The all new Specialized S-Works Tarmac is a thing of understated beauty. I've truly fallen for this bike and have enjoyed lapping up the miles on it
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac race bike is, and always has been, the GC race bike from Specialized and it has won a number of massive races over the years including world titles with Peter Sagan.
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 an aero or the lightweight bike.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac Frame
Compared to the previous version the Tarmac looks a lot different, more slender, different rear end and fork. That is mainly down to the fact that new carbon technique allows Specialized to use smaller sized tubing without losing strength, thus being lighter overall.
Specialized weighed a batch of frames, size 56cm, and says the average weight for this batch was 766g! A quick look at the bottom brackets below shows the size difference between old and new and the weight saving of 30g in this area alone – without losing stiffness.
A small change with cable entry in the down tube also allows the American brand to remove extra strengthening materials to help weight loss.
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac is said to be on par aerodynamically with the first Venge and you can see the technology it’s borrowed from the latest version with the dropped rear stay that use co-optimised truncated airfoils and d-shaped seat post and seat tube that helps with compliance too.
Rider First Engineering is used here too, so a 52cm (which we had on test) should ride the same as a 61cm and everyone should get the same ride sensation across the board.
Over 500 different pieces are used to tailor the ride for each size and three different sized forks are used between the range.
The star of the specification for me are the tyres. The S-Works Turbo Cottons are an amazing tyre. Fast, grippy, fairly durable so far (touch wood) and they look great in the tanned side wall colour. They’re 26mm in width too for a little extra comfort here.
Aside from the tyres you get Roval CLX 50 wheels, which are a solid all rounder that feel racy and compliment the bike well. Thanks to those direct mount brakes you’ll be able to go a little wider on those tyres too.
All components are of course from Specialized; saddle with the Toupé, seatpost and bars are carbon FACT and the stem is alloy.
This version features Shimano Dura Ace 9150 Di2, an awesome groupset with no faults whatsoever. My only gripe – and it’s mainly down to my laziness – is that Sync Shift annoys me.
A simple plug in and set up will help this as ultimately I want to choose when I want the big or little ring and sometimes I want to ride in the 11 on the little ring! The S-Works carbon cranks are a nice touch and a good swap out here.
Direct mount brakes are super effective and brake well with the Roval’s in both wet and dry and offer a good amount of control.
Well, I apologise if I gush here. This bike is awesome to ride!
From the moment I jumped on the Tarmac – on the launch in America, to the 250 odd miles I’ve done on in in the last month or so – it has been a dream.
The reason is that this out-and-out race bike is fast, to the point of nippy and fun. It allows you to muck around and press into corners confidently and if you like that characteristic in a bike – as I do – this has it in heaps.
Expert handling is spoken about a lot with the Tarmac and it rings true when you ride it. Poised is how I would describe it. You can make a switch around pretty quickly, lean into bends nicely and feel the strength in the bike throughout the corner.
It feels light too. Effortless to ride might sound like a throwaway exaggeration. Even the lightest bikes can struggle to feel effortless to ride – but in this case it’s not hyperbole, but a reality.
Usually the undesirable side effect of speed is a loss of comfort or compliance, though, thanks to the wider 26mm tyres and fatter rims (internal is 20.7mm) , d-shaped seatpost and lowered rear stay compliance is noticeable.
A distinct lack of road buzz, even from the front end and the bridgeless rear stay (you get a carbon insert to go with the direct mount brakes), all comes together to offer all day comfort.
Of course Rider First Engineering plays a factor too and my small 52cm bike doesn’t mean a harsh ride. Compare this to the Venge Vias I tested earlier in the year, which is a bit of a harsh machine, and it’s a very different ride.
I must say however, all this fun comes at a small price and that is a top speed, full flight sprints, where I’ve noticed the Specialized S-Works Tarmac can be a little too twitchy. I’m sure some won’t like this.
This isn’t dangerous but something to consider if you are sprinting full gas for the finish line or out playing with some mates.
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac has been a great riding companion over the last month or so. It really does allow you to feel fast and racey with a good amount of rider comfort thanks to that dropped seat stay and the ability to ride wider tyres too.