka Stealth has a surprisingly simple routing aided by specific layup, called Rapid Routing, and multiple exit holes allow the bars to be set up specifically for the different cable entry of bikes from companies like Trek and Specialized. It comes in three lengths with a two-position insert to allow a +/- 10mm fore/aft adjustment. And because it’s a Zipp product, it has nearly 2000 possible fit combinations. The hardware is made from aluminum and titanium and the clamp diameter is an industry-standard 22.2mm to accept extensions from nearly any manufacturer. Suggested retail is $1070.
Finally, Quarq has introduced two new cranks, the Riken and Elsa. Like previous Quarq cranks, these are accurate to +/- 1.5 percent. Riken brings Quarq power measurement to a new price point: $1595. Elsa weighs in at just 735g and adds two crank lengths: 165mm and 162.5mm; it goes for $1995. Both are available in BB30 options for an extra $50.
Of all the pieces in a cyclist’s wardrobe, the item that is most often overlooked, the piece that is most likely to be underestimated for its value, is the base layer. Done well, a base layer can make hot days feel like spring and wintry days as pleasant as sitting on your couch. I’ve recently been wearing two base layers—one with long sleeves and one that is sleeveless—from Gore that feature Windstopper barriers.
I’ve tried a fair number of wind-blocking base layers over the years and they have been uniform in their effectiveness. But they’ve all had one serious liability: Once you get good and sweaty, they cling to you and feel rather clammy. It’s not exactly an endearing quality.
I need to back up a second. Ideally, when dressing for cold temperatures, it’s most helpful to have any wind block layer laminated into the outer-most garment so that warm air can be held in the loft of the inner layers. That is without doubt the best way to layer for riding in cool weather. So, that said, why even bother with a base layer that puts the wind block mere millimeters from your skin? Well, I’ve learned over the years that these things can be handy for rides where you really don’t need that outer layer, but every now and then a descent or an open farm field the wind howls across can make a long-sleeve jersey and traditional base layer not quite enough. I’ve done races where I didn’t want to wear a jacket or vest, but needed an extra little something for that first hour. Bingo.
And then there’s the simple fact that I’ve been sent some really attractive long-sleeve jerseys by Rapha and Road Holland, and I’d rather show them off than some jacket that’s going to make me too warm. Most wind-blocking base layers will add another three to five degrees in range to your traditional LS jersey with base layer.
Now here’s where the long-sleeve Gore Windstopper base layer is different from every other wind-block base layer, such as Castelli’s: The Gore adds a thin layer of polyester between you and the Windstopper. At low heart rates, low enough that you don’t sweat much, wind-blocking base layers are perfectly comfortable. The trouble is once you go hard and start sweating, they cling to you like Saran wrap. It’s kinda gross, if you’ve got the presence of mind to think about it. Usually I found that I was just uncomfortable, but I’d experience a full-body yuck as I pulled it off later. To combat this, I’d often add yet another ultra-thin base layer, at which point you start wondering if maybe the vest wasn’t a better idea, but for years my team vests were pocketless and the thought of fishing under the vest to get to food kept me using wind-block base layers in those early spring races.
By adding that thin layer of polyester to the Windstopper, Gore’s base layer feels like every other base layer I own, but when I get sweaty, it doesn’t cling to me. The Windstopper layer is added to both the arms and the chest, but just the half that faces the wind, so overall it remains an incredibly breathable base layer. While I’ve got other long sleeve base layers, since first using this, I have to admit I have yet to use one of the others. The single biggest factor tipping matters in its favor is that I can go downhill without suddenly being chilled to the bone.
Gore offers the base layer in short-sleeve and sleeveless versions. While I haven’t tried the short-sleeve version, it seems to make a bit more sense to me because if conditions are cold enough to warrant the Windstopper layer, then I’m going to be wearing arm warmers with that short-sleeve jersey and I’m going to want coverage for the tops of my arms, that little bit left bare between the end of the base layer and the start of the arm warmer. That said, I have used the sleeveless version and have found it great for those days where a short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers and a traditional base layer just isn’t quite enough.
As base layers go, these things aren’t cheap. The long sleeve has a suggested retail of $79.99, while the sleeveless variety is only $59.99. That said, the wonder of Google can deliver one of these devices to your doorstep at a pretty healthy discount. Unfortunately, the depth of the discount available online makes this a product that isn’t terribly beneficial for bike shops to carry—who can compete with those prices. And ultimately, that is the conundrum that Gore faces. They really aren’t that well known for their cycling apparel and unless bike shops really get behind them and stock their stuff, that isn’t likely to change.
Still, the advantage may be theirs; I can’t think of a cyclist who couldn’t benefit from owning one these.
One of the more noticeable differences between the Tarmac SL4 and its predecessor is its internal cable routing. The change in frame design to allow for internal routing isn’t peculiar to Specialized. Many manufacturers are offering frame designs with internal routing options. This has been driven to a great degree by electronic shifting systems, Shimano’s Di2 and Ui2 in particular. Some bikes offer an option for either internal or external routing, depending on whether you plan to use electronic or mechanical shifting systems; some still require mechanical systems to be routed externally. Not so with the Tarmac SL4. All cables get routed internally, whether the bike is spec’d with a mechanical or electronic shifting system.
Internally routed cables clean up the look of the bike, there’s no doubt. That said, I need to make a small declaration: Internally routed cables may look nice, but the bike suffers in almost every other way if you’re using mechanical shifting.
The first issue is assembly. Now, this doesn’t affect you as a consumer right off the bat, but it affects the shop you do business with because it can double the amount of time required to build a new bike. That slows down the productivity of the wrenches, thereby driving up the owner’s cost to build the bikes, and that’s a cost he has to figure into his bottom line. Where it affects you is any time you take the bike in for any service that requires replacing a cable. I’ve built a lot of bikes over the years and while I’m not as quick as I used to be, I can do a very thorough build on an ordinary road bike from the box in two hours. My initial build of the S-Works Tarmac SL4 took me six freaking hours. Now I’ll admit, had I been able to attend a tech presentation that went over the assembly procedure on the bike beforehand, I suspect that could have shaved as much as two hours off the assembly. I could have watched Avatar during the time I wasted just trying to figure out where each of the ferrules and cable guides went.
Even once I knew how everything fit together, when I swapped out the parts for SRAM’s new Red group, the tear-down took more than an hour and the assembly of the new parts took three full hours. Working on this bike will never, ever be speedy and you’re going to pay for it by being charged more in labor. And in the event you’re not, you ought to be concerned about your retailer taking a hit on his bottom line by not making enough on the labor. I know everyone wants a deal on parts and labor, but your local shop needs to make a profit so they can keep being your local shop. End of sermon.
The other problem that internal routing causes is a degradation in shift quality. I haven’t noticed a problem with rear braking, but I did notice that the Dura-Ace 7900 I first built the Tarmac SL4 with didn’t shift as well as it did on the Tarmac SL3, which had externally routed cables. Given that the group was fresher than sushi, there shouldn’t have been anything wrong with the shifting that wasn’t already an inherent problem in the group—which mostly boils down to high shift force. I consistently had a problem with either the rear shifting hesitating on downshifts, but if I increased cable tension, it would hesitate on upshifts. The sweet-spot in shifting proved to be nearly as elusive as the Snuffleupagus. I did manage to get the shifting to work with 7900, but it took a great deal of fiddling. With SRAM Red the dial-in of the shifting was a good deal simpler.
I’d like to go back to the seemingly incompatible goals of torsional stiffness combined with vertical compliance. If you’ve ever seen a modern helicopter on the ground with the engines off, then you’ve probably noticed how the rotor blades sag while at rest. Those rotor blades are made from carbon fiber and they are stiffer than a murder one sentence in rotation, but vertically they aren’t made for stiffness; they achieve their proper straight attitude thanks to centrifugal force.
Now, no bicycle frame is ever going to flex visibly under its own weight, but carbon fiber layup technology has come a long way since the original Kestrel 4000. Today, there’s software available that allows engineers to simulate particular layup schedules. They can specify the dimensions of the structure, the size and shape of each sheet and the orientation of the fibers. Following a set of calculations that make differential calculus look like long division the workstation yields feedback on how stiff that structure will be under a given load. The upshot is that we’re now seeing frames that are hundreds of percent more flexible vertically than they are torsionally.
I think it’s with observing that what carbon fiber allows a manufacturer to do is control the entire fabrication process from the shape of each tube to the material used as well as where it’s placed. As much as I love steel frame building, there’s not a builder out there who has as much control over their fabrication. After all, they aren’t creating their own tubing, specifying the tube shapes before they are drawn and then also dictating the butt lengths. Previous history has shown that the stiffer a steel frame is in torsion, the stiffer it will be vertically. The only steel frame I ever rode that is as stiff as today’s carbon fiber beauties was an Eddy Merckx made with Columbus’ stouter-than-a-Cuban-cigar Max tube set. I’ve ridden only a handful of bikes that bucked more on a bump than that bike; most memorable among them was Cervelo’s SLC-SL.
There’s a huge mitigating factor to this phenomenon: frame weight. While there was a time when a lighter frame deserved to be an end in itself because shaving more than a pound off a frame’s weight was a pound you could lose forever, shaving an additional 100 grams off a frame’s weight won’t give a rider much in terms of better acceleration or speedier climbing, but if you can starve an additional 100g off a frame, especially if you can do it without sacrificing torsional stiffness, the result is a bike with a livelier ride.
I’ve long held both fascination and admiration for the work that goes into laying up a carbon fiber frame. Never have I been more impressed than when I was laying on the ground in Tuna Canyon and my buddy unclipped my shoes from the pedals and picked up an intact bicycle. It became the only topic of conversation that could distract everyone from just how messed up my face was. It’s remarkable to me that I could render the frame useless with one firm swing of a hammer and yet it came through a 30 mph impact ready to ride. Holy Indian cow. My regard only increased when the recall was recently issued for the Tarmac SL4′s fork. Here’s a link to information about the recall.
For the most part, the geometry remains unchanged from the inception of the Tarmac straight through to the Tarmac SL4. The head tube angle, seat tube angle, fork rake, BB drop and wheelbase remain exactly the same between the various iterations. If yo’ve previously ridden a Tarmac and liked it, you’ll like this bike. I went into the geometry of the six sizes in some depth in my review of the SL3. You can check that out here.
The only difference between the SL3 and the SL4 is in the head tube length on the four largest sizes. The two smallest sizes (the 49 and the 52) remain unchanged. In the other sizes, the head tube has been shortened; I’m told this was to respond to requests by pros so they could position the bar lower. On the 54, the head tube has been shortened by 5mm, from 145mm to 140mm. On the 56, it’s been cut from 170 to 160. The 58 was chopped from 205 to 190, while the 61 got a haircut from 230 to 210. I’m of the opinion that head tubes are too short in general and that most riders, when properly sized will never wind up with a no-spacer fit. I’m also of the opinion that the majority of all pros are on bikes with ridiculous fits—no spacers, minus-17-degree stem that’s a centimeter (if not two) too long. What’s most surprising about this is that Specialized has taken a very proactive role in making sure the riders of the teams they sponsor are on bikes that fit them, thanks in no small degree to having one of the best fitters on the planet—Scott Holz—on staff. So it’s a bit surprising to me that their bikes would still have such short head tubes.
As I mentioned in a comment in response to Part I of the review, I went through a fitting recently, one that was exceedingly thorough and pinpointed some issues I’ve been wrestling with, but hadn’t been able to properly diagnose. And I write that with the acknowledgement that I’ve been through five or six fittings in the last eight years. The upshot is the realization that aging has resulted in more spinal compression than I had previously understood. I stand 5′ 11″ these days but still possess a 6-foot wingspan. Compounding matters is that I have a 34 1/2-inch inseam. While I want to have a chance to do a fitting with a 56cm Tarmac before I commit to it, on paper it looks like it’s time for me to drop down a size.
Ride Quality and Handling
What separates the Tarmac from many other bikes on the market is its combination of crisp handling, high stiffness, low weight and sensitive road feel. you can find bikes that are as stiff, but most are heavier and don’t have the road feel. There are bikes that beat it on weight, but most of those aren’t as stiff and as a result don’t offer the precise handling. Broadly speaking, I consider the sub-kilo frames in a class apart from all of the frames weighing 1000g or more. They have a liveliness all their own. You can go on a date with anyone who seems attractive, but when you’ve got chemistry it makes all the difference. Most of those kilo-plus frames are as fun as dinner with someone on Lithium.
It’s been interesting to watch the geometry of other bikes follow suit on the aggressive trail numbers of the Tarmac (62mm for the 49cm frame, 57mm for the 52 and 54cm frames, 56mm for the 56 and 58cm frames, and 53mm for the 61cm frame). What we’ve come to appreciate is that the stiffer the frame the sharper the handling can be. The inverse is also true though: If a bike isn’t super-stiff, you need to relax the handling so that the bike isn’t twitchy to the point of being difficult to control. I can say that with every steel bike I ever rode that posted numbers this aggressive, I didn’t like how they handled but with carbon fiber, it’s a very different story. Let’s put it this way: Steel is to stiffness what slapstick is to comedy, while carbon fiber is to stiffness what satire is to comedy—subtler and more calculated; it rewards skill.
I can come up with a dozen solid, objective reasons why this is a great bike, why the sheer ubiquity of Specialized dealers pumping these things into the market is a good thing for cycling. That still doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason to consider purchasing one. What separates the Tarmac SL4 from some of the more rudimentary expression of carbon fiber bicycles is the difference between an Arabian horse and the plastic variety you find on a carousel. Is this the greatest carbon fiber bike going? Ahh, that’s like asking if Mozart is the greatest composer. He’s on everyone’s short list—and with good reason.
I’m going to start this post in a way that you’re not supposed to start a review—on a sour note. I didn’t see the need for this bike. Initially, it struck me as the inevitable result of the Specialized product machine. The template was struck some years back following the introduction of the Roubaix. The company alternates between a new Tarmac and a new Roubaix each year. In odd-numbered years Specialized introduces a new Tarmac, while there’s a new Roubaix in even-numbered years. Fall of 2011 required a new Tarmac.
When I first rode the Tarmac SL, I was not particularly enamored of the bike. I was a bigger fan of the Roubaix. I still think the Roubaix is the better bike for most non-racing riders. The issue for me was that I was accustomed to grand touring bikes; the two bikes I’d spent most of my miles on prior to first riding a Tarmac had relatively low bottom brackets and longish wheelbases. The Tarmac was a big change; the Roubaix less so.
It wasn’t until I began reviewing the Tarmac SL and the Roubaix SL back to back that I really acquired a taste for the Tarmac’s handling. I’d ridden plenty of bikes with handling as sharp as the Tarmac, and had disliked plenty of bikes with such quick handling. Well, “dislike” might be a bit harsh; they wouldn’t have been my first choice. The Tarmac showed me that with adequate stiffness (particularly in the fork and at the head tube) sharp handling needn’t make you nervous. By the end of the review I’d come to the conclusion I actually liked the Tarmac better in my favorite terrain—the canyon roads above Malibu. Here’s the post where I changed my tune.
Next, Specialized came out with the Tarmac SL2. I didn’t like that bike. It was okay on smooth roads, but anything rougher than a chick flick would rattle you like a paint shaker. It made chip-and-seal feel like the Arenberg Forest. That said, I know plenty of people who liked that bike.
Two years later Specialized came out with the S-Works Tarmac SL3. The biggest difference between those two bikes was in the rear end. The seatstays were flattened and reduced in diameter. And while I was told there were some changes in the layup of that frame, the folks I talked to didn’t go into too much detail. Broadly speaking, I was told that the layup was changed to permit more flex vertically while keeping the bike as rigid as possible torsionally.
So here’s where I have to address that trope of “vertically compliant but torsionally stiff.” It’s become a joke because some of the publications out there use it as a crutch to convince you that a Toyota Camry is a BMW M3. There’s nothing wrong with a Camry, but very few autos can provide the performance of an M3. That line about ”vertically compliant but torsionally stiff” rings hollow because at a certain point, if all bikes have that quality, then it ceases to be a way to distinguish bikes. And we know they aren’t all that way. There are real differences.
When I say I liked the SL3, I mean I loved that bike. Here’s that review: part 1 and part 2. It was one of my two or three favorite bikes I’ve ever ridden due to its particular constellation of road feel, performance, handling and weight. It didn’t need improving. When you’re putting out one of the best bikes on the market there’s a risk in trying to improve upon your work; there’s a real chance that no one will notice the difference. And the risk there is that if consumers can’t tell the difference between the old product and the new, improved one, they will begin to think what you’re selling is smoke and mirrors.
After assembling the S-Works Tarmac SL4 (and I’ll come back to the assembly in a bit), I went for a ride on the SL3. It was a short ride in my neighborhood, less than two miles. Then I jumped on the SL4, and did the same circuit again. I took care to make sure the tires were pumped up to the same pressure. The difference was not night-and-day, but the bikes were unmistakably different.
It’s common for fans of handmade steel and titanium bicycles to deride carbon fiber bikes for lacking personality, or sometimes it’s phrased as soul. When you’ve got a one-man shop, the marketing effort is pretty obvious. Land Shark begins and ends at John Slawta. As it should. But with a bike like the Tarmac, there’s quite a team involved and it’s not exactly possible to market a bike around every engineer and layup craftsperson who worked on the bike. And believe me, if you’ve ever seen someone doing layup, you begin understand that it really is a craft, just like brazing or welding.
The team responsible for the Tarmac includes some of the most knowledgeable people within their respective fields that I’ve met in the bike industry. And the resources that Specialized put into the bike are staggering. I was surprised to learn that each iteration of the Tarmac, from the original SL up to the current SL4, received its own set of molds. That’s a new set of molds every two years. That’s a lot of tooling. Consider that some Italian bike companies are still using the same frame shapes from six years ago.
So why new molds every two years? Easy. With each iteration of the Tarmac, Specialized has altered the frame shapes, slimming seatstays here, swelling the down tube and growing the bottom bracket there. Like other carbon fiber frames, the Tarmac is made from several monocoque sections that are joined after molding. With each new iteration, the locations of some of these joints have shifted based on what the engineering team has learned about the previous bike.
In talking with members of Specialized’s engineering team, they revealed that feedback from riders on the HTC-Highroad team indicated they needed to increase vertical compliance without sacrificing overall torsional stiffness. While riders said they liked the S-Works Tarmac SL3, the front end was a bit harsh for a 200k day. To that end, Specialized replaced the 1 1/2-inch lower headset bearing with a 1 3/8-inch bearing and decreased the diameter of both the fork steerer and the head tube. Another important evolution in the Tarmac is the move to Specialized’s OSBB design, which is essentially a press-fit 30. Such a large bottom bracket structure—and similar ones by other manufacturers—has eliminated bottom bracket flex that I once used to take as a given in all bikes.
Aside from the desire for a more gentle front end, one of the few criticisms sponsored pros had for the S-Works Tarmac SL3 was that the rear brake bridge wasn’t stiff enough, that the rear brake would chatter and squeal. To correct that, the brake bridge was beefed up and right at the brake bridge the seatstays were also beefed up.
I could tell you that the bike uses Specialized’s FACT IS 11r carbon—okay, I have told you that it has the FACT IS 11r carbon. But that didn’t help, did it? Information ought to answer questions, not raise them and while all that stuff signifies that the carbon fiber material and layup that Specialized is using is more sophisticated than anything they used in the past, it really doesn’t tell the consumer anything objective. Not a crime, but not nearly as helpful as they’d like us to think. The upshot—the part that matters—is that the S-Works Tarmac SL4 is the lightest frame Specialized has ever produced, that is, with the exception of the women’s Amira frame. My 58cm frame weighed in at 898 grams and likely came in a few grams heavier than the matte carbon version due to the number of coats of paint necessary to generate that bright arterial red.
Up next: the build, the ride, the bottom line.