The all-new Specialized Tarmac S-Works has been launched and it is better than ever

We’ve seen the pros aboard what looked to be a new Specialized Tarmac at the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse recently and we can now confirm it was indeed the new machine from the American brand that we are about to see raced throughout the 2017 Tour de France.

I got the chance to visit Specialized in America to spend some time with the new bike at Specialized’s summer camp in New Jersey.

>>> Britain’s best bike shops 2017 – Vote is now open

The Tarmac race bike is, and always has been, Specialized’s GC bike – the climber, sprinter, descender – and it has won a number of massive races over the years including a world title with Peter Sagan.

The new Specialized Tarmac has already taken a few professional wins, most notably with Philippe Gilbert on stage two of the Tour de Suisse.

Since the first Specialized Tarmac was launched back in 2003 road racing has changed, says Specialized, especially over the last five or so years.

Unlike the good old days when sprint stages were pan flat or a mountain stage was just that, now stage racing has everything within one day – climbs, sprints, you name it – and it is harder than ever to choose whether to use the aero or the lightweight bike.

So the goal for the new Tarmac was easy to set: faster, lighter and better handling than the previous Specialized Tarmac – though that was no easy task with the Specialized Tarmac of old being a great bike – with better aerodynamics, not forgetting compliance. All the best attributes of a top race bike rolled into one, in other words.

A lighter Specialized Tarmac

The new structure of the FACT 12r carbon brings the S-Works model down to 733g for a 56cm frame. This number is the average weight across one batch off the production line.

The main change that made this weight loss possible was a new tube structure. Stiff used to mean oversized – not any more, according to Specialized. Now it is possible to retain and improve stiffness while simultaneously reducing tube size, thus making the frame both lighter and more aerodynamic.

Specialized Tarmac

You can see the size difference in the BB alone

Look at the bottom bracket shell above and you can see the size has reduced significantly compared to that of the previous Tarmac. Consequently the weight of the BB shell has dropped by around 30g. This is a good example of how Specialized aimed to improve all of the frame’s elements without taking away any of the key qualities the bike already had.

Specialized removed the cable routing, making the structure lighter and more efficient, instead using small sleeve (pictured below) that can house all cables efficiently, taking away any unnecessary bulk and weight out of the BB.

Specialzied Tarmac

Simple design improves the Tarmac

The down tube is also smaller and has some crucial changes. Moving the cable entry points from the sides to the top has enabled Specialized to remove some structural reinforcement needed for those holes, meaning the down tube is now lighter without sacrificing stiffness.

Specialized Tarmac

A move of the cable entry saves on unnecessary reinforcement in the down tube reducing weight and tube size

A more aero Specialized Tarmac

Other small changes, led by a mix of finite element analysis, computational fluid dynamics and Specialized’s ‘Win’ tunnel testing, drove the aerodynamic changes – vital in today’s road racing.

However, this couldn’t come at the cost of handling, which Specialized says is how the Tarmac will be judged primarily. So Specialized set out to find the best areas to redesign to improve aerodynamics which would have no impact on the handling.

It claims it has managed to save 45 seconds over 40km compared to rivals in a similar weight band. The Cannondale SuperSix EVO2 and the Trek Emonda is what the American brand has pitched its new machine against. It claims it is around 40g lighter too.

Three key areas here have changed:


A lowered headset bearing and direct-mount brake means the fork’s crown can be lowered, reducing frontal area and therefore reducing drag. The fork legs have also been reduced in size and reshaped to help airflow without the loss of stiffness that give the Tarmac its handling.


Borrowing features from the Shiv, Roubaix and Venge where a lowered seatstay helps air flow over the back of the bike again without compromise to handling or weight, ‘co-optimised truncated airfoils and an optimised junction with the seat tube’ supposedly adds to the aero benefit without adding weight.

Seatpost and seat tube

Specialized says it found that air speeds up around the seatpost and seat tube as it is compressed around the riders legs and seatpost/tube. This, along with the importance of the seatpost/tube on compliance and handling meant Specialized needed to create a new design for the Tarmac.

With the new D-shaped seat tube – which follows a very similar design to that of the BMC Teammachine – Specialized managed to create something that slots nicely into its design philosophy.

With a clear aerodynamic benefit, according to Specialized, it has managed to improve compliance. The shape and the carbon layup (non-uniform) allows the seatpost to be super-stiff at entry into the frame and more compliant towards the saddle.

Rider First Engineering

Rider First Engineering is something Specialized introduced with the Tarmac in 2014. The concept is to ensure no matter what frame size you ride, it is optimised for that rider, so no more overbuilt 49cm or underbuilt 60cm frames. It now goes a step further, however.

Specialized Tarmac

The difference between the biggest and smallest frames

The Rider First Engineered process now takes on more than just handling as a measure and will now consider stiffness, aerodynamics and weight for each size.

Specialized can now measure performance via the structural analysis simulations learned from its partnership with McLaren. This means in real time, the American brand can see how the applied changes affect the bike’s stiffness, weight and aerodynamics.

It’ll then determine whether a change that improves one attribute doesn’t detract from another.

The difference is the Specialized Tarmac now has 500 engineered pieces compared to 300 previously, allowing for much more design control.

On top of this Specialized has created three forks to accommodate the differences from size to size. However, all forks enter via the same 1.5-inch lower bearing, although each has a different steerer taper to deal with different stresses in that area. Each fork will change in depth and width. See below:

V1 fork: sizes 44cm, 49cm, 52cm
V2 fork (legs 2mm wider, 6mm deeper): sizes 54cm, 56cm
V3 fork (legs 4mm wider, 12mm deeper): sizes 58cm, 61cm

Geometry for people not gender

Specialized leaned on Retül, a company it owns, and its 40,000 professionally executed bike fits, to determine which way to go sizewise with the Tarmac.

It then removed gender from the equation and focused on stack, reach and grip position and plotted on a graph. Specialized could then determine that it could create the right size bikes for small riders to large riders.

Specialized found that with its dataset gender didn’t determine what bike size you needed – rather the size of you as a person did. The only things that need to be specific to gender are the main contact points (saddle and bars) along with the crank length.

So the Tarmac S-Works and Expert will be available in women’s colours, sizes 44cm to 56cm. These frames only differ in the fact the sizes start from 44cm and not 49cm like the men’s and the contact points and chainset mentioned above.

The range

The new Tarmac range is a little complicated. So expect to see the new frame, the SL6 at S-Works, Pro, Expert with Shimano Ultegra. The step down will be the older SL5 at Comp, with and without disc and Expert but with Shimano Dura-Ace. Finally for the entry level you can get the SL4 platform at Elite and Sport.

Specialized Tarmac Ultra Light

Specialized Tarmac

Limited availability on the Ultra Light version of the S-Work Tarmac. It has a sub 10g paint job, which is achieved by a special process that has a better surface out of the mould meaning less primer is needed and only one paint stage is done. A very special bike indeed. SRP will be £9,000, available August.

S-Works Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

Specialized FACT 12r carbon with the American brand’s own S-Works chainset and Shimano’s Dura-Ace R9150 Di2. SRP £8,500, available September.

Pro Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

Same deal as the high-end S-Works bike but with Fact 10r carbon for the Pro Tarmac and Shimano’s new Ultegra 8010 Di2 with S-Works chainset. Deep Roval CL 50s finish off the bike. SRP 5,400, available end of October.

SL6 Expert Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

The Expert Tarmac will come complete with Full Shimano Ultegra Di2 and the same FACT 10R carbon as the Pro. You will however, need to settle for Roval 24 wheelset. SRP will be £3,500, available end of October.

SL5 Expert Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

Using the older SL5 geometry for the other Expert Tarmac available. You do get a Full Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset though. SRP £4,000, available July.

Comp Disc Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

The only disc brake available at the moment in the Tarmac range. Shimano Ultegra hydraulics with Di2 shifting. SRP £2,800, available end of October.

Comp Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

The standard SL5 comp will have a Shimano Ultegra 8000 mechanical groupset. SRP £2,600, available end of August.

Elite Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

The Elite Tarmac will drop down to the SL4 geometry and Specialized’s FACT 9r carbon instead of the 10r and 12r on the higher models. You’ll also get a part Ultegra groupset, missing the chainset which is now a Praxis Zayante. SRP £2,000, available mid-August.

Sport Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

Same as the Elite but with a Shimano 105 groupset. SRP £1,750, available July.

Entry-level Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac

This is the Specialized Tarmac SL4 which uses its FACT 9r carbon. You’ll be treated with Shimano Tiagra groupset here with DT Swiss R640 wheels. Two colourways and internal cabling makes for a very plush entry-level road bike. SRP £1,500, available beginning of August.