Women's road bikes provided the highlights of day two of Specialized's 2011 launch in Keystone, Colorado (see day one here). Although there were few major updates, it was worthwhile seeing how the race-specific Amira has performed in competition, a year after it was launched.
The big S also introduced the Prevail, their fastest and lightest ever road helmet, a new tyre called the S-Works Turbo that boasts an extremely low rolling resistance, and updates to their saddle and shoe range, based on the BG (Body Geometry) Fit System.
Amira: A true women's race bike
The full-carbon Amira was introduced last year as a bike aimed squarely at female road racers, many of whom would typically ride a men's bike over a women's specific model. The Amira bridged the gap, combining a race oriented geometry and stiff frame with women's specific components such as smaller handlebars and anatomically friendly saddles.
The Amira was developed with input from plenty of female riders as part of Specialized's in-house Project Black program. But now that it's out there in the real world, how has it performed? "The Amira has exceeded all expectations," said Rachael Lambert, Specialized's women's product and marketing manager.
To back this up, Lambert pointed to the recent victory of Mélodie Lesueur (Esgl93-Gsdgestion) in the French national road championship on board an Amira, as well as two silvers and one bronze medal in the US and Canadian national championships.
The Amira therefore hasn't undergone too many changes for 2011. The most noticeable is the new red and black paint job for the top of the range S-Works model. This now makes the bike go fast standing still, and no doubt that will help it sell. The second major change is the new S-Works 52/36-tooth chainring option. Previously it was only offered as a 50/34 tdf2010 too low a gear for some women.
A Ruby women's saddle sits atop the Amira
Frame construction is unchanged from last year. The S-Works 10R carbon layup isn't quite as stiff as that used in the men's Tarmac frames, but this is because women's frames are smaller, and the reduced size will make them stiffer anyway. The cheaper Expert and Comp models use a layup that's slightly less stiff again.
The frame is still being offered in sizes ranging from 44-56cm. Specialized claim that a 51cm model weighs a mere 936g, which means a complete bike can be built up weighing under 6.7kg without pedals.
The Amira looks fast standing still
Ruby and Dolce: Comfort and endurance
The Ruby and Dolce lines make up Specialized's women's endurance range. The Ruby's carbon frame is similar in many respects to the men's Roubaix, right down to the name – although Specialized say that's purely coincidental. In fact, the head tube bulge on this year's Roubaix made its first appearance in last year's Ruby.
There are Zertz inserts in the fork, seatstays and seatpost for vibration damping, a specially shaped seat tube to allow vertical flex, a tall head tube for a more upright and comfortable riding position, and oversized chainstays and bottom bracket to keep the frame stiff where it needs to be. The result should be a comfortable ride that, if the Roubaix is anything to go by, handles very predictably.
The Ruby is aimed at female endurance riders
Combine that with women's specific saddles, handlebars, hard wearing All Condition tyres and a compact 50/34 chainset, and you have a bike that should suit most female roadies. The main thing that does appear to have changed since last year is that the top end S-Works model has been dropped – most likely because of the rise of the Amira – leaving the more affordable Pro, Expert, Comp and Elite models in the Ruby class.
The Dolce is the aluminium tubed version of the Ruby. It's a lot more affordable but sacrifices a little of the smoothness of its carbon counterpart. On the comfort front, all models do include a carbon fork with Zertz inserts, and the top-end Comp also has Zertz carbon seatstays. The Dolce also features the new Riva women's saddle and the shallow drop/short reach Comp handlebar. Components on all Dolce models are mostly Shimano save for the Elite, which has the new SRAM Apex gearing.
The Ruby and top-end Dolce Comp get Zertz carbon seatstays for improved comfort
Vita for fitness riders
The fourth bike in Specialized's women's range is the Vita. It's a flat bar road bike that's aimed at women who are getting into cycling and want something either for transport or short fitness rides. Frames are made from aluminium and the top level Comp has carbon seatstays with Zertz inserts. Most models also feature Zertz impregnated carbon forks. The Vita's more practical elements include rack mounts and clearance for mudguards.
New Prevail helmet saves weight and watts
While the focus was mostly on bikes at Specialized's launch, they've certainly not been idle on the accessories front. New for next season is the Prevail helmet, which will be worn by riders at this year's Tour de France and will supersede the current S-Works lid.
Keeping the head cool was high on the priority list for the Prevail. Compared to the S-Works, it has a wider main forehead mouth port and a bigger central inline vent, as well as a couple of extra exhaust ports at the rear. This all helps to pull air across the rider's head and keep it cool. The front pad now attaches to the Kevlar "Inner Matrix", which forms a gap between the pad and the foam body to help evaporative cooling.
The Prevail road helmet is lighter, faster and cooler than the current S-Works model
Weight has been shaved off the helmet in several places, including using lighter foam on top, reducing the material used for the straps and buckles, and redesigning the retention fitting system with a dial instead of two ratcheted tabs. The result is a comfortable 185g helmet – a good 15g lighter than the S-Works.
Last but not least are the aero savings the Prevail offers over the S-Works. After wind tunnel testing, Specialized's aero expert Mark Cote found the Prevail saved 4W at 40km/h. In time terms, that's 16 seconds an hour – definitely a reason to upgrade. The Prevail comes in three sizes, four team colours and six inline colours. It will be available to the public this autumn.
The Prevail's Inner Matrix is 30 percent lighter than that of the S-Works
Tyres: Roubaix revamped; Turbo makes it outside US
Specialized have revamped their popular and hard wearing Roubaix tyres for next season. Tyre designer Wolf Vormwalde has added a "cobbled" tread pattern on the tyre shoulders to differentiate it from a slick while keeping the tyre's other main features: a dual compound 23c tread mounted on a wider 25c casing and, for the Roubaix Armadillo Elite model, a couple of layers of puncture protection between the case and the tread.
The new Roubaix tyre, with cobbled tread and Armadillo protection
Specialized's first ever product was a tyre called the Turbo, which came into being in 1976. We reported last year and this April that the Turbo was making a comeback in the form of S-Works and Pro model clinchers. The S-Works boasts an extremely low rolling resistance thanks to its 220 TPI casing and low weight (185g), while the Pro is slightly heavier but still designed to be fast. Up until now, the Turbo has been available in the US only, but Specialized say the tyre will make it to other countries, including the UK, by September.
The Turbo Pro is a fast all-round racing tyre
BG Fit and new shoes
Specialized's shoe range is one of their biggest sellers, thanks in part to their strong focus on fit. The Body Geometry Fit system, developed in conjunction with Dr Andy Pruitt (a thoracic surgeon and bike fit expert) has driven Specialized's shoe, saddle and handlebar design. To this end, all of Specialized's shoes feature a 1.5mm varus wedge across the entire shoe, tilting it outwards in order to keep the knee in line, which they say improves saddle position; an additional arch support; a metatarsal button in the forefoot to prevent hotspots; and footbeds and shims to customise fit even further.
Specialized claim that their BG Fit shoes help reduce heart rate and fatigue compared to more conventional shoes. Dr Pruitt also pointed to how BG Fit had helped Frank Schleck, who he described as "one of the most knock-kneed riders in the peloton" to go faster. Schleck, who rides for the Specialized-sponsored Saxo Bank team, not only changed his shoes but also raised his frontal position on his time trial bike and worked on strengthening his gluteal muscles. The result was a significantly improved performance against the clock in the recent Tour de Suisse, which gave him the overall victory.
Dr Pruitt said he'd done similar work with Fabian Cancellara last year, again raising his front end by several centimetres to give him more power without sacrificing much in the way of aerodynamics. That, he said, turned a mediocre time trial performance in the 2009 Tour de Romandie into a winning one in the Tour de France prologue and world championships.
Specialized's top-end S-Works shoe in Fabian Cancellara colours
Back to the shoes. Specialized's top level S-Works road shoes have undergone a couple of minor changes this year. Each features a two-dial closure system that Specialized licence from Boa. This gives much finer control over the tightness of the shoe compared to the commonly used ratcheted buckle, as well as locking the foot in more evenly compared to Velcro straps.
The next edition of the S-Works shoes will see a tweak to the Boa dials so that tightening both the left and the right shoe is done by rotating the dials forwards relative to the rider's direction. Currently, to tighten the left requires the opposite rotation to the right, when the rider is sitting in the saddle.
The other main change is a new moulded tongue, which helps to spread the load across the top of the foot as well as keeping air flowing. None of these changes has added any weight to the shoe. Specialized say a pair of size 42s weighs just 450g, which they claim is the lightest road shoe with a mechanical closure.
It's available only in a two-bolt pattern, which will fit Shimano SPD-SL, Look, Time and Speedplay cleats. It comes in a women's model too, which has a tighter heel cup and lower collar to conform to typical women's foot dimensions.
The new Touring Elite is aimed at cycle tourists, commuters, recreational and sportive riders
Specialized's main additions to their shoe line for 2011 are a couple of models aimed at riders who need to walk as well as ride: tourists, commuters, recreational and sportive riders. These riders often opt for mountain bike shoes, which are suited to walking but normally aren't as stiff as road shoes. The Touring Elite and Touring Sport road shoes are aimed at filling this gap.
The Elite is a two-strap plus ratcheted buckle road shoe with all the BG design features. It has a recessed two-bolt cleat attachment which will fit standard Shimano SPD cleats, plus a treaded rubber sole that should make it suitable for walking in. The Touring Sport shoe is similar to the Elite, but has three Velcro straps instead of two plus a ratcheted buckle.
Miscellany: Computers, bottle cages, seatposts and handlebars
But wait, there's more. Specialized are bringing out a new version of their entry-level SpeedZone Sport computer, which at $25 is a cheap way of displaying your ride data. It's modest in size but has an easy-to-read two-line display.
The new SpeedZone Sport packs in lots of features for $25
The company's Ribcage bottle cage now has a leaf spring incorporated into the design. This allows it to flex open but will hold bottles in tight. The carbon version of this cage weighs just 23g, while the nylon one is a little heavier.
Specialized have also catered for smaller bikes with their Zee cage. This allows you to slide your bottles in from the side (there are left and right options) so your top tube doesn't get in the way.
The Zee Cage offers either left or right entry
In the seatpost department, there's a new S-Works post that's been developed with thick carbon railed saddles in mind. It weighs 200g, and there's a Pro model available that weighs 250g.
Finally, a new S-Works carbon handlebar will grace all Roubaix bikes. It's a shallow drop bar with a sharp bend and weighs 200g.