The latest version of Specialized’s Tarmac, the SL7, is one of the fastest road bikes I have ever ridden, and that’s not just down to the fact that this top level S-Works version floats just above the UCI minimum weight limit. Aerodynamics also play a massive role.
The Tarmac SL7 has been launched today, although I’ve been lucky enough to have been riding one for just over a week now (on condition that I stay schtum until the release). The miles ridden haven’t been massive yet, but I reckon I’ve covered enough to give you my first thoughts on how the relationship is going.
Specialized have supplied us with the all-singing, all-dancing S-Works Tarmac Dura-Ace Di2 model, and what a beauty it is. Of course, priced £10,500, you'd expect it to be (the range opens with the Tarmac SL7 Expert at £4,750).
I won’t go into too much of the technical details of the new frame, fork and components because Mat has already done that here.
For your £10,500 you get a FACT 12r carbon-fibre frame and fork, a full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset with dual-sided power meter, and an S-Works Aerofly II handlebar mated to an integrated stem.
The deep section Roval Rapide CLX carbon wheels are wrapped in Specialized’s Turbo Cotton 26mm tyres, and the build is topped off with a full-carbon Body Geometry S-Works Power saddle.
The whole package (56cm frame) weighs in at just 6.85kg (15.1lb) on the road.cc scales.
As you may have surmised from the photographs, the main focus in the development of the SL7 has been on aerodynamics, but without affecting overall weight. An amalgamation of the previous Tarmac and the aero Venge model, if you like.
So far, I’ve ridden the SL7 on a couple of 90 minute A-road blasts and a longer three hour trek out into the backroads. It doesn’t seem to matter what the setting is, this Specialized Tarmac SL7 is ridiculously fast!
Initially I put a lot of this down to the weight. 6.85kg is very impressive for a bike with aero intentions, after all, specially when you consider it’s wearing hydraulic disc brakes and deep section wheels, adding to the weight.
My rim braked B’Twin CF Ultra weighs exactly the same, though, and even with the deep section wheels fitted I haven’t achieved the average speeds that I can on the Specialized.
The thing I have noticed when riding the SL7 is that the effort required to ride fast – 19mph through to about 26mph, say – is lower than on many other bikes.
Once you’ve got the SL7 up there, you just need to keep it ticking over, and that feels easier than normal. I could ride faster for longer, and hitting the base of a hill in this relaxed sort of state means there is more left in the legs to push an incredibly light bike up the summit. It's all subjective, but that's the way it feels to me.
Obviously, I’ll be testing this out more over the coming weeks on a lot of my favourite routes to see how much the early honeymoon period of riding a very light and stiff bike is affecting play.
Larger section tubing used on many aero bikes can often cause a firm or even harsh ride, but Specialized have achieved the opposite.
The stiffness around the bottom bracket junction, chainstays and down tube hasn’t let me down on the steep climbs or when racing the traffic, and things are tight at the front end too.
Even with the 26mm Turbo Cotton tyres pumped up to 95psi, there's no real feeling of vibration or harshness coming through from the road surfaces I’ve tried so far.
The saddle has a little bit of hull flex which also helps take the sting out, and the wide and flat Aerofly II handlebar is much more forgiving than I expected.
Well, I hope that’s enough to whet your appetite. This is in no way a full review, just my early impressions based on a few rides.
I’ll have the Specialized Tarmac SL7 for another few weeks. I’ll be using that time to get under its skin and see what it is like to live with long term.
I’ll be back with a full review soon.
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!