Specialized’s McLaren tweaked S-Works Venge has had a great first year on the pro road circuit. This is a more affordable version of their aero roadster and is likely be on the shortlists of a lot of age-groupers looking for solo efficiency without the full aero ride specifics of Spesh’s Shiv or Transition.
Ride & handling: Relatively dull frame and wheel feel undermines enthusiasm for speed
The Venge Pro isn't an entirely coherent package. In particular, Specialized's Roval Rapide EL 45 wheels are a weak link to the ground in terms of cornering precision and general responsiveness through the bars or the pedals. Even when we swapped them for Zipp 404s, the Venge was still slightly approximate rather than super-accurate in terms of road placement and handling. This vagueness comes across as slightly disappointing.
While it'll find favour with less flexible riders, the tall and naturally upright fit of the Venge seems slightly at odds with the aerodynamic detailing. Then again, at least the bike is less draggy even if the rider isn’t, and it's possible to get a slightly lower position by moving the 4° steerer shim to its flattest setting and whipping out all the spacers.
While we’re prepared to believe that the aero frame and wheels help in terms of straightline drag reduction and the Venge rolls along well, it comes at a significant weight penalty. Compared with Specialized's similarly specced Tarmac Pro (£3,999), it's almost 680g/1.5lb heavier. Like the Tarmac Pro, there’s a slight sense of power loss from the 10r carbon blend of the frame, which noticeably dulls acceleration.
The Venge Pro still gets a move on when you want it to, but without the responsiveness and rapaciousness we’d hope from a bike that has an asking price on the far side of £4,000. That’s despite a more rattly ride than we expected – particularly from the front – which cuts into long-haul comfort without any obvious power transfer bonuses.
Frame: Deep ovoid and teardrop tubes, and a surprisingly tall, sportive-style head tube
Specialized have followed a relatively conventional route here. That means lots of deep ovoid and teardrop tubes that are right on the 3:1 length-to-depth ratio that’s legal for UCI road racing. Joining them together is a surprisingly tall, sportive-style head tube with a relatively blunt web joint sitting behind.
The top tube bulges upwards and takes in the internal brake cabling for drag reduction; there’s also a ‘beaver tail’ built into the bottom steerer spacer that’s presumably meant to help airflow too. Gear cables vanish into the down tube on either side, but the riveted internal cabling plugs look cheap and unattractive for a £4,500 bike. There's a seat tube port ready for internal routing of Shimano’s electric shift systems if you decide to upgrade in the future, though.
The bottom bracket looks like it's been designed more with power than drag reduction in mind, with a seriously oversized bulge housing press-fit bearings for the custom Specialized carbon crankset. Tapered rectangular chainstays and oval seatstays are relatively conventional rather than outwardly aero. However, the rectangular seat tube base does morph into a fin above the bottle cage mount for reduced drag.
The slim oval seatpost with triathlon-bike-style two-bolt frame clamp gives an inline or 20mm layback position, depending on your seating preference. That tall head tube creates a position that feels more orthopaedic than it is aerodynamic, however many spacers you slip out from under the stem. The FACT 10r carbon frameset of the Pro is also heavier and slightly less stiff than the McLaren-collaborated S-Works FACT 11r.
Equipment: Stop/go kit and seating are a good balance of cost and performance
Going for the Pro model does save you a whopping £2,000 compared with the S-Works model, but while they’re both listed as sporting Shimano Dura-Ace, it’s not quite a direct comparison. While the gears and shifters are Dura-Ace, the chain, cassette and brakes are second-tier Ultegra – not that you’d know in terms of function, just weight.
The Specialized Pro FACT carbon chainset is a usefully lightweight addition to the recipe though, and we like the compact/full size bridging 52/36T chainring sizes as they suit the bike well. The downturned nose of the Specialized Romin Evo saddle also works really well when you’re on the rivet trying to get as much speed out of the aero advantage as is physically possible.
While the shape is acceptable and there’s no flex when sprinting, the alloy handlebar contributes to a slightly rattly ride up front. The Roval 45 wheels and Turbo tyres feel somewhat soft and dull. While they’re shallower than the Zipp 404s we used at one point in the test, the Roval 45s’ flat-sided rims tramline more in the corners and gust much more noticeably in sidewinds.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus