Specialized Tarmac Sport £1500

Brilliant value road bike

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

The new-for-2013 Tarmac Sport boasts a great frame and spec, and a massive £500/US$1,000 saving over the Tarmac Elite from Bike of The Year 2012.

Frame & equipment: Well balanced and great value for money

Last year, the basic Tarmac cost £100 more than this model and came with a lesser groupset. More importantly, the Tarmac Elite that featured in our Bike of the Year test in 2012 retailed at £2,000/US$3,171. That bike impressed, but a few letdowns in the spec halted its aspirations of being a high flyer in the final result, and it seems Specialized were paying attention.

Launched for 2013, the new Sport shares the same great chassis as the Elite and an equivalent spec, but costs £1,500/US$2,100 – that saving, in our minds, makes for big news. 

The Tarmac’s carbon frame features a tapered head tube and matching carbon fork, and while the head tube looks long, most of its length is below the down tube, with the top inline with the subtly arched top tube. 

If you’re of the current persuasion of ‘slamming that stem’ for a pro-style low position, the only thing hampering you is the inclusion of a big cone headset cap. At 20mm deep this raises the bar setup just a touch too high. A smaller cap is easy enough to source but we’d rather we didn’t have to.

The drivetrain is predominantly from Shimano but with an FSA Gossamer chainset, as the Tarmac is a BB30-specific design and Shimano don’t offer their unit in that standard. Shifting is slick on the whole, with only the occasional noise at the far reaches of the block. 

The gearing is well considered, too, combining an 11-28T cassette with a 52/36 chainset that work together to provide a range tall enough to race yet low enough for extended climbs. The 52/36 is a combo we’ve been using a fair bit recently, and it’s fast becoming a favourite over a standard 53/39 or 50/34.

The wheels are DT’s new Axis 2.0s. Coming from the budget end of the spectrum, they’re solid and basic. However, great detailing in the form of CNC’d hub flanges and subtle finishing elevates the looks, while the smooth-running hubs and tight build add to the overall sense of quality.

Cost-cutting comes into play with the omission of 105 brakes in favour of Axis 1.0 units. The CNC’d body helps shed some weight and the cartridge pads come with a decent compound. They offer impressive performance but aren’t quite as instantly powerful as Shimano’s. Stopping power is progressive, and they’re good in the wet.

Specialized handle the contact points with a classy Toupe saddle and a comfortable compact drop bar with a triangulated top shape. 

Ride & handling: Balanced and smooth

We've always liked the ride position of the Specialized Tarmac, which is more aggressive than its looks suggest but with a good level of compliance over rougher road surfaces. Up front, the long head tube offers plenty of support to the fork steerer, making for a great feeling of precision in the steering and stiffness when sprinting.

The slender, tapering fork offers excellent vibration reduction, which makes for a front end that’s sharp to turn in as well as smooth. At the back, the elliptical seatstays offer plenty of compliance and add to the overall smoothness of the ride.

This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2013 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 273, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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