Can Specialized's latest aluminium Allez frameset give similarly-priced carbon-fibre bikes a run for their money?
Much has been made of aluminum frames making a comeback, and American brand Specialized has done more than most to ensure ‘new school alloy’ is worth a look.
Read more: Specialized Allez range
Of course, aluminium framesets never really went away, they were just largely consigned to entry-level models. But with new frame building technologies, aluminium bikes can offer many of the same performance capabilities as carbon-fibre.
With this in mind, the company has revamped its 2016 Allez range and offer a £4,000 race-spec Allez Sprint model. We take a look at the £1,200 Specialized Allez Comp SL, equipped with Shimano’s journeyman 105 drivetrain.
Specialized hasn’t just come up with a curvy new design to breathe life into its aluminium frame, it’s come up with a new method of manufacture. The company grandly terms it D’Aluisio Smartweld after designer Chris D’Aluisio. It’s a technique where the frame’s tubes are welded together away from the areas of high stress, i.e. tube junctions.
In theory this process makes the frame stronger and stiffer where it needs to be. Tubes can then be made thinner to reduce weight, giving a strong, light overall package. The frameset is not all aluminium, though, as there’s a carbon-fibre fork.
The finish is super-smooth, with no unsightly ‘fish-scale’ welds. The largely unpainted, brushed finish of the Comp really shows off the frame and harks back to the early days of silver, oversize alloy frames. Some people may not like the finish, but to me it looks fresh; celebrating rather than hiding its aluminium construction.
Positioning of the branding is rather unconventional, with the huge ‘Specialized’ logo running under and on top of the down tube rather than at the sides – again, I quite liked this deviation from the normal.
Although the rear brake cable runs internally in the top tube, both of the gear cables make their way along the underside of the down tube externally. This looks more cluttered in comparison to full internal cabling, but it makes cable maintenance a whole lot easier, as anyone who has ever ‘lost’ the end of a cable in a frame will confirm.
When Shimano introduced its 5800 11-speed 105 groupset in 2015, it moved the entry-level competition drivetrain closer than ever to the Ultegra and Dura-Ace groups. All three offer the same sharp, crisp shifts across the cassette and chainset, with a light shifting action.
Specialized has specced an FSA Gossamer Pro chainset to complete the drivetrain. The FSA unit shifts well enough, but it does lack the speed of changes offered by Shimano’s own rings.
I also detected a slight rubbing of the chain against the cage of the front derailleur when climbing hard out of the saddle in the lowest gears. It’s a minor irritation, only rendered noticeable due to the quiet and efficient nature of the rest of the machine.
Along with the chainset, the other notable deviation from a full 105 groupset is the AXIS brakes. These are very smart looking units, with a machined, lacquered metal finish and strong performance.
Also from AXIS are the 2.0 wheels, which offer a solid, good-looking inclusion on a bike at this price point. They are relatively weighty, though, and swapping them for a lighter pair would further reduce the bike’s impressive all-up weight of 8.62kg.
The Specialized Allez SL Comp provides a simple answer to the old myth that all aluminium bikes offer a harsh ride. The Allez SL Comp was test-ridden through a period of rough British winter weather and traversed gravel-strewn, potholed roads without juddering and shaking the rider to pieces.
The frame, fork and own-brand saddle and bars, complete with thick bar tape, combine to provide a surprisingly comfy ride — matching anything carbon-fibre can offer at this price.
During harder efforts, the bike responds well to accelerations — and its more race-influenced geometry puts the rider in a slightly more aerodynamic position than upright sportive-focused machines.
The head tube length, for example, is more akin to Specialized’s Tarmac than its Roubaix.
Specialized’s choice of gear ratios matches that of the majority of the market right now: a compact 50/34-tooth chainset with 11-28-tooth cassette. This gives a wide range of gears suitable for any terrain and should cover most riders’ requirements.
Could you use the Specialized Allez SL Comp for racing? Yes, you could, and it would equally be at home as a fast training bike or sportive machine. However, clearance for mudguards is a bit tight so there may be better options out there if you’re after a pure winter bike or commuting machine.
Even given the Specialized Allez SL Comp’s cutting-edge aluminium frame, its price compares well with other alloy-framed bikes, without losing out in its overall spec — and it should be borne in mind that this is one of the lighter alloy bikes out there.
However, the whole package must be looked at — Specialized’s own-brand components are now produced to such a high standard that you would have to pay a lot of money to install anything that offered a worthwhile upgrade.
Although Specialized offers a lower-priced Shimano Tiagra-equipped Allez Elite with the same frameset (£950), it’s really this model with 105 drivetrain that makes the most sense. Frame and components are well-matched. There’s also a sound argument that the Allez Comp offers much more for the money than carbon-fibre bikes at this price. It’s worth noting that the same component spec can be found on Specialized’s Tarmac Sport model for £300 more, and in terms of ride quality there’s little between the two to justify the difference in money. Specialized’s Allez series has provided a solid benchmark for entry-level race bikes for years, and the 2016 range provides a compelling reason for not looking beyond aluminum. in the sub-£1,300 marketplace.