If it looks like a Tarmac, is aero like a Tarmac (even more so) and can be set up like a Tarmac – is it still a Roubaix?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, because though the bike Specialized has unveiled has taken major cues from the thoroughbred race bikes in its stable, it hasn’t lost a drop of the comfort which makes it an endurance machine designed to tackle the toughest so-called ‘roads’ a cyclist could encounter.
The cobble slayer boasts a next generation Future Shock suspension system which is easier to adjust than ever before, plus a chassis which is more aerodynamic than the current Tarmac and lighter than the existing Venge.
If you opt for standard geometry, it’s still more upright than a race bike, but there’s now a ‘Team’ geo available to buy (from September in the UK), which directly mirrors the Tarmac.
Cycling Weekly had the chance to test the new chassis on its home roads in Belgium, covering 230 kilometres over three rides, whilst pummelling our backsides over the cobbles of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Here’s all you need to know…
Specialized Roubaix: only lighter, stiffer, more aero
The improved suspension is a big story, but it’s the aerodynamic boost which really sets a precedent for the Roubaix’s muscle back into the performance conversation.
Whilst Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the 2018 Paris-Roubaix on the outgoing version of the eponymous bike, the riders wanted more, especially after dry and dusty conditions meant it was the fastest ever edition.
“Athletes were starting to say ‘it’s slow’, particularly at the start of Roubaix when speeds are around 50 kilometres per hour,” said head of aerodynamics at Specialized, Chris Yu.
“Sure enough, we looked at power data and it was slower [when compared with bikes like the aero optimised Tarmac SL6]. Aerodynamics is an incredibly important factor for a true performance machine.”
Not a priority for the former Roubaix, aero came to the fore – with the bike taking cues from the Venge, such as FreeFoil tube shapes plus dropped seatstays. This model is claimed to be 20-24 seconds faster over 40km when compared with the old Roubaix – and 8-10 faster than the Tarmac.
The testing was completed with a fixed mannequin riding the new Team Roubaix vs a Tarmac SL6, with identical stack and reach. A standard set up with spacers is likely to be slower, but most riders will usually replicate their position.
Despite some new additions, the new Roubaix is lighter than before and even rivals the existing Venge, with frames averaging at 900g.
The majority of the frames will use 10r FACT carbon, whilst the S-Works dream machine boasts 11r, dropping 175g and 50g respectively vs previous models.
In light of its newer, faster outlook on life, Specialized have made the latest Roubaix offering stiffer, too.
Future Shock has come of age
The new Roubaix Future Shock is significantly more understated than version 1.0. It’s now wearing a ‘smooth boot’ and effectively looks as attention grabbing as a couple of spacers.
The change is about so much more than appearances. The Expert, Pro and S-Works models (from £5,400) come with a damped Future Shock 2.0, which provides nine settings of adjustment via a dial on the headset. As per before, there’s 20mm of total squish, and to add more or reduce it, the rider just need click the dial.
The hydraulic Future Shock system works much like a mountain bike suspension fork – oil flows through the circuit and compression and rebound are adjusted simultaneously via the dial. Servicing requirements remain: the brand recommends you give the Future Shock some TLC every 500 hours, or 1.5 years.
The Comp and Sport models (from £2,600) come with a non-damped Future Shock 1.5, with a new progressive spring which can be swapped out if riders want to increase or decrease the spring weight. Neither can be locked out, but come with top and bottom-out bumpers to manage the spring at the extremes.
After day two’s 100km ride traversing the likes of the Arenberg in sodden conditions, even with the Future Shock 2.0 dial to the max my hands were still losing dexterity from the midway point and pins and needles were setting in.
However, the suspension made the sectors more manageable and come the smooth roads I could set the spring to its firmest and it was barely noticeable.
Another notable factor was the silence of the frame on the smoother roads on the first and third day’s riding – there was no chatter, not a single click or clack or squeak. The SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset no doubt helped but the frame and its gubbins played the largest role.
There’s a new Future Stem, too. Any stem is compatible, but this version has been designed to more streamlined and aesthetically pleasing with the Future Shock system.
CG-R seatpost gets a much needed makeover
The old Roubaix featured a CG-R seatpost which delivered comfort but came with a slight aesthetic trade-off.
The appearance has been addressed with the new S-Works Pavé seatpost which will – quite amazingly – appear on all models of the bike, down the the £2600 Sport option.
The D-shaped design provides more flex than the CG-R, without its shape. This also aims to balance up a difference in experience some riders said they found between the stiffer rear of the bike and smooth front end.
Having taken to the cobbles on the bike, my hands stayed comfortable up to around the 50km mark despite the endless jarring. However, my chamois covered bum was bouncing around all over the place. The rear end stiffness is welcome to me on smooth roads, but there is still a clear difference across the frame.
The seatpost comes setback by 20mm but inline versions can be purchased – and they’re both compatible with Tarmac and Venge frames, should riders want to play switcheroo.
The seatpost wedge has been redesigned, and now sits inside the frame, within the aero looking fin at the rear. Should the wedge fall inside the frame, it’ll stop at the bottle cage clamp, for easy retrieval.
A gender fluid approach
The Roubaix is no longer just for men, and the brand which is the official sponsor of Paris-Roubaix reckons the race’s days as a ‘just for men’ event are numbered too.
With the arrival of the new Roubaix, we bid farewell to the women’s Ruby – and gender separated models full stop, even at touch point level.
When the two were re-imagined in 2016, Specialized said that data collected via Retul fits showed that whilst there was no limb length difference between men and women, female Ruby riders were looking for a different experience when compared with male Roubaix riders.
It’s all change again. The Roubaix, available in sizes 44 to 64, is now a unisex chassis designed to transcend gender. The women (and indeed, men) who were seeking a more relaxed experience in the outgoing Ruby and Roubaix are now expected to migrate to the unisex Diverge.
In terms of frame geometry, this is largely the direction most brands are heading and the data appears to support the approach.
Specialized says that the Retul data showed there were just as many differences between two male riders, or two female riders, than one male and one female.
The latest Tarmac SL6 was introduced with a unisex frame, divided into women’s and men’s models, which come with adjusted touchpoints. But with the Roubaix – and models going forward, this will not be the case.
The bikes come with a unisex Power saddle, with sizes varying based on the bell curve identified through Retul fit data.
Handlebars, out the box, are standardised based upon the most common choice via Retul fits, and some cases the specced size matches that fitted to the outgoing Ruby models. Of course, touchpoints can be swapped – but I’m not convinced this would be as easy as supplying women’s models with narrower bars which are widely preferential for female riders.
Endurance race geometry
Reading the aero claims before my first ride, I was expecting a total return to an out-and-out racing beast, but I realised I’d misjudged that as soon as I began to spin around the the car park at the Flanders museum in Oudenaarde.
The stack (measured to the bottom of the stem, using the lowest ‘zero’ top cap) and reach for a 52cm frame is now 570/368, within 2mm of the former Roubaix and around 20mm higher than a Tarmac across the size range.
This standard fit places the rider in a comfortable position which sends more weight through the rear of the bike, and this is ideal for many endurance riders and perfect for trundling over cobbles, or venturing onto dirt tracks.
There’s 30mm of spacers available, these can be added or subtracted by loosening the headset bolts and lifting up the Future Shock. Specialized says it’s as easy to work with as a normal system. The Hover bar rises up 15mm, too – so you can use this or opt for a flat bar for more adjustment.
For those who want the speed of a smooth ride, with a more aggressive fit, a negative stem will get you most of the way but there’s also the Team geo frame. This will be available in sizes 53, 57 and 59, sharing the stack and reach as the Tarmac in a 54, 56 and 58.
There won’t be sizes on either end of the scale for smaller or taller riders. Unfortunately it’s not possible to fit Future Shock into the head tube of a low stack bike under a size 54 – so Team geo wouldn’t be available to me on my 52.
A long wheelbase continues to provides stability, and allows for a maximum tyre width of 33mm – though most models come with 28s.
First ride impressions
You can throw all the tech in the world at it, but what matters most is what happens on the road. I enjoyed three rides, totalling 230km aboard the new Roubaix. One hilly mixture of cobbles and smooth roads reconning the Flanders route, one trip to hell and back on Paris-Roubaix’s segments (the sort of ride that leaves your hands immobile and wrinkled from the rain), and a smooth roll along the bike paths to Bruges.
Whatever the terrain, Future Shock is a game changer. Smoother is faster – there’s absolutely no doubt about that. I even found myself relaxing over pointing the holes and gravel in a bunch – it was easy enough to sail over them. On smoother, flat roads, I could prop myself on the handlebars in a semi-superman tuck more comfortably than on a rigid cockpit.
All of this didn’t remove the challenge of cobbles, especially in their slick state on the day, but I’m not sure any bike can at present.
Whilst I left the shock open all day as we traversed the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, and flicked it between the two for the smooth climbs of the Flanders route, on our third day of riding we covered flat, smooth roads to Brugge. Here I turned the dial to its stiffest setting for much of the ride, and aside from the geo, the level of road feedback and stiffness singing from the tubes really wasn’t discernibly different from what I’d expect from a Tarmac.
On rutted and dirt roads, the Roubaix was more than capable with the 28mm tyres fitted, leaving me aiming it at dips and puddles just for the fun of it and smiling all the while. The system reached its capacity when a minor detour took us into a boggy field, but even then the bike was rideable until common sense finally prevailed and it was suggested we’d perhaps gone off piste.
The new Roubaix handles like I’d expect a Specialized race bike to: it cornered expertly and was predictable on descents. Flicking around roundabouts and railing into corners was a joy.
I rode the standard geo with the lowest headset, no spacers, flat stem and flat bars, and the bike felt too upright and plush to ride in anger. This will be a plus for many who don’t want an arse up/nose down fit.
For those who do, the set up can very easily be manipulated with a negative stem plus adjusted bars and tyres. And then there is the Team geo (size dependant).
After all, smoother is faster, aero is faster, so since you can stiffen the shock and the weight is negligible – why go without it if it’s available on a racing frame?
Models and prices
Roubaix S-Works, Dura-Ace Di2, Sagan Collection: £10,000
Roubaix S-Works Red eTap (with power): £9,500
Roubaix S-Works Di2 (no power): £9,000
Roubaix Pro Force eTap: £6,400
Roubaix Expert Ultegra Di2: £5,400
Roubaix Comp Ultegra Di2: £4,400
Roubaix Comp Ultegra: £3,400
Roubaix Comp Sagan Collection Ultegra: £3,400
Roubaix Sport 105: £2,600
Roubaix S-Works Frameset, Sagan Collection: £3,500
Roubaix S-Works Frameset: £3,400