Sign up for our newsletter


Specialized Roubaix review: first ride

9 Sep 2016

The new Specialized Roubaix is more comfortable than the old model, and thanks to the FutureShock. We made for the cobbles to test it.

The 2017 Specialized Roubaix marks a total change of direction for the aging model range. Gone are the Zertz inserts and tall head tubes, replaced by what it calls ‘FutureShocks’ and sharp, race-honed angles. But does it make a better-riding bike for the masses? We went to Belgium to find out.

The broad strokes are these: Specialized has introduced 20mm of suspension into the steerer tube and dubbed it the FutureShock. At the rear of the bike, there’s also more ‘compliance’ on offer thanks to more exposed seatpost.

To read more about the technical changes, and the science behind them, click here: New Specialized Roubaix unveiled.

Out with the old

Specialized Roubaix Future Shock

While at its core the old Roubaix was a racing bike, it became renowned for its tall geometry – designed for painlessly munching through the miles. The new Roubaix, however, is quite a bit lower, and the rear end is more like the Tarmac, with the associated stiffness and handling to boot.

When Specialized first showed us old hacks the FutureShock, there were some sceptical murmours hidden among the jubilant ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’: is it just a gimmick? Just another HeadShock? Will this rob me of my precious watts? In short, the answer is no, but it did take a good ride to be sure. 

The basis of the FutureShock is a set of three springs, which overlap to create a false floor. This means that as you ride, you’re constantly hovering approximately 3mm into 20mm of suspension. If you hit a bump in the road, the bike rises up over it, while the handlebars remain roughly level. It really is a marvel to behold. Cracks in the road disappear and you very quickly cease steering around broken tarmac.

Specialized Roubaix review

Taking the bike off poor roads and onto the famous cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix course only cemented the bike’s excellence. I’ve ridden the Carrefour del ’Abre a couple of times before and this was the first time I reached the end without feeling like my hands were going to cramp.

You do have to be quite aware of your weight distribution to get the FutureShock working: sitting back with soft hands on the bars allows them to bounce around like any other bike – it’s only when loaded up with your weight that it can really do its job.

The rear of the bike is very comfortable too. I’ve used the Specialized C-GR seatpost in a few bikes to date and I’m a big fan of the impact absorption it offers. By lowering the seatpost collar, which increases the amount of exposed seatpost, Specialized has only improved on what was already a great product.

Specialized Roubaix seat tube

The FutureShock does take a little getting used to. As you ride along the handlebars are constantly reacting to little inputs from both you and road surface (via the bike). This becomes most apparent during cornering, as a small percentage of your cornering input into the bars is lost into the suspension unit. It’s only small and you have to be really concentrating to notice it, but the ‘weirdness’ is there and it took a few hours of riding to get used to.

Something similar happens when braking too. As you begin to apply the front brake, your body weight shifts forwards and it quickly begins to load up the FutureShock. Specialized says under heavy braking the suspension will bottom out, so if you brake heavily into a pothole the suspension won’t do much to save you. But in that case you’re no worse off than you would be without it there in the first place, so it’s hardly a negative.

The not so good

Specialized Roubaix seatpost clamp

Like everything out there, the new Roubaix does have its flaws. The most obvious are the vibrations that come through the pedals. Ordinarily when you ride, you sense vibrations primarily through the handlebars, then the saddle and finally the pedals.

But the Roubaix does such a good job of tuning out the first two that the vibrations coming through the pedals effectively become magnified. Without any other sensations to compare it to, your brain seems to amplify the feeling you’re getting through the pedals despite the fact that it’s actually no worse than on any other bike.

There’s no real solution to this, short of Specialized inventing some sort of cushioned insole, and it may well be something that you just get used to as you ride it – only time will tell as we log a few more miles.

Specialized Roubaix McLaren

The only other problem I could immediately identify on our brief ride was a false sense of security. You become so used to what the FutureShock offers so quickly, that the first thing I did when I rode a regular bike again was smash straight into a pothole without thinking. It sounds daft, but it only takes one pinch flat to find it annoying.

It’s worth noting that the model we rode on the launch was a Specialized ‘Black Edition’, so wasn’t quite the same as the production model. We have a Sram Etap hydraulic disc-brake equipped S-Works model on the way, with a full review to follow soon.


Read more about: