At first glance the Roubaix resembles Specialized’s Tarmac bikes, with a head tube that’s been jacked up a couple of centimetres. But take a closer look and you’ll discover a full complement of Zertz elastomer inserts – large ones in the seatstays and fork, with a smaller one in the seatpost. It’s also slightly heavier than the Tarmac.
But don’t go thinking this is going to be sluggish. Comfort might be programmed into its DNA, but its heritage includes victories in some of Europe’s toughest pro road races, and it’s no slouch in the handling stakes either, with precise steering and zippy acceleration.
But what really sets the Roubaix apart is its performance over poor surfaces. Whether it’s Belgian pavé or your average pothole-strewn British road, the Roubaix has the ability to flatten out large and small bumps and considerably reduce road buzz, allowing you to tackle poorer surfaces quicker and with much more confidence.
It’s not perfect. The high front end isn’t at its best when you’re climbing out-of-the-saddle, but it's perfectly composed when you’re seated, the 28t sprocket giving you a low gear that helps. The Fulcrum 6 wheels and own-brand tyres come into their own going downhill, and are never less than confidence-inspiring.
The Roubaix’s super-plush ride is achieved through a combination of those Zertz inserts and frame geometry – and we actually think the geometry is more crucial here than the Zertz. The chainstays, for instance, are dramatically different to the Tarmac’s, flaring out, narrowing, and then flaring out again.
There’s also one other way that Specialized increase comfort, and it’s a little bit sneaky. While their tyres are nominally 23mm, we got out the vernier callipers and found they were both 25-26mm wide – an extra 10 percent that’ll make a major difference. Why not just label them as 25mm? Especially as research suggests 25mm offers the best rolling resistance.
Riders who like uncompromising, hard-riding road bikes may feel a little ‘disconnected’ from the road on the Roubaix, but most of our testers were impressed by its feel and the performance, reckoning this was a price worth paying. Comfort? Performance? It seems Specialized’s engineers have struck the right balance. Now they just need to tidy up the brake cable that hangs beneath the curved top tube.