If you enjoy riding fast and want an aero bike but you also want the best brakes in the business, the Specialized Venge ViAS Disc could be for you. It's fast and agile, stiff and responsive, and the brakes offer excellent control to rein in the high speeds the Venge is very capable of.
Aerodynamics and disc brakes are two key developments in road cycling, but until now their individual paths haven't met. Specialized's brand new Venge ViAS Disc changes that, one of the first disc brake-equipped aero road bikes we've had the opportunity to review.
For 2017 the US company is offering three models in the UK. At £3,900, the road.cc test bike is the cheapest – albeit not cheap – in the range and comes with Shimano Ultegra mechanical gears and hydraulic disc brakes, DT wheels and Specialized's own finishing kit, including the distinctive Aerofly handlebar.
Ride and handling
Putting the divisive looks aside for a moment, what really matters is the ride, the way it handles and performs. Is it any good to ride? Yes, is the simple answer. It's a highly impressive bike. Is it fast? Yes, it's a very rapid bike – even in my hands. It holds high speeds in the way all good aero bikes do.
The Venge ViAS Disc is precise and direct, with the front end displaying a high level of stiffness, especially noticeable when you're sprinting out of the saddle. Even though it's slightly longer than the rim-braked Venge, Specialized has kept the wheelbase short (992mm) with 410mm chainstays, and this provides plenty of agility, making the Venge a very playful, nimble bike through the twists and turns of the road.
It's an absolute blast on the descents, too. It's not just when you're battering into a headwind that aero bikes provide an advantage, they are quick downhill as well. The powerful but easy to modulate hydraulic disc brakes and the stiffness of the frame and fork combine to create a bike that is easy to handle at high speeds and through the turns.
While aero bikes are not designed for comfort – it's probably right near the bottom of the list of design objectives – it is remarkable just how smooth the Venge is. It's no magic carpet ride, and it's firmer than many other road race bikes, but it is surprisingly forgiving. There are occasions when it loses a bit of composure, but most of the time it's nothing but steady and planted.
The riding position is aimed at racers, but the 170mm head tube on this 56cm bike means it's not as aggressive as other aero race bikes. While top-end Venge bikes come with the company's own negative 17-degree stem to minimise drag and provide a lower front end position, this model comes with a regular. Finding it too short and high, I swapped it for a 120mm negative rise stem, shuffled the steerer tube spacers above the stem, and managed to get a suitably racy position that felt much more in keeping with the Venge's speedy intentions.
But disc brakes on an aero road bike?
Disc brakes are gaining wider acceptance, at least among customers of new bikes if not yet professional cyclists. We've seen the rapid rise of endurance bikes with disc brakes, and on such they make a lot of sense. But adding disc brakes to an aero bike – a bike designed for all-out speed – might seem counterintuitive. And I know where you're coming from.
But that isn't the case: I found the superior braking performance gave me more confidence at the high speeds you can reach on the Venge. You can brake later into corners and you gain a bunch of extra confidence on steep descents. These are all benefits to a rider who doesn't have the luxury of closed roads, with all the hazards of junctions, errant motorists and bad road conditions to deal with. And rain. In the wet, disc brakes are simply better. Period.
According to Specialized, the Venge Disc has nearly the same aero performance as the rim-brake version (watch the video below). It claims the disc bike is less than 4 seconds slower over 40km at 40kph compared with the rim-braked version, but that figure increases up to 8 seconds at higher yaw angles. Clearly, there is a bit of extra drag generated by the disc brakes, but it's marginal. Away from the wind tunnel and in the real-world, the differences are so small as to be almost impossible to detect, at least for a regular cyclist who doesn't have the power output of Mark Cavendish.
At 7.8kg the Venge ViAS Disc is a respectable weight. In fact, it's one of the lightest disc brake-equipped road bikes I've tested since the 6.9kg Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc two years ago. It's clear there's a small weight penalty with the discs; despite the Venge Disc frame being a claimed 200g lighter than the rim-braked Venge, the bike on test is about 400g heavier than the similarly specced Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 6.0 I reviewed earlier this year.
To put that into perspective, it's about the weight of a water bottle. Not much is it? It's certainly not enough that you'll notice it. It's a willing companion up the steepest and longest climbs, but it's more at home on undulating roads with lots of punchy hills – crests, dips and rises – where it really delivers plenty of zip. You can certainly get a lighter bike for this sort of money, and if climbing speed is all you're interested in, well, you're reading the wrong bike review. Everywhere else the weight is not a factor.
On challenging terrain and a demanding course, the disc brakes certainly allow a faster overall performance in my opinion, and outweigh the small weight and drag penalty.
Frame and equipment
The Venge ViAS Disc looks very similar to the regular Venge ViAS, launched in 2015 and the first update since the original Venge in 2011, when the company first debuted an aero road bike. Specialized has been gradually increasing its offering of disc-equipped road bikes, first with the Roubaix and then, with great success, the Tarmac.
The latest Venge was apparently first developed as a disc braked bike until the UCI disc brake trial hit a few hurdles, and so Specialized developed the Venge with unique and finicky calliper rim brakes. But it put the disc brake version back into development, with a few updates, and has released it for 2017 with the full commitment of a three-model range.
It's the same frame and fork throughout the range, made from the company's own FACT 11r carbon fibre with the Rider-First Engineered size-specific approach first debuted on the latest Tarmac. The frame looks suitably aggressive; it's a bike that clearly puts function ahead of form. I'll let you make up your own mind whether it's a looker or not.
A deep truncated aero down tube curves around the front wheel, the deep seat tube does a similar curve around the rear wheel, and the rear triangle comprises skinny tubes in a compact shape. An aero seatpost is secured in place by an internal seat clamp hidden in the top tube.
What does look odd is the top of the head tube. The frame here has been designed around its own aero stem, and with that stem and aero spacers it's a smooth and flush looking part of the bike. With the stock 100mm stem and round spacers it just looks odd. It looks better with a slammed stem, but still, it's begging for a better solution.
Unlike the S-Works Tarmac, which used post mount disc brakes and quick release axles, the Venge embraces the latest flat mount design and 12mm thru-axles front and rear, with a conventional 142mm width rear axle. All cables and brake hoses are routed inside the frame to maintain the clean lines.
Gears and wheels
Although it's the most affordable Venge Disc in the lineup, £3,900 is not cheap, but you are paying for a state-of-the-art frameset with all the development that has gone into it. The specification includes Shimano Ultegra mechanical shifters with hydraulic disc brakes, and an FSA SL-K Light carbon fibre chainset in a 52/36 configuration, paired with an 11-28t cassette. It's a groupset that works well together. The Ultegra brakes are powerful and work well out of the box, the gears are slick and reliable, and the range works well whether in the hills or in a sprint.
The price precludes a set of deep-section aero wheels, but the DT R470 Disc Pros do have a low profile aero rim shape and provide decent performance. They're sturdy, stiff and reasonably light, with a tubeless-ready rim. But still, this bike is crying out for some deep-section wheels, both from an aesthetic and performance point of view. That's going to be a considerable upgrade purchase, though – or you could upgrade to the Venge ViAS Pro Disc (£6,000) with Ultegra Di2 and 64mm Roval carbon wheels...
Specialized fits its own 24mm S-Works Turbo tyres. They provide excellent performance, low rolling resistance and reliable traction thanks to the Gripton compound, and work equally well in the dry and wet. The BlackBelt puncture protection has worked wonders on my local rough roads covered in debris and hedge trimmings.
One of the most talked about components is the Aerofly handlebar. While the top-end models use an Aerofly ViAS bar and stem with fully internal routing, this model uses a regular stem with the gear cables and brake hoses routed externally to the frame and fork. It allows much easier fit adjustment but the external cables do increase drag.
The novel shape of the bar, with a 25mm rise from the stem clamp, is intended to offer a wider range of fit options and is really designed around the negative 17-degree stem fitted to the range-topping Venge, a combination that Specialized determined to be the most aerodynamic. A flat version is also available.
Specialized claims the Aerofly handlebar is up to 20 seconds faster at 40kph over 40km than a regular round bar. Very impressive, but hard to verify. It's worth noting that many manufacturers have been developing aero handlebars in recent years in a quest to reduce the frontal surface area and reduce drag, and it's as important to the package as the aero frame and fork.
The Aerofly handlebar is surprisingly comfortable. I like the shape of the drops and the reach to the hoods is just right, but while the flat tops are comfortable, I found the shape a little too wide for my small hands.
Atop the carbon aero seatpost is the distinctive Power saddle. It looks like something from a time trial bike, but like the handlebar it, too, is surprisingly comfortable. It's very supportive with a generous width and pressure relieving central channel. The shape is designed to suit people who prefer a very aggressive position, and it's most comfortable when you adopt an extreme hip angle, such as riding in the drops.
Other bikes to consider
I mentioned it earlier, but if you have the money then the Venge ViAS Pro Disc (£6,000) uses the same frame and fork but gets a few significant upgrades, including the Aerofly ViAS handlebar and stem with fully internal cable routing, Roval CLX 64 wheels and an Ultegra Di2 groupset. Buy it online here.
A big rival to the Venge is the new Cervélo S3 Disc. We haven't ridden it yet, but hope to soon. Cervélo has pedigree in the aero road bike game, being partly responsible for the category with the launch of its Soloist many years ago. A bike with a broadly similar build to the Venge on test will cost £4,249. Buy it online here.
Another option is the Rose X-Lite CWX-8800 (£3,814.94 plus £32 shipping), from the German direct-sales brand, which because you're cutting out the dealer, offers a superior and lighter SRAM Red groupset with hydraulic disc brakes. You're also getting a pair of 44mm Rose branded carbon wheels in for the price as well.
If you want an aero bike without disc brakes, your options increase massively, but you knew that already. Just one example is the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0 Di2 (£3,899), a bike with Ultegra Di2 and Reynolds Strike carbon clincher wheels, and a claimed 7.2kg weight.
As I said at the start of the review, if you want aero performance with the best brakes in the business, the Specialized Venge ViAS Disc is an impressive package. It's undoubtedly quick, the handling is fast and agile yet easy to tame for a more leisurely riding pace, and the comfort is good enough to easily smash out a century ride on rough Cotswolds roads.
You can argue all you want that disc brakes are slow and heavy, but the truth is that, in Specialized's testing and my own real-world testing, there's very little to distinguish between this and a regular aero road bike. It's fast, very fast, and the disc brakes provide a whole load of extra control, producing a very complete and compelling package.
It won't be for everyone, but if a fast bike with solid stopping power is what you desire, there are few bikes that are as good as the Venge ViAS Disc at the moment. I'm off for another ride before it goes back...
Very fast with excellent brakes, the Venge ViAS Disc could be a glimpse of the future...
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Venge ViAS Expert Disc
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame FACT 11r carbon, Rider-First Engineered, Win Tunnel Engineered, internal cable routing, 12x142mm thru-axle, carbon OSBB
Fork FACT carbon, full monocoque
Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra, braze-on
Rear Derailleur Shimano Ultegra, 11-speed
Number of Gears 22
Shifters Shimano ST-RS685, 11-speed
Chainset Specialized Pro carbon 52/36T
Cassette Shimano Ultegra, 11-speed, 11-28t
Chain Shimano Ultegra, 11-speed
Brakeset Shimano, hydraulic, Ice-Tech resin pads w/fins
Handlebar Specialized S-Works Aerofly w/out holes, 25mm
Stem Specialized Pro 4-bolt alloy
Bar Tape Specialized Roubaix
Wheelset DT R460 Disc Pro, thru-axle, 2Bliss Ready
Tyres S-Works Turbo, 700x24mm, 220TPI, folding bead, BlackBelt protection
Saddle Body Geometry Power Expert, hollow titaniumrails, 143mm
Seatpost Specialized Venge, FACT carbon
Seat Binder Specialized Venge assembly
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?
Specialized says: "The Venge ViAS Expert Disc w/ Ultegra delivers World Tour performance at a price that competitive riders will find more than palatable. Every facet of it was born in our Win Tunnel, and the result is a bike with supreme braking and a 116-second advantage, compared to the Tarmac, over 40km. In our Win Tunnel, every tube shape, trailing edge, and design cue was made for speed. It's also Rider-First Engineered™ to ensure that every frame size experiences uniform performance, plus front-end stiffness was increased by 30% over the Tarmac. As one of the first elements to hit the wind, we realized that current stem and bar offerings cause too much aerodynamic drag. To achieve the best solution, while also interfacing with the frame, we found a negative 17-degree stem was the best option. Most riders aren't flexible enough to ride in such an aggressive position, though, so we designed the Aerofly bars with a positive rise that replicates your most efficient position. This resulted in a bike that has next-to-no visible cables. Of course, this disc iteration changes the game with undeniable stopping power with any penalty to the aerodynamic profile, so you get powerful hydraulic disc braking without any sacrifice. Then there's the crisp Shimano Ultegra 11-speed groupset and sturdy DT R460 disc wheels that amplify the overall performance of this race rig. So when it comes to sprinting to the line, this Venge refuses to be outdone."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre frame and fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Very much a race bike but the wheelbase is slightly longer than the regular Venge, not that you would really notice.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It's higher at the front than many other aero race bikes.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Surprisingly comfortable, with a pretty smooth ride over rough roads.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty of stiffness evident from the bottom bracket and head tube areas.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very well indeed.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Quick.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Quick, agile and precise.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on really well with the stubby saddle, but it probably won't be for everyone, especially if you prefer a more upright position.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
There's nothing that needs changing, the Venge doesn't lack stiffness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
It's all decent performing kit, so for the price there's nothing I'd rush to change.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The wheels are reasonably light and very durable, and I like the fact they're tubeless compatible, but a bike like the Venge is crying out for some deep-section wheels.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Aerofly handlebar, despite its looks, is pretty comfortable, but those with bigger hands will get on better with the wide flat aero tops.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
If you want disc brakes on an aero road bike your options are limited at the moment, but the new Venge ViAS Disc, while more expensive than other similarly specced bikes, is a really good package.
About the tester
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, mountain biking
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.