Longtermers: Rupert Radley's Specialized Tarmac SL6
The longermers series disects Cycling Weekly staff member's personal bikes, this month it's video manager Rupert's SL6
I first rode the Specialized Tarmac SL6 Disc when I was assigned to test the bike at its launch back in the summer of 2019. It was an extended testing period and when we eventually parted ways I was convinced that I’d been riding the best bike I was ever going to ride and, having awarded the bike a perfect 5/5 as well as a spot on our Editor’s Choice list, it was time to put my money where my mouth was, so I dug deep and purchased this S-Works frame.
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Two years later I still can’t see how a top end carbon fibre road bike frame can be improved that much more. The frame blends comfort and performance superbly and I feel absolutely no worries about riding 200km on this bike. It’s also lightning fast on climbs and group rides and has grin inducing direct handling that leaves you feeling completely confident on every descent.
To be perfectly truthful, I enjoy riding this bike so much that even when the Tarmac SL7 launched last summer I felt no pang of desire and certainly no feeling of need for the newer model.
Believe it or not, the frame’s colour scheme was the more subtle option, having been talked down from the acid pink and orange colour scheme by CW’s digital editor and long term riding partner Rich Windsor. Presumably because he wouldn't have been seen dead riding alongside it. While I love the toothpaste paint job it is infuriatingly difficult to keep clean. However, I do get lots of nice compliments out on the road which more than makes up for the hours spent sponge in hand scrubbing oil streaks off the paint.
The bike has been built in many different forms over the past two years and has often functioned as a testing rig for various components. However, the common base throughout our time together has been the Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with a 52/36 crankset and an 11-30t cassette. I thought about going with the mechanical version but the hydraulic hoods are just that bit too big. It’s personal preference and I know first hand that Ultegra R8020 shifters and accompanying hydraulic brakes are superb, but I knew I’d upgrade it eventually anyway. Besides, this bike is about looking faster than you actually are and the groupset is technically flawless (again, I’m not sure how this product could ever get better) and I haven’t felt the need to swap it or upgrade it.
When shopping for spares for one of my other bikes I was ultimately reminded of the other reason I picked Shimano: its relatively low cost parts when compared to SRAM.
The choice of disc brakes rather than rim was a no brainer. It’s not that I think rim brakes perform badly but just that disc brakes perform better. Plus, it’s clear the way the industry is going, and if I’m going to drop a load of cash on a frame, I’d rather be future proofed for parts and spares.
So if that’s the base, what else has changed? Well I’m a constant fettler, so in truth, almost everything else.
Frame: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6 Disc
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8070
Wheels: ENVE SES 3.4 Disc
Tyres: S-Works Turbo 26mm
Handlebars: ENVE Aero bar
Seatpost: S-Works Tarmac Carbon
Pedals: Shimano Ultegra
Originally, the bike rolled on a set of superb Hunt Carbon Aero Disc 50mm wheels which have since been swapped out for the Enve SES 3.4 Disc wheels you see here. Although very good and an incredibly Gucci set of wheels, I would not say the increase in performance over the Hunt wheels necessarily matched the increase in price.
My current perch is the Pro Stealth saddle which is a great saddle but, more importantly, matches the general colour scheme of the bike. I’m one of the lucky in that I have relatively few saddle complaints as long as they have a cutout so I’ve swapped my seat out quite a bit over the last couple of years.
The latest addition is the Enve Aero bar that I used as research for a recent video on flared bars for road bikes and not only do I think they look great but they’re also great to sit in when working hard on the drops.
My previous job as a Tech Writer meant it used to be rare that I’d actually wear out tech, as I’d always be testing something new. However, a change in the day job last year meant that my review output slumped, my garage emptied and I started burying some serious miles into my own kit.
The result is one set of very worn out Specialized S-Works Turbo tyres, to be imminently swapped for some Pirelli rubber. On one very boring day in the first lockdown I decided to make all of my bikes tubeless and my tyres have remained that way since.
The bike would certainly look smart with an ENVE stem (best bikes aren’t for saving money) but other than that I’ve grown very attached to how the bike rides. My continuous quest to make it lighter than CW’s digital editor’s S-Works Tarmac SL6 build remains.
I live in London, so most of my riding actually takes place somewhere on the South Circular between Clapham and Richmond Park, especially on a Wednesday night when I’ll head out for some fast laps. On the weekends I’ll piece together a Surrey Hills loop or, if I’m feeling a brave head into the Kent lanes to do some real climbing.
I’ll also admit the bike rarely makes an appearance in the winter so it’s mileage is still relatively low, having just clocked over 5,000km in the last two years.
However, I have been lucky enough to take this bike twice to Calpe in Spain. While the quantity of Cerveza consumed relegates this from training camp to holiday, the bike handled the 100km plus rides and a couple thousand meters of climbing a day with ease and made the descents an absolute dream.
Back on more lumpy UK roads, I rode this build from London to Brighton and back the hilly way and was pleased to have the 30t sprocket on the rear rather than a 28.
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