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 creations.
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.
Specialized bikes have a heavy presence in the pro peloton, and are ridden by teams such as Bora-Hansgrohe and Boels-Dolmans.
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.
Useful links for road bike shoppers…
Specialized Venge: the aero one
The Venge is the Specialized take on the aero road bike – its tubes have been shaped to slice through the air as efficiently as possible.
For 2019, the Venge has seen some major updates – it’s dropped the ‘Vias’ moniker, lost some weight and gained compliance – an area that we’ve criticised in the past.
It’s also 8 seconds faster than the Vias in a 40km wind tunnel test, and its dropped weight, to only 7.1kg so climbing is far from an issue.
The S-Works model comes in at £9,750 – it’s far from cheap, but boasts top spec with Shimano Dura Ace Di2 and Roval CLX 64 disc wheels. The Ultegra Di2 model, the Venge Pro, comes in at £6,500 and there’s a ‘Sagan Collection’ model with a premium paint job.
We concluded: “[The] results are so close they are potentially within the realm of experimental error with both bikes representing the fastest available” – but did note at 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 newer disc version is said to offer slightly improved aerodynamics thanks to the less bulbous fork rear and seat stay.
Specialized Venge reviews
- Specialized Venge S-Works 2019: our thoughts
- Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS Di2 review
- Specialized Venge Vias Disc eTap review
Specialized Tarmac: the GC 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.
If it sounds like we’re gushing that this is a genuine do-it-all, then we are, because it is.
The carbon varies across the range – from FACT 9r at the entry level (£2,350 with Shimano 105 and hydraulic discs), to FACT 12r at S-Works, where you get Dura Ace Di2 and a Roval CLX 50 Disc carbon wheelset for £9,150.
This version also incorporates learnings from the aero Venge, with a reduced frontal area at the fork, lowered seat stays and D-shaped seat tube – apparently saving 45 seconds over 40km compared to bikes in a similar weight class.
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.
Models start at £2,350 – for the Tarmac Disc Sport with Shimano 105 and disc brakes.
Specialized Tarmac reviews
- Specialized S-Works Tarmac Review
- Specialized Tarmac Expert review
- Specialized Tarmac Elite review
- Pro Bike: Dan Martin’s Specialized Tarmac S-Works
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 from £630 (Shimano Claris, rim brake) to £1050 (Shimano 105, rim brake) – sitting around the Cycle to Work voucher threshold thus confirming its place as a popular commuter. This said, it’s 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.
The bikes all come with compact 50/34 chainsets and 11-32 cassettes – these will allow plenty of room for shifting down on the hills. However, you’ll notice larger jumps between gears when compared with a narrower cassette – but if this is a problem it’s an easy component to swap.
For those who want an aluminium frame for smashy crit races, there’s the Allez Sprint models. Starting at £1,700, these boast a racier geo and come specced out ready to race.
Specialized Dolce: the women’s aluminium entry level
The Specialized Dolce is the brand’s entry level women’s platform. Like the Allez, it’s constructed from an aluminium frame but the design places a greater emphasis on comfort.
The geometry offers a slightly more upright stance, as well as a lower standover height.
Specialized has used ‘Zertz inserts’ at the fork and seat stays to dampen out road vibrations. Stiffness has not been sacrificed, however, as ‘DSW technology’ is used to pace more welding material where required to ensure optimum power transfer.
Like the Allez, the Dolce bikes come fitted with compact chainsets 11-32 cassettes, and prices climb from £630 to £1050.
Specialized Roubaix: the cobble slayer and endurance machine
The defining feature of the Specialized Roubaix is the ‘future shock’ front suspension. This 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 (by 8-10 seconds), and it’s lighter than the Venge.
All models now come with a D-shaped ‘Pave’ seatpost, this was designed with the cobbles of the spring classics in mind, with the goal of reducing vibration.
The bikes also feature compact chainsets and 11-32 and 11-30 cassettes, providing a wide range of gears which will offer plenty of help on the hills – though this will mean jumps between gears are a little more clunky and noticeable.
The bike is unisex. With the latest iteration, it was decided that the women’s specific Ruby wasn’t necessary, based on Retul data which questions the need for women’s bikes at all.
Prices start at £2,600, with Shimano 105 and hydraulic disc brakes, and shoot up to £10,000 for the Roubaix S-Works, Dura-Ace Di2 model with Sagan Collection paint job.
Specialized Diverge: the adventurer
The Specialized Diverge has undergone a gradual transformation since its launch in 2014. Initially it was a ‘do it all’ endurance road bike, which could tackle a little bit of mixed terrain if need be. From 2018 onwards, it’s evolved to sit more comfortably in the rapidly popularised adventure road/gravel bike category.
Like the Roubaix and Ruby, the Diverge comes with a ‘future shock’ suspension spring at the front. In this case, it uses a progressive spring which adjusts throughout the compression to prevent bottoming out on heavy impact.
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. ‘Open road geometry’ is also designed to lower the centre of gravity to create 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.
Most bikes have a 48/32 chainring and 11-32 cassette whilst top end versions come with a single 42T chainring and 11-40t cassette – again aligning it closer to off-road duties by cutting down on maintenance.
Unlike the Roubaix and Ruby, and in a similar fashion to the new Tarmac range, the Diverge frame is designed not to be gender-specific. Instead, women’s versions come with narrower handlebars, women’s saddle, shorter cranks and stems.
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.
Models start from £850 for an aluminium frame with Shimano Claris, and got up to £8,750 for the Dura Ace model.
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 and lacks mounts for bottles or mudguards.
Specialized Crux reviews
- Specialized Crux: 2018 update
- Specialized Crux Expert X1 review
- Specialized Crux Elite Carbon review
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.
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.