Saturday morning on Rapha’s Gentleman’s ride in Santa Monica rider Robert Hyndman died. Robert was descending Las Flores Canyon Road when he crashed. There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing and Monday-morning quarterbacking about this tragedy and as a result, I’ve decided to weigh in, if for no other reason than my years of experience with those canyon roads.
Let me begin by saying that I consider Slate, Jeremy, Derrick and Gerben at Rapha all friends. Double for Alison and Steven at Bike Effect, the studio at which the ride originated. What I’m about to write is as much for them as it is for anyone who has never ridden the canyon roads of the Santa Monicas.
Of the many mountain ranges around the world graced with roads suitable to cycling, the Santa Monicas are unusual in that no other range of mountains has more magazine editors within 50 miles and had less written about them. I penned the only survey of those mountains I know to have been published by a bike magazine. A few years ago I wrote “Malibu: Heaven has mountains” for Road Bike Action. And yes, I declared that the Santa Monicas were my idea of heaven. I also declared that riding the canyon roads above Malibu is far more challenging than riding in the Alps or even the Pyrenees. I believe if you can descend those canyons, you can ride anywhere, even the roads of the Chartreuse and Vercors, which are themselves more difficult than the actual Alps.
Every year the event promoter Planet Ultra puts on a ride called the Mulholland Challenge. At roughly 110 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing it is one of the hardest rides I’ve ever completed. Say what you want about La Marmotte or The Tour of the California Alps (Death Ride), hitting a kilometer-long pitch of 17 percent at the base of a 7km climb once you’ve got 75 miles in your legs can humble almost anyone. Each year more than 700 riders enter the Mulholland Challenge. The event (it sits somewhere between a gran fondo and a century) has had its share of crashes, particularly on the descent of Deer Creek Road, but no one has ever died.
My sense of empathy suggests that Steven, Alison, Slate and co. may feel some guilt over Robert’s death. It’s hard to have a heart and not feel some burden of responsibility. However, the Gentleman’s Ride was not a bad route. It was not a dangerous route, though it contained some risk.
If we conclude that the day’s route was dangerous, the logical outcome of that is all future Rapha rides in Los Angeles will head north on Pacific Coast Highway and then turn around at some pre-arranged spot for the trip south. Believe me, it can be good riding, but it’s not the same as being in the canyons.
To be a cyclist is to live the balance between risk and danger. I define danger as something likely to end in a bad outcome. Mount Washington averages 12 percent; as a result, no one is allowed to descend it. Were you to try, the odds are that you’d crash from too much speed or blow a tire off the rim from too much braking; there’s no real room for a middle ground on that road. Risk, on the other hand, is what we face every time we go out for a ride. There’s always a chance that we could be hit by a car, wash out in a corner or encounter some other bad event. The difference is that with reasonable care we can avoid a rotten outcome most of the time.
Think of every road you’ve heard a cyclist has died on. It would be ridiculous to conclude that in each instance in which a rider encountered a mishap—nothing involving a car—that the road was too dangerous to ride on. It’s true that Las Flores is a challenging descent. It’s also true that Robert had considerable skill; the point at which he crashed he could not have reached without having previously exercised both skill and judgment. Corollary: Last year’s Gentleman’s Ride descended Tuna Canyon, easily the most difficult descent in the Santa Monicas, the most difficult descent I’ve ever encountered, the only paved descent that has ever scared me. We got down that without an inch of lost skin last year.
In criticizing the course of the Rapha Gentleman’s Ride as too difficult, as dangerous, two injustices are committed. First, we dishonor the memory of a strong and skilled cyclist. Accidents happen. I can’t say exactly what took place that day as I wasn’t there, but I’ve dropped down that road dozens of times and I can attest that there were days when I couldn’t have gone wrong and other days when I just didn’t have it and wished I was taking another route down.
The second injustice is the denigration of a spectacular land formation. If I were to define my idea of heaven with the terrain of one spot on earth, there’s no doubt that I’d choose Malibu. The views from atop its vistas rival anything I’ve seen. Better yet, I can ride there year-round. I’d hate to think that people would avoid the roads above Malibu because of one cyclist’s misfortune.
What I’ve learned of Robert’s family and friends is that they are taking solace knowing that he was engaged in the world, riding with family and friends that day, that he died doing one of his favorite things in the world. Though I never met him, the simple fact that he drove up from Orange County to do a Rapha Gentleman’s Ride means he was on the lookout for new adventures. This guy was certainly one of my peeps.
For each of us there came a point when cycling ceased to be just a way to have fun and became an expression of challenge, a way to embrace new difficulties and to elevate both skill and fitness.
A good friend of mine wrote that while people have lionized Robert for dying while doing what he loved, he thought dying on his bike was “a shit way to die.” I can’t disagree. I’m sure his parents ache for not having a chance to say goodbye. When I go, I don’t want to be on my bike; I want to be surrounded by my family. Ultimately, I think what resonates with people is that in dying while doing what he loved, his death illustrates that he tried to live his life on his terms, that he wasn’t some couch potato. The danger is that romanticizing this accident is no better than letting a fear of that road prevent us from riding it.
I’ve made mistakes before and crashed. I’ll make mistakes again. The last thing in the world I’d want my error to do is cause people to avoid exciting roads. I can’t speak for Robert or his family, but the example of his life suggests that he would endorse getting on with the business of living by putting ourselves out there and we achieve that electric thrill no one will ever get from the TV.
The greatest service we can do our fellow riders is to remember them accurately, to ride with the care that will keep us out there, to remain clear on the difference between danger and risk, and to keep that sense of adventure alive.
The promise of winning an athletic competition is the potential to live a little piece of life perfected. A win is an objective confirmation that you were correct on enough, if not all, counts to take the day. For many riders, there’s no better place to polish life’s meaning than in a bike race. There was a time when that was the case for me, but it didn’t last long.
Much of the problem could be summed up in the simple fact that the rides I most like to do are rarely run as races. Give me a 70- to 80-mile course with 5000 or so feet of climbing and I’m a happy boy. Most of the races within three hours of me don’t fit this bill. There came a point when I realized I’d rather just be doing the group ride in Malibu on Sundays than getting up to drive to the hinterlands for some flat, four-corner, industrial-park crit. There was almost nothing about the experience that fit my definition of fun. A top-three could short-circuit that, but those didn’t come with any sort of regularity you’d call routine.
The rise of the gran fondo here in the U.S. has given me a second lease on organized events. You get a mass-start, the nervousness as the pack sorts itself out and early selection accelerations. In other words, it’s a century without the helmet mirrors.
Gran Fondo USA has staked its reputation on doing lavish productions that leave from splashy locations. The organization’s most recent event was the Gran Fondo Los Angeles. By Los Angeles, they meant Beverly Hills. If there’s a tonier place on the west coast to start a cycling event, I can’t think of what it might be. That the city fathers of Beverly Hills even deigned to allow the event to happen must have had much to do with the event’s 7 am start. Seeing bikes fill Rodeo Drive was an unqualified stunner.
Most of the event took place in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, my wheelhouse, so to speak. I adore riding in these mountains and don’t miss many chances to spend as many weekend rides there as possible.
The 72-mile course took in two Cat. 2 climbs and five Cat. 4 climbs. The second big descent of the day, down the aptly named Stunt Road is the stuff of drugs. Hit it right and you’ll never touch your brakes. The experience bathes your brain in more dopamine than a psychiatrist can prescribe. If your nerves get the better of you, it’ll be a slow and harrowing escape. People fleeing zombies should know such fear.
Nearly everything about this ride was superb. It ran on time, had a great announcer, a few select VIPs (no one expected Andy Garcia—yes, that Andy Garcia—to be that tall), well-equipped sag stops, lovely food at the finish, not to mention a fun expo area. And, as I mentioned, the Santa Monica Mountains. What could be better?
Well, that’s the rub. If you’ve ever been to Beverly Hills, then you know it’s nowhere near Malibu. Or the ocean. Our ride, upon leaving the BH headed down Wilshire Boulevard, which is tantamount to taking a group down Park Avenue in Manhattan. Neat concept. In practice, notsomuch.
The Sheriff’s Department, which controlled the intersections for us, held the front of the group to 20 miles per hour. That was fine as we went up a few rolling hills in Century City and Westwood. However, it was no bueno on the downside. I commented to a friend how I was glad I wasn’t running tubulars. Riders further back in staging rushed the front of the group and soon we were 10 abreast across three lanes.
Late in the ride, as we headed for the finish we infected traffic in a residential area of Sunset Boulevard; this a road that serpentines over undulating terrain, and as this is a ritzy zip code, infinitely successful people do 60 over these roads in their AMG Mercedes; it’s just not a place for bikes. With some riders jumping red lights I was uneasy that someone would get hit. We needed some amount of marshaling. Even if the intersections weren’t controlled, we needed someone to alert traffic and pedestrians to the fact that an actual event was taking place. Upon making our way to Wilshire for the last few miles we had to fight traffic for a lane and dodge potholes. For what?
From the right turn onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard and until the route returns down Topanga and reaches Pacific Coast Highway, this ride is one of the great jewels of California riding. I’ll take Malibu over anyplace else in the United States. Full freakin’ stop. Riding on Wilshire and Sunset? I don’t need that kind of hostility from drivers, not without some sort of posse to protect me.
If the guys from Bike Monkey had organized this, they’d have convinced the Brentwood homeowners themselves to stop traffic as we passed. And they’d have cheered us. How do you explain that 55 miles of this course was heaven itself, but the rest was hell? Well, I guess that’s how you do it.
I promise you, the first time you begin to drop down the south side of Piuma Road and see the Pacific spread below you, you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing with your life.
In the cycling world, California has a reputation. By all the accounts that really matter, Marin County is the birthplace of mountain biking. The greater Bay Area is known as one of the top cycling locales in the U.S., if not the world, due to such factors as the climate, terrain and tight-knit cycling community. The Lost Coast and points north are legendary for idyllic, if remote riding. The Central Valley is the home to remote bike races that unfold at lactate-inducing speeds under anything but optimal conditions.
And then there’s Southern California. Though it’s known as home to a huge swath of bike industry heavyweights, it is generally viewed as the Karl Rove of the bike industry: an effective player, if somewhat embarrassing.
A few years ago I wrote a guide book to riding in Southern California. “Cycling Los Angeles County” is composed of 40 different road rides that do everything from tour Hollywood to describe in detail the legendary Simi Ride. Yes, I talked the publisher in allowing me to include a half-dozen different group rides.
The book was a chance, in my view, to argue the case for Southern California’s right to be thought of as one of the great cycling locales. I wasn’t setting the record straight, mind you, too much had been asserted counter to that for one book to correct that perception, but I thought anyone who picked it up might be pleasantly exposed to a new perspective on the greater L.A. metropolis.
While I think there is good and interesting riding throughout Los Angeles County (not to mention Orange County), there is a gem that makes SoCal riding not just good, not just memorable, but truly world-class.
In a word: Malibu.
Yes, that place known better for paparazzi and surfers. Malibu is where the Santa Monica Mountains run headlong into the Pacific Ocean with all the reckless abandon of a runaway shopping cart rolling downhill.
It would take you a week of 100-mile rides to hit each of the climbs and it would take another five years for you to become comfortable with all the descents. Think of all the challenges you’ve ever faced on a road descent: decreasing radius turns; off-camber turns; sand and gravel; landslides; broken pavement; steep pitches; sudden changes in gradient; even decreasing radius, off-camber turns. Anything that can make a road descent more challenging can be found in the mountains and canyons above Malibu.
A single organized ride takes in the challenges of Malibu. Planet Ultra‘s Mulholland Challenge is the first event of the King of the Mountains Challenge, an annual series that takes in three events that each last more than 100 miles and force participants to climb more than 10,000 feet.
The 2010 event took place on Saturday. Due to the difficulty of the event, it doesn’t draw crowds on the order of thousands. Nope, this one, at 116 miles and 13,000 feet of climbing scares off more than it attracts, given its location (easy to reach, but hard to complete), making it rather the opposite of one of California’s best-known and best-attended centuries, Solvang.
The course features but one significant flat of roughly five miles. The rest of the time you’re going either up or down. And it’s not just any up or down. Double-digit grades are more common than rattlesnakes out there. I saw 15% on the Garmin several times and saw 17% once. Knowing what was in store for me, I opted to go with a 34×27 low gear and while I was able to wind out the 50×12 a few times while on descents, I loved always having the right gear for the terrain at hand.
The Mulholland Challenge is unlike any other century ride containing more than 10,000 feet of climbing in that I can really only point to four sustained (5k or longer) climbs. And yet, you are (with the aforementioned exception) always going up or down. The often short, steep hills that came in such rapid succession had me flashing on the previous week’s Tour of Flanders.
The day’s big challenge comes at mile 75, the climb up Decker Rd. Readers who recall my reviews of the Specialized Tarmac and Roubaix bikes know that I decided to compare the two bikes in descending Decker for the post “The Crucible.” I’ve climbed Decker only one other time—during a previous edition of this ride.
The first two-thirds of the climb average a more than 12% gradient. There’s a long stretch of 15% near the bottom punctuated by a little 17% kicker, which is kind of like flushing lactic acid out of your legs with sulfuric acid. Honestly, you don’t notice a big change.
As organized rides go, this one is spectacularly difficult. There’s just no way to remember all the hills, unlike, say, The Markleeville Death Ride (or the Tour of the California Alps, depending on your affinity). Markleeville features five climbs and four of them are the two sides of two mountains, so you only need to remember three names. If you can’t remember that, the ride organizer is willing to pin the route sheet to your jersey, just like your homework assignment in grade school.
Psychologically, the lack of certainty that shrouds much of the course means you must concentrate and not be easily demoralized.
I’d love to see this ride run as a Gran Fondo. That’s literally the only way this thing could be improved upon. The food is good (Clif and Hammer products are available at every rest stop—no Country Time lemonade here!) and the course is well-marked. It is held at a perfect point in the spring, meaning you never know if it will be sunny and hot or overcast and cool. You’ve got to be prepared.
I did almost get my wish this year. A large group collected at the start waiting for 8:00 to start. Roughly 20 of us rolled out together. There was a big contingent of Velo 605 riders from Orange County (not just Newport but its pricier enclave Corona Del Mar) and they did much to drive the train the first 25 miles—until we hit the steeps of Topanga Canyon and then things, uh, things didn’t last.
As courses go, this one is right up there with Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo. It’s a shame the event isn’t better known. Do this ride and your opinion of Southern California riding will change for the better.
After months of riding on both the Roubaix and the Tarmac SL I was dismayed. I had yet to determine a preference relative to my own riding and that was killing me. Mind you, I wasn’t trying to determine the better bike, because I didn’t actually think one was superior to the other, but I believed that because the two bikes were different I must, as some point, arrive at a conclusion about which better suited my taste. Simply put, I should get down a technical descent on one faster than the other. Which would it be?
Malibu contains more than a dozen roads that run from the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains down to Pacific Coast Highway. The roads can drop nearly 2500 vertical feet at grades of up to 18 percent. The descents generally range between 4.6 and 9.2 miles. Most of them feature more than a dozen turns per mile. At 40 mph, that’s a turn about every six seconds … and many of the turns can last for three or four seconds.
Of these descents, three offer grades steep enough to sustain speeds above 45 mph over road surfaces that don’t make the experience seem like fodder for an episode of Jackass.
Kanan Dume Road recalls the sweeping turns and consistent grades of the Rocky Mountains. It features far fewer turns than the other descents and a good deal more traffic.
Tuna Canyon Road is where the ill-fated Red Bull Road Rage was held. It features more than 70 turns in 4.2 miles and drops some 1800 feet at an average gradient of 8.1 percent. On the descent’s one significant straight (which was used for the speed trap in the Red Bull event), it is possible to clock 60 mph just before a sharp left turn will cause you to rethink your actions or alter your future. I know plenty of riders afraid to descend this road and it’s one of a handful of roads I descend where I’m unwilling to let the bike run. The looming wall of dirt has whispered things to me about deceleration trauma that I’m unable to repeat.
Decker Canyon Road is a bit like Tuna Canyon light. It is almost a half mile longer, drops 150 fewer feet, culminating in a 6.8 percent average gradient, as compared to Tuna Canyon’s deceptive 8.1 percent average. It also features nearly roughly ten fewer turns, meaning the road bends don’t come quite so frequently.
Decker Canyon is my road of choice for challenging myself on a descent or when testing the limits of a bike’s cornering. The descent is fairly steep, but not super-steep, the turns come in rapid succession and nerves of steel are tested in the turns, not in the chutzpah of straight-line speed.
I came up with a crucible. I’d take both bikes up to Malibu. I would ascend Encinal Canyon Road six times—three times on the Tarmac and three times on the Roubaix—and following each five mile, 6.3 percent average gradient ascent of Encinal Canyon I would plummet down Decker Canyon.
My first two ascents of Encinal were aboard the Tarmac. The second two were aboard the Roubaix. Trip number five was back on the Tarmac and the final trip was made aboard the Roubaix. The six circuits only added up to 57 miles, but the climbing totaled more than 9000 feet ascended.
My position was very similar on both bikes; saddle height and setback was the same and reach to the bar was within a centimeter, though the bar on the Roubaix was almost a centimeter higher. Switching between the two was unremarkable from a position standpoint. However, as soon as I did switch from the Tarmac to the Roubaix the increased vibration damping was immediately apparent.
According to my GPS data my fourth and fifth ascents (Roubaix and Tarmac, respectively) were my two fastest; my average speeds were within a tenth of a mile per hour of each other. Interestingly, I burned fewer calories on the Roubaix, lending further credence to the idea that cutting vibration can decrease fatigue.
My three fastest descents were aboard the Tarmac. On those descents (first, second and fifth) my max speed was 46, 46 and 46.5 mph, respectively. My slowest descent, surprisingly, was my first trip down on the Roubaix.
The tightest turns on the descent, the ones on which there was no question of braking, just how hard would be necessary, were all right-handers except for the final switchback less than a mile from the bottom. I was able to carve very consistent lines through these turns and found myself consistently shaving the yellow lines on the Roubaix and six inches to the right on the Tarmac. That minute difference made a big difference at speed.
What I noticed was that the more I felt like I was really having to manage the bike—push it—to negotiate a turn, the more inclined I was to brake before the next turn. I did almost no braking during turns on the Tarmac but did scrub speed with some regularity during turns while aboard the Roubaix.
A brief word on my descending: Fast. I like it. Roller coasters were always my favorite at amusement parks when I was a kid but today, compared to mountain roads, they lack a critical interactivity component. That said, I don’t take what I believe to be are risks. While I find the foregone conclusion of a roller coaster lacking, I enter every turn with the belief that my safe exit from it is deal-done. As soon as I feel like I’m really pushing a bike, I back off. My empiricism ends at the point of wondering just how fast I can enter a turn and exit it without a yard sale. Aided by downhill pads and a Kevlar suit I might play my hand differently and bluff my way straight to call, but in Lycra I do little more than ante up.
What I learned was I preferred the Tarmac for descending. I’m unafraid to declare my surprise at this. I really thought that the Roubaix would see me brake less and roll up to higher speeds, but it just didn’t happen that way and I can say that I did my best to make each of those drops an E-ticket ride.
But how many people buy a bike for how it descends?
In my estimation, more bikes ought to be purchased that way. I think it indicates a great deal about a bike’s character. A downhill turn is the ultimate litmus paper for any bike. If the bike won’t turn, you should ask yourself what that bike is meant to do and what you plan to use it for.
But here’s the asterisk: My preference for the Tarmac was revealed under fairly extreme circumstances. Most riders won’t ever ride down a road as challenging as Decker. There just aren’t that many of them in the world and unless such a road is part of one’s regular vocabulary of roads, the reasonable response is to back off. So what about the downhills more regularly encountered? What if, say, you rode in the Rockies or the Alps?
If I factor Malibu out of the equation and consider the other roads I took the bikes over, the many other roads I’ve ridden around the world, the answer is easy.
The Roubaix is easily one of the best all-around bikes I’ve ever ridden. I’ll venture to say it is one of the best thought-out bikes on the market. For most riders under most circumstances the Roubaix is an easy correct answer. It’s lighter than elfin armor, handles with the relaxed control of a Bond villain and cuts vibration like a power outage.
The Roubaix should be the default answer for anyone considering a Specialized road bike (or perhaps many other road bikes).
So where does that leave the Tarmac? It is, without marginalizing it, a bike for the margins. The Tarmac is the Navy SEAL to the Roubaix’s sailor, the surgical scalpel to the butcher knife, the truing stand to the Y Allen wrench. It is the accept-no-substitute for criterium racing, intestinal descents and the most aggressive group rides.
They are both spectacular bikes and well-enough differentiated to have earned their place in the Specialized product line.
After doing some group rides in which I knew the roads well, I ventured out to do some of the longer rides that take in some climbing and descending. I started with gentler roads with sweeping turns. The bike had a complete and utter lack of the nervousness I feared would characterize this bike’s handling above 30 mph. It was stable at 40 mph and turned in easily.
Next, I took it north to Malibu’s challenging canyon roads. If ever there was a place where a bike will demonstrate a weakness in how it handles in turns, Malibu is it. Turns come in rapid succession and very few of the roads can be descended safely without touching your brakes. Toss in a little off-camber action here and there plus the odd decreasing-radius turn and you have a veritable buffet of cornering challenges.
It was in Malibu that the Tarmac surprised me. What I expected isn’t what I’ve encountered with so many crit bikes: You get them above 40 mph and the front end starts to get loose. I’ve never understood the phenomenon, especially considering on paper it shouldn’t be happening. However, just what that phenomenon is will be addressed in a different post devoted just to trail.
Here’s the important part: At speeds above 40 mph the Tarmac was rock solid. What’s more, it remained easy to turn in. I have experienced the opposite of some crit bikes, bikes that were so rock solid in a straight line they resisted turning in—at all. The experience was a little like trying to drive a Greyhound bus through a parking garage at 50 mph. Showing Kim Jong Il the value of civil liberties would be both easier—and safer.
By the time I reached the bottom of Tuna Canyon Road the first time I descended it on the Tarmac, all of my assumptions about the Tarmac’s handling had been tossed aside like an unfinished energy bar. I concluded that the Tarmac was the heir to the handling I’ve always believed to be part of Specialized’s brand identity. I have yet to ride a touring bike that handled half as well as my Expedition and if you want to know how elegantly a lightweight cross country bike can handle, just climb on a Stumpjumper. The Tarmac redefined what I think a sport bike can be expected to deliver.
One aspect of the Tarmac’s handling that really can’t be overly emphasized is its stiffness. There are stiffer bikes out there, but I think the Tarmac offers spectacular stiffness for those of us who don’t generate 1000 watts (let alone more) in a sprint. Steering is particularly crisp with this bike, in part due to the tapered steerer which uses a 1.5-inch bearing at the bottom race and a standard 1.125-inch bearing at the top. This also increases stiffness in torsion by allowing the engineers to design a larger diameter down tube to mate to the rather enormous head tube.
My one and only quibble with this bike is its road sensitivity. The Tarmac SL is meant to be different from the Roubaix in two ways: comfort and handling. While the handling is sufficiently differentiated, I do have an issue (a small one) with one component of the Tarmac SL’s comfort. It doesn’t seem to me that the Tarmac SL should damp as much vibration it does. My basis for comparison in this regard are some other bikes in this price range that offer more road feel; they are few, but they are there. Getting this particular balance right is a colossal challenge, though; I think the SL2 delivers great road feel but is too stiff. The SL gets the stiffness right, but would benefit from a touch more sensitivity. My limited time on the SL3 says they got the whole package right.
With the introduction of the new Amira model—the women’s version of the Tarmac, which is built with women’s proportions in mind—Specialized can lay claim to producing the Tarmac in more sizes than any other bike company offers for a production road bike—11. The Tarmac is produced in six sizes, while the Amira is offered in five. And despite the crazy assertion by Giant CFO Bonnie Tu that no other company is designing bikes for women, Specialized’s commitment to women is arguably deeper than any other bike company going, with four road models and five off-road models.
Like the Roubaix Pro, the Tarmac Pro is equipped with a Dura-Ace drivtrain save for the S-Works carbon fiber crank. Unlike the Roubaix, the Tarmac’s S-Works crank is equipped with 53t and 39t chainrings. Ultegra brakes do the stopping.
The Tarmac Pro rolls on Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels. The wheels are fairly light, boasting a claimed weight of 1485g for the pair, but what most surprised me is that in more than 2000 miles of riding at this writing, they are as true as the words from a Boy Scouts lips. It is reasonable, in my opinion to conclude that Fulcrum’s 2:1 ratio of drive spokes to non-drive spokes does substantially aid the wheel by equalizing spoke tension. This is even more impressive when you consider that the front wheel has but 16 spokes and the rear has 21. I’ve had whisky that wasn’t this stiff.
The tires deserve some mention as well. The 700×23 S-Works Mondos feature a Kevlar bead and Flak Jacket protection combined with a 127 tpi casing. This tire ought to be unremarkable, and surprisingly, it corners like an architect’s T-square and I have yet to get a single flat. That’s as unlikely as a zero-calorie beer that tastes like a fine IPA.
Changes from 2009 to 2010 for the Tarmac SL include swapping the S-Works crank for a Dura-Ace one, subbing the Dura-Ace front derailleur for an Ultegra model and swapping the Fulcrums for Ksyrium Elites. My test bike weighed in at 15.5 lbs. before pedals and cages.
I’ll admit that I was infatuated enough by the Roubaix and wary enough of the Tarmac’s geometry that I really didn’t think I’d enjoy it much or put that many miles on it. Of all the bikes I’ve reviewed over the years, this may be the biggest surprise I’ve ever experienced. I love this bike.
Specialized Tarmac Pro: 94 points
Still to come: The Roubaix and Tarmac, head-to-head