The big red ‘S’ of Specialized is hard to miss – go to any cycling event and you’d need to be somewhere pretty obscure to dodge the sighting of at least a few of the brand’s bike creations in their range.
Specialized didn’t emerge on the scene as a bike manufacturer. The brand was founded by Mike Sinyard in 1974, who initially imported Italian made components and sold them in the US. The first bikes arrived in 1981 in the shape of the Specialized Allez road bike, Sequoia touring bike and Stumpjumper mountain bike.
The brand grew steadily from there, though a decision to move into lower end, affordable bikes under the title ‘Full Force’ in 1995 saw it lose the support of distributors and suffer financially. In 2001, it sold 49 per cent of the business to Merida bikes, whilst Sinyard maintained his majority stake and position as CEO.
The brand’s collection is expansive – ranging from aero road bikes to full-suspension mountain bikes, and covering off pretty much everything in between. We’ve taken a good look at the key road models, differences between the models to help you choose the best for you.
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Specialized Tarmac: the GC road race bike
The Specialized Tarmac was designed to be a complete race bike. It’s the GC leader of the Specialized squad, putting the rider in an aggressive position and offering quick handling, whilst being light enough to climb well with a level of compliance that means the rider gets ample feedback from the road without witnessing every crease in the tarmac from the cockpit.
Specialized has recently given the Tarmac an aero facelift in the SL7, by optimising the forks, seatpost, cockpit and seatstays, and delivering more rear end stiffness. Complete with the Aerofly II bars and Roval Rapide CLX wheels, Specialized say the Tarmac SL7 is 45 seconds faster over 40 kilometers at 50kph compared to the old Tarmac SL6 thanks to it’s aero advancements.
It still ticks the lightweight box, with the top of the range SL7 S-works frame, which features FACT 12R carbon, coming in at an impressive 800g, while the complete bike is a reported 6.7kg. The SL7 Pro and Expert models are a slightly heavier 920g as these are made with FACT 10R carbon – and when specced up these weigh 7.3kg and 7.65kg respectively for Ultegra Di2 builds.
In the past, Specialized offered the Amira as a race bike for women – but it concluded from Retul geometry data from over 40,000 bike fits that the separate geometries were not required and thus now offer a men’s and women’s Tarmac with identical frames and components to suit.
Specialized Venge: the aero one
The lightweight and aero combined Tarmac SL7 replaced the aero specific Venge in the summer of 2020 but it’s still available from many retailers in store.
In response to criticisms of the initial version, updates in 2019 and 2020 have seen the Venge lose some weight and gained compliance, dropping the ‘Vias’ name given to the original Venge Vias. The Venge proved 8 seconds faster than the Vias in a 40km wind tunnel test, and its reduced weight to only 7.1kg means climbing is far from an issue.
“[The] results are so close they are potentially within the realm of experimental error with both bikes representing the fastest available.” we concluded, noting also that the time the Venge was somewhat heavier.
Designed around a focus on speed and speed alone, the Venge features entirely integrated cables and hidden brakes where rim versions are used, whilst the disc version is said to offer slightly improved aerodynamics thanks to the less bulbous fork rear and seat stay.
Specialized Allez: the aluminium entry level fit for racing
The aluminium Specialized Allez has been a firm favourite for decades. It’s an all-rounder that pitches at an affordable price range, with models starting with Shimano Claris and rim brakes, topping out with Shimano 105 and disc brakes. It is perfectly capable of race start lines and club runs alike.
In the past, the Allez was more racey in its geo, but recent updates have seen this relaxed slightly under the title ‘wide ranging geometry’ which makes it more accessible and comfortable for those after a slightly more relaxed position. The stem can still be slammed, however, to give a position not that far off the Tarmac.
The newer Allez has a full carbon fork which previously featured on S-Works Tarmac models and substantially reduces the weight. Mudguard and pannier eyelets are included to make commuting an option, too.
For those who want an aluminium frame for smashy crit races, there’s the Allez Sprint model – this boasts a racier geo and comes specced out ready to race.
Specialized Roubaix: the cobble slayer and endurance machine
The defining feature of the Specialized Roubaix is the ‘future shock’ front suspension which promises a smoother, more comfortable ride. It comes with 20mm of travel, which can be adjusted with a dial above the stem on the higher end options.
This initial future shock was released in 2016 as part of the 2017 line up, and the newest version has an improved system which is more aesthetically pleasing. The chassis has become more aerodynamic – even more so than the Tarmac SL6 (by 8-10 seconds), and it’s lighter than the Venge. As well as having room for 33mm tyres for added comfort.
All models now come with a D-shaped ‘Pave’ seatpost that aims to reducing vibration whilst also being aerodynamic. You could day that it was designed with the cobbles of the spring classics in mind.
Models start with Shimano 105 and hydraulic disc brakes, and shoot up to the Roubaix S-Works SRAM Red eTap AXS model which also comes in a Sagan Collection paint job.
Specialized Diverge: the adventurer
Initially a do-it-all endurance road bike, the Specialized Diverge has evolved to sit more comfortably in the rapidly popularised adventure road/gravel bike category.
Like the Roubaix, the Diverge comes with a ‘future shock’ suspension spring at the front with 20mm of axial compliance and a hydraulic damper. The brand made some additional alterations to further prepare the Diverge for off-road terrain, notably adding the capability to spec 650b wheels (the bikes come with 700c wheels which can be swapped out) and a dropper seat post on the most expensive versions.
The Diverge has the brand’s most progressive geometry for a drop bar bike by keeping a low bottom bracket but increasing the frame’s reach. They’ve also introduced a slacker head tube and a longer offset fork, while specing the bike with shorter stems for snapping steering – all together this creates a more stable ride off-road.
For gravel riding the 700c wheels are best fitted with 38c tyres (use lower volume for the road) – according to the brand – but 650b wheels are best suited to 45c tyres, making them a better option for someone who wants the additional suspension effect afforded by wider volume tyres. The dropper seat post means the rider can drop the post to get low and further back on to help control on descents.
The top end versions come with a single chainring, again aligning it closer to off-road duties by cutting down on maintenance. Borrowing SWAT internal storage from the Specialized Stumpy the Diverge has space in its down tube to load up with tools, spare inner tubes and nutrition. It also has plenty of rack mounts on the fork and top tube for longer adventures.
But for those after a mixed terrain bike that’s more appropriately designed for touring, there’s the Specialized Sequoia (review here) with plenty of capacity for bike packing equipment, whilst the Specialized AWOL comes with mounts and racks just as suited to city rides as long distance adventures.
Diverge models start with an aluminium frame and Shimano Claris, and top out with an S-Works carbon frame with SRAM Red eTap AXS.
Specialized Crux: the cyclocross racer
The Specialized CruX is a fully fledged cyclocross race bike. It’s a brightly coloured rig set up for one-hour threshold+ efforts, and the Crux features disc brakes throughout and 33c tyres with 8mm of clearance on all sides for riding in muddy conditions.
Rider First engineering means the lay up is adjusted to suit the requirements of average rider weight at each size whilst the bridgeless rear stay remains, aiding mud clearance.
To help fling the bike onto your shoulder when hopping off to clear barriers, the frame design features a large opening at the front triangle and the top tube has a flat bottom. For stability in corners, the geometry has a low bottom bracket.
All models feature a single chainring with wide ratio rear cassettes – ideal for ‘cross as maintenance is lower and mud build-up becomes less of an issue. The CruX is the lowest spec model with a SRAM Apex groupset, the CruX Comp sits in the middle with SRAM Force groupset and the CruX Pro is the top of the range model with SRAM Force eTap AXS.