Is this the new Specialized Tarmac? SL8 breaks cover at Soudal-Quickstep training camp

The new Specialized SL8 has been spotted in the wild and it looks like it has been on a diet

Specialized Tarmac sl8 at Lotto-Soudal training camp
(Image credit: Weight Weenies: Jz91)

It's been a full three years since the last release of a flagship race bike from Specialized, and there has been a whole host of speculation over the last few months about when we might see the brand new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8. 

Early speculation pointed toward a Tour de France debut which left us slightly confused when snooped around stage one to find the hottest Tour tech. But while the bike has yet to be seen at the Tour, Specialized sponsored Soudal Quick-Step on a training camp with images shared on social media.

What do we know so far?

Information is obviously thin on the ground for the new bike and our initial thoughts were that 'spot the difference Tarmac SL8 edition' is a pretty tricky game!  A closer look though shows that there is still quite a lot we can infer from the photos.

There is a general remodeling of the frame shape, and it looks as though the bike has gone on a crash diet since its previous release, but this certainly seems to be an SL7.5 rather than an all-new platform.

Specialized tarmac sl8 leaked stock image

Leaked stock image, and potential new colourway

(Image credit: Weight Weenies: Currentsea)

While most of the tubes have been slimmed down, the head tube is the only area of the bike that seems to have gained any material. 

The head tube has been somewhat extruded, with the front of the bike now offering a much narrower head-on profile, whilst increasing depth from front to rear - this will likely be in the name of aerodynamic efficiency. Interestingly too, it does bear a strong resemblance to the headtube on the Cannondale SystemSix too, with the headtube protruding beyond the fork crown.

The fork looks to have been almost stolen straight off of the now discontinued Venge, with the increased depth of the fork blades presumably also inline with the aero front end ethos of the new machine.

While Tour de France images show the bikes fitted without the new Roval Rapide aero cockpit, the leaked stock image tells us that the aero front end will probably be included on high spec models. 

Specialized sl8 and cannondale system six evo together comparing head tubes

The new Specialized shares resemblance to the protruding headtube on the Cannondale SystemSix

(Image credit: Weight Weenies: Jz91 and Cannondale)

The rest of the bike, as we mentioned, looks to be geared much more toward the climbing end of the spectrum.

The S-Works logo now barely fits on the downtube, due to its radical size reduction. From the photos we have currently, it is tricky to say exactly what tube profile Specialized has opted for, but we assume a D-shaped downtube will likely be used in aid of aerodynamic efficiency.

The top tube looks to have made a small move back to the heritage of the Tarmac SL5, with an ever so slightly more curved shape, and once again bears no extra material.

Specialized tarmac sl 8 close up of bottom bracket area

(Image credit: Weight Weenies: Jz91)

It's the rear of the bike that boasts the boldest design changes, with chain- and seat stays that are nothing short of pencil-like.

Back in the 2010s, Cervelo made headlines with its ultra-thin seat stay design, which people immediately questioned the strength of. I would be inclined to say the same will happen for these chainstays. A much smaller diameter chainstay, along with a smaller bottom bracket area does beg the question - has Specialized managed to retain race bike stiffness while losing so much material?

It is certainly an interesting move, and one that we won't be able to gauge the full extent of until we can see the bike in the flesh. One potential gain here though will be tyre clearance - less material around the chain stays and the bottom bracket area could well provide some extra space for rubber.

The seat-tube and therefore seatpost have also received an update. If the new profile dropped seatstays aren't enough for compliance, then the smaller diameter seatpost should also provide some extra comfort to the new machine.

Is the SL8 an aero bike or a climbing bike?

This brings us to the question of the SL8's ethos. Traditionally, the Tarmac has been the brand's lightweight bike, with the Venge taking care of all out aero duties up until its discontinuation three years ago, when the SL7 became an all-round race bike. But with all the focus seemingly on weight saving at the rear of the bike, is this still an all-rounder, or could we see a return of a double race bike lineup?

Well, probably not. The SL8 looks to have a split personality. Specialized seems to have gone all-out aero at the front of the bike, and laid less emphasis on aero as you head towards the rear - beyond a D-shaped seat tube, and a neat cut-out for the rear wheel. 

For an all-rounder this does make sense - the first point of contact with the wind is always the most important, so an aero-optimized front end makes sense, the biggest question is will the drastic diet at the rear end of the bike have an adverse effect on the bike's handling?

When will I be able to buy one?

The Specialized Tarmac SL8 is still in the prototype phase, which means it has been approved by the UCI for testing in competition but is not yet a fully approved frameset.

Understandably, Specialized has remained tight-lipped on a release date or confirmed that this is indeed the Tarmac SL8, but did give some detail on the World Tour testing of the new bike, saying 'Specialized relies on feedback from professional athletes in both developing and testing advanced pre-production products in real-world applications. With this top-level feedback, some of these design elements and products eventually show up in future retail product offerings. We call this Project Black.'

Remco holding a garmin with new blurred out race bike in corner

Some less than subtle blurring of the bike behind Remco Evenepoel

(Image credit: @Castellicycling)

UCI ruling tells us that the new bike must go on sale within 12 months of being registered as a prototype - but we don't think you will be waiting til after 2024.

With Remco Evenepoel's world championship title defence coming in the next month, we speculate that the new machine could go on sale in the next couple of months.

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Joe Baker
Tech Writer

Joe is Cycling Weekly's tech writer. He's always had a love for bikes, since first riding a two wheeled steed before the age of four. Years down the line, Joe began racing at 16, and enjoyed great experiences internationally, racing in Italy, Spain and Belgium to name a few locations. Always interested in tech, Joe even piloted his Frankenstein hill climb bike to a Junior National Title in 2018.  After taking a step back from elite level racing in April 2022, Joe joined our team as a freelancer, before becoming Tech Writer in May 2023.