The Specialized Tarmac Comp comes from one of the world's two biggest bike manufacturers and as such, given the enormous economies of scale, you've got a right to expect excellent value for money.
Additionally, a well sorted ride that has benefited from huge research and development input shouldn't be too much to ask. In true Specialized fashion, this bike delivers on both counts.
Ride and handling: turn a different corner
The humongous 61cm (XXL) Specialized test bike has Tarmac printed on the top-tube and this colossal bike looked as though it would steamroller asphalt into submission. Far from it though – the tall head-tube and upright feel takes a bit of getting used to but it works.
Compared to the more traditional ‘arse up, head down’ race posture, the Tarmac puts you into a much more efficient pedalling position – it may not be as aerodynamically slick, but it feels more natural.
The adjustable stem will allow you to drop down at the front if you wish, but the upright position certainly isn’t slow – just one of the contradictions the bike slapped us with. Hitting the road at speed shows the Tarmac’s true colours and the rock solid frame just loves power.
Handling is interesting when it comes to turns. You don’t have to crack the Tarmac into corners, the technique is to line it up and hang on. If you’re used to fast handling bikes, such as the Pinarello FP2, this’ll take a bit of getting used to.
Then you’ll realise that it’s just a different way of cornering with the Tarmac. Line it up, lean it in and let it go – all good fun when you’ve got it sussed.
Out of the corners and up on the pedals, the acceleration is let down a bit by the dead weight of the Shimano RS10 wheels. It’s here that you feel the quality frame answering back as it delivers power surges through the chainstays, skipping the back wheel over uneven road surfaces as it goes. The FACT 6r frame easily warrants a future investment in a pair of race wheels – Shimano’s RS20s for example.
Frame: short and snappy
Specialized’s carbon road bikes are immensely popular; the range practically reinvented the sportive bike. The mix of relaxed fit and forgiveness has been a very popular choice for those seeking high-mile comfort.
The Tarmac Comp is, however, a totally different beast. Gone are the Zertz inserts and relaxed geometry. Aimed at the competitive road bike market, the compact Tarmac frame is engineered to be stiff and direct.
The extra degree of steepness in the head angle and the shorter wheelbase and back-end create a snappier ride from a frame that’s designed to respond to big power drives. It’s definitely a racier bike over the , though not so racy that it scares off first timers.
Equipment: keeping it in the family
The Tarmac Comp appears almost over-styled in its Quick Step team regalia. Even the Specialized Mondo Pro tyres get matching red and white stripes. Please can we have plain black?
Colour aside they’re a good training tyre with a lot of miles in them. A flak Jacket subtread improves puncture protection and the smooth, dual compound, motorbike-inspired profile provides longevity and confidence into the corners.
Specialized is the master of in-house accessories. The pairing of one of our favourite all-round race saddles, the Body Geometry Toupe, with the flexy forgiveness of the carbon Zertz Pave seatpost adds a great deal of relief to an uncompromising frame.
The front gets the same Body Geometry treatment. The union of a Specialized Pro-Set stem and Expert bar to the all-carbon FACT fork adds precision and control to an unwavering steering line.
Specialized’s mantra of designing inclusive bikes for the common man extends to every component. The adjustable Pro-Set stem is available in seven lengths but features an asymmetric spacer that sits inside the stem’s fork clamp. Rotating the wedge changes the stem angle in two-degree increments.
The beauty of the design is that you can adjust your front position from upright comfort to head down racing without having to buy a new stem. It’s a small detail, but it’s one that makes a big difference as your riding changes.
The Tarmac runs off a 105 groupset with a cherry-topping Ultegra rear derailleur. The traditional, race ringed 39/53-tooth chainset is paired with a rather untraditional SRAM 11-28-tooth cassette. This large range gets tired legs up the hills but it can be a struggle finding a comfortable high-speed spinning gear. Also, you have to be a time trialling monster to get the most from what is essentially a redundant 11-tooth small cog. We can see why Specialized has fitted this cassette, though; the Tarmac is an entry-level race bike that doesn’t want to scare off beginners with steep gearing. But we’d still recommend upgrading to a more evenly spaced 12-25 cassette.
Summary: not perfect, but at this price not a million miles away
As an everyman's superbike, the Tarmac Comp is an excellent choice. It's not perfect – we'd like lighter wheels and a closer gear ratio for racing – but you can't have everything at this price.
The handling won't scare you off but that doesn't mean that it's dull – anything but; it's fast and confidence inspiring but also good fun to ride.