The Specialized Roubaix is widely regarded as a superb sportive bike, but is this entry-level version as impressive as its better-specced brothers?
The Specialized Roubaix, in all its variations, is one of the most popular bikes among serious leisure road riders — it’s a real MAMIL favourite. This, though, is a bottom-of-the-range version, so some compromises have been made — not least in weight.
Professional cycle sport might be all about marginal gains, but in the Roubaix’s case that works against it: the cheaper gearset, brakeset and wheelset have gained it plenty of mass and it weighs in at a relatively lardy 9.2kg.
The reason the Roubaix is so noticeable popular is due to its distinctive frame shape. The gentle curve of the top tube is now copied by a few imitators, but its lightning-flash shock-absorbing Zertz inserts remain exclusive to Specialized.
Even in this basic version, the Roubaix is an exceptionally refined product. Internal cable routing is used throughout. It has a classy matt grey finish. And the top of the top tube proudly displays its Paris-Roubaix-winning credentials.
On paper, against most bikes costing £1,300, the Roubaix SL4 looks woefully under-packaged. If we accept Shimano 105 is the default gearset for serious road riders, then Sora — two steps down Shimano’s range — should be a disappointment. However, it works securely; it switches gears without worry, and there are no nasty noises. OK, it’s only nine-speed, the brake levers are a tad creaky, and it’s not as refined as 105, but it’s far from a let-down in practice.
Watch: Groupset buyer’s guide
Rather than Sora brakes, DT Axis 1.0 calipers are fitted. They look a bit like Campagnolo brakes that have been on the pies but, again, they work without fault. There’s also a set of DT Axis wheels, which were slightly less impressive — out-the-saddle efforts made them ping and flex. The Specialized finishing kit is all good stuff, especially the chunky bar tape, and there’s a quick dash of luxury with a carbon seatpost.
From the off, the Roubaix’s level of comfort is quite staggering. Every lump and bump — up to substantial potholes — can be brushed off as just a minor annoyance. In terms of day-long escapades, it’s hard to think of a more forgiving machine.
It’s not like wallowing in marshmallow, though, there’s still a very direct nature to the Roubaix. Through the turns it’s great fun, although less a point-and-shoot, more a stable platform to sweep through bends. And climbing is made easy with the 32-tooth biggest sprocket, compact chainset, and the impressive tracking of the back wheel.
In fact, in the saddle, you soon forget about any losses on the spec sheet. At this price point, for the sportive-friendly market, the Roubaix is still the standard by which all others must be judged.
See the Specialized site for their road bike range, specialized.com
Bargain hunters may argue that no bike costing more than £1,200 should be fitted with Shimano Sora, but in the Roubaix’s case you have to make an exception. This is simply a beautifully smooth, near-perfect ride.