It seems only yesterday that an aluminium bike with Shimano's STI combined shift and gear levers would have cost close to £1,500. Here we are in 2010 and Specialized, who have been resolutely turning out racing bikes all through the bad years when only about ten a year were sold, find themselves in the middle of a veritable firestorm of enthusiasm and they are - as they say - good to go.
Big numbers mean efficiencies. They've had years to tweak the details and Shimano have crept the lovely STIness down the range until we have this 8-speed 2300 gear set. For the life of us, apart from the lack of 9 or 10-speed, we can't work out why it's much cheaper than Sora, Tiagra or even 105. Thank goodness seriously revamped 105 is shortly arriving because this 2300 set is so good. We'll see how it does longer-term. Meanhile, this seriously red, 9.8Kg, £500 Allez is turning heads and we're looking forward to riding it.
We're not saying that Specialized is the only company that's been making racers for over 35 years, even when mountain bikes seemed to be the be-all-and-end-all among the bike companies, but it is true to say that their sheer momentum does seem to be helped by their not having to start from scratch now that road bikes are big news. Their founder Mike Sinyard was a road racer, cross rider and tourist himself in the 1970s and early on was very active in developing "Specialized" brand road kit. The Allez model name was first used on a road bike in 1984.
With the saddle height set up, the handlebar centre is only 75mm below the level of the saddle which is comfy considering the bike looks like it's doing 100mph. You could take out some of those spacers to lower the stem if you wanted a racier angle of attack but, bearing in mind the frame has plentiful mudguard clearance and bosses to attach same, it's clear Specialized has a utilitarian alter ego role in mind for the Allez.
The bowed top tube is designed to make a feature out of what is sometimes thought of as a downside to sportive-style road bikes; that the accentuated slope upwards to raise the handlebars marks the rider out as non-serious. Specialized's various professional racers have done well enough on this shape to put away that argument.
The frame sticker usefully shows the 'real' size of this Allez frame even though the seat tube is actually only 52cm long. The sloping and bowed top tube has the dual benefit of keeping the frame low and arguably lighter and stiffer at the back end while taller at the front to facilitate a comfortable riding position, despite its racy appearance.
Aluminium frames have been criticised very justifiably for being unduly harsh in their ride quality but manufacturers have got clever about how to manipulate the big tubes to provide stiffness where it's desirable - no-one wants a frame wobbling through 45mph corners - and comforting where it matters to save your poor sorry arse when you're on mile 94 of your first Century. The skinny bits that hold your back wheel on and make it behave while you're powering 300 watts (yeah right - ed) through the chain off to one side, the seat and chain stays, are a more complicated matter and here frame builders are rightfully nervous about shaving strength. Here Specialized have curved the stays to tune in some compliance without compromising the necessary strength and stiffness. We'll have to see how that works out.
Note the clever little chaincatcher. Despite aspiration to the sportive market, Allez doesn't come with a 'compact' chainset and a little 34 tooth inner chainring, Specialized opting instead for a racing 39.
Fully integrated headset bearings are de rigeur on pricey rigs these days but good to see on this £500 Specialized where they've done a better than average job of fairing in and tidying up the top of the headset bearings and the the inevitable stack of removable spacers beneath the stem. Full marks for attention to detail.
We're going to get all enthusiastic about the discrete little rubber-capped, threaded eyes where you can attach mudguards. This can only mean that Specialized is one Californian company that appreciates it rains in some of their markets. Plus there are ample clearances beneath the brake bridge and fork crown to fit 28mm tyres or mudguards and probably both if you want to convert this into some kind of rapid transit device - that's a commuter bike when it looks like this.