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Specialized Venge Vias Disc review

19 Oct 2016

Designers of the Specialized Venge Vias Disc say it’s like a ‘hot knife through butter’. And for once, the marketing hype is right.

It’s hard to know when aero road bikes really became a thing, but in the melting pot stoked up by the Cervélo Soloist in 2001, one bike stands out: the S-Works Venge.

Created in partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies, the original Venge was said to save 23 watts at 45kmh, or to open up a gap of three metres over a 200m sprint contested at 70kmh. Since then every aero bike worth its 3:1 tube ratios has come with a beguiling list of figures to give it credence. So, for those in such digits’ thrall, here are the new Venge’s numbers: 116 seconds faster than your average road bike over 40km at a wind speed of 40kmh, of which – according to Specialized’s aerodynamics engineer, Cameron Piper – ‘16 seconds comes from the bars and a further 12 seconds from the integrated cockpit and internal cable routing.’

However you break it down, that’s quick. Yet I’m more of a bicycle traditionalist, so there’s always a part of me that wonders if any of that’s relevant to normal workaday riders. The Venge changed all that. In fact, and I don’t use these words lightly, I think it has actually convinced me that I want an aero bike. Strike that. I need an aero bike. So long as it’s this good.

Ultimate reward

Cast your mind back to the first time you felt the whoosh of being on a racer, that feeling of an absolutely seismic shift in performance between it and your BMX or mountain bike, and you’ll get an idea of how I felt when I first pedalled the Venge. The initial acceleration, and every acceleration thereafter, was staggeringly quick.

It’s a pretty monumental piece of carbon engineering, smooth yet angular, bulbous yet skinny, and it weighs a not inconsiderable 7.82kg, but from standing starts it blazes out of the trap like a bike half its weight. The closest comparable machine I’ve experienced over those low revs is the Fuji SL 1.1 (issue 53), which does a similar job because it weighs just 5.11kg. However, unlike the Fuji, which then settles into a fairly linear effort/reward model, the Venge feels as if it has hidden afterburners in the stays, with things seeming almost more effortless the faster I pedalled. Headwinds suddenly became things in which to revel, not fear, and even up climbs the Venge’s aerodynamic prowess outshone its shortcomings in the weight stakes. At every turn it felt like a bike harrying me on to change up another gear and go faster. That’s possibly no surprise though, at least to the Venge’s engineers. 

‘The most difficult thing we tackled on the Venge was to reduce the drag at 0°, or head-on,’ says Specialized’s road category manager, Eric Schuda. ‘Reducing the drag at 0° is what gives everyone that “Holy shit this thing is fast” feeling when they jump on the bike.’

This isn’t just a cheap trick. Piper explains that the Venge engineers were also able to ‘reduce drag within the +/-15° yaw range’, a fact validated in German magazine Tour’s independent testing. In that test, the Venge went up alongside 14 other top-end aero road bikes at a variety of yaw angles, and tied for first place with the Trek Madone 9.9 in purely aerodynamic terms. 

Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the Venge Tour tested was in fact the rim-calliper version that debuted in 2015, which leads us into some interesting territory…

Where to begin?

‘We started the new Venge project as a disc bike,’ says Schuda. ‘We tooled an entire frame with post-mount brakes, rode it in a bunch then realised that disc brakes were a way off, so we put this on hold and started the rim brake project. We then started from scratch with all new tooling for the disc version.’

The Venge, then, was never meant to be a rim calliper bike. And while the Venge Disc looks much the same as the rim brake version, bar the obvious, it’s been subtly reworked, from a reshaped fork crown to the re-sculpted seat tube. ‘Plus we’ve made improvements in layup analysis that allowed us to reduce weight,’ adds Schuda.

An average 56cm frame weighs a claimed 1,170g compared to 1,300g for a rim brake frame – not a stat you’d often expect for a disc bike. Likewise, the disc element has only slowed the bike by four seconds over 40km compared to the rim brake version.

That’s good news for disc-brake proponents, but it’s not the whole story. Once I’d gotten over the sheer speed, what struck me is just how well the Venge rode. Grab a fistful of Sram’s new eTap disc brake levers, dive into a corner and it rails like a rabbit on a dog track. Get out of the saddle and wrench on the bars like a possessed Greipel and it responds in kind with a rocksteady punch accompanied by a whoompf of scything carbon. Yet in all this aggression, there is a modicum of comfort. 

It’s definitely stiffer vertically than a non-aero bike, but as a package the Venge rides with a smoothness often lacking in bikes built just for speed. It was perfectly happy on long outings, as were my contact points. 

Shaping the future

Everything here is cutting edge. This edition features Sram’s wireless eTap, a Quarq power meter, flat-mount disc brake callipers and tubeless tyres and wheels. 

To some people, many things on that list might seem unnecessary embellishments, but I’d defy anyone to not find joy in the crisp shifting and clean looks of eTap, the extra stopping prowess of disc brakes, the fast-rolling, virtually puncture-proof ride of tubeless tyres and self-motivating world of riding with power. However, there is a ‘but’. For all those benefits, the Venge runs the risk of losing a bicycle’s wonderful, democratic simplicity.

For starters, the brakes have a tendency to squeal in certain conditions. Then there’s the fitting of the S-Works Turbo tubeless tyres, which unless you have a compressor or a spare couple of days, can prove to be a nightmare (for prospective owners I would recommend Silca or Stan’s tubeless rim tape as a must). And then there’s the cockpit, which is tricky to adjust for any riders without three hands (that’s two to hold the tools and one to scratch your head).

As a result, I can’t help but think the Venge will be in some fashion limiting, as there are so many esoteric parts and features that it virtually ties you to a lifelong relationship with your Specialized dealer. Schuda explains that he too ‘worries about this’, but that a wealth of material is available online and from dealers if DIY’s your thing. 

However, as much as I too fear the day we all have to take our bikes to a dealer to get serviced, I’m going to let it slide, because as a rider of a road bike I’ve never felt this fast. Plus I doubt an owner of a McLaren P1 supercar worries that they can’t change the spark plugs.

The spec

Model: Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS Disc eTap

Groupset: Sram Red eTap HRD

Deviations: S-Works FACT carbon chainset with Quarq Power Meter and CeramicSpeed bearings

Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX 64 Disc

Finishing kit: S-Works Aerofly ViAS bars, Venge ViAS aero stem, Venge FACT carbon seatpost, Body Geometry S-Works Power saddle

Weight: 7.82kg (56cm)


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