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Specialized Tarmac Comp review

3 Mar 2017
Verdict:

An agile and responsive all-rounder with exceptional disc brakes

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£2,700

Designed to offer lightweight performance at what Specialized calls ‘one of the fastest and economical solutions’, the Tarmac combines an aggressively postured frame with a mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105 equipment for high-end performance, including hydraulic disc brakes.

With an emphasis not only on power but also comfort, the Tarmac should prove a sound bet for long-distance thrill-seekers whether your preference leans towards racing or more in the direction of taking on hilly sportives.

Frameset

Specialized’s ‘Rider-First Engineered’ approach to its Tarmac frameset means each frame size is proportionately identical, not just altered in a few tubes, which in theory makes the most of the frame design no matter what your height.

Buy the Specialized Tarmac Comp from Rutland Cycling now


A flattened top tube tapers slightly as it curves downwards, while seatstays narrow at the top to reduce vibration felt in the saddle. The carbon seatpost is adjusted neatly and easily by way of a hidden cam inside the seat tube.

The rear frame triangle is kept as small as possible, to allow efficient delivery of power. Cabling is internal throughout, and there is a handy barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur cable.

The overall appearance of the matt black paint is classy, but it’s a pig to keep free of greasy fingerprints and cleaning product residue.

Groupset

There’s a keen mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105 onboard the Tarmac – the former used for the 52/36 chainset and front and rear mechs, the latter employed for the 11-28 cassette.

The taller hoods of Shimano’s BR-785 hydraulic disc brake controls are increasingly common on bikes of this budget, and comparable to Ultegra in their performance (105’s equivalent is the BR-505 set-up).

The ubiquitous 11-28 cassette offers a gear for every occasion – or at least one for every occasion we experienced during our test rides.

Finishing kit

Among the Specialized own-brand finishing kit, the Toupe saddle is the star of the show, offering all-day comfort in a performance-oriented package. Of course, saddles are a personal matter, but we’d encourage you to try one.

Elsewhere, alloy is used for the 420mm handlebars, which have a comfortable 125mm drop, and for the workaday 100mm stem.

Carbon is used for the seatpost, which in this 27.2mm guise, admirably isolates posterior from vibes.

Wheels

Axis Elite disc-specific wheels perform more than adequately when it comes to punchy accelerations, and also make light work of most hills you’d find on an average UK ride.

However, the 24c S-Works Turbo tyres are a weak point. There isn’t the outright grip to do full credit to the frame’s responsiveness – at least not in the lower temperatures we’re experiencing on bright winter mornings.

But it’s no big deal, as tyres are one of the easiest and cheapest parts of a bike to upgrade.

Buy the Specialized Tarmac Comp from Rutland Cycling now

The ride

There’s much to be said for the long-term benefits of buying your own Specialized Toupe saddle and swapping it between your bikes, or carrying it over when you buy a new one, like you would with your pedals.

If you already do this, the instantly accommodating sensation of the chromo-railed, ergo-designed perch makes the Tarmac feel like home from the off, and really helps you maintain comfort when climbing in the saddle.

The Tarmac doesn’t disappoint when swiftly slotted into the 52x11 for a half-mile straight-line downhill blast, smoothly generating forward momentum to assist what gravity is already providing.

But the B-road on which we’re riding does transmit a fair amount of niggling vibes up through the 120mm head tube to the short alloy stem and bars.

It’s not ruining the ride, but it’s more apparent than many other bikes we’ve ridden on our test loop. The rear end, however, not only remains a numb-bum-free area, but also proves the Tarmac still has the power to excite when we hit the first climb.

Keeping it in the big ring, leaving the saddle and giving it ‘full Cav’ for a 300-metre incline highlights just how connected the bike feels to the road.

Response from the rear end is rapid, the quick-steering front end doesn’t feel too twitchy when thrown from side to side. But we do then reconnect our posterior with the fabulous Toupe saddle for the next mile whil having a quiet word with ourselves.

The Tarmac’s 73.4° head angle puts it in the realms of rapid steering, and the bike doesn’t disappoint when you fire it off a crest, place your hands on the drops, make like Cancellara and swallow up the twists and turns of a country lane slalom.

Responsiveness from the front end is so good we might as well be gripping the axle (actually, that might be more comfortable than the Specialized own-brand bartape our test bike is equipped with).

That feeling of connectivity when sprinting under serious load is amplified when leaving the brakes alone and relying upon the fast reaction speed of rider and machine to read the road ahead.

The Specialized is agile, and its hydraulic brakes as good as road bike disc brakes get when we need to scrub off a little speed.

There’s no fuss, just excellent one-finger modulation of velocity, the taste of adrenaline in the mouth recedes, and we hunker down to enjoy a 500-metre, 30mph drop with zero wobbles from the bike.

The 27.2mm carbon seatpost works well with the saddle to smooth out high-frequency vibes. The one area of handling that could do with an upgrade is the tyres – there’s certainly clearance for higher volume tyres than the supplied 24c rubber.

 

Ratings

Frame: Built for optimum power transfer. 8/10
Components: A mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105. Solid. 9/10 
Wheels: Axis Elite wheels work well - pity about the tyres. 7/10 
The Ride: Exceptionally responsive but at the cost of comfort. 8/10

VERDICT

The Specialized is agile while its hydraulic brakes are as good as road bike disc brakes get.

Buy the Specialized Tarmac Comp from Rutland Cycling now

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 537mm 539mm
Seat Tube (ST) 462mm 462mm
Down Tube (DT) N/A 610mm
Fork Length (FL) 368mm 370mm
Head Tube (HT) 120mm 120mm
Head Angle (HA) 73 73.4
Seat Angle (SA) 74 74.6
Wheelbase (WB) 970mm 972mm
BB drop (BB) 71.5mm 71mm

Spec

Specialized Tarmac Comp
Frame Fact 10r carbon frame, S-Works FACT carbon fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra
Brakes Shimano SR-785 hydraulic disc
Chainset Shimano Ultegra, 52/36
Cassette Shimano 105, 11-28
Bars Specialized Shallow Drop Comp, alloy
Stem Specialized, alloy
Seatpost Specialized Comp, carbon, 27.2mm
Wheels Axis Elite Disc
Saddle Specialized Toupe Comp Gel
Weight 8.28kg (52cm)
Contact specialized.com

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