It’s through no fault of its own that the Tarmac has been overshadowed in Specialized’s race-ready road range by the Venge – the bike that was ridden to green jersey success by Mark Cavendish and made headlines with its McLaren F1 connections.
We think overlooking the Tarmac is a mistake; in our opinion it’s still Specialized’s most successful road bike design. While their Roubaix majors on comfort and mile eating potential, it doesn’t quite set the pulse racing. The Venge, on the other hand, is a brutally aggressive ride and so isn’t right for everyone. But the Tarmac hits the ideal balance between the two.
The ride position is aggressive enough, and the handling is wonderfully positive. We’ve loved pushing the Elite hard, attacking descents as quickly as we dare and pushing it at every opportunity. It responds exactly as we want it to, with no surprises, and that’s testament to the wonderful chassis. Up front the tapered head tube holds what is, by current standards, a slim fork and its considerable resistance to side-to-side flex proves that it’s been constructed well.
Aside from the handling it’s the comfort that’s impressed us. Over broken surfaces and rougher roads, the Tarmac has a smooth cosseting nature, with no road buzz through the hands and a level of comfort through the seat of the pants that’s spot-on – helped, no doubt, by the slim ovalised seatstays and carbon seatpost.
While we’re obviously impressed with the Tarmac’s core, where it is found a little wanting is in the kit that completes the bike. The Elite comes with Shimano 105 gearing and brakes, plus an FSA Gossamer BB30 crankset – all good, but we think the chassis deserves better to reduce the overall weight.
Where Specialized do score well is with their own equipment. The Romin saddle is comfortable even with its slim dimensions, and the neat adjustable stem, which works through rotating an insert at the steerer clamp, is brilliant, enabling you to get the bar set up just right.
The Tarmac rolls on Fulcrum Racing 6 wheels, shod with Specialized’s own excellent Turbo Elite tyres. Racing 6s are only available as original equipment; they’re essentially an entry-level Racing 7 with an upgraded hub set. These were built well, stayed true and rolled smooth.
In all we’d highly recommend the Tarmac as a platform. At this price we’d hope for better equipment levels but if you see an Elite discounted anywhere then that could make it one hell of a buy.
This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2012 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 260, on sale Friday 2 March.