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Specialized S-Works Venge 2019: Launch and first ride review of disc only new model (gallery)

31 Jul 2018

Page 1 of 2Specialized S-Works Venge 2019: Launch and first ride review of disc only new model (gallery)


Aero is still everything for the Specialized Venge, but now the bike is lighter and handles better too. Photos: Valentin Rapp/Specialized

Another hotly anticipated product that fell into the strange world of embargoes, where those of us who'd seen it officially presented were left to keep quiet while the bike itself has been ridden by several teams for a few weeks. Now that the embargo has passed, we can finally discuss the new Specialized Venge, and what a bike it is.

This bike is as much the product of a laboratory and wind tunnel as it is real world testing, and as such Specialized has developed modelling techniques that will be used to better bikes across its range.

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Venge-Tarmac Venn diagram

What's immediately obvious is how much better the new Specialized Venge looks that the Vias model it replaces, and with the aesthetic change comes another step towards divergence between the Venge and the other key model in the brand's range, the Specialized Tarmac.

The crossover area in the Venn between the two bikes seems to be growing, but we aren't anywhere near one bike doing the job of both just yet.

'Even though it feels like Tarmac and Venge are getting closer and closer, the aero and weight difference between the two are actually nearly the same as they have been since the beginning of Venge!' Chris Yu, Director of Integrated Technologies revealed.

'As Tarmac has gotten lighter, we’ve dropped the weight of the Venge in the latest generation, but there is still a substantial difference between the two.

'Similarly, as Venge has gotten more aero, Tarmac SL6 has also followed, but there is still a substantial difference between the two.'

These differences are subtle but once I'd been made aware of them I could see what he meant when I rode both bikes, one after the other at the lanuch of the new Venge. My experience of the bikes is detailed on page 2 in the first ride review.

A trend that Specialized can foresee, as the bikes borrow key factors from each other, is the switching of roles especially in the pro peloton.

At the moment, the Specialized Tarmac is the do-it-all machine that can climb and increasingly cope with flat stages and sprints and is used day-to-day, while the Venge is the dedicated aero bike that is dropping weight and going up hill faster but is still called upon in fairly specific situations.

Looking ahead, there could be a switch where the Specialized Venge - either this one or the next - is the go to bike for most riders on most days, with a switch to the Tarmac only coming when a GC contender is faced with a particularly mountainous day, for example.

Disc brakes only

‘In our view, we likely won’t develop another performance road bike with rim brakes,’ Yu proudly added when asked about the Venge's disc-only build.

The bike rides and looks all the better for its reduced cabling and the frame hasn't had to give up any aero or gain any weight as a result of entry and exit points for rim brake cables.

Disc brake cables leave the bike at the very last and right next to the brakes at the centre of the wheels which means they catch much less wind and don't require the extra carbon at the top of the fork or a brake bridge at the rear, which will only add weight.

Last year and the beginning of this, Peter Sagan - who rides Specialized along with his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates - notably continued to use rim brakes but now even he's made (or been coaxed into making) the switch, and was one of the pros using the bike in plain view long before the product embargo.

Further, the bike only allows for the use of electronic gears - Shimano Di2 and SRAM eTap - so this is every bit the high end performance bike.

However, the use of electronic gearing isn't yet seen as being as much of a dead cert, only available option kind of change as the brakes.

'From a performance and rider preference standpoint, electronic drivetrains are dominating, which is why we focused on them with the design of the new Venge,' Yu said.

'However, due to the cost differential, mechanical groupsets will likely be around for a bit longer.'

Aero is still everything, but now it has to share the focus

'Aero is everything' has been the approach and marketing phrase since the very first Venge but now weight and Rider First Engineering, although always important, are getting more of a look in.

Weight in particular has been saved, with the frameset now 460g lighter than the Vias model. The photo above shows how much of the older bike would have to be removed to make the same saving, which demontrates just how much the bulk has been trimmed down.

The new frameset is 960g for a size 56cm and gives an overall build weight of 7.1kg, fully decked out with the aero cockpit and a power meter.

The bike can be built to the UCI's lower limit of 6.8kg when a more standard handlebar arrangement is used along with a tubular wheelset.

As for Rider First Engineering, there are simple changes like a dimpled effect on the tops of the Aerofly bars that offer grip and ensure riders aren't tempted to add bar tape all the way to the stem.

While, more fundamentally, each size in the range has its own blend of stiffness rather than one main size being made to the best of the brand's ability and the rest just being a scaled up or scaled down version of that.

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FreeFoil Shape Library

The first Specialized Venge, which was released around seven years ago, was developed and tested in a rented wind tunnel. Since then Specialized has built its own 'Win Tunnel', a resource that is on hand whenever it is needed.

The next big step in bicycle manufacture for Specialized came hand-in-hand with the new bike and that was the development and use of proprietary software and technology for the modelling and testing of specific tube shapes.

FreeShape Optimisation produces the optimal weight-aero-stiffness ratio for any given shape and those shapes are catalogued in the FreeFoil Shape Library.

The process was a lengthy one starting with three to four months of software development. Next the software spent a month producing all the shapes for the Library before the first prototype was made and put to test in the wind tunnel.

Right away this first new model was faster than the Vias.

'Our eureka moment came when we tested our first crude prototype in the tunnel and saw numbers faster than the previous Venge Vias,' Yu excited reported.

'This was eye-opening since we had spent the first several months, not creating and iterating prototypes, but developing our FreeShape Optimization algorithm and the resulting FreeFoil Shape Library.

'Our first prototype was literally a "stick-figure" bike with the main tubes created out of extrusions of FreeFoil Library shapes.'

That first model was then refined to move the bike away from the Tarmac SL6's tubing, while still making the new Venge lighter than that generation of Tarmac.

FreeShape Optimisation means that tens of thousands of iterations can be simulated to find the best combination of aerodynamics, weight and stiffness for each part of the bike.

The software can produce and test iterations that might otherwise be overlooked by a fully maunal process.

Every part of every tube has been optimised to best suit its position in the build, as can be seen in areas such as the downtube-fork junction and around the seatstays.

This whole process also means that bikes can go from computer screen to real world testing in a much shorter time, and riders like Sagan, Fernando Gaviria and Zdenek Stybar have been riding prototypes for almost a year.

No more need for time trial bikes?

The new Venge can be built with the addition of a time trial one piece bar added to the front end, aimed mostly at professional triathletes. However, with a stagnation in the development of time trial specific bikes due to the stringent rules of the UCI, could we soon see aero road bikes used against the clock too? Yu thinks so.

'Honestly, I think that time is now, at least for the vast majority of us,' he said. 'The latest Venge chassis is more aero than most of the dedicated TT bikes on the market today.

'With the Venge-specific clip-on TT bars, you would have to buy a very expensive dedicated TT setup and a TT-specific fit (and likely wind tunnel or velodrome testing time) to land on a package that is faster.'

Big claims, all backed up with stats, that could see a shift from the WorldTour downwards.

Head through to page 2 for my experience of the bike during a first ride review

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Page 1 of 2Specialized S-Works Venge 2019: Launch and first ride review of disc only new model (gallery)