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£1,200 carbon road bike that has race proven DNA

There are eight bike options in the Specialized Tarmac range, and this is the cheapest at £1,200. More competitively inclined riders might soon be looking to upgrade parts but this initially looks like a great way of achieving a full carbon chassis from a big brand at a reasonable price.

The Tarmac range tops out with the £8,500 S-Works SL4 with Shimano's Di2 electronic transmission. While chassis construction varies as prices rise, the superficially more obvious variation between all the different price points is in componentry. This £1,200 offering makes room for the carbon frame and fork by coming with a few cost-cutting parts, but the good news is that they're all sound offerings that don't bump up the heft too much. Weighing in at just under 20lb, the Tarmac won't immediately grant you an excuse on the climbs.

The FACT (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) build of the Tarmac frames includes a collection of features that have become typical on carbon frames and a few others that are distinctive to Specialized, like the curved top tube and the way it appears to flow straight into the seat stays.

The tapered head tube and massively oversized top and down tube junctures are created to ensure steering precision and Specialized make great play of the way the top and down tube carbon wraps around the head tube to create bulges for extra stiffness. Tarmac head tubes are lankier than on many of their rival's race bred bikes and a smaller lower bearing (1.375in compared to last year’s 1.5in) apparently trims enough weight to be worthy of mention.

Specialized says the bottom bracket and chain stay assembly is built as one piece to optimise weight and stiffness “on most frame levels”. We're initially assuming that “most frame levels” excludes this entry level model. Hopefully we'll get an answer on that as the test progresses.

The high modulus carbon construction of the Tarmac frame is said to give a stiffness to weight ratio that's “19% greater than the S Works” from a couple of years ago. Again, we'd hope to pass a useful comment on that as the test progresses. Either way, it's become obvious over the years that Specialized make policy of allowing their top end S Works technology to trickle down to lower price points within a few years.

Specialized describe this entry level Tarmac frame as being “race-ready stiff and fast without sacrificing compliance”. We seem to have heard that before, but we're not questioning the sentiment. One thing's certain: it's not going to be your first choice if you don't like red bikes, but Specialized considerately do a black Sport version, slightly better equipped, for £300 more.

There are plenty similarly priced bikes out there with slightly better component parts, but everything here has a reputation for competent performance. The DT Axis 1.0 wheels (spoked 32 rear, 24 front) are reasonably light and tough enough for weighty riders and Espoir Sport 23mm tyres have a puncture strip built in.

The stem can be flipped if you prefer a higher bar position over and above the inch of spacers provided. Shallow drop bars, Shimano Sora shifters and well padded bar tape are comfortably easy in use for relative beginners and a slim carbon seatpost should add extra shock absorption to a basic BodyGeometry Riva saddle.

The gearing is all Shimano Sora, 9 speed 11/28 rear 52/36 front, with FSA Gossamer cranks and a BB30 press-fit bottom bracket. The brakes are Axis DC 1.0s. Geometry is a racey 73.25 degrees at the seat and 73.5 at the head (varies according to size) and our (nominal) 56cm test bike actually has a 530mm seat tube and a 565mm horizontal top tube reach.

Weight on the roadcc scales is 8.95kg (19.9lbs). Full review coming soon.

Full ride report coming soon.

14 comments

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Super Domestique [1619 posts] 4 years ago
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No offence but isn't this based on a Fact8 carbon SL2 frame?

I believe the 19% comment from Spesh was in the press release for the SL4 over the SL3 (S-Works models).

Still a bargain performance bike though, with great winning DNA.

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Raleigh [1667 posts] 4 years ago
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I know that I shouldn't say this, but:

Those components on that frame makes me ill.

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localsurfer [202 posts] 4 years ago
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Wish someone would do the opposite and put a dura ace DI gruppo on a crappy 50quid frame, that I could then buy on the cycle to work scheme and cannibilise.

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crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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9 speed stuff is perfectly adequate, but Tiagra is now 10 speed so this represents the last gasp of the 9 speed gruppos and should be priced accordingly.

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Tom Amos [236 posts] 4 years ago
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I had Sora on my first road bike which was from Decathlon. Total cost of bike £400. Alu frame with carbon seatstay and chainstay admittedly but...

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mikeprytherch [223 posts] 4 years ago
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Sora on a £1,200 bike you must be having a laugh

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Lungsofa74yearold [293 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice - without domestic constraints, I'd buy in sale (probably under £1k), then swap over my 7800 series DA and RS 80 wheels and lose several pounds in weight. Then sell all left over parts  4

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crazy-legs [951 posts] 4 years ago
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mikeprytherch wrote:

Sora on a £1,200 bike you must be having a laugh

Considering that 10 years ago their top-end S-Works frame/forks only was £1200 (and was aluminium), that's actually not a bad deal at all. Carbon frame probably stiffer/stronger/lighter than anything Lance used in the Tour and certainly well worthy of upgrading. Groupset will last a year, bin it, replace with some nice Ultergra/105 and watch the weight fall off it.

Get that on Cycle to Work (chuck in £200 of your own money) and you'd be laughing. Look at it that way and it's killer value for money.

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David Arthur @d... [832 posts] 4 years ago
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mikeprytherch wrote:

Sora on a £1,200 bike you must be having a laugh

Something has to give when they squeeze a carbon frame in at this price, don't you think Mike?

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hounslowrob [28 posts] 4 years ago
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If other companies can do better why not the big S? They are one of the biggest bike companies in the world and should have better buying power than this. Tiagra would be fine.

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The Hoggs [3496 posts] 4 years ago
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Specialized bikes are over priced for what you get.

Other manufacturers of lesser known companies will give you a hell of a lot more for £1200 if you shop about.

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Eagle006 [3 posts] 4 years ago
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Couldn't agree more with Specialized's being overpriced. The frames might be decent, but the components you get, relative to price are a complete joke. With so many other equally good if not better options out there on the market, I'm surprised they continue to get away with it. What's the incentive to buy a Specialized when the value for money is so poor?

On the positive side, as a lover of red bikes, I think the frame looks fantastic.

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koko56 [330 posts] 4 years ago
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Really like the frame (have a read Allez 2010) but completely echo all the comments about groupset. Yes it does allow the frame to come in at this price but it's just weird seeing it on this frame.

It's what most puts me off getting a tarmac - I've already upgraded everything on the Allez and don't want to pay 2-3k to just get the same equipment with slightly lower wheels. In other words why don't they sell various frames instead of just the S-Works for 2k?  2

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Super Domestique [1619 posts] 4 years ago
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Personally I ride Spesh because they ride well, fit me well plus have excellent customer service and warranty. All good reasons imho.

Also components break / wear out. The frame is the heart of the bike.