The 2021 Specialized Tarmac SL7 is here and it marks the end of the great aero versus weight divide for the brand, with the new model replacing both the existing Tarmac SL6 and the more aero-focused Venge as the brand’s flagship race bike.
The new Tarmac SL7 is also disc-only, and the top-flight S-Works bike is claimed to weigh just 6.7kg in Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 spec.
Riders wanting the halo model with the lightest frame will have a choice of two builds costing £10,499 each, or a £3,750 frameset.
There are three more affordable Tarmac SL7 models starting at £4,750. The previous generation Tarmac SL6 will remain in the range as the entry-level carbon option, with builds starting at £2,500 in the UK.
Specialized Tarmac SL7 | Here’s what you need to know
Disc-only flagship race bike replaces both the Tarmac SL6 and the aero Venge
Top-spec S-Works model weighs a claimed 6.7kg for a 56cm bike
S-Works frame claimed to weigh 800g, cheaper models 920g
Claimed 45 seconds faster than the SL6 over 40km
Same unisex geometry as the SL6 and Venge
Clearance for 32mm tyres
Threaded bottom bracket
Prices from £4,750 / $5,000 to £10,499 / $12,000
SL6 remains available as entry-level model starting at £2,500 / $2,000 (specs differ)
The Specialized Tarmac SL7: aero and light, not aero or light
According to Specialized, it no longer makes sense for the brand to produce separate aero and lightweight race bikes, instead it’s focusing on a “one bike to rule them all” that features a significant level of aero optimisation and a properly light frameset.
In its lightest build with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, the S-Works Tarmac SL7 is claimed to weigh 6.7kg for a 56cm bike.
This would put it under the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum legal weight for racing, although, of course, Specialized’s figure does not include pedals, bottle cages and other accessories that racers can’t do without.
At first glance, the Tarmac SL7 could easily be mistaken for a Venge thanks to its clean cockpit and pronounced aero features.
The merging of the Tarmac and Venge lines means no more difficult bike choices for pros like Peter Sagan.Kramon / Specialized
The design clearly owes a lot to both the Venge and the Tarmac SL6 it replaces, but the aesthetics lean slightly more to the Tarmac side, with a daintiness the Venge lacks.
According to Specialized, the aero improvements over the Tarmac SL6 primarily targeted the seat tube, seatstays, head tube and fork blades.
As a complete package, including that clean cockpit and some juicy new Roval Rapide CLX aero wheels, the SL7 is claimed to be very nearly as aero as the Venge (Specialized declined to provide numbers) and faster than the Tarmac SL6, saving a claimed 45 seconds over 40km.
At the same time, the top-spec S-Works SL7 frame is claimed to weigh just 800g for a 56cm with paint, exactly the same as the SL6-generation S-Works Tarmac Disc. By comparison, the outgoing S-Works Venge’s frame is claimed to weigh 960g.
The new S-Works Tarmac gets Specialized’s latest and greatest FACT 12r carbon lay-up, while the cheaper Pro and Expert models use cheaper FACT 10r carbon, which apparently adds around 120g to a 56cm frame, for a claimed frame weight of 920g.
But wait, I hear you cry, isn’t the new 2021 Trek Emonda SLR claimed to be sub-700g? It is, but that figure doesn’t include paint, so the Emonda may or may not be lighter in the real world.
Venge aesthetics, big clearances and a threaded bottom bracket
On paper, the Tarmac SL7’s geometry is identical to that of the Venge, and slightly lower in stack and longer in reach than the Tarmac SL6.
Head tube length
Head tube angle
Fork length, full
Top tube length
Seat tube length
Seat Tube angle
According to Specialized, the actual “fit numbers” haven’t changed at all between the Tarmac SL6 and SL7, and the apparent differences are down to the headset arrangement and the way stack and reach are measured.
Incidentally, Specialized no longer makes men and women’s-specific bikes – the Tarmac is considered unisex.
Viewed in profile, the Tarmac SL7 looks like it splits the difference between the Tarmac SL6 and the Venge, with tubes slimmer than the latter, but larger than the former.
The Tarmac SL7 is like a cross between the Tarmac SL6 and the Venge. This is one of two top-of-the-range models.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
The cut-out in the seat tube is more noticeable than it was previously – largely because it doesn’t hug the wheel as closely – while the seatpost is now straight for most of its length, with a bulging section near the top, rather than the smooth organic curve of the SL6.
It’s clearly a Tarmac, but the SL7 just looks that little bit more aggressive and Venge-like than before.
Road tech has continued to evolve at breakneck speed and the Tarmac SL7 is squarely on-trend in a number of key areas.
While the SL6 was designed to take tyres up to 30mm, the SL7 takes things further, officially accepting 32mm rubber (on rims with an internal width of 21mm), although bikes will ship with 26mm tyres as standard.
Another spec detail that stands out is the move to a threaded bottom bracket, which is good news for home mechanics everywhere.
The threaded bottom bracket and generous tyre clearances will be a welcome sight to many.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
The brand has opted for a standard 68mm-wide ISO (BSA) shell rather than the super-sized T47 platform favoured for the latest releases from Trek, including the 2021 Emonda.
While press-fit bottom brackets can work well and offer theoretical advantages from an engineering perspective, here at BikeRadar we generally prefer threads because they’re simply easier to live with and less prone to causing mechanical headaches.
Finally, the new Tarmac is 1×-friendly, and indeed Specialized is offering a 1× build as standard with SRAM Force eTap AXS.
The front derailleur mount is removable and the hole it leaves can be blanked off, making for a very clean look.
What about tubeless?
The Roval Rapide CLX wheels are seriously deep and wide, but not tubeless-compatible.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
The line from Specialized about these wheels is that “by making them tube-type specific we were able to create lighter and better complete wheels systems for performance road riders.
“To render these wheels tubeless would have required extra materials, and that extra mass would have outweighed the benefits of tubeless tires.”
It’s true that the claimed weights are impressively low – despite their substantial depths (51mm front / 60mm rear) and widths (21mm internal, 35mm external front, 30.7mm external rear) – the Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is claimed to weigh just 1,400g.
The Roval front rim is significantly wider than the 26mm S-Works Turbo Cotton tyre, a benefit from an aero point of view.Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
Nevertheless, given the state of the market, this feels like a strange decision, particularly for a brand that’s gone to such lengths to explain the importance of aerodynamics and rolling resistance versus weight.
When pressed at the live-streamed Tarmac SL7 launch, Specialized’s representatives seem to acknowledge that things would most likely move towards tubeless in the future, so prospective Tarmac buyers might want to think hard about whether the S-Works and Pro builds on offer are sufficiently future-proof for their needs.
Clean cockpits are fast cockpits
Integration is all the rage and the Tarmac SL7 is a much cleaner looking bike than its predecessor. This is largely thanks to new cable routing that does away with the loops of hose/outer cable running from bar to frame, much like the arrangement used on the Venge.
The Aerofly II bar has massively wide tops and it’s matched to a slick stem that Specialized adapted from the Venge. The stem is a claimed 45g lighter than that of the previous Tarmac.
By default, -6-degree stems are fitted across the range, but a more aggressive -12-degree option is available aftermarket.
The cables are almost entirely hidden, running underneath the stem and entering the top of the headset spacer stack.
While designs like this do add mechanical complexity (you’ll typically have to disconnect the hydraulic hoses to replace the upper headset bearing), you can carry out more everyday tasks such as swapping the stem and removing headset spacers without totally dismantling your bike.
The Tarmac SL7 ships with a very clean removable plastic cover over the steerer clamp bolts, but Specialized supplies an alternative cover with the bike that allows you to place standard round headset spacers above the stem.
This means you can lower the bars without having to commit and cut the fork steerer.
You also aren’t locked into using Specialized’s own bar because the stem clamp is a standard 31.8mm.
One really handy feature is the integrated out-front computer mount that includes adaptors to fit Garmin, Wahoo, Polar, Cateye and Bryton devices on top, and GoPros or Specialized lights underneath.
But how does it ride?
The S-Works Tarmac SL7 is a fast and furious racer.Felix Smith / Immediate Media
Specialized sent us an S-Works Tarmac SL7 with SRAM Red eTap AXS to ride ahead of the official launch.
This is one of two top-of-the range models – the other gets Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 – and it weighs 7.0kg on our scales for a size 54.
Matthew Loveridge (formerly Allen) is an experienced mechanic and an expert on bike tech who appreciates practical, beautifully-engineered things. Originally a roadie, he likes bikes and kit of every stripe, and he's tested a huge variety of both over the years for BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and others. For a long time Matthew's heart belonged to the Scott Addict, but he's currently enjoying Specialized's sublime Roubaix Expert and having a torrid affair with a Giant Trance e-MTB. At 174cm tall and 53kg, he looks like he should be better at cycling than he actually is, and he's ok with that.