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Specialized S-Works Roubaix eTap review

14 Dec 2017
Verdict:

The cobbles-bashing bike is back, now with extra bounce

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£9,000
For 
Minimal weight penalty for the added comfort; Less detriment to fast paced riding than you might expect; Subtlety of the Future Shock design reduces visual impact
Against 
Not for everyone: I think it will be an acquired taste; High price even with this level of spec; The Expert level seems to offer much better value than the S-Works, discernibly not too different in performance but half the cost

First launched in 2003, the Specialized Roubaix paved the way for a new genre of race-ready road bikes that offered greater comfort and stability with a more relaxed fit.

Since then, it has been victorious over the hallowed cobblestones of its namesake event an impressive five times, and now Specialized has given the Roubaix its most significant update in over a decade.

Immediately noticeable is the absence of the signature Zertz elastomer inserts – the rubbery bits on the fork legs and seatstays aimed at reducing vibrations.

What Specialized has replaced them with is far more radical, as the new bike comes with a suspension system between the head tube and the stem, which Specialized calls Future Shock.

It’s basically a spring, and it delivers up to 20mm of vertical travel at the handlebars.

Future Shock

To explain the introduction of Future Shock, Chris Yu, head of applied technologies at Specialized, says there isn’t just one kind of compliance, there are two: splay and axial.

Splay refers to something bending (a seatpost flexing, for example), while axial compliance refers to something moving directly up and down along its axis (such as a mountain bike suspension fork).

‘Flex [splay compliance] can be effective in terms of the rider’s sensation of comfort, but at the front end of the bike, where stiffness is so critical to handling and performance, it’s not the most efficient solution,’ Yu says.

That thinking led Specialized to the idea for an axial suspension unit, but critically it had to be placed above the head tube, rather than below it.

That’s because in this location it’s not supporting your entire bodyweight but rather just a percentage of your upper body mass, thereby enabling the benefits of axial compliance without undesirable compression.

In other words, it’s designed to dampen bumps at the hands, while preventing the bike’s front end from bouncing up and down like a pogo stick. That’s the theory, but does it work?

The first thing anyone does when meeting the new Roubaix is to press on the handlebar to see how much it moves up and down.

The answer is quite a lot, which made me wonder just how stable it could be when riding aggressively out of the saddle or under hard braking. 

Pudding proven

I shouldn’t have worried. The movement of the Future Shock is barely perceptible most of the time – in a good way.

During my early tests I often found myself pedalling along and looking down at the little rubber cover to see if I could actually see it move. And I always could. It moves almost continuously, even over the smallest imperfections in the road surface.

What that means in terms of comfort is the Future Shock does a great job of smoothing out the bumps, big or small, yet what was most surprising was that even concerted sprint efforts didn’t create an unsettled or disconnected feeling at the bars.

When I went from a seated to a standing position on a steep climb, I would momentarily be more aware of its presence, but it never felt like the bike was robbing me of any power transfer.

In terms of stability and precision through turns, this Roubaix feels far more agile than the previous model.

The geometry is a noticeable step away from its predecessor, moving slightly closer to its racy sibling, the Tarmac.

Specialized has lopped 30mm off the stack height and given it 10mm extra reach, while the shortened chainstays and slightly steeper head angle have also reduced its wheelbase.

The bottom bracket is lower too, all of which brings this bike much closer to what I’d expect from a race-level machine.

Specialized also claims to have made this new platform considerably stiffer, while keeping the weight about the same as before.

That, and the fact that the whole system has spent time in the wind-tunnel to ensure it’s now slipperier than ever, does bear fruit out on the road.

There’s no doubt this latest Roubaix is a very different beast to the older model. The chance for a more aggressive riding position will widen its appeal, and it feels snappier and more responsive.

It’s reassuringly solid when tipped into corners at speed, and if there is a downside to how smooth the front end feels it’s perhaps a slight loss of the sense of connectivity with the road surface, but it’s really only fractional.

Bum deal

With all the focus on the front on the bike, it would have been easy to ignore the rear, but Specialized hasn’t.

The appearance of its slightly odd CG-R seatpost may be divisive but the amount of flex it delivers is appreciable, aided by its lower clamping point, which elongates the amount of seatpost that’s able to bend.

All this damping, alongside clearance for up to 32mm tyres, lends the impression that this is a do-it-all gravel bike, yet Specialized is adamant that this is not the case (the Diverge is in its stable for that).

The Roubaix is about going fast comfortably. And to that end I can attest that it does its job impeccably.

Granted, this is the S-Works variant of the Roubaix, a moniker that Specialized only bestows upon its highest-level products. However I also spent some time aboard the Expert-level Roubaix too, and the functionality was equally impressive.

The S-Works boasts a top-drawer spec, allowing it to achieve a weight of 7.30kg, which for a bike with a front shock and disc brakes is mightily impressive.

While I’m on the subject of spec, it feels odd to be concluding a bike review without mentioning the groupset and wheels – so I won’t.

I’ve previously reviewed both Sram’s eTap wireless shifting and Roval’s CLX 32 Disc wheelset, both of which delivered exemplary performance then, and now, and are fitting for a bike that will set you back a tidy £9k.

When the new Roubaix launched, I admit I was uncertain about the Future Shock suspension, but now I say to all cynics, ride it before you jump to conclusions. It’s no gimmick.

Spec

Groupset Sram eTap
Brakes Sram eTap
Chainset Sram eTap
Cassette Sram eTap
Bars S-Works Hover Carbon
Stem S-Works SL alloy
Seatpost S-Works CG-R
Saddle Body Geometry S-Works Phenom GT
Wheels Roval CLX 32 Disc
Weight 7.30kg (size 56cm)
Contact specialized.com

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