Specialized Tarmac Elite review

Not bad, but it feels outclassed

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0
GBP £1,599.00 RRP | USD $1,950.00

Our review

Specialized’s Tarmac is okay, but dull ride doesn’t deliver performance. Upgrade potential is limited and slippery tyres undermine the ride
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The Elite is the first rung on Specialized’s Tarmac race frame range. While it isn’t a bad ride, it feels slightly outclassed and its speed and comfort balance isn’t good enough to compete with the best road bikes at this price.

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Ride & handling: Well-balanced overall handling but unyielding feel over small bumps

Specialized produce two distinct endurance and speed flavours of road bike. The Roubaix is compliant and comfortable but a ‘sit up and beg’ ride if you’re riding alone into the wind. The Tarmac is a racier proposition, but the 70mm head tube still gives a comfortable, high-control position if you leave all the spacers in.

Geometry is well-balanced through slow speed corners or fast sweepers alike, and there’s less flex and wander in the tapered front end than with the sometimes nervous previous generation Specialized carbon bikes.

However, while basic handling balance is good, we felt restricted by the scarily slippery Specialized tyres, which one tester described as “like riding on a piece of old hosepipe”. We’d negotiate with the shop for better rubber when you buy, as the Tarmac felt significantly better all round when we stuck some Continental Grand Prixs on.

All our testers suffered more hand, shoulder and bum ache on the Tarmac after longer rides than on price rivals like the Giant TCR Advanced 4 and Scott CR! Comp CD. There’s the option of the softer riding Roubaix Elite (£1,699) if you’re after comfort, so criticising the Tarmac for its firmer ride would be unfair. But we’d expect some extra poke for putting up with a harsher ride, and unfortunately you won’t gain any extra performance from the Tarmac.

Complete bike (19.18lb) and wheel weight (7.39lb) is heavier than many price rivals and you notice this in the form of slower acceleration when chasing attacks or making moves on more competitive training sessions.

Despite the large chainstays, there was a slight ‘slipping clutch’ sensation when trying to leverage extra speed out of the conventional bottom bracket. That meant the big gears always felt big on steeper hills, and compared to other bikes at this price it just felt dull and significantly less responsive overall.

The Specialized Tarmac Elite isn’t bad, but it feels outclassed compared with the best other bikes at this price. It gives an unyielding ride on bumpy roads and doesn’t repay you with the power and responsiveness to make up for it.

Specialized tarmac elite: specialized tarmac elite
Seb Rogers

Chassis: Stiff front end and good attention to detail, but not the lightest

As you’d expect from a company who’ve been pushing an “innovate or die” mantra for years, the Tarmac is loaded with the latest developments. The tall headset uses a tapered steerer arrangement to maximise stiffness without extra weight. Naturally, the carbon steerer fork matches too, with curved blades tapering down to alloy dropouts.

There’s even more tapering in the flat curved top tube that arches back from the head tube, and the seat tube swells from a relatively skinny top to a fat, squared base at the bottom bracket. The cosmetic carbon outer wrap layer adds some weight, but impact resistance too, and there’s a metal chain protector plate behind the chainrings.

Twin bottle cages mean you won’t go thirsty, and Specialized include a spare derailleur hanger, which is a nice bit of travel damage insurance. They produce the Tarmac frame in six sizes, each with specific handling geometry. Frame (2.54lb) and fork weight (0.97lb) are nothing special though, so it wouldn’t be our first choice for upgrading.

Equipment: Slippery tyres need changing; otherwise a good mix of kit

Shimano 105 handles most of the transmission work in slick and smooth style. The gear cable barrel adjusters on the frame are harder to use than shifter mounted ones though. Aesthetic opinion was definitely divided over the black flat and fat-armed chainset, and the bigger chainrings are better for stronger riders and flat terrain. We’ve no complaints about the KMC chain though, and the unbranded brakes get cartridge pads, which make them a bit sharper.

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The Specialized tyres are very stiff and slippery, and wheel weight is heavy. The four-position shimmed stem adds useful adjustability beyond the scope of swapping the stack of alloy spacers. The thin-hulled own-brand Toupe saddle was well-liked too, although it’s not great for riders who like to roll forward on the saddle.

Despite the skinny race saddle, it’s still the heaviest bike on test overall: despite the skinny race saddle, it’s still the heaviest bike on test overall
Seb Rogers

Product Specifications

Product

Name Tarmac Elite (10)
Brand Specialized

Available Sizes L L L L L L L L L L M M M M M M M M M M M S S S S S S S S S S M L S M L XS XS XS XS XS XXL XXL
Rear Wheel Weight 2005
Top Tube (cm) 56.5
Standover Height (cm) 80
Seat Tube (cm) 53
Chainstays (cm) 40.5
Bottom Bracket Height (cm) 27
Weight (lb) 19.18
Stem Specialized Comp-Set 100mm
Shifters Shimano 105
Seatpost Specialized Comp, FACT carbon w/ Zertz insert
Seat Angle 73.5
Saddle Body Geometry Toupe Cr-Mo
Rims Mavic CXP-22 S
Rear Derailleur Shimano 105
Bottom Bracket Shimano FCR-550
Headset Type Loose ball Aheadset
Head Angle 73.2
Handlebar Specialized Comp Ergo 42cm
Front Wheel Weight 1350
Front Derailleur Shimano 105
Frame Weight 1150
Frame Material Specialized Tarmac FACT 8r carbon
Fork Weight 440
Fork Tarmac full FACT carbon monocoque
Cranks Shimano FCR-550 53/39T
Cassette Shimano 105, 10-speed, 12-27t
Brakes Unbranded dual pivot
Wheelbase (cm) 97.3