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Specialized Aethos Comp review

Who needs S-Works anyway?

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £4,500.00 RRP | USD $5,000.00 | EUR €5,400.00 | AUD $6,900.00
Pack shot of the Specialized Aethos Comp road bike

Our review

If you want one of the lightest frames around but don’t want to shout about it, the Aethos is a canny buy
Pros: Lightning-fast handling; understated looks; flyweight frame
Cons: Wheelset and tyres limit the potential of the frame
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The Specialized S-Works Aethos frameset is built from the brand’s highest-grade FACT (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) 12r carbon.

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The Specialized Aethos Comp is made from lower-spec 10r carbon, but uses the same moulds as the S-Works.

It weighs in at a claimed mere 699g, so is still one of the lightest production disc brake frames you can buy. It carries less weight than the 790g Tour-winning Colnago V3Rs and Cannondale’s 866g SuperSix EVO.

It’s not only lighter than Specialized’s 800g Tarmac SL7, it’s also a few grams lighter than the relaunched and lightened Cervelo R5, which now weighs a claimed 703g.

The Aethos Comp’s slender, round tube profiles and traditional shape (no dropped seatstays here) give the frame a retro flavour and its apparent disregard for aerodynamics seems at odds with Specialized’s commitment to reducing drag.

Rear frame of the Specialized Aethos Comp road bike
No dropped seatstays here.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

But make no mistake, beneath its retro looks and understated finish, this is a bike that’s on the cutting edge.

Rival sons

The Aethos Comp is built around SRAM’s 12-speed Rival eTap AXS groupset, which is SRAM’s most affordable wireless electronic road groupset.

When SRAM introduced wireless technology to its third-tier groupset, I was concerned that there might be too many compromises required to keep it at an appropriate price point.

But the Rival AXS uses the same electronic brain, the same motors and the same transmission technology as the higher-tier eTap groupsets (all of which are accessible and tuneable through SRAM’s excellent AXS app), while using less exotic materials to bring the price down.

Specialized Aethos Comp is equipped with SRAM Rival drivetrain
Wireless, electronic mechs make light work of shifting gears.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The shift logic of AXS is simple: push the right button to move down the cassette, push the left button to move up it, and push both buttons together to shift between chainrings.

It doesn’t take long to become accustomed to this system, even if you’re a long-term user of Shimano or Campagnolo.

Shifts are just as quick as they are with Red and Force groupsets, and chain security over poorer surfaces is impressive too (the rear mech has a spring clutch that keeps the chain taut to prevent it from bouncing around).

Even on the more challenging surfaces of my Wiltshire testing routes, there were no issues.

Specialized Aethos Comp is equipped with a SRAM Rival hydraulic disc
For a disc-brake frameset, the Aethos is very light.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Pair it with SRAM’s AXS app and you can record pretty much every metric you could want: speed (current, average and max), distance and trip time.

There’s also full GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring if you pair it with an HRM. The app also lets you adjust settings, from how many gears it’ll shift with a prolonged button press to full auto, which sees AXS automatically shift the front mech when you reach the top or bottom of the 12-speed cassette.

The bike is fitted with 48/35 chainrings (pretty much the equivalent of a 52/36 ‘pro-compact’ setup), although Specialized has given the Aethos a 10-36 cassette (equivalent to an 11-speed 11-34).

The Aethos’s wider-range cassette means you get single-tooth jumps between the top four sprockets (10, 11, 12, 13), with two-tooth jumps for the next four (15, 17, 19, 21) before finishing off with three- and four-tooth jumps (24, 28, 32, 36).

Even with the gaps, it still feels nicely progressive and the 35×36 bottom gear is more than ample for even the harshest climbs.

The Aethos Comp may lack the featherweight, 585g frame of the S-Works model, but its 699g frame is still extraordinarily light.

SRAM DUB BSA 68 on the Specialized Aethos Comp road bike
The tube shapes of the Aethos are very organic and smooth.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

In fact, the new Aethos family may just be the career peak of Peter Denk, the composites engineer who also produced Scott’s ground-breaking CR1 and Addict bikes, and Cannondale’s UCI-baiting SuperSix EVO.

What Denk doesn’t know about making lightweight carbon bikes probably isn’t worth knowing.

Climbing prowess

The Specialized Aethos Comp road bike is equipped with its own branded handlebar
The bar’s compact drops are covered in grippy Supacaz tape.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

While I was blown away by the climbing prowess of the S-Works Aethos (as you might expect with a 58cm bike weighing just 6.38kg – a full 420g less than is allowed for bikes being ridden in UCI races), its stiffness made it skittish on descents and poor road surfaces.

The Aethos Comp, however, is much better when it comes to descending – the chassis is more composed and the front end transmits much less buzz, even with an alloy bar, budget wheels and skinny tyres.

In this guise, the Aethos feels composed, balanced and more confidence-inspiring.

I’m not sure whether this is down to the frame’s 10r carbon having more give than the 12r carbon used to make the S-Works Aethos or the different wheels and components.

The Aethos Comp frame is just 115g heavier than the S-Works version (the fork has gained a few grams too), but it does seem to make for quite a different ride.

The bike responds to your pedalling input with plenty of spark and, even though its 1,670g wheels and modest tyres don’t exactly shout ‘climber’, it climbs as well as bikes that are a kilo lighter.

Swapping out the wheels for a 500g lighter pair of Zipp 303 Firecrests elevated the Aethos Comp to a machine that could beat a super bike up climbs.

Frame of the Specialized Aethos Comp road bike
The 10r carbon frame weighs only 115g more than the S-Works version.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

It may have been designed not to comply with the UCI weight limit, but this Aethos still gets the ‘full-fat’ race geometry. The 58cm test bike has a low 591mm stack and a long 402mm reach.

Throw in a tight wheelbase, a tad over a metre, and a short, 55mm trail (shorter than those of Cannondale’s SuperSix EVO and Specialized’s own pro-level Tarmac SL7) and you’ve got a nimble, fast-handling machine.

Combine those numbers with the lightweight chassis and this is a bike you can flick in an instant to avoid potholes, ruts or other hazards with ease.

A lot to love

It’s a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the Aethos’s contact points. The short Power saddle is great even in its near-300g Sport version (rather than the 160g model the S-Works bike gets).

The alloy bar has a smartly shaped, compact drop that’s easy to get down into but is quite slender, especially the tops, which feel narrower compared to the latest flattened, ovalised designs.

The bar is wrapped with Supacaz’s excellent tape, though, which is sticky, compliant, durable and a well-cushioned alternative to the skinnier, cheaper tapes found on a lot of bikes.

Male cyclist in blue top riding a Specialized Aethos Comp road bike
If weight is your concern, then the Aethos Comp will likely be at the top of your list.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

There’s a lot to love on Specialized’s Aethos Comp, which I think is much better value than its S-Works sibling. Its handling is lightning fast, it absorbs road buzz better than the S-Works model and is more composed over poor road surfaces as a result.

The Aethos Comp’s understated looks will appeal to many, its SRAM wireless shifting worked impeccably and the frame is one of the lightest you can buy.

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I just would have appreciated a set of wheels that would really have made the most of its super-light frame, but that’s true of a lot of bikes, even at this lofty price point.

Specialized Aethos Comp geometry

495254565861
Seat angle (degrees)75.5747473.573.573
Head angle (degrees)71.7572.57373.573.574
Chainstay (mm)410410410410410410
Seat tube (mm)431462481504532567
Top tube (mm)508531540562577595
Head tube (mm)109120137157184204
Fork offset (mm)474744444444
Trail (mm)635858555552
Bottom bracket drop (mm)747472727272
Bottom bracket height (mm)266266268268268268
Wheelbase (mm)97397597899110051012
Standover (mm)705728748769796824
Stack (mm)514527544565591612
Reach (mm)375380384395402408
Crank length (mm)165170172.5172.5175175
Handlebar width (mm)380400420420440440
Stem length (mm)8090100100110110
Seatpost length (mm)300300360360360360

How we tested

One bike won the Tour, the other is record-breaking, but which of the more ‘affordable’ models of these remarkable bikes can live up to their hyper-bike siblings’ status and ride qualities? We put them to the test on our local roads to find out.

Also on test

  • Specialized Aethos Comp
  • Colnago V3 Rival AXS

Product Specifications

Product

Price AUD $6900.00EUR €5400.00GBP £4500.00USD $5000.00
Weight 8.23kg (58cm)
Brand Specialized

Features

Available sizes 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Handlebar Specialized shallow drop 6061 alloy
Tyres Specialized Turbo Pro 26mm
Stem Specialized Pro SL alloy
Shifter SRAM Rival eTap AXS
Seatpost Roval Alpinist carbon
Saddle Specialized Body Geometry Power Sport saddle with steel rails
Rear derailleur SRAM Rival eTAP AXS
Grips/Tape Supacaz Super Sticky Kush
Bottom bracket SRAM DUB BSA 68
Front derailleur SRAM Rival eTAP AXS
Frame FACT 10r carbon
Fork Fact carbon
Cranks SRAM Rival, 48/35
Chain SRAM Rival 12-speed
Cassette SRAM Rival, 12-speed, 10-36t
Brakes SRAM Rival hydraulic disc
Wheels DT Swiss R470