Specialized has launched the Roubaix SL8 – the latest generation of its endurance road bike.
The new bike has seen a host of changes, including a revamped Future Shock front suspension unit, new AfterShock seatpost design and widened 40mm tyre clearance.
It also saves a few grams versus its predecessor and cuts some aerodynamic drag from the frame.
I was invited out to Cascais, Portugal, to get a first taste of the new Roubaix SL8, which Specialized continues to pitch as an endurance road bike first and foremost – albeit with a gaze cast over the growing gravel racing scene.
I covered around 130km across two days to form my first impressions, mainly on the road, but with the occasional venture onto the rough stuff.
I suspect this barely scratches the surface of the sheer breadth of ability the Roubaix SL8 has. However, my initial takeaway is it’s an incredibly smooth operator – more than capable of easing the strain of a long road ride, and possibly much more besides.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8 highlights
- Redesigned Future Shock 3.0 steerer tube suspension
- New AfterShock seatpost design
- Clearance for 40mm-wide tyres (measured width)
- S-Works frameset now uses the brand’s top-spec Fact 12r carbon and weighs a claimed 825g (56cm)
- Small improvements in aerodynamics and weight
- BSA threaded bottom bracket
- S-Works bike costs £12,000/$14,000/€14,000/AU$19,900
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8 first impressions
There was no doubting the family resemblance when I first clapped eyes on the new Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8.
It looks much like the recently launched Tarmac SL8, the taller front end and protruding Future Shock system aside.
In fact, the bike I rode, and you see pictured, is slammed – Specialized says you can add up to 30mm of stack via a taller headset cap and spacers (15mm each), but there’s no going lower (the stack figures given in the geometry chart reflect this).
The fork crown, flared bottom bracket and chainstays give away the bike’s 40mm, gravel-territory tyre clearance when you look closely. However, I was struck by how ‘normal for a road bike’ that clearance looked in the flesh.
The 700x32c S-Works Mondo 2BR tyres blow out to 34mm wide on the Roval Terra CLX II rims (these have a 25mm internal width), which – to someone used to running 28c tyres – certainly look voluminous when viewed in isolation.
My £12,000/$14,000/€14,000/AU$19,900 S-Works Roubaix SL8 test bike features a top-of-the-range build, including a SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset and a suite of high-end Specialized components.
The only deviations from the stock setup were a Specialized Body Geometry Power Expert with Mirror saddle and the tyres set up tubeless. Specialized will supply the bike with tubes as standard.
Specialized showed off the total build of my bike as weighing 7.3kg, but once a set of Look Keo 2 Max Carbon pedals and a Garmin bike computer were added to the bike, it tipped the scales at 7.7kg.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8 first ride impressions
A 70km ride along the Atlantic coastline near the town of Cascais (just west of Lisbon), Portugal, provided my first riding impressions of the new Roubaix SL8.
On this first day, it rained – a lot. This was something of a kick in the teeth for a Brit who’d been waiting for a decent sunny period at home, only to miss what turned out to be one of the warmest weeks of the year.
Mercifully, I followed this up two days later with a warmer, dry ride over 60km.
These aren’t the type of distances the Roubaix is primarily designed for. However, I learned enough to form an initial impression of the bike across a mix of rolling terrain, including extended climbs of up to 4km in length, accompanying descents, plus a diverse range of great-quality tarmac, gravel and cobblestones.
That’s right, cobblestones. Admittedly they weren’t the kind you’ll find in the race the Roubaix is named after (Paris-Roubaix – the toughest one-day race on the WorldTour calendar). However, they were enough to showcase this particular bike’s Future Shock and AfterShock tech, plus the upsides of running 32c tyres.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it’s the Roubaix’s smooth ride that really stands out.
With the Future Shock 3.3 damper in its softest setting (this is the sole setting available on the Roubaix Expert and Roubaix Comp) and the default ‘medium’ spring fitted, the bike’s ability to dampen hits from the road surface was impressive.
Moreover, while the system will compress and rebound when you ride hard out of the saddle, the Roubaix remains quite firm-feeling and delivers intuitive handling.
I’ve ridden a much more primitive iteration of Future Shock before, which left me feeling as if the front end was bouncing. However, in the intervening years, it would appear Specialized has done a good job of refining the system.
When I descended on two wet cobbled surfaces (something that’s not for the faint of heart), I found the system effectively isolated me from the disrupted surface below. While I knew the surface was perilously slippy, I made it down with far more confidence than I would have if I’d been shaken about more ferociously.
Firming the damper on a ride is done using the integrated dial, which takes the position usually reserved for a top cap. There are six settings.
It took around five minutes of riding on smooth tarmac to decide the firmest setting was my favourite when not riding on rough surfaces.
Having said that, all this does is firm up the damper’s action – it doesn’t remove the overall suspension effect.
In fact, Specialized’s Future Shock guru Glenn Bennett noted the level of sag I was experiencing and suggested I might have been too heavy for the medium spring.
As it was, with 700x32c Specialized S-Works Mondo tyres mounted to Roval Terra CLX wheels (these have a wide 25mm internal rim bed), the ride felt incredibly smooth – perhaps bordering on vague – when the damper was opened up.
However, I could chuck the Roubaix SL8 around with gusto in the firmest setting and get a response that put me in mind of a very mild-mannered race bike.
The S-Works frameset and Terra wheelset felt stiff in all the key areas needed to translate pedalling power into forward motion.
Whether pro riders tackling Paris-Roubaix will opt for the Roubaix SL8 over the Tarmac SL8 remains to be seen, but I can certainly imagine Specialized-sponsored gravel racers may well be tempted away from the Diverge or Crux (as Specialized thinks they will).
Swapping the spring
For my second outing, I followed Bennett’s advice and swapped to the firmer spring. Any Roubaix SL8 owner can do this (or go softer), given two extra springs are supplied.
The process, performed in front of me, seems remarkably easy, although I’m unsure Specialized’s assertion that “if you can swap a stem, you can swap a Future Shock spring” is necessarily true for someone as mechanically inept as me.
At any rate, you’ll need the correct Allen keys and socket wrench tools for the job, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go myself at home when I don’t have on-hand expertise to bail me out.
On this ride, the sag was much reduced, which in turn provided more travel over rough ground, given I wasn’t taking up half of it already with my weight through the bars.
More notable was the stiffer, more connected sensation I had through the front of the bike with the damper also wound to the firmest setting. More than before, I could feel a racier edge to the ride.
Once again, I found myself switching between extremes on the damper settings. Given I only ever wanted to use Future Shock 3.3 in this way, I’m unsure whether the level of tuning offered is slight overkill for the vast majority of customers.
That said, it’s possible with more time and less polarising road surfaces – super-smooth tarmac or cobbles and gravel were my ‘choices’ in Portugal – I might find use for the intermediate four settings.
Regardless, over both rides, this all seemed to be balanced ably by the AfterShock-equipped rear end.
This isn’t adjustable, but the 18mm of flex it’s said to be able to deliver felt like a good compromise to deal with rough cobbles at one end of the spectrum and the odd concrete paving gap at the other.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8 initial verdict
The latest Specialized Roubaix has the potential to be the best-balanced, most capable version of the brand’s endurance road bike yet.
With a first-hand taste of how much the ride quality can be customised using just the Future Shock 3.3 system, it’s quite possible that the Roubaix SL8 might be a master of more than one trade.
Having said that, I have lingering reservations that the tech might be overly complicated for many. I suspect lots of riders will only make use of a small portion of the range the bike is capable of.
Time will tell.
|Price||AUD $19900.00EUR €14000.00GBP £12000.00USD $14000.00|
|Available sizes||44, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61, 64cm|
|Bottom bracket||BSA threaded|
|Brakes||SRAM Red HRD|
|Cassette||SRAM Red, 10-33t|
|Cranks||SRAM Red, 46/33T|
|Fork||S-Works Roubaix SL8, Fact 12r carbon|
|Frame||S-Works Roubaix SL8, Fact 12r carbon|
|Front derailleur||SRAM Red eTap AXS|
|Handlebar||S-Works Carbon Hover, carbon|
|Rear derailleur||S-Works Roubaix SL8, Fact 12r carbon|
|Saddle||Specialized Body Geometry Power Expert w/Mirror|
|Seatpost||S-Works Pavé, carbon|
|Shifter||SRAM Red eTap AXS|
|Tyres||S-Works Mondo, 700x32c|
|Wheels||Roval Terra CLX II|