Specialized's Allez Comp Compact M2 Apex epitomizes what a good value bike should be. It has an excellent frame worthy of multiple upgrades even years into ownership, a no-frills parts package that might be heavy but gets the job done, spot-on handling and aesthetics that help it look more expensive than it is. Most importantly, it has a feature set that's complete enough that you're not constantly thinking about what you could have had, had you spent more than the US$1,450 asking price.
As long as you're not too fixated on weight there's little to fault here but a lot to like. We're only just getting started with our long-term test but initial impressions are that the Allez frame is more than good enough to upgrade as parts wear out and the years pass. Set some money aside for a wheel and tire upgrade and the resultant package should more than suffice for more casual riders looking to eat up a lot of miles or enter a race from time to time.
Ride & handling: Just like a Tarmac but in alloy form
There's no money to be saved in bad frame geometry so Specialized have wisely copied things millimeter-for-millimeter from their more expensive Tarmac. Turn-in on the aluminum Allez is crisp and quick but never twitchy and admirably stable at higher speeds. Despite the bargain pricetag, there's no false assumption that the Allez buyer is seeking a La-Z-Boy upright cruiser, either.
There are enough headset spacers included and the adjustable-angle stem has enough range to bring the bars up a tad higher if you wish but the head tube and top tube lengths are perfectly suited for slamming the bars just like the pros if what you're really after is a budget racer. Total bike weight is definitely on the heavier side at 8.94kg (19.71lb) without pedals but the Allez hides that girth well thanks to a stout and well-balanced chassis that's impressively resistant to flex, especially in the front triangle where some alloy bikes can be lacking.
Pedal response is good and while it's not quite in the same league as many higher-quality carbon chassis, it's easily on par with – if not better than – most of the entry-level composite platforms that are often so tempting at this pricepoint. Standing-start accelerations and surges on steeper climbs are a little slower than on substantially lighter bikes, as you'd expect, but once you get it moving, the Allez is quite content to motor along at a brisk pace for hours.
Ride quality is where the disparity starts to grow, however. The Allez is smooth and serene on well-maintained pavement but definitely not as forgiving on rough chip sealed roads or frost heave where carbon – or titanium, or high-quality steel, for that matter – offers better vibration damping. Bigger impacts crash though pretty hard, too, but all in all it's still quite reasonable and among the best aluminum rides we've experienced in some time.
Frame: Carbon-like looks, advanced alloy tube shaping
Since aluminum's material properties can't be directionally tuned as can fiber composites, Specialized instead turn to more conventional tube shaping for the Allez and there's a close visual resemblance to the Tarmac range. The top tube is slightly bowed and flattened to lend a little more vertical flex up front, while the big down tube is nominally round from end to end for good lateral and torsional rigidity.
The seat tube morphs from round up top to a stiffer rectangular profile down by the threaded bottom bracket, and the head tube sports a 1-1/8 to 1-1/2in taper for better handling and increased weld surface area. Out back, the tall chainstays use every available bit of height on the bottom bracket shell and they're joined to comparatively thin and mostly straight twin seatstays with hogged-out alloy dropouts.
Though the frame is 100 percent aluminum, carbon fiber does make a guest appearance in the fork blades where it's most effective at drowning out road buzz. The rest of the tapered fork – the crown, steerer and tips – is alloy. The deep carbon blades and generously proportioned crown make for very precise front wheel placement but it's rather weighty at 590g.
Frame weight is good at 1,360g (3lb) for our bare 52cm test sample, but the weight of the fork means the frameset is several hundred grams heavier than Cannondale's similarly priced CAAD10. Even so, the Allez frame's long list of positive attributes makes it more than worthy of future upgrades as your skills develop and your budget allows.
Visually, the Allez frame is quite the looker, with its smooth welds, gloss black paint job, white racing stripes and blood red graphics. And compared to Specialized's top-end machines, the Allez is refreshingly sparse in terms of logos.
Equipment: Lots of mass but with some brilliant key substitutions
SRAM provide the meat of the running gear with their Apex DoubleTap levers, front and rear derailleurs, and wide-range 11-28T 10-speed cassette. Though heavier than its Rival or Force counterparts, the Apex bits nonetheless use identical lever internals and derailleur shapes so overall performance is admirably similar. The independently adjustable brake and shift lever reach is nice to have, too.
The SRAM label is applied to the entry-level S100 solid-forged alloy crankarms and PowerSpline bottom bracket, which uses internal bearings but a large-diameter splined spindle for reduced flex relative to a square-taper setup. Specialized upgrade the standard rings to stiffer Red chainrings for better shift performance, though, and the compact spider also allows for versatile 36/52T gearing for proper race bike rollouts but with just a slight concession to less hardened legs.
SRAM are boxed out for the brakes in favor of somewhat generic Tektro calipers – a move that would normally be frowned upon but in reality is an upgrade. As compared to the stock Apex units, the Tektro calipers are less prone to arm or pivot flex and lend a more positive feel at the levers, not to mention better braking performance. The stock pads have decent bite but fade a bit more in particularly demanding situations than SRAM's SwissStop-sourced blocks. The barrel adjusters aren't the easiest to use, but they get the job done.
Unfortunately, the stock wheels are relative boat anchors with chunky hubs, so-so Mavic rims, and straight 14g spokes. And while the Specialized All Conditions tires provide good grip and roll surprisingly quickly, they feel wooden as compared to nicer rubber. We swapped to a set of reasonably priced Easton EA90 Aero clinchers with 24mm-wide Continental Grand Prix tires and instantly lost 680g (1.5lb!) in rotating weight. Ride quality improved, too. Nicer wheels would obviously add a hefty chunk to the bottom line but at the very least, better tires would be high on our list of suggested upgrades.
There's little to fault with the anatomic-bend alloy bar and forged alloy stem. The former is well shaped and doesn't overly limit your positioning choices with a too-shallow drop and Specialized's clever adjustable angle system affords an extra degree of sizing flexibility. Likewise, the Specialized Riva Road saddle is comfortable for long days on the road with its trademark Body Geometry shaping and generous padding but the synthetic cover is very grippy and some riders might want a little extra width.
The matching seatpost is a bit disappointing, however. Don't be fooled by appearances – the carbon is just a cosmetic overwrap and while the 27.2mm diameter would normally be expected to contribute to a smoother ride, the thick aluminum walls hidden underneath don't flex much. On the plus side, the two-bolt head is secure and easy to use.