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.