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Desert Storm: Abu Dhabi aero bikes ride test

Stu Bowers
17 Nov 2017

The wind-whipped desert of Abu Dhabi is the perfect place to test three of the world’s most aerodynamic road bikes

The bikes

Specialized S-Works Venge Vias Disc eTap

Specialized has built its own wind-tunnel. This is the result

Model: Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS Disc eTap
Groupset: Sram eTap HRD
Gearing: 52/36t crankset, 11-26t cassette
Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX64 Disc
Tyres: Specialized S-Works Turbo tubeless; 700x24c
Finishing kit: Specialized Aerofly ViAS handlebars, Venge ViAS aero stem, Venge Aero seatpost, Body Geometry S-Works Power carbon saddle
Weight: 8.02kg (56cm)
Price: £8,500

Stu’s summary:

Aesthetically the Venge ViAS Disc might be divisive, especially its unusual handlebars, but ride it in anger and it will almost certainly win you over.

Where other brands rely on third-party wheels and components to slot in and work with their frames, Specialized is able to take a holistic approach, honing the Venge ViAS Disc to work most efficiently as a system.

The benefits are obvious on the road. The super-stiff frame and wheels deliver power crisply, ensuring it gets up to speed fast, and according to my training data staying fast is noticeably efficient in terms of effort too.

On the gusty Al Wathba circuit, the Venge was surprisingly calm in crosswinds and Sram’s eTap wireless shifting remained flawless even with the chain and sprockets caked in sand.

Disc brakes weren’t vital for this pan-flat test, but they do mean the Venge ViAS Disc is not a one-trick pony.

It has the speed to destroy Strava KoMs, but also the versatility to tackle an Alpine sportive.


Trek Madone 9.5 Women's

Trek’s flagship speed machine is packed to the gunnels with features

Model: Trek Madone 9.5 Women’s
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Gearing: 50/34t crankset; 11-28t cassette
Wheels: Vision Metron 40 LTD
Tyres: Bontrager R3 Hard Case Lite; 700x25c
Finishing kit: Madone integrated bar/stem OCLV carbon, Madone Micro Adjust carbon seatmast, Bontrager Ajna Pro carbon saddle
Weight: 7.13kg (52cm)
Price: £6,500

Kate’s summary:

As a lighter rider I typically find myself affected more by strong winds, and I usually struggle into headwinds.

The Trek not only felt stable and comfortable in the gusty conditions – more so even than my own Specialized Tarmac road bike – but it somehow also always felt really eager to go.

It encourages an attacking riding style, and it was great fun to tuck down low and push it hard to make the guys suffer.

On a long solo breakaway this would be the bike I’d want to be on, when you can feel the aero benefits working in your favour.

Equally, though, the Madone is also plenty stiff and light enough to be capable in a crit race.

I’m probably opening a can of worms for saying this, but I also really liked the colour scheme.

The deep dark blue was unusual, and really worked well against the pink logos.

Some women will hate the pink but I think it’s a classy look with just the right amount of feminine touch.


Cervelo S5

Arguably the original, but is it still the best?

Model: Cervélo S5
Groupset: Sram Force 1
Gearing: 50t chainring; 11-28t cassette
Wheels: Lightweight Autobahn VR8 front; Lightweight Fernweg 80 rear
Tyres: Continental Competition tubulars; 700x25c
Finishing kit: Cervélo Aero Road bar, Zipp Service Course SL stem, Cervélo Aero seatpost, Pro Logo Scratch Pro CPC saddle
Weight: 6.98kg (50cm)
Price: AED51,995 (approx £10,999)
Contact: Wolfi’s Bike Shop (

Andy’s summary:

Having ridden on the Al Wathba circuit a lot I know it well, and I immediately felt a big difference on the Cervélo S5 compared to my usual road bike.

First of all, I was taking less of a battering from the wind, which considering the depth of the Lightweight wheels was a huge surprise.

In truth, they were absolutely fine in the crosswinds. Having only 11 gears works perfectly in the UAE because the terrain here is largely flat as a pancake.

And when you do need a quick change when hitting one of the rare few small inclines at speed, Sram’s Force 1 shifting can be relied on to shift effortlessly and precisely.

It’s hard not to like a bike that flatters your efforts as much as the S5. Its low weight combined with its stiffness creates a quick response to pedalling inputs, feeling solid in both seated and standing efforts.

What impressed me most, however, was how easy it was to hold on to a good pace, even in the strong winds, re-affirming my belief in the huge potential benefits of aero.


Kit picks

Our standout items of clothing


Met Manta helmet | £179.99,

‘Few helmets I’ve tested achieve such a good balance of weight, ventilation and proven aerodynamic benefits as the Met Manta.

‘At 200g (size medium) and with a really comfortable fit, I barely knew I had it on, and despite its aerodynamic prowess I never felt in danger of overheating, even in the desert.’


Santini Tono jersey and bibshorts | £79.99/£134.99,

‘This jersey is great for the UAE. Its highly perforated Sesia micro-mesh construction is exceptionally light and breathable, not to mention aero.

‘It’s not one for riders who need to lose a few kilos, though, and with only minimal UV protection you won’t want to forget suntan lotion.

‘The bibshorts proved highly comfortable on long rides, too.’


Alé R-EV1 Strada Race Suit | £180,

‘I loved both the look and the fit of this Alé race suit. OK, I admit it, I liked the look more.

‘I know it’s subjective, but I think there’s truth in the notion that if you’re wearing something that makes you feel great, it’s a performance advantage on some level.

‘Plus it was still really comfortable even after a full day in the saddle.’


Thanks to Andy Sherwood, editor of Cyclist Middle East, for joining us on the ride and for his part in helping with planning and organisation for this trip, and to Lucy Self of Q Communications (, for her help with negotiating a few logistical headaches.

Thanks also to Southern Sun Abu Dhabi for accommodating us on our trip.

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