BikeRadar Builds | Oscar’s Specialized Allez DSW SL road bike 

An old-school frame designed for use all-year round

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This edition of BikeRadar Builds focuses on my Specialized Allez DSW SL with a custom build you won’t see anywhere else.

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It’s quite a special build to me because the frame was the first to use Specialized’s Smartweld aluminium technology, and it’s effectively an aluminium Specialized Tarmac SL5.

Specialized released S-Works Allez models in 2014 and 2015, which used an even lighter aluminium frame, but my 2016 frameset is light enough despite not being from the halo range.

In 2017, the performance aluminium frame morphed into the Allez Sprint. While I applaud the engineering decisions that went into improving the Allez, the tube shapes of the original appeal to my minimalist, mechanically friendly taste.

It’s a real hoot to ride, too. It’s a bike that just wants to surge forward and becomes more and more alive the faster you ride. However, it manages to balance this ferocity with impressive comfort.

Frame history

I bought the frame on eBay in December 2016, listed as being brand new but surplus to requirements.

The frame waited in storage until September 2017, before I put it to use for my second year at university, where I rode it around the Norfolk lanes in the east of England.

It was initially built to be used as a winter road bike with a Shimano 105 5800 groupset and Mavic Aksium wheelset.

I’ve made some changes over the years. The frame now wears a mix of Shimano Ultegra 6800 and R8000 components, which were previously on my Trek Emonda SL.

Welcome to BikeRadar Builds

BikeRadar Builds is our occasional look at the team’s personal bikes, including custom rigs, commuters, dream builds, component testbeds and more.

This is our chance to geek out about the bikes we’re riding day-to-day, and explore the thinking (or lack of it!) behind our equipment choices.

I also kept the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Red Limited Edition wheels from my Trek and put them onto this frame. There was no way I was selling the wheels. They are a limited edition and the red hubs and red detailing on one of the bladed spokes match the bike’s aesthetic perfectly.

My Allez has seen everything from club runs to familiar routes around the Chilterns in the south east of England. I used it for RideLondon in 2019 and it was also the steed of choice for an extended ride to Brighton on the south coast.

The bike was used regularly on work commutes into Surrey, as well as for a holiday in the Mendip Hills (which I’m now lucky to live within riding distance of).

When I moved to Bristol after starting work at BikeRadar, I exclusively used the Specialized for a couple of months. I’ve really enjoyed riding it in the dry weather, and it more than holds its own against my carbon bikes.

The Smartweld frame at the centre

There’s no mistaking it’s aluminium.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

The frame was novel for Specialized because it featured D’Aluisio Smartweld technology.

This process, named after its designer Chris D’Aluisio, sees the shape of the head tube precisely match the shape of the down and top tubes, where they all meet together.

The brand claims it’s a lighter and stiffer solution to welding aluminium tubes and after six years of riding this frame, I’d agree wholeheartedly .

The material choice is included subtly on the non-driveside chainstay.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

The welding is rather brash, but I love it. Specialized wanted the Allez to show aluminium could be a viable alternative to carbon for racing, and this frame makes no effort to hide its material, as some other aluminium road bikes, such as the Trek Emonda ALR, do.

The Allez DSW SL is essentially a Tarmac SL5, but with a 10mm longer head tube. It rides like one, too, with its zippy and urgent ride character.

The minimalist graphics on the head tube and down tube are starting to crack, which I find tends to be common on Specialized frames with a satin finish. In an ideal world, I’d get these restored, but the frame’s not economically worth it, so I’m happy to live with the worn graphics

A well-used Shimano Ultegra groupset

It may be two generations old, but Ultegra 6800 has stood the test of time.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

Shimano’s Ultegra 6800 groupset is generally great, even though it’s over seven years old. The shifting’s crisp and I prefer the long-arm design of the front derailleur over the toggle-cam design of the later Ultegra R8000 series.

I like to run KMC X11 SL chains on my Shimano-equipped bikes. I find they run much quieter than Shimano’s chains, as well as running smoother and proving more durable. Shifting performance is unaffected, in my view.

I’m running 50/34 chainrings with a 172.5mm crank length, paired with an 11-30 cassette.

I replaced the original 6800 rear derailleur with an R8000 derailleur because it can accept a 30t, and the largest cog the 6800 could accept was a 28t.

The groupset is showing its age, though. The lacquer is starting to peel on the carbon lever bodies, the R8000 derailleur cage has the dreaded beginnings of side-to-side play and I can feel the ratchet in the shifter starting to go.

The continuous liner stops dirt flicking up and degrading the inner gear cables.

Jagwire’s luxurious Elite Sealed cables are used between the shifters, brakes and derailleurs. They are designed for ultimate durability, using a continuous liner over the inner cables so they are never exposed. And if you haven’t already noticed from the pictures, they continue the theme of red.

With these cables, I find the lever feel when shifting or braking tremendously smooth. It’s always satisfyingly easy working on the frame with its external cable routing.

I’m yet to find a neater way of protecting the frame against cable rub.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

I use Jagwire Mini Tube Top Frame Protectors on all my bikes. The protectors slip onto the outer cable before the inner is installed rather than clipping on retrospectively. I’m yet to find a cleaner way of alleviating cable rub. I chose to use them in black to avoid having the two reds ‘touch’ each other.

The rest of the build

The Mavic Ksyrium Pro wheels were an obvious choice for this build. I much prefer lightweight aluminium wheelsets over carbon wheels when using rim brakes because braking is more assured and you don’t need to worry about running specific brake pads.

I’ve also witnessed too many horror stories of brake tracks wearing or deforming when I worked at Carbon Bike Repair and cannot fathom forking out a not insignificant amount of cash for a carbon rim that will wear out.

In my opinion, carbon wheels have their place and that is when using disc brakes.

Continental Grand Prix GP5000s are my favourite summer tyre.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

The Ksyrium Pros are shod with my favourite road bike tyres, 700x28mm Continental GP5000s. For me, no summer road tyre offers the levels of grip these tyres have.

I’ve also got a set of Mavic Aksium wheels that I use on this bike in the winter with Pirelli Cinturato Velo 700x26mm tyres. The 28mm version of these tyres leaves worryingly little clearance in the frame.

The finishing kit is from 3T, with a carbon Ergosum bar and an aluminium Arx II stem.

The bars are wrapped with my favourite bar tape, Silca Nastro Fiore. This tape is luxuriously tacky and cushions the ride well.

It’s a shame Silca’s Nastro Fiore bar tape has been discontinued, but it’s been replaced by the Nastro Cuscino 2.5mm.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

Silca really has thought of all the details with this bar tape, including the perfectly engineered piece of finishing tape that doesn’t bunch up and can be reused. There’s also a specific piece to use behind the shifter body that’s cut down to  bend perfectly around it to avoid showing an unsightly gap.

The tape uses distinct flower symbols, which led a former work colleague of mine to jokingly compare it to an antibacterial brand.

The seatpost is Specialized’s S-Works Carbon and there’s a red Fizik seatpost ring.

My saddle of choice on this build is a Specialized Power with Elaston. I really get on with this saddle and would be keen to try the 3D-printed version with Mirror technology.

Overall, it’s a pretty solid and dependable spec choice. In its summer build, the bike weighs 7.4kg. Despite being my cheapest bike, it’s my lightest build and I’ll attribute that to the fact it’s a rim brake frame and the wheelset is pretty light at just under 1,475g.

A headset moan

The headset choice is the one chink in the Allez DSW SL’s armour.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

If there’s one downside to this bike, it’s that it uses a very uncommon headset standard, a Campagnolo-style 1 ⅛in upper bearing and a 1 ⅜in lower. At one point, your options were Specialized’s own headset bearing kit, which cost in the region of £50 and wore out pretty frequently, or a halo CeramicSpeed option north of £250.

A workshop manager I worked with stocked a tray of assorted Kinetic Bike Bearings and luckily, the brand makes a compatible option for my Specialized. At around 18 months, they’re still going strong and they cost around half the price of the Specialized’s own-brand headset.

Looking to the future

It’s a pretty sorted spec in its current guise.
Oscar Huckle / Our Media

I’m enthralled with my Allez DSW SL every time I come back to it.

I’ve toyed with the idea of fitting a Campagnolo Chorus groupset when the Ultegra groupset wears out. However, it would be an expensive proposition and I can’t be bothered with the headache of locating a compatible freehub for the Ksyrium wheels or the additional expense of a new wheelset.

I’ve also got some Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 brake calipers in my parts bin and will likely install these soon to replace the Ultegra 6800 brakes. The Dura-Ace calipers should offer improved performance with the updated brake bridge boosters.

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Although I may change a few parts in the future, I’m sure this bike will continue to provide me with happy and memorable experiences for years to come.