Specialized seemed to have lost their way a bit in terms of road tires – the very category they started in back in the mid-'70s – but collaboration with Finland-based independent test lab Wheel Energy and a more scientific approach to the way they design, develop and test tires is starting to yield some very real benefits. In fact, their latest S-Works Turbo tire is one of the finest performing road clinchers we've tested.
First off, it's noticeably fast and extremely lively, offering an immediately tangible 'spring' in its step as compared to many other high-end clinchers. Differences between the S-Works Turbo and top-shelf competition like Continental's Grand Prix 4000 and Michelin's Pro 3 Race are admittedly subtle, and even hard data from tests commissioned by Specialized from Wheel Energy confirm that it's only a very slight advantage (Specialized contend average riders can consistently detect rolling resistance differences as small as five percent).
But that being said, there's no mistaking the difference in speed between the new S-Works Turbo and Specialized's old Mondo. That predecessor always felt disappointingly sluggish, and additional testing by mountain-bike-centric non-staff riders (who were unfamiliar with road tire models) confirmed the disadvantage was real and substantial.
Even Specialized confirm that the old S-Works Mondo recorded a whopping 25 percent more rolling resistance on Wheel Energy's test rollers – ouch. According to Specialized, Wheel Energy's test protocols revealed the key culprits were the Mondo's unsually thick shoulder tread and excessive rubber in the sidewalls, both of which have been discarded with the Turbo.
Conveniently, that more traditional shape (instead of the Mondo's supposed Moto-GP-inspired cross-section) also delivers a much more stable feel on-center – especially at high speeds – and a more fluid and natural feel when transitioning between left-handed and right-handed corners, while the thinned-out sidewalls lend an unmistakably silky feel on the road that can go toe-to-toe with open tubulars. Even at 110psi front and rear, the Turbos glide effortlessly across the asphalt with none of the harshness sometimes associated with those pressures.
Of course, cutting out all that rubber has also reduced the weight. Our true-to-size 700x23c S-Works Turbo test tires weighed just 182g new with a variance of just +/-2g between the pair. Grip is prodigious as well, thanks to a dual-compound slick tread that uses much softer 55a durometer rubber on the shoulder as compared to the 65a center.
Whether due to the BlackBelt nylon breaker beneath the tread or just dumb luck, we haven't gotten any flats during our test period, either – though we've picked plenty of glass bits out of the tread during testing. Roads around our testing ground of Boulder, Colorado are relatively well maintained, however, and to Specialized's credit, even they caution that high-TPI casings like the Turbo's generally aren’t the best for puncture resistance.
The only downside we've noticed is rather fast wear, with some flattening of the rear crown tread after less than 1,600km (1,000mi) of regular use. We'd like to see a 25mm-wide model, too. It's probably best to reserve the S-Works Turbo for race days or special events unless you're a casual rider with a lot of money to burn on rubber. Otherwise, feel free to treat yourself, as you're not likely to regret throwing a set of these on your current machine.
Specialized have abandoned the old Moto GP-inspired cross-section of the Mondo in favor of a much more natural feeling round profile. It's easier to flick from corner to corner and also more stable on-center, especially at high speed