The headline news of the Specialized Roubaix Elite Compact is its phenomenal handling. This is a bike that feels light, fast and confidence-inspiring to the point of allowing faster speeds downhill than my regular ride.
On the downside its road shock absorption isn’t in the league of its spendier cousins and it could use better brakes to let you really exploit its handling, but those shortcomings are compensated by the very reasonable price.
Ride: stable handling, but less forgiving than higher end models
Let me tell you about the Roubaix Elite’s handling. My ‘lunchtime loop’, which sadly makes up too much of this new dad’s riding these days, incorporates a steep descent, closely followed by a tightening left hand bend at the bottom. It’s a nice adrenalin rush which ordinarily requires moderate braking or a very large dose of nerve (I prefer the former).
The Roubaix Elite just eats up this corner, without braking, at around 50 km/h. That’s a good 5 km/h faster than I am used to. It just needs to be leant confidently into the corner and it does the rest, biting the bitumen securely with no hint of complaint about the aggressive line being demanded. (This is the opposite of my survival instinct, which complains loudly). Perhaps unlike my innate senses, the Roubaix Elite does have longer chain stays, longer fork rake and a longer wheel base than its cousin the Specialized Tarmac, with a more relaxed head tube angle. These attributes add up to more stable, less twitchy handling.
Descending and cruising on the flat (my preferred riding modes), the Roubaix Elite feels faster than I had expected. The Ultralight brake calipers and pads lack some stopping power, though, and there’s some worrying brake fade at the bottoms of long descents. An upgrade to Dura-Ace brakes is very tempting to unleash the Roubaix Elite’s (and my own) downhill prowess.
The Roubaix Elite does an adequate job of absorbing vibrations, but doesn’t handle larger potholes as well as you might expect from a bike with the word ‘Roubaix’ on its top tube. Its more expensive stablemate, the S-Works Tarmac better soaks up road shock, as do the higher-end versions of the Roubaix.
The Roubaix Elite’s frameset incorporates Specialized’s Zertz elastomer inserts in the fork and seat stays, but the fork tines and seat stays themselves do not bulge around the inserts and dog-leg like those in the top-end Roubaix models. The carbon fibre isn’t quite to the standard of that used in Specialized’s higher priced SL, Pro and Expert versions, and the fact that there’s therefore more material perhaps explains the less forgiving ride.
In climbing and accelerating modes, the Roubaix Elite was not the world’s most responsive machine, which is in part explained by somewhat heavy Mavic Open Sport rims with plain-gauge spokes, and the longer chain stays.
Equipment: Not flashy but effective
The 50×34 FSA Gossamer compact crank is where the ‘Compact’ in the name comes from. The lower gears it provides are a welcome feature for someone whose riding has been dramatically curtailed by recent fatherhood and corresponding weight gain. This attribute is especially appreciated when stepping off the mountain bike – needless to say I am not relishing going back to my 53×39 roady.
The Shimano 105 shifters and derailleurs did their job admirably, although – as you’d expect – their feel is not quite as crisp as Dura-Ace and a little more lever force was required to shift cogs. But 105 is effective and reliable nonetheless. The 105 group on my 1999 road bike is still going as strong as ever.
The Roubaix Elite is the entry-level carbon offering from the Roubaix line, and is a good example of the trend for manufacturers to trickle down their high-end frameset design to the bottom of the model spectrum. It’s probably not going to appeal to serious road racers, but would be more suited to weekend warriors, recreational riders and those with thinner wallets.
It’s not that long ago that a name-brand, full carbon road bike that rides and handles this well was a nonsense for under US two grand. I would not hesitate to recommend the Roubaix Elite to recreational riders or club racers who prefer to spend less on their bike than the family car.