The Specialized Roubaix, Part II

IMG_0092The flowing lines of the Specialized Roubaix are accentuated by striking graphics.

It’s only natural that a bike meant for longer days would be designed to eat vibration the way a whale sucks down krill. Specialized includes its Bar Phat bar tape with gel inserts to further cut vibration at the handlebar, before lawnmower hand has a chance to become a problem. This tape, of course, is wrapped around a wing bar, easing the degree to which your hands have to wrap around the bar.

The wheels are Roval’s Roubaix, a modern answer to the 32-spoke, 3-cross wheel that remains the favorite of pros racing the event that gave rise to this bike’s name—Paris-Roubaix. The wheels feature 24 spokes front, 30 spokes rear, two-cross, bladed spokes with machined aluminum hubs featuring a Swiss-made freehub rolling on a Specialized 25mm-wide Roubaix tire.

So what else can you do to reduce vibration transmission? How about a Specialized Body Geometry Toupé gel saddle?

Zertz inserts, Bar Phat, wing bar, old-school wheels (sorta), big tires and gel-filled saddle, it all adds up to as many different responses to vibration as I can think of. You might say a no-stone-unturned approach to reducing vibration.

Reducing vibration does more than just increase comfort, though. It reduces muscle fatigue and has the power to make five hours feel like four, leaving you fresher at the end of a long ride. This probably isn’t as big a deal for young riders, but for riders who have celebrated their 50th birthday, nerve pinches and back and neck issues become very real obstacles to comfort if not outright completing long rides.

I don’t want to go too far into the parts spec for this bike; it would be unfair to Specialized to judge the bike relative to my like or dislike of Shimano componentry. There are, however, some important points to touch on.

IMG_0078The compact drivetrain makes sense for the Roubaix’s intended rider.

The Roubaix is spec’d with a compact drivetrain. The crank is Specialized’s carbon fiber S-Works model with 50/34t rings. It is mated to a Shimano Ultegra 12/27t cassette. When one considers that this bike’s most likely consumer is a non-racer, the choice of a compact crank and widely spaced cassette is an entirely logical pairing. Why not give the bike gearing meant for mortals?

The shifters and derailleurs come from the 7900 Dura-Ace lineup, while the brake calipers are Ultegra. The only real fault I can find with the bike is in the Ultegra calipers; they simply don’t offer the same stopping power and modulation as the Dura-Ace grabbers, but that’s something I’m aware of due to riding different bikes. Someone without the same frame of reference won’t have any issue with the Ultegra brakes as they do an adequate, if not pro-worthy performance. On the other hand, the mix of Dura-Ace and Ultegra parts helps bring the cost of the Roubaix Pro in at $5000, as opposed to the cost of the Roubaix SL2, which runs $2200 more. Heck, that’s another bike!

So what’s the Roubaix like out on the road? I think it’s simply one of the most comfortable bikes on the market. People often confuse vibration damping with road shock. The Roubaix won’t fill potholes, hide rocks or smooth driveway ramps, but it has a very real ability to hit everything you ride over with 300 grit sandpaper. It won’t make every road glassy smooth, but it will definitely take the edge off any rough road.

IMG_0089One way to eliminate BB flex is to make all the structures larger!

Vertical compliance is an elusive quality to track. I don’t often believe I’ve found it in today’s carbon fiber bikes due to their incredible stiffness. Consider that Dave Kirk, the builder who invented the Serotta DKS suspension, said that suspension system, even when equipped with the softest of the three silicone dampers included with the bike, only saw 1-2 millimeters of vertical travel in the chainstays. I’m sure you experience more vertical compliance with an old Vitus or Alan than any of the current crop of carbon wonders. However, I’ve identified occasions when there was too little vertical compliance and found a bike to be chattery on rougher roads. Yes, a bike can be too stiff. That said, this bike doesn’t have nearly as much vertical compliance as an old Alan or Vitus. I wish that were enough to put the conversation about vertical compliance to rest, but it won’t.

The debate still rages on about whether energy is lost when a bike flexes, particularly when it flexes at the bottom bracket. I’ve got my answer, and had it long ago. For new riders, the answer is much simpler, though. A stiff bike allows someone still developing their skills to apply more force to the pedals with fewer hazardous overtones. On the Roubaix, any power you put into the bike will cause it to continue in the direction it is pointed with nothing so much as increased haste.

Torsional flex is yet another dimension of frame response that can be problematic. In the extreme, torsional flex can make a bike really hard to handle. Anyone who ever rode a Schwinn Twin tandem will tell you it handled like al dente pasta. Early carbon fiber forks from Europe (I’m specifically excepting the Kestrel fork) flexed enough in hard cornering to alter my line. I experienced no torsional flex that I could comment on with this bike. With its enormous-diameter tubes (I could fit a Navel Orange in the down tube) this thing tracked as straight and true as a sheet of drywall, even in aggressive cornering.

The bigger deal with the Roubaix is its handling. When I began building my vocabulary of bikes through ongoing shootouts and reviews, I quickly picked up on a theme of preference. I liked bikes that had really calm manners. They didn’t tend to feel too exciting when I first got on them, but after four hours you appreciated the way they held a line and when on a descent they made 45 mph feel like 35. And because your perception of speed is often the great decider for when you hit the brakes, any bike that makes you feel more in control and less like you’re doing something reckless is going to inspire confidence and a feeling of safety. Heck, you’re likely to go even faster.

The Roubaix seems a first cousin in its handling attributes to some of my old favorites. When I look back on the best descending bikes I’ve ever ridden, many of them have been Italian. CPSC rules prevent American bike manufacturers that deliver complete bikes (as opposed to framesets) from designing with a bottom bracket drop of more than about 7cm; you’ve got to calculate pedal-down lean-angle clearance very carefully to get any more BB drop than that. As I mentioned, Specialized squeezed another 1.5mm of BB drop into the design; it may not seem like much, but even that tiny amount makes the bike easier to lean into turns.

IMG_0093BB30 allows designers to use the entire width of the BB when designing the frame.

Out on long rides, the easy handling of the Roubaix is a pleasant departure from the twitchy reflexes of many bikes. You can sit up and look around, enjoy yourself, see the sights—and not worry that you’ll soon run off the road. Is there a more appropriate bike to take on a century traversing back roads of questionable maintenance? Maybe not.

The issue of weight must be addressed or it will seem like I left out the be-all, end-all number. It’s not, but that number is 16.06. Given the pavé-capable wheels and tires spec’d on this bike, that’s a very impressive number.

The number of people who enjoy road riding has has increased by multiplicatives in the last 10 years thanks to charity rides, Lance Armstrong and a host of other factors. When you consider how many of them joined the USCF (their numbers are up, but they haven’t doubled) you realize a very small percentage of newer roadies have moved into what many folks think is a much more aggressive expression of the sport. The Roubaix is an appropriate response for tens of thousands of riders who don’t need the agility of a bike like the Tarmac.

IMG_0094Comfort cuts no corners. Even the seatpost has a Zertz insert.

The 2010 Roubaix does feature some different parts spec from the 2009. That it has taken me so long to write this review is something of a disservice to Specialized. I’m sure you’ll be able to find this bike on the floor at many bike shops, but I’ll note the differences in spec for the new season. The big changes are as follows: a Dura-Ace 50/34t crank is substituted for the Specialized carbon fiber model. An Ultegra front derailleur replaces the Dura-Ace model. An even wider-spaced 11-26t cassette is exchanged for the 12-27t one. A narrower, 23mm tire replaces the 25mm one; both feature 120 tpi casings with Flak Jacket protection that seem impervious to all but land mines. Finally and most significantly, the Roval wheels on the ’09 bike are replaced with Roval Fusee SL wheels, a noticeably lighter set. The 2010 bike will weigh closer to 15.5 lbs. out of the box.

As a reflection of the population, grand touring bikes ought to be dominating road bike sales. Specialized did much to remove the stigma from these bikes by offering the Roubaix in carbon fiber and giving it top quality parts spec. In a world dominated by bikes made for American crit racing, the Roubaix is one of the most intelligently designed bikes I’ve ever ridden. Easily one of my all-time favorite bikes.

As I did with bikes I reviewed at BKW, I’ll be scoring bikes on a 100-point system. It will take into account every facet of the bike: price, design, effectiveness for given consumer, parts spec, fit considerations, handling, weight, stiffness, road feel and even availability, the idea being a $2000 bike has the same chance of scoring 100 points as a $10,000 bike if it accomplishes its consumer-oriented goals.

Specialized Roubaix Pro: 94 points

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  1. Lois

    “…bottom bracket drop of more than about 7cm; you’ve got to calculate pedal-down lean-angle clearance very carefully to get any more BB drop than that.”

    What the difference of, say, having a 175mm cranks on a frame w/ 70mm BB drop and 170mm cranks on a frame w/ 75mm of BB drop?

    1. Author

      Lois: I’m going to have to check with an engineer I know to get an answer on that. I don’t know the calculations involved but I know that the way most engineers read them they just don’t design with more than 7cm of drop. Period.

  2. Souleur

    I agree Padraig, a riding buddy, an relative newbie and weekend warrior for charity rides and century’s bought this and it rides very much as you describe.
    Very well stated, thanks for this! Looking forward to more.

  3. Sophrosune

    A very clear and well-organized review. But I would like to urge that “shootouts” be considered as a review style in the future. I personally would like to know how you would compare a Specialized Roubaix against a Cervelo RS or a Look 566, or all of the high-end “sportive” bikes that are now flooding the market. Considering the work and detail you put into your reviews this is surely a tall task, but I would like to hear what you have to say about all the bikes in this class.

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: Having done half a bajillion shootouts of bikes, thermal jackets, bib shorts, etc., I can say I’m not a fan of them. Someone winds up the loser. That’s not always fair to the manufacturer. That’s why I’m going to go with scores. If I give one bike a 98 and another 89, you can reasonably infer that the bike that got 98 accomplished its goals with greater effectiveness.

      The other problem is that I took so long to get this written (and am working on the Tarmac review as we speak), I’d NEVER get the shootout published. As it is Part II was so long I should have split it in two, but I didn’t see the point in dragging things out.

  4. Andrew

    Can you comment on the CPSC rules relating to bb drop? Like you, I prefer more drop- started out riding old Italian steel frames and have lately switched to higher-bb bikes (mostly Cannondales) and have never felt anywhere near as stable. However, I’d never heard anything about the CPSC entering into it- I just assumed Cannondale wanted all their frames to be lively-feeling.

    Tangentially, I find it mystifying that Cannondale’s newer frames (CAAD 8-9 and the carbon frames) all have > 7cm of drop in the very small frames and 6.7 cm of drop for the bigger frames- where the center of gravity is noticeably higher.

  5. brett

    excellent review. i have a 2009 roubaix in the SRAM red/force configuration and find your review to be spot on. i do take some issue with some of the componentry offered but, mostly, that’s due to personal preferences with saddles, stems, seatposts, etc… i have ridden this bike on a set of roval fusee’ star wheels, which are considerably different than the roubaix 322x’s that came with it, and find that the ride quality is so greatly affected that the fusee’ star wheels have been sitting in a closet collecting dust.

    1. Author

      Regarding CPSC rules concerning ground clearance, I checked with the CPSC and got the following:
      Subpart A—Regulations
      §1512.17 Other requirements
      (c) Ground clearance. With the pedal horizontal and the pedal crank in its lowest position and any training wheels removed, it shall be possible to tilt the bicycle at least 25° from the vertical without the pedal or any other part (other than tires) contacting the ground plane.

      The question becomes just how much clearance do you and your lawyers decide is enough and on what pedal design do you base your calculation? Specialized includes relatively low-profile rat-trap pedals with the Roubaix and the Tarmac. I find it beyond unlikely anyone would use the pedals, but it would give them a little more distance to work with than symmetrical rat-trap pedals. My understanding is that most companies calculate this based on a standard rat-trap pedal.

      The definition means that if you wish to spec longer crank arms, you must raise the BB, which is why big frames, which could really use a lower CG offered by a lower BB, usually end up with only 6.7mm of BB drop.

      I’d give a pound of my own flesh to see one of the better manufacturers offer a carbon fiber frame in a frame-only configuration built around 8cm of drop. Flippin’ regulations. Ugh.

  6. Dr. Dre

    I thoroughly enjoyed your review. I do have one question:

    “The only real fault I can find with the bike is in the Ultegra calipers; they simply don’t offer the same stopping power and modulation as the Dura-Ace grabbers,”

    Was your bike equipped with the 6600 or 6700 series Ultegra brakes? I can’t tell from the photos. I believe Shimano went to a different cable pull ratio for the 7900 and 6700 brake/shift levers, causing sub par performance with previous generation brakes.

    I am curious because I am about to buy a Ultegra 6700 drive train for a new build, including brakes, and every other review I have read have the brakes as one of the strong point of the new gruppo, with near Dura Ace like performance. I am interested in hearing dissenting opinions. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Dr. Dre: These were the 6600 calipers. I should have made that clear. My limited time on the 6700s has been more satisfying. And that’s true of the whole group.

  7. Dan O

    Great review. When it comes down to it, this style of bike fits the majority of riders. Even if you did race it, seriously doubt it would hold you back in any way.

    Interesting deal on the BB drop CPSC regulations – never knew that.

    If that’s the case, how does Rivendell and other small companies get away with offering complete bikes with low BB heights? From what I understand, Sachs frames also ride low – but only available as a frame, so I guess no problem.

    Or am I missing something here?

  8. Bret Gross

    Thanks for the clear and detailed review. You hit on what, I assume, are many of the reasons that this bike is so well-represented (based only on my view from the rest stops) at the last two double centuries in the California Triple Crown series. Each rider that I spoke with was unrestrained in their praise of the Roubaix. I guess that folks who ride those many miles should know — and they tend to be picky!

  9. James

    Great review! I appreciate your attention to vibration. Around here the vast majority of roads have been chip sealed in lieu of repaving. This past summer on a week long organized ride I felt the effects of the constant vibration of chip sealed roads. As we exited to a smooth portion of road I suddenly felt reinvigorated. I may have to consider a Roubaix in the future if it can dampen the constant vibration of chip sealed roads! Thanks again for a great review.

  10. Larry T.

    A few thoughts – your scoring system doesn’t leave much for improvement if Specialized makes this a better bicycle next time round. You run the risk of being the Robert Parker of bike reviews, I can see ads saying “98 Points from Red Kite Prayer” already. $5K for one of these Chinese-made things? That’s a lot of dough. I wonder what a comparison of say, ( I admit to being horribly biased ) a Torelli Corsa Strada equipped with the gel tape and other vibration-absorbing accessories (sans the frame’s “Zertz”) would net? Of course the weight would be vastly different but otherwise I bet this far less expensive machine would compare very well. I look forward to reading how the Tarmac model compares to the Roubiax.

  11. MCH

    While I completely agree with the direction that Specialized and some of the other manufactuers are going, e.g. Race bikes, Century/Charity ride bikes, etc., I can’t help but think that the industry must develop better names for the categories. To me, a “charity ride” bike sounds like something lacking in performance and designed for a complete newb or worse, my grandmother. I know – completely irrational and arrogant on my part. But, the name just doesn’t convey excitement or performance. My fear is that the rider looking for performance will pass on a bike like the Roubaix and instead pick a “race” bike like the Tarmac. That would be a shame, because for many/most the Roubaix is probably the better choice. Regardless of the truth about performance, consumer perception will drive sales and ultimately the success of the category. If the category is going to sell, all of the stakeholders – manufacturers, media, etc. – are going to have to develop better category names and better definitions of the categories.

    IMO, the ski industry has done a great job at this. They’ve clearly defined Race, Park, and All-mountain skis, as well as sub-categories within. Importantly, they’ve created clear distinctions between race and all-mountain skis while maintaining the perception of high performance within each. If anything, the general public now see the All-mountain skis as the higher performance, sexier option. Slalom and GS race skis (roughly the equivalent of today’s race bikes) are viewed by most as highly specialized tools to be used only by those who really race. IMO, this is where the cycling industry need to go. It would be a shame to see a great class of bikes fade away because of something as simple as naming/positioning/marketing.

    1. Author

      Thanks all for the terrific comments.

      Larry: you bring up an important point and one I’ve considered. With bikes, components, etc., any review given, whether a point score is awarded or not, is relative to its time. This isn’t a problem the wine industry faces. While Parker may have caused wine making styles to evolve to a more fruit-driven wine that doesn’t need 10 years of cellaring to be drinkable (and that’s a terrific evolution), a great wine from today may be no better than a great wine from 1961 because wines aren’t inherently improving. That’s not the case with bike componentry and bikes themselves. Today’s bikes weigh less and perform better in sprints and in hard cornering, two of the circumstances that are most demanding on a bike. Any score I award is relative to its time. I’d have given the Torelli Nitro Express I reviewed back in ’98 a similar score. I adore how that frame handles, but at 4 lbs., 2 oz., it’s a pig by today’s standards. I’ve ridden very nice frames that weigh less than half what that frame weighs and offer superior performance when I’m out of the saddle. Maybe I’d award today’s steel frames an extra point or two for superior durability (as compared to carbon) but in terms of pure performance, they don’t measure up to today’s standards, all things considered. And while I’m sure there are readers who will want to argue that an extra three or four pounds won’t make any difference on a climb, my personal experience is that two pounds can be the difference between me staying with the lead group and not. I’ve seen it demonstrated on the same climb on too many occasions to disregard it. But back to the larger point: Scores, like reviews, will always have to be relative to the year in which they were written.

      MCH: Yes, the ski industry has it all over the bike industry when it comes to accurately descriptive nomenclature. That lack of industry-wide agreed upon terms was what led me to write the post “Sport vs. Grand Touring.” I think the two terms are accurate on a very literal level, connect well to the automotive industry for easy comparison and the term grand touring really does compare well with what some folks used to call “stage race” geometry. Now, if we can just get others to agree that the terminology is neutral (not brand-specific) and accurate.

  12. Robot

    I’d like to offer the term “endurance” to describe the “charity ride” bike.

    I like to go fast, but I’m not a racer. I need a bike I can put a lot of miles into without turning my body into a Gordian knot of pain.

    Whether it’s carbon or aluminum or steel, I prefer a geometry that takes into account what will happen with my body over thousands of miles, because that’s how long my rides really are. They’re not 10, 50 or even 100 miles. They’re infinite.

    I endure.

  13. Larry T.

    I tbink Padraig’s Sport – Grand Touring terms are accurate and descriptive. The problem is, unlike the automotive world where you can’t buy the F1 car in the Toyota or Ferrari advertisements, the bike industry is trying to sell you the same bike used by the winner of TdF, Paris-Roubaix, etc. (or at least a replica)whether it makes any sense for the type of riding you do or not. And just like an F1 car, unless you actually race the thing at a fairly high level the top-of-the-line racing machines make little sense, but get all the ink both editorially and in the advertising. Torelli’s Chairman Bill had a good piece about racing bikes vs riding bikes, I think it’s still on his bikeraceinfo site. If the average cyclist is influenced by the racing victory ads, it’s tough to imagine him buying a “riding bike” since the ads and hype are all about racing, not riding, even though the riding bike may be far better (just like a Grand Touring vs F1 car for driving around on public roads vs race tracks) for his purposes. I’ve heard the excuses about not being able to keep up because of the extra kilo of bike weight so many times I want to puke! Are you riding or racing? Again, there’s an interesting essay on this on bikeraceinfo pointing out the small differences this actually makes. I’ve said this before, can you tell while climbing if your bottles are full or empty? That’s the amount of weight difference between the light bikes and the heavy ones these days. I doubt many could actually tell. I’ll admit I can tell only when hoisting the bike onto the roof rack so ride quality, handling, cost and durability are much more important to this old fart!

  14. Touriste-Routier

    Padraig- Great articles; I look forward to reading your thoughts regarding the
    Tarmac as well.

    I am most interested in hearing your opinion on how you think the Roubaix would compare/perform versus a traditional steel frame of similar geometry on cobbles. In other words, which do you think would be more comfortable (or considering we are talking cobbles, which would hurt less…) if all other components were identical?

    The context of this is that I am looking for a frame to use during
    European Spring Classic Cyclosportives (Ronde, P-R, Gent Wevelgem, etc.). I plan to use old school box section Mavic SSC rims with either Vittoria Pave or Challenge Paris-Roubaix tubulars. Clearly these events are about endurance, so minimizing impact and vibration are crucial.

    Though I won’t elaborate on them here, several things make me suspicious about the Zertz inserts. If Specialized wanted to prove their effectiveness, they’d perform controlled tests on a bike with and without the inserts installed, and would publish the data. Of course this would open up their competitors to make comparisons, perhaps from different tests.

    1. Author

      Thanks much for the kind words. If you want a frame that will really increase your chances of surviving cobbles, I wouldn’t look at carbon OR steel. I’d look at aluminum. I know, sounds strange, but I’d get an Alan or Vitus frame. Or maybe a first-gen. Merlin. My god those things were flexy. It takes a while to get used to how they corner, but if you’re not pushing hard, it’s not so bad.

      The thing about trying to publish test data on Zertz inserts is that what they do is hard to quantify. That is, while it can be quantified in terms of frequencies cut and the degree to which amplitude is reduced, that still doesn’t really tell the story of what you feel. That’s why I don’t think there’s much point.

      Back to your question: Which would I choose? I’d choose the Roubaix for road feel but the steel (depending on who built it) for geometry.

  15. Larry T. now has a post — Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles. with links to Chairman Bill’s essays on frame materials and weight along with a bit about our choice of bicycles in our rental program for CycleItalia guided tour clients. We offer a classic all-steel Torelli as well as a new “Premium” model with 7000 series aluminum frame and carbon rear stays and fork.

  16. MattS

    Great article Padraig. As an owner of the first generation Roubaix (58cm), I’ve put in probably about 10 000k on the bike. Up until recently, mine was set up with 32h wheels, 28c Grand Bois or Challenge Roubaix tires, a compact double and 11-28 cassette. This might give the impression that I’m a middle aged charity rider. I’m not. Rather, I’m 31, and a cyclist going on 20 years, and I hold my own rather well in elite and masters A level races of all kinds. Before getting into road I was a mtb rider and racer, in both xc and downhill disciplines. Why is this relevant? I mention it because I want to make it clear that there is at least a small group of riders like myself who actually seek out rough terrain on road bikes. I, and many of my riding buddies, love ripping down dirt and gravel roads and struggling up loose climbs. For us, this is simply fun and exciting. We’re always doing something. Chalk this up to our mtb backgrounds; we like the action. Don’t think I’m suggesting regular road riding is devoid of action; its not. On most regular road rides the action tends to occur between riders sprinting for signs, tucking in just right, rotating like a well oiled machine etc. We tend to vie toward challenging terrain that takes us away from traffic, and lets us explore areas we’d never otherwise go.

    Having stated my preference for surface and terrain, I’ll make it clear that I’m a bit of a ‘racer’. By that I mean I like to race. However, I’m not always racing. Since I acquired my Roubaix I’ve been able to tackle a variety of races on it, from our local Roubaix race here in Ottawa, to the Tour of the Battenkill and D2R2 (randonnee). The bike afforded me all the performance I could ask for in a bike that took my 28s. All the qualities you describe resonate with me. As a firm believer in the value of suspension to provide both comfort/efficiency and TRACTION, I’ve found my Roubaix performs incredibly well. It is stable. Yes, I’ve opted to borrow a Tarmac for the odd typical road race (which I seldom do), but most of the time the Roubaix was all I need.

    While some might wonder why one would want to ride tires larger the 25c, my friends and I like to go bigger still, 30c. However, the Roubaix cannot accommodate those. So when it comes to really mixing it up on rough stuff, its intended use proves limiting. Due to this issue, I had a custom steel bike built, based on the geometry of the Roubaix I loved so much. I dropped the bb to 80mm and added a tad of rake. The steel bike is yet more stable than the Roubaix, but naturally, heavier. Its geometry is not unlike cross bikes from Sachs and others, begging the question: why not just use a cross bike. This is where distinctions get blurry. I could just get studs welded on and call it a cross bike… Interestingly, I suspect my steel bike is less ‘vertically compliant’ than the Roubaix, and its built with a 28.6 top and seat-tube, 31.8 downtube. I have to ride it a lot more to really commit to this evaluation, but that’s my impression over the first 500k.

    Ok, so the point of all this is to say that bikes like the Roubaix appeal to a lot of different people with different needs. They make great bikes for the rough stuff and long ‘smooth’ rides alike. I have not yet convinced myself that steel can offer all the performance a good carbon frame can. But I am bothered by the fact that I don’t feel comfortable trusting a beaten on carbon frameset to retain its structural integrity for years and years. I love new bikes, but don’t want to want a new bike every three or four years. Perhaps a custom Crumpton could offer years of service and meet all the performance requirements I’m looking for….

    Thanks for being part of this ongoing conversation about bicycle design and ride quality Padraig. In the sea of press release copy, you are a beacon of light….maybe TRUTH.

  17. Touriste-Routier

    MattS- I am curious as to which 28 mm tires you use with your Roubaix. I plan to use “27” mm Vittoria Pave or Challenge Paris – Roubaix tubulars on NOS Mavic SSC box section rims. The Challenge P-R tires (both clincher & tubular) are reported to often measure larger than 27. When I placed my wheels with these tires into a Roubaix frameset at a LBS, they cleared, but it was a very close fit. I’d hate to develop a hop, which is highly likely over many KMs of real pave.

    And if you like Battenkill, etc. Check out for 2 rides I put on in suburban Philadelphia

  18. MattS


    I quite like the Challenge Roubaix tires. Jan Heine conducted a test of the tires in question a while ago ( that is quite informative. On my wheels, the Grand Bois Cerf (28) and the Challenge Roubaix (27) are exactly the same size – 29. I’ve done a precise roll out and they are identical. The Challenge tires seem slightly more supple than the Brand Bois. They are slightly thinner. I’ve managed to cut them in numerous places, whereas I don’t have any significant cuts in the Grand Bois. I suspect this has to do with the fact I’ve used the Roubaix’s for the roughest rides/races, though there might be a difference in rubber compound that makes a difference. Either way, I really like both tires.

    Clearance with both tires on the Roubaix (105 calipers) has been completely fine. However, note that I run 32h Open Pros, which are not prone to brutal warping as wheels with fewer spokes would be. I think single pivot Campy brakes provide even more clearance. I used the Challenges in an extremely muddy race (The Hell of the North, outside Toronto) and got by ok (see my blog for photos of the clearannce with mud). The tire made room for itself. However, as you say, cobbles present their own issues. Though, if I broke a spoke I’d be truing for straightness, which would create a flat spot that would not interfere with the brake. I would not hesitate to use the 28s on cobbles.

    The Vittorias are also very good quality tires. I’ve not owned a pair personally, but would love to use them some time. Some friends have used them and find them quite good. The casing is great quality, and I think the rubber compound it durable. They are definitely a bit smaller than the two others I discuss here.
    The Grand Bois tires can be found here. The top photo is from our Roubaix race, the bottom from one of our all-road rides:

    1. Author

      Matt: I dig your idea of fun. I miss the days of dirt road rides I used to do in New England. Sundays in the early fall were spent on as many dirt roads as we could link up. There’s nothing like a two-wheel drift on 25mm tires.

      There’s a lot to be said for 32 spokes when it comes to rough roads. I’ve broken spokes on frost heaves.

  19. MattS

    Who knows Padraig, perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to ride the D2R2 back in New England some time. Best ride on my road bike ever, and certainly one of my all-time best rides on any sort of bike. Definitely some drift action there! Maybe I’ll be able to talk some of the locals into taking me for a ride on one of their typical routes sometime. Talk about a dirt road mecca, Deerfield Mass. Maybe a RKP/Sachs ride is in order to round up the D2R2 weekend? Which bike would you bring?

    1. Author

      Richard Sachs cited the D2R2 as a big reason he moved to Western Mass. and invited me to come do the ride. It’s on my list of must-do rides.

  20. Natextr

    Great review Padrig! Thanks. As a retailer, I’d like to point out a couple of things that I have noticed about the Roubaix.

    1) A high-volume 27mm tire isn’t going to fit the new SL2 frameset and allow for any crud build-up. I think that part of the reason to go to 23mm tires is to give the appearance of more room in the frame. Funny, we were having a discussion about this at the shop today.
    2) Zertz: I am not sure if they do everything that they claim either. I had a first gen seatpost that the zert would actually fall out of and it didn’t make much difference in ride quality either way. Also, I have heard that a big part of the reasoning behind the zert is for Specialized to increase surface area of a given tube. As vibrations tend to be amplified by more surface area, I would speculate that Specialized is “dialing-in” the amount and frequency of vibrations that they want us to feel. By making the chainstay and BB so über stiff, they ran the risk of overbuilding the rear end making the bike produce the wrong kind of vibrations (deemed distracting or fatiguing). The zertz, or more specifically the holes the zertz go into, are sized and placed in such a manner to impart a particular feel. This placement and sizing has changed over the years as Specialized has refined the Roubaix.
    Also, as for the point-scale, I like it. Anybody who took a spelling test in school knows what a 98 represents. My only concern is that we (the readers) don’t take the numbers too seriously. They represent your opinion and should be viewed as such. It would also be instructional if you could quantify the number with a break-down of how that is achieved. I used to read Watch Time magazine and would get annoyed when the editors would comment on how comfortable and well designed a particular watch’s bracelet was and then give it only 8 out of a possible 10 points. I guess that they were faced with the dilemma of reviewing too many fabulous watches and they all couldn’t score 96-100 points…

  21. Alan

    A couple of lbs on your bike, or your body, if you can’t tell the difference, your not riding enough! I have been riding a 25 year old Paramount for um let me thing about it for a moment…that is right, 25 years! I also run and have been keeping a detailed training log for the last decade.

    When I head out on a long ride with a half gallon of water, that gets refilled en route, yes, I can feel the difference. It is just two large water bottles…pick them up full and bounce them in your hands.

    And the running times on the same route are always slower when I am heavier, always. Two lbs. are almost always material as far as total time is concerned.

    So I can’t wait to get a new bike that weighs 5 lbs less than my Paramount, and also get down to my old racing weight!

  22. brett

    i have been sitting at work going back through some of these comments and reviews and felt compelled to add something. i have been riding my roubaix with a selle italia slr carbonio – the one that is essentially just a carbon shell.

    i did two rides of virtually the same route, once with the saddle attached to a thomson post and once with it attached to the specialized post with the zerts. i found the specialized post far more comfortable.

    having said that, i don’t know if the difference is due to the carbon versus aluminum post material or the zerts insert, but i just wanted to put that out there.

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