Almost five years in the making, Specialized have aimed high with the newest addition to their road range. The S-Works Venge, the bike that inspired their collaboration with Formula One constructors McLaren, is billed as an aero road bike that’s ‘more road than aero.’ It blends several design features from elsewhere in their stable; the aerodynamics of the Shiv and the low weight/high stiffness of the Tarmac SL3 are at the core of a bike Specialized say occupies the space in between.
Okay, at £6,000 the S-Works Venge isn't exactly cheap. But its appeal lies in the fact it’s not an everyday bike. This is a racing powerhouse that Specialized themselves say is designed for certain races, racers and conditions. So it’s very much a niche bike. But what a bike it is.
Ride & handling: Effortless speed and razor-sharp handling
Less than 24 hours after HTC-Highroad’s Matthew Goss’s win at San Remo on the McLaren Venge, we put the S-Works model through its paces on the very same roads. And it’s every bit as good as we’d hoped. It was just a shame the ride had to come to an end, and if we could have bundled it away in our suitcase we would have done.
From the get go, its pace out of the blocks was obvious. What can sometimes be a struggle on other bikes was achieved effortlessly on the Venge. As we began our first climb of the day, the much heralded stiffness became apparent. The jerking through the rear of the bike during out-of-saddle efforts showed the lack of flex throughout the frame, but the speed it helped build up on steep inclines was remarkable. It’s by no means the comfiest ride out there, but it’s designed to win races.
Even more impressive was the razor-sharp handling on the descents. Tight bends were negotiated with confidence, thanks in part to the Venge's Specialized Turbo tyres and Roval Rapide SL45 carbon wheels. Vibration was largely offset by the S-Works SL carbon handlebars and FACT seatpost, and made for a smooth ride on the downslopes.
Frame & equipment: Sleek, stiff and light on the scales (for an aero bike)
The Venge is a superbike, and as such it won't suit somebody looking for a comfortable cruiser for Sunday afternoons. It's designed for racing, and racing fast. Aerodynamics is clearly at its heart – it evolved from initial tests on a Specialized Transition time trial bike fitted with drop bars – and its aero, UCI-legal carbon seatpost, tapered head tube and internal cabling give it a sleek, dynamic appearance.
Specialized are keen to talk up the stiffness of the full-carbon frame, which is emphasised by the one-piece oversized bottom bracket shell and chainstays. Tipping the scales at 2.18kg for the complete module (frame, fork, seatpost and crankset), it’s 108g heavier than the McLaren Venge but compares favourably with aero road rivals such as the Cervelo S3 (2.33kg) and Felt AR1 (2.59kg).
The version we tested was the US-only SRAM Red groupset model; the UK version has Shimano Dura-Ace. Braking was what you’d expect from SRAM Red – powerful and well modulated – as was the smooth, DoubleTap gear shifting.
The S-Works Venge will be available at the end of April, from $8,800 / £6,000. The US and UK versions share the same red, white and black colour palette, although in different combinations. We think the American version tested here looks just as striking as the matt black McLaren Venge.
We'll be putting more miles on the S-Works Venge in due course, and will update the review with any further findings.
Click here for the full gallery of images for this review.
Video: John Stevenson and John Whitney's first look at the Specialized Venge