Specialized 2010 road preview: Tarmac SL3; Secteur; Roubaix; Shiv

Thorough revamps and overhauls across the range

We’re currently in Snowbird, Utah where Specialized are unveiling their 2010 range of bikes. 

In this first instalment, we look at the company’s new road range which includes the Tarmac SL3, the time-trial specific Shiv, the Roubaix, and the Roubaix’s less expensive variant called the Secteur.

New Tarmac SL3 road race flagship for Quick Step and Saxo Bank

Specialized has expanded on the lessons learned with the current S-Works Tarmac SL2 to produce the new Tarmac SL3. 

According to Specialized, the SL3 'module' weight (frame, fork, headset, crankset, seatpost) of 2,047g shaves a rather remarkable 153g off of the already light SL2 while simultaneously increasing both front triangle torsional rigidity and rear triangle stiffness by 18 percent.

But what about drivetrain stiffness?

"The SL2 bottom bracket rigidity had reached a point where even top pros like [Fabian] Cancellara and [Tom] Boonen can't discern a difference any more," said Specialized marketing man Ben Capron. As such, Specialized chose to focus on the other ends of the frame that would yield tangible improvements in handling precision.

Though the Tarmac SL3 bears a strong visual resemblance to the SL2, the two actually have very little in common. In fact, the SL3 frame is even constructed from wholly different assemblies and now comprises just four separate molded parts: the top tube/head tube/down tube structure, the one-piece bottom bracket and bigger and boxier asymmetrical chain stays, newly elliptical seat stays, and the top two-thirds of the seat tube that still transition from round up top to a more rectangular shape down below. 

Specialized claims the curved top tube is a key element for keeping the Tarmac SL3 comfortable.

Stiffening ribs have also been added inside the head tube and around the bottom bracket area, special extra-rigid pitch carbon fibres have been added in, and the integrated bottom bracket now consists of lighter separate pressed-in cups. 

The rear dropouts are still alloy for durability but they're now deeply relieved forgings with a separate plate welded on to create a trick box-section structure that's both lighter and stiffer than an equivalent molded carbon bit, so says Specialized.

The new FACT SL crank on the top-end S-Works Tarmac SL Superlight uses a carbon fibre spider and lighter chainrings.

Up front, however, the SL2's alloy headset cups have been traded in for lighter carbon units.

Why no integrated seatpost?

Specialized engineer Luc Callahan says his group did investigate the concept but determined there would be no advantage whatsoever in terms of weight, stiffness, or comfort so the SL3 instead retains a conventional 27.2mm round post, which is easier to pack in a travel case, helps retain resale value, and reduces hassle for dealers. Fair enough.

Specialized continues on with a traditional 27.2mm round seatpost, saying there is no weight or stiffness advantage with an integrated design.

We can't confirm Specialized's assertion that the new Tarmac SL3 offers the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio among all the major players (and it admits that it hasn't tested every frame on the market) but based on our experience on the SL2 – and now our brief taste test of the SL3 – any improvement in that area would be quite an accomplishment.

If nothing else, the complete bikes are undoubtedly light. Specialized will offer the Tarmac SL3 in a variety of build kits but the complete top-end S-Works Tarmac SL3 will weigh in at just 5.95kg (13.1lb) without pedals, aided in no small part by Zipp carbon tubulars, a SRAM Red group, Specialized FACT SL integrated crank with a new carbon fibre spider and lighter chainrings, TRP 970SL forged magnesium dual-pivot brakes, and a new Specialized ultralight carbon fibre classic-bend bar and non-adjustable alloy stem. 

The new frame is built using an entirely different procedure and is both 153g than before yet a claimed 18 percent more rigid.

One thing that thankfully won't change though is the Tarmac SL2's spot-on geometry and fairly generous spread of six sizes from 49-61cm. Pricing and availability are still to be determined but we would guess the latter to be around the end of 2009 or early 2010.

Cut through drag with the Shiv

The radical Specialized S-Works time trial bike that Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara has been piloting over the past few months – to great success, we might add – is now officially called the Shiv and it will be available for public consumption in 2010, albeit in "incredibly limited quantities”.

Specialized's newest time trial weapon is the Shiv - a menacing name for a not-so-friendly-looking bike.

Key features include the in-line level top tube and integrated stem, the enormous forward bulkhead section with the fully enclosed front brake built-in, the almost nonexistent gaps between adjacent components, carefully configured internally routed cables, special shaping around the top of the seat stays, the bottom bracket-located rear brake, and an especially slippery fully integrated aero bar setup.

In spite of the forward section's visual mass, it is its relative bulk and width that actually helps it achieve better drag figures at more realistic yaw angles more typically seen during a real world time trial. 

Though all of the Shiv frame was carefully shaped, this is really what the wind will see first as the bike moves through the air.

Naturally, Specialized claims impressive aero figures for the Shiv: just 513g of drag at 0 degrees yaw relative to the current Transition's 582g; 443g vs. 626g at 15 degrees on the non-driveside; and just 386g vs. 596g at 15 degrees on the driveside – roughly the same as what the non-UCI legal GT Superbike achieved in the '96 and '00 Olympics with its downsized front wheel, no top tube, and the limited componentry associated with its pursuit role.

In fact, Specialized is so confident in the Shiv's aerodynamics that it is openly challenging any other bicycle company to best the bike's performance in the wind tunnel (any takers?).

The brake is wholly mounted to the forward bulkhead but the whole assembly is then bolted together at the top of the steerer tube and down below with a carbon 'strap' to make for an ultra-stout front end.

Aerodynamics is only part of the equation however and according to Specialized, the Shiv is also one of the most confident-handling machines around owing to its near-Tarmac SL2 rigidity figures: 89.1 Nm/degree for the front triangle vs. 92.5 – or roughly 30 percent better than its nearest competitor, claims Specialized.

The front end is especially stout. Though the tapered 1"-to-1 1/8" carbon steerer tube isn't all that solid on its own, the forward bulkhead is firmly bolted to the fork at both the top of the steerer and at the crown for a fully boxed-in structure and the larger lower bearing also allows for a broader down tube.

The top tube is rather broad as well and down below, the Shiv boasts heaping amounts of carbon fibre around the bottom bracket area. Both the chain stays and seat stays are also imposingly sizeable and in fact, very little about the Shiv's shaping even remotely suggests the idea of 'spindly'.

As if that weren't already enough, the Shiv is light to boot: claimed frame weight is around 1,300g and a complete bike with a Zipp Sub-9 carbon tubular rear disc and 1080 deep-section front wheel, FACT integrated carbon crank and a SRAM Red group is just 7.6kg (16.8lb). 

Explicit UCI approval is still in progress but Specialized adamantly insists the bike is 'UCI-compliant' and it has already been used in competition at both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de Suisse – cross your fingers.

Cables are cleanly routed into the top of the top tube.

Specialized will offer the Shiv in four frame sizes, all measured using the easier-to-interpret X-Y 'stack and reach' system that is quickly gaining favour through the industry.

As Shiv is intended as a pure road time trial machine, Transition will remain in the line-up as a more versatile TT/Tri rig and will even gain three sizes for a new total of six.

Shiv pricing is still to be determined but the 'extremely expensive' descriptor will almost assuredly apply.

Roubaix and Secteur: more value and performance through rest of range

The Roubaix chassis range will carry into the 2010 model year unchanged but Specialized will add a less expensive variant called Secteur that uses identical geometry but in aluminium. 

The Specialized Roubaix platform will carry over into 2010 essentially unchanged.

The top-end Secteur Comp will include carbon seat stays – similarly shaped to the full-carbon Roubaix – and a lighter weight fork with carbon blades, a carbon crown and an alloy steerer tube, along with vibration-damping Zertz inserts at either end. Claimed frame weight is a competitive 1,300g.

New for 2010 is the Secteur range, which aims to provide Roubaix-like comfort and positioning but at a lower price point courtesy of its aluminium frame construction.

Lesser Secteur frame models will use Zertz-free aluminum stays – still similarly curvy for extra give – and an aluminium fork crown.

In the Tarmac range, much of the high-tech features from 2009 models will trickle their way down through the family for 2010. The current Tarmac SL2 features will now roll over into the Pro and Expert frames, this year's Expert becomes next year's Comp, and the revised Elite will gain the more elaborate shaping of more upscale Tarmacs. 

The rest of the Tarmac line benefits from trickle-down technology, such as the mid-range Expert model which now gets the more advanced tube shaping previously reserved for the top end.

Given that these mid-range frames will effectively offer similar stiffness levels as top-end models from just a couple of years ago, consumers that have been biding their time over the past few seasons will now be able to get pro-class levels of performance but at a fraction of the cost.  Who said the slumping economy was a bad thing?

Stay tuned for more upcoming information on Specialized women's road bikes as well as other components and accessories coming soon.

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