Smoother is faster. That’s the Specialized mantra when it comes to the Roubaix, and to a certain extent that bears out. Especially when it comes to non-optimal surfaces, be it the cobbles of Arenburg, Carrefour or even the scarred and potholed roads of my local test loops.
I’ve had the chance to try the premium S-Works SRAM Red eTap AXS-equipped bike on home soil and the Fact10r carbon framed Roubaix Pro Force eTap AXS bike on the cobbles and rain of Kortrijk, Belgium over three days, riding the greatest hits of the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix.
At its heart this is a suspension-equipped road bike, but it’s not like any other suspension currently available. That’s because when it comes to front suspension there are two distinct types: splay, which relies on the fork being able to move fore-and-aft, and Axial, where the fork moves vertically up and down below the head tube.
When it comes to out and out efficiency, neither is perfect; splay can actually slow you down and the traditional mountain bike-like fork suspension’s tendency to ‘bob’ when climbing wouldn’t work either — it was tried before with the Paris-Roubaix winning RockShox Ruby fork, which was subsequently banned by the UCI.
The new S-Works RoubaixSpecialized
On the Roubaix the position of the effective suspension on top of the head tube reduces any bobbing effect and suspends the rider rather than the bike. Something similar has been seen before in the Girvin flex-stem, but that pivoted to create an arc from the bars, so on bigger hits the handlebars would dive. There’s also been Cannondale’s Headshok, but that still locates its suspension movement below the head tube.
On the Roubaix the fork is as light and stiff as Specialized’s Tarmac, so the handling traits stay the same. It can be thrown into corners without diving, maintaining sharp handling just as you’d want from a road bike.
The Roubaix’s tube shapes draw their inspiration from Specialized’s Venge
This second generation of the Future Shock-equipped Roubaix was developed with its data acquisition system as well as the rolling efficiency simulator that this software system developed for the last Roubaix. It consists of a wealth of acquired data built into a bike-specific physics model that captures every element of the system, from the presence of a rider onboard to the flexing of the frame, fork and all the components in response to hitting bumps. This becomes the jump off point for the bike’s design.
On the road the Roubaix feels familiar, almost like a Tarmac,. It’s a little taller up front than a Tarmac, but not so much that you’d think of it as sedate. The key element is that control you now have over the Future Shock on smooth roads — swing the stem top adjuster fully anti-clockwise to minimise the movement and the front-end sinks and sits low and compressed.
Yes, you still get a bit of movement from the shock nulling road buzz, but its feels stiff and maintains the point and shoot handling we’ve come to love about Specialized’s latest generation bikes, the Tarmac and Venge.
The S-Works Pavé seatpost is anchored 65mm down into the frame, the clamp features a long boltSpecialized
At the rear, the new Pavé post feels better than the old CGR did. The post flexes fore and aft while the 65mm lowered clamp adds plenty of room for manoeuvre. The Pavé post’s flex is more-subtle, more-fluid, it moves in a 45-degree arc. The CGR worked well but occasionally the elastomer-infused design led to a bouncy feeling over prolonged bumps.
The Pavé post is the same shape as the Tarmac’s D-shaped truncated airfoil post and it has significantly more flex and movement, which is testament to the carbon construction. So if you’re riding a Tarmac and would like a smoother rear end, the Pavé is compatible.
The new highly compliant S-Works Pavé carbon post comes on all models of RoubaixSpecialized
The frame itself was designed using Specialized’s in house aero-tools. The R&D team’s extensive work in the wind tunnel means the brand now has a library of tube shapes and designs that it can combine, optimise and create, working alongside the industrial designers to make it look good too.
For the Roubaix, Specialized moved further into aero than the Tarmac. The Tarmac is more about being light and the Roubaix will always be heavier because it carries the Future Shock and comfort orientations, which mean that the Roubaix comes out more aerodynamic than the Tarmac.
On eTap equipped bikes the down tube Di2/cable port is blanked outSpecialized
The bike isn’t exactly heavy though. This new generation ‘system’ — frame, fork, shock, post, clamp — is 50g lighter than the previous generation bike. If you opt for the Pro Fact10r model, the same system is 170g lighter than the previous generation. Sizing range is impressive too, ranging from 44cm to 64cm — although Specialized UK is only listing geo for up to 61cm so far.
Complete bike-wise my 58cm test bike, the SRAM Red Etap AXS Disc model, with power meter, 105 Shimano pedals, two bottle cages, Garmin Edge 1030 and out-front mount fitted tipped the scales bang on 8kg. So remove those accessories and the raw weight is just under 7.5kg. For the Pro model it’s 8.74kg equipped with the same pedals, cages, Garmin and mount in place.
The road ahead
On smooth roads the Roubaix feels like a Tarmac, with a slightly more forgiving position. The stack height, when you account for sag in the Future Shock, works out around 20mm taller than the Tarmac, and the reach around a centimetre short of the Tarmac’s long-pro-position. It handles with absolute finesse, but is slightly more controlled than the flighty Tarmac — having a little more trail. In fact, it’s probably closer to the Venge in its on the limit responses.
On the climbs the Roubaix is a wonderful companion. The eTap group with its 12-speed, 46/33, 10-33 drivetrain offers a similar range to a 50/34 with an 11-32, albeit with both a bigger gear and lighter gear at either end and with five straight through one-tooth jumps from the 10 to the 15 — a traditional 11-32 cassette only offers three one-tooth jumps (11-12-13-14).
Wet cobbles are the Roubaix’s perfect hunting groundSpecialized
This meant I was never found wanting for a gear on the climbs or on fast descents for that matter, and as both the S-Works and the Pro had identical gear ratios I think I got a decent handle on a wide variety of terrain with the new 12-speed setup.
I was particularly impressed with the Force drivetrain on some seriously rough cobbles such as Carrefour and Arenburg. The rear mech’s fluid damper kept the chain in check and the bike was sonically quieter than some of the 11-speed bikes that I was riding alongside.
The Future Shock 2.0 features on the Roubaix Pro with this stem top adjusterSpecialized
It’s when the roads turn rough that the Roubaix truly, truly excels. Wind out the adjuster, let the front end breathe and you can attack rough surfaces with aplomb. You can stay seated and power through the rough stuff letting the bike track its way and stay in contact with the ground, rather than being bounced across it.
This better contact with the ground just means better traction. The adjuster is well placed, but my one criticism is that the notched dial makes you think it’s going to be very progressive through the range, but as we’re only dealing with a few centimetres of travel it’s really just a two-position system because it’s hard to judge the minimal increments between the wide open and wound in.
That said, there’s plenty of theatre in approaching a cobbled section, reaching for the stem, opening the suspension taps and attacking the lumps full-chat with the confidence that the bike tracks brilliantly and resists being pinged off-line so very well.
The Force chainset in a 46/33 setup is just like running a 50/34 but combined with a cassette with a wider range
The reworked Future Shock 2.0 didn’t give me any issues on either bike in the short time I’ve had to ride it and Specialized tells me that service intervals on the shock are 500 hours, or yearly, whichever comes first.
Overall, the few days I’ve had on the two new Roubaix models so far have left me seriously impressed. They’ve taken everything I loved about the last Roubaix — ride quality, smoothness, handling — ramped it up into a more race-orientated package and brought aerodynamics into play. Specialized even claims it’s more aero than the Tarmac with the same rider in the same ride-fit position.
It seems Specialized is confident in the new bike too, because the Pro teams sponsored by Specialized at Paris-Roubaix this weekend will be on this bike, and they’ll be stock bikes — no special one-offs made for Sagan this time around.
Yes, on the challenging riding of Belgian (and French) cobbles it’s one of the most capable bikes I’ve ever ridden, in what has to be said are niche-conditions for most of us.
Tyre clearance at the rear is suitably generousSpecialized
But the S-Works I’ve been trying out on my more familiar local roads is just as impressive. It’s buttery smooth on coarse roads and on descents the traction the Roubaix brings impresses. The Future Shock means you don’t have to back off in corners when you see ruts, ridges or potholes on your line, the bike just swallows them up.
I’d like to experiment with tyre size though. The 28mm Turbo tyres it comes with are great (even if I did pinch flat the Turbo Pros on the Roubaix Pro while hammering through Arenberg), but the 33c tyre capacity when running on the wide CLX rim means I could go bigger, and that would expand the Roubaix’s horizons to pretty much any road surface, and add to the already huge level of comfort it gives.
So, which Roubaix?
S-Works Roubaix Expert Ultegra Di2
Yes, the S-Works is the money no object option and the drivetrain, wheels and components are pretty much spot-on, I can’t think of one element of the bike I’d change out of the box, and the inclusion of SRAM’s new Red power meter gives it the edge over similarly priced competitors.
Specialized Roubaix Pro Force eTap AXS
But the Pro at £3,100 cheaper comes with the impressive new Force eTap group and Roval’s excellent CL32 wheelset. And athough it’s the lower grade Fact10r frame it’s not exactly a porker, coming in 50g lighter than the last generation Roubaix S-Works for the frame, fork, post, and shock. £3,100 is a whole chunk of change to save too for a bike that for the most part gives you pretty much the same performance.
And finally, is smoother really faster?
Well I’d have to say in the right conditions yes, be that thrashing over cobbles or descending on less than optimal surfaces.
On smoother roads I think if you were going Specialized then the Venge would be the optimal bike — or if not Specialized a Madone, SystemSix or S5.
For tough alpine climbs something light such as the Tarmac, Emonda, Ulimate SLX, SuperSix Evo or Izalco Max would be a decent choice, but as a day-to-day ride for most of us the new Roubaix is back up there as one of the best of its kind, with its intoxicating blend of comfort, speed and handling. I for one can’t wait to get back out on it as soon as I can.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SRAM Red eTap AXS specification
Fork: Fact11r carbon with Future Shock 2.0 and damper
Handlebars: S-Works carbon hover drop, 125x75mm
Stem: S-Works Future stem with integrated computer mount
Approaching two decades of testing bikes, Warren can be found on a daily basis riding and exploring the road and off roads of Wiltshire’s Salisbury Plain in the UK. That’s when he’s not travelling the world to test the latest kit, components and bikes.