First Ride: Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 Red Disc

We hit the road on Specialized’s SRAM Red disc-equipped endurance bike

by Mat Brett   September 5, 2013  

Specialized’s Roubaix is the classic endurance road bike and this year it comes with SRAM’s new Red hydraulic disc brakes as an option. We took it for a spin last week at Eurobike.

Now before we start, we need to warn you about something: Specialized UK aren’t bringing the S-Works Roubaix SL4 Disc over to these shores. We thought you’d like to know that at the start rather than springing it on you right at the end.

They will be offering the Roubaix SL4 Expert in an Ultegra Di2 build with Shimano’s new hydraulic disc brakes (£4,500), and there will also be a Sora build with Shimano 315 mechanical discs (£1,500). There are several non-disc versions of the Roubaix available in the UK too, but none that are SRAM-equipped.

Of course, if the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 Disc – snappy name, that – does tickle your fancy, there are ways and means of getting your hands on one in the UK, it just won’t be as straightforward as nipping down to your local Specialized dealer with a credit card. It’s priced at $8,500 in the US, which is £5,441 at today’s exchange rate. And it’s the same price for a bike equipped with SRAM’s hydraulic rim brakes.

Right, with that out of the way, let’s crack on with the business in hand…

The Roubaix started the whole endurance bike thing – or, at least, it has come to be seen as the archetypal endurance bike, inspiring many designs from other manufacturers. To sum it up very briefly, the idea is that it provides a comfortable ride position that’s more upright and relaxed than that of a traditional road bike, and it is engineered to offer a smooth ride.

In order to deal with vibration, Specialized scoop hollows in the trailing edges of the seatstays and fork legs, and plug the gaps with Zertz viscoelastic dampers. As well as absorbing buzz and impacts, the design is intended to keep the bike planted on rough roads, rather than skittering and jumping. A little birdie has told us that the Zertz material itself doesn’t do a lot, it’s the fact that the seatstays and fork legs have been shaped in this way that’s important.

Specialized’s slim (27.2mm) CG-R carbon seatpost is designed to provide more vibration damping. It’s a curious-looking piece of work but the idea, as you can tell just by looking at it, is that it offers a generous amount of give – vertical compliance, if you like – to isolate you from bumps and buzz. That’s another Zertz insert within that switchback section at the top.

The CG-R post is actually more solid than it looks. It doesn’t flex as soon as you sit in the saddle, but you can feel that it’s quite active as you ride along. Specialized reckon it will provide up to 18mm of movement if push comes to shove. The fitting of 26mm tyres (they’re S-Works Turbos with BlackBelt puncture protection) is intended to provide more comfort.

We’d love to tell you how successfully this Roubaix deals with vibration but that’s pretty much impossible to tell on the roads around Friedrichshafen, Germany. The road surfaces around there are glassy smooth. You could ride a boneshaker out there and it would feel absolutely fine. Having ridden plenty of Roubaix bikes in the past, we suspect this one will be right up there when it comes to papering over the cracks, but we couldn’t tell you for certain. I know that makes this First Ride a bit like Hamlet without the prince, but short of rolling up our own section of British road and taking it to Germany with us, there's not a lot we can do about it.

What we can comment on with confidence is the geometry. I was on a 58cm model but I’ll tell you about the 56cm size because that’s one that more people can relate to. The 56 comes with a 565mm effective top tube and a 19cm head tube. The stack is 590mm and the reach is 387mm.

Essentially, that means that the ride position is short and high. I found the front end too high for my taste, to be frank. I like quite an aggressive ride position and here the handlebar height was boosted by the inclusion of 20mm of headset spacers on top of an 8mm cone spacer. That’s just me, though. You might love the set up – and you’d obviously want to check it out closely before laying down this kind of money.

What’s certain is that if you do want a more relaxed ride position, you’re better off going for a bike with a tall head tube, like the Roubaix, rather than a bike with a short head tube and a bunch of spacers. A big stack of spacers can spoil the handling.

Unusually, Specialized vary the length of the chainstays slightly according to the frame size, and the Roubaix has a long wheelbase (1,011mm on the 56cm model). This results in a bike that’s more stable than it is manoeuvrable.

Specialized also alter tube diameters, seatstay angles and the carbon-fibre layup for different sized frames to get the same performance across the lot. They alter the size of the lower headset bearing according to the frame size too. Like pretty much everyone else, Specialized use a 1 1/8in bearing at the top, but the bottom bearing is either 1 1/8in, 1 1/4in or 1 3/8in depending on the frame size, the idea being to create a more stable and balanced ride across the range.

850 words in and I’ve not mentioned the hydraulic disc brakes. That must mean there’s a lot to talk about here. We’ve been through the SRAM Red 22 brakes in a huge amount of detail in the past so check up our previous write ups for the full story on them.

By now you probably know whether or not you’re into the idea of disc brakes for road bikes and I won’t try to influence you one way or another. What I would say, though, is that if you’ve not yet had the chance to try them out for yourself, do so. I’m not entirely sold on the idea if you’re guaranteed dry conditions, but it hoofed it down just after we took these shots and the brakes just carried on performing super-strong… But give them a spin and make up your own mind.

One thing we didn’t do with the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 Disc was weigh it, but although it’s a big, rangy bike with disc brakes, it felt lively and those Roval Rapide CLX 40 wheels spin up to speed quickly. Really, though, I should have gone a size smaller for more chuck-it-around potential. I couldn’t get right over the front end of the 58cm model when riding out of the saddle. Mind you, if you’re after an endurance bike that you can pedal all day, maybe that’s not as high on your list of priorities as a comfortable ride position – and you certainly get that with the Roubaix.

23 user comments

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19cm head tube? 19cm??? i mean come on. this is just stupid. its not a road bike its just a parachute on wheels

one of the reasons i cannot stand specialneedz bikes.

under 80's look for a proper bike

posted by russyparkin [579 posts]
5th September 2013 - 18:21

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Hmm, I know it's wrong, but I think it looks rather nice.

posted by Jonny_Trousers [76 posts]
5th September 2013 - 20:10

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A little birdie has told us that the Zertz material itself doesn’t do a lot

I'm shocked!

posted by Nick T [763 posts]
5th September 2013 - 20:14

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russyparkin wrote:
19cm head tube? 19cm??? i mean come on. this is just stupid. its not a road bike its just a parachute on wheels

one of the reasons i cannot stand specialneedz bikes.

under 80's look for a proper bike

It's perfect for freaky proportioned people like me though - with a 34" inside leg... at 5'10" this and a handful of others are the only OTP bikes that would work for me. And that's with quite a 'racy' position.

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posted by G-bitch [302 posts]
5th September 2013 - 20:17

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Some of we older people (who probably rode before you were born) may just be slightly inflexible (physically, that is). Others may just prefer it like that.

I guess there must be enough of them for this to be a popular brand: your opinion may not be the last word.

Gerard the Kiwi

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posted by GerardR [84 posts]
5th September 2013 - 20:21

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It's sort of like saying "1.2 litres, and only 3 cylinders??? People under 80 want a V8!"

posted by Nick T [763 posts]
5th September 2013 - 20:49

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GerardR wrote:
Some of we older people (who probably rode before you were born) may just be slightly inflexible (physically, that is). Others may just prefer it like that.

I guess there must be enough of them for this to be a popular brand: your opinion may not be the last word.

im no spring chicken my friend. this is just silly.

posted by russyparkin [579 posts]
5th September 2013 - 21:02

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19cm headtube on a 56cm. So what? Its 18cm on a 56cm 'all rounder' Allez and 17cm on a 'race geometry' 56cm Tarmac.

A 2cm range can easily be accommodated with spacers, so it hardly calls for all the hysteria, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And no, I don't own a Roubaix....

posted by Dave_B [2 posts]
5th September 2013 - 21:29

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russyparkin wrote:
GerardR wrote:
Some of we older people (who probably rode before you were born) may just be slightly inflexible (physically, that is). Others may just prefer it like that.

I guess there must be enough of them for this to be a popular brand: your opinion may not be the last word.

im no spring chicken my friend. this is just silly.

it's not the longest head tube on a 56cm endurance bike, the 55.5cm Giant Defy has a 20.5cm head tube. there's plenty of others around the 18-20cm mark as well. it's a popular geometry, and it's popular because it works, for a lot of people.

aerodynamics is but one part of a very complicated equation where performance is concerned. but to say a bike is a 'parachute' when its head tube is 2cm longer than the bike cancellara won paris-roubaix on this year is ridiculous. 2cm. it's not a cruiser.

i'd say that for many riders, better comfort is more of a performance advantage over long distances than a 2cm lower position.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7263 posts]
5th September 2013 - 21:32

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Comfy or not. It's still pug ugly.

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [538 posts]
5th September 2013 - 22:57

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when we say 19cm, just to clarify, this includes the headset?

Just measured the Headtube on my 57cm steel Lemond and it comes out at 15cm, but i have to add a little under 2cm? for the headset.

I still think it is stupid long and personally think a slightly shorter headtube and spacers makes more sense than a long headtube with no way of getting the stem low enough should you want to.

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posted by mrmo [1033 posts]
5th September 2013 - 23:39

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In addition to the spacers, a Spesh stem sits on a wedge-shaped shim, which can be pointing up or down. It is clearly visible in the photo of the front end in the article (the shiny bit), and it points upwards. Reversing it would drop the stem angle by 8º/24º/34º (there are different S-Works shims, not sure which one this is).

Personally, I like my Roubaix. Even in the drops I can breathe a bit!

posted by bartsie [6 posts]
6th September 2013 - 0:44

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mrmo wrote:
when we say 19cm, just to clarify, this includes the headset? .

Yes and no - it's integrated so technically yes because it's there inside the head tube, and no because you can't see it to measure it.
There's a headset cap to add but these can be removed to get lower.

Negative rise stems and deep drop bars will get you low enough on most frames, I bet anyone complaining about HT's being too long are running a shallow drop bar and an 80mm stem any way Wink

posted by Nick T [763 posts]
6th September 2013 - 6:24

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People who complain about long head tubes are often built like me - shorter than average legs, slightly long bodies - and grew up on race 80/90s race bikes!

I am 5ft 9in. My 54cm endurance/touring/CX bike has a 11cm head tube (thanks Kinesis!) and anything longer would be horrible.

So, deep breath fellas. Horses for courses. I can't even imagine myself fitting on a Spec without getting a tiny one with a 20cm stem, but I can see that for many people it's perfect.

Being older in years I have finally gotten over my racer-bred tendency to snigger at people who are obviously 'newbies' and the 'zimmer' position on a brand new trek or spec or giant is certainly one of the 'tells', but these days I just smile and am happy that there is one more person out on a bike!

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posted by alotronic [247 posts]
6th September 2013 - 8:37

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Thank you for mentioning the stack and reach measurements. I wish a lot of other companies included these.

posted by wrevilo [28 posts]
6th September 2013 - 8:46

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Stick on a pair of longer drop bars for a comfortable all day ride and hit the drops when the pace goes up. If you ride super quick every ride get a TT bike.

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posted by boffo [29 posts]
6th September 2013 - 9:33

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russyparkin wrote:
GerardR wrote:
Some of we older people (who probably rode before you were born) may just be slightly inflexible (physically, that is). Others may just prefer it like that.

I guess there must be enough of them for this to be a popular brand: your opinion may not be the last word.

im no spring chicken my friend. this is just silly.

Not at all. Try looking around a few more bikes - particularly tourers and audax bikes. You might notice that the saddle and bar tops are pretty much level, and they're like that for a reason - comfort. Plus you can actually use the drops, a lot of people on lower setups rarely seem to.

The other issue that some people have - and I'm one - is not that of flexibility, but neck issues. An mtb's borderline, and the geometry of the Roubaix, etc might *just* about work for me, on a good day. I had to sell the road bike and start riding a recumbent some years ago - but it's a bloomin' heavy thing to lug up some of the hills in surrey.

posted by JonD [177 posts]
6th September 2013 - 9:59

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Just dont think Im ever going to like the look of discs on a road bike...

posted by NeilXDavis [111 posts]
6th September 2013 - 10:57

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This looks gorgeous.

I'm putting off buying a new Best Bike until the discs have bedded down, but this one is making my wallet itch rather.
Cool

posted by BigDummy [280 posts]
6th September 2013 - 11:05

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A few thoughts if I may?
Even an ant can find it difficult to spot a badly shaped road in Germany (I've been there a lot in the past). So the fact that Specialized let you test ride it there is pointless. I mean would you test a jet-ski in a swimming pool?

This seatpost is by far the ugliest thing I've seen on a bike.

And the final nail in the coffin:
"A little birdie has told us that the Zertz material itself doesn’t do a lot". Ha ha. Simply amazing!!!

posted by vasgko2 [20 posts]
6th September 2013 - 18:22

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Very Nice Specialized; but well over priced! It's a mad world. Five Grand for a nothing special Bicycle!

posted by Mostyn [400 posts]
6th September 2013 - 21:00

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Weird hearing riders moaning about head-tube heights, makes perfect sense in the UK with the roads as they are, comfort seems more important than anything.

posted by Threeh [6 posts]
18th October 2013 - 13:18

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I've just got my one of these - one of the first to be delivered anywhere and I'm really impressed. Wanted it as a winter bike, but am impressed. Accelerates well, the discs work well in the wet and Spesh do their own quick attach guards (which I've yet to get). Doesn't come out in the UK until April, guess they're banking on it being a winter bike too - ideal for UK summers!!

posted by Pantster [9 posts]
2nd November 2013 - 16:28

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