Saxo Bank team sponsors Specialized have provided a few of their riders with their latest 'Project Black' road bike for this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
Judging by an earlier Project Black bike, which was first tested under Tom Boonen and eventually became the S-Works Roubaix SL2, this new rig is almost certainly a thinly veiled preview of an upcoming S-Works Roubaix SL3.
Overall design cues are fairly similar with a giant down tube, a slightly smaller and notably bowed top tube, a tapered 1 1/8-to-1 3/8in front end, and enormous chainstays matched to dramatically smaller seatstays, all damped by Specialized's trademark Zertz elastomeric inserts in the seatstays and fork blades.
Compared to the current Roubaix SL2, though, this new 'SL3' takes most of those concepts and pushes them even further. First off, the Zertz inserts are now significantly larger at both ends and are secured with a metallic plate bolted in from the backside (though it's possible that plate is just cosmetic).
In addition, the SL3 seatstays are spindlier than before, and when viewed from behind they now follow a straighter path from the seat cluster to the dropouts. That should stiffen up the rear end laterally but, based on Specialized's usual design directions, we expect the new SL3 to offer even greater vibration damping capabilities than the SL2 for a smoother ride, too.
Down tube, top tube and chainstay dimensions are still comparatively huge on the SL3 but with slight tweaks. The top tube is now more evenly bowed from end to end (compared to the SL2's sudden kink at the head tube) and both the down tube and chainstays attach further down on the bottom bracket shell.
Down tube height looks to have decreased a tad down there as well and the transition to the chainstays is much smoother and cleaner looking than before. The seat tube has clearly received some attention, too, being more squared off toward the bottom and with a noticeably more asymmetrical shape than before. Unlike on the SL2, the outer diameter bulges out a bit as it joins the top tube and chainstay – suggesting perhaps a new joint method.
Dropouts are again aluminium at both ends with the rear likely using the same trick hollow construction as on the Tarmac SL3. In a first for Specialized on the road (if not, please feel free to let us know!), cable routing is fully internal for both derailleurs and the rear brake with the exception of a short exposed section at the bottom bracket guide – likely for ease of maintenance and setup. In addition to offering a cleaner look, the bolt-on entry and exit ports will almost certainly be made compatible with Shimano's electronic Dura-Ace Di2 groupset for a nicely integrated package.
Specialized's director of research and development, Chris D'Alusio, was tight-lipped about the new Project Black frameset, refusing to quote any weight or stiffness figures or even confirm or deny our observations. He said there are no firm plans for production, but we're betting something very similar to this will be debuted as a 2011 model.