You may have noticed that this isn’t Mark Cavendish's S-Works or McLaren Venge we're testing, but the more affordable Comp. Why? TdF mania and the ‘Cav effect’ – in the UK, Specialized has sold or pre-sold just about every S-Works Venge in the country.
So we’ve tested the Comp that, while less expensive, is at least still available and isn’t a million miles away from the flagship S-Works Venge. It’s made from 10r Carbon – the S-Works uses 11r (incorporating stiffer yarn) – but it is made in the same moulds with the same lay-up, so the frame’s barely heavier.
But we think that the Comp has one advantage over its more exalted sibling. True, it’s weightier overall, which means it won’t be as brutally quick as the S-Works, but Cav’s model could never be said to major on comfort, which is perhaps more of a concern to the mortals among us. The Comp has the same rapid response to spinning up the pedals and it holds speed with ease but it also has a little more compliance. Some of that is down to the wheels – shod in Specialized’s own excellent, supple Turbo Elite rubber – but we think most of it comes from the chassis itself.
The drivetrain and brakes are Shimano Ultegra, and just as there’s little performance difference between the Comp and S-Works frames, any variations between this and Shimano’s flagship Dura-Ace groupset are almost imperceptible, even if it is a fraction weightier. The gearing is versatile, with the slightly higher than compact 52/36 chainset and 11-28 cassette combining for a wide gear range – the 36x28 makes short work of climbs, the big 52x11 will exploit the Venge’s appetite for speed.
We also reckon that the Venge is getting better with age. Its aero profiles looked radical and divided opinion when it first appeared in 2011, but as its rivals have adopted aero flourishes it now appears much more ‘normal’. And we always look forward to the Venge’s ride, with its direct steering and nimble handling. Big lean angles into corners and out-of-the-saddle blasts into inclines are very much the order of the day. And though it’s comfortable, this is never a bike that we wanted to pootle on…
The Venge copes well with strong crosswinds, is unfazed by gusts and the Fulcrum S3 wheels are never pushed off line. It glides with little noise and minimal fuss. The wheels aren’t that light but they are well built and handle out-of-saddle sprints without flexing. Yes, you can feel their mass on longer climbs but that’s a fair trade-off for the speed that they hold on the flat.
What we really like about this relatively modest Venge is that it is genuinely versatile, with enough comfort for sportives. The adjustable Pro-Set stem lets you lower the front when you want to speed things up, while you can flip the carbon seatpost’s head between zero and 20mm offset – stick it on zero, drop the stem and add a set of clip-on tri-bars and you have a seriously capable time trial machine. In this august company the Venge may be outgunned in its specification, but it’s not outclassed when it comes to ride quality, thrills and fun.