Specialized's £2,000 Tarmac Comp is a smart looking and well packaged bike that offers the sort of fast and engaging ride that will suit budding racers, along with sportive cyclists who favour a less upright position than is provided by the company's own Roubaix model.
Until the launch of the new Tarmac last summer, the frame on this Tarmac Comp was essentially the same frame as used right at the top of the range, and raced by the professionals over the last few years.
Despite its age - this generation Tarmac was introduced in 2011 - the frame is still modern looking. It certainly doesn't look out of place alongside more cutting-edge offerings.
The critical difference between this model and the high-end versions is not in the shape and profile of the tubes, which are identical, but in the carbon fibre used in the manufacturing process. The Comp uses a more affordable grade of carbon fibre, Specialized's own FACT 9r to be precise. That keeps the cost down, but does impact weight a bit.
Details that still ensure the Tarmac Comp cuts it with more modern alternatives include the full carbon fibre tapered steerer tube with an hourglass shaped head tube, full internal cable routing (which is Di2 compatible), and BB30 bottom bracket.
The Specialized Tarmac Comp might be outgunned on paper by some of the direct-sales companies but it's still a well packaged bike for the price. In fact, looking at some of those direct-sales rivals, the gap isn't as wide as you'd expect. That's helped by Specialized managing to knock £200 of the bike compared to last year's model.
The groupset is predominantly Shimano Ultegra 11-speed, a common sight at this price, except for the excellent Praxis Works Turn Zayante chainset. It's the first time I've used this new chainset it worked just fine, offering a similar level of stiffness and shifting as an Ultegra chainset. It won't win any beauty awards with its rather agricultural appearance though, but looks are subjective.
Gearing is spot on, with a 52/36 chainset. I'm a big fan of this setup, which is starting to replace both compact and standard double chainsets on many bikes. It's geared well for most road racing yet makes life a little easier on hilly parcours, especially if out for the day. There's an 11-28 cassette hanging off the back wheel so you're not really going to struggle with the gear choice.
For the wheels Specialized have turned to Italian brand Fulcrum. The S4 wheels are a fusion between a Fulcrum 5 hub and Fulcrum 3 rim, they're produced for Specialized and you can't buy them off-the-shelf.
While they do help Specialized keep the bike on budget, there's certainly nothing discounted about their performance. They proved reliable and fast rolling, with good spoke tension and decent wheel stiffness when pushed hard. You're really only going to notice the weight if you look for it hard enough on the steeper climbs.
Fitted to the wheels are Specialized's own tyre. Its latest tyres are really very good, an adequate, if not better, match for any tyre normally seen at this price. These Turbo Pro tyres are 23mm wide and feature a 127 tpi construction. The BlackBelt puncture protection did a stellar job of keeping the test ride free of punctures, along with impressive speed and traction in a range of conditions.
With wider tyres gaining much popularity, it might look odd that Specialized have resisted the opportunity to spec 25mm tyres on the bike, especially given the likely buyer who might be interested in day long comfort as much as all-out racing.
Specialized again keep it own-brand with the aluminium handlebar, stem, bar tape and seatpost. It's all decent kit that caused no concerns and the handlebars have a really comfortable shape with a good reach.
A highlight is the Body Geometry Toupe Comp Gel saddle, with weight saving chromoly rails. It's not unusual to get some ugly and uncomfortable saddle on bikes at this price, and I normally swap them for my personal fave anyway, but the Toupe hit the sweet spot, and stayed on for the entire test.
At 8.24kg (18.16lb) as pictured the Tarmac Comp is a healthy weight and certainly within respectable limits for the price and pitch of the bike. Some bikes feel their weight more than others, the Tarmac Comp did an impressive job of masking the weight in the way it delivered speed, momentum and bursts of acceleration.
The geometry is what you would expect from a race bike; it strikes a good balance and is very accommodating of new cyclists as it is to experienced racers. The 20mm headset cap limits how low you can go on the front but that could easily be swapped out for a zero rise cap.
Despite that, I really got on well with the position on the 56cm Tarmac. I've ridden previous generation Tarmacs and always found them easy to get on with. There are no handling quirks, it's very predictable and easy to live with, and you feel right at home very easily.
It's a versatile bike, but not in the way that you might be thinking. No, what I mean is that it's a bike that can equally be ridden all-day long in comfort, booted around a tight and twisty criterium circuit, ridden to work, used on the chaingang, or just lazy Sunday morning rides to the coffee shop. It's happy pootling or going flat out.
It's simply a very good road bike, with an emphasis on speed and that highly tuned handling that has been developed on the racing circuit making it a lot of fun to ride.
It was surprising just how comfortable the Tarmac Comp proved to be. The frame and fork display excellent vibration damping when heading down crumbly roads. It's certainly not going to trouble a Roubaix or Synapse for outright smoothness, but the gap isn't as wide as you'd expect. Switching the 23mm tyres to 25mm, which the frame will accommodate, easily narrowed that gap.
The impression I was left with the most after riding the Tarmac Comp was just how much fun it was to ride. Whether it's chasing personal bests, closing a gap in a race, or tackling a hilly sportive, it's an ideal bike for a lot of cyclists. For many people, the Tarmac has always been a benchmark, and at this £2,000 price point, this certainly holds true.
There's a lot to like about the Tarmac Comp. It's a genuinely race proven bike that is perfect for any amateur racers, and the build kit gets the job done without complaint. It's a bike that would stand a few choice upgrades throughout its life - swap to some light and aero carbon wheels and you'll find the performance lifted to another level.
Yes it's from the 'race bike' mould of bicycle design, but it's so much more than just a race bike. For simply getting out at the weekends, signing up for a sportive of joining the local Sunday club run, the Specialized Tarmac Comp is simply a very high quality and highly impressive road bike.
Racing heritage shines through with sparkling ride backed up by no-nonsense build
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Make and model: Specialized Tarmac Comp
Size tested: 56, white
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The Tarmac Comp is a pure and unbridled race machine. It climbs effortlessly, descends confidently, and sprints ferociously. Bottom line, you'll be faster on this bike. With a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain for flawless shifting, it can handle weekend races and long days in the saddle perfectly.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
FACT 9r carbon frame is ultra-stiff and lightweight for pure speed
Fulcrum S4 wheelset is a fast rolling, lightweight all-around performer
Specialized Turbo Pro, 700x23c tyres offer grip and fast rolling speed
Turn Zayante compact crankset delivers excellent power transfer and consistent shifting
Shimano Ultegra brakes offer expert brake power and modulation
Shimano Ultegra, 11-speed rear derailleur is lightweight w/ smooth and crisp shifting
Body Geometry Toupé Comp Gel saddle w/ hollow Cr-Mo rails for comfort without compromise
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Racy yes, but not aggressive and scary, and very accommodating of new cyclists.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Surprisingly comfortable providing good comfort for longer rides.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty of stiffness for racing and sprinting and generally riding hard and fast.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very predictable and easy to get the best out of. It shines in most situations and at all speeds.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Shimano Ultegra 11-speed groupset is flawless, and the Praxis Works Turn Zayante chainset, while not the best looking thing ever, worked really well. I'd replace the 23mm tyres with 25mm tyres if you want a bit more comfort.
Some 25mm tyres would be a good comfort boost.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
There's a lot to like about the Tarmac Comp. It's a genuinely race proven bike that is perfect for any amateur racers, and the build kit gets the job done without complaint. It's a bike that would stand a few choice upgrades throughout its life - swap to some light and aero carbon bikes and you'll find the performance lifted to another level.
Yes it's from the 'race bike' mould of bicycle design, but it's so much more than just a race bike. For simply getting out at the weekends, signing up for a sportive of joining the local Sunday club run, the Specialized is simply a very high quality and highly impressive road bike.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.