Specialized Tarmac SL5 Comp Disc review

Does Specialized’s red disc racer do the business?

Our rating 
3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5
GBP £2,800.00 RRP | USD $3,000.00

Our review

Sort the cockpit and the Tarmac is a well balanced, responsive, race-style all-rounder
Buy if, You want to cruise the flats and dance up the hills with added disc brake control on the descents
Pros: Naturally lively and responsive race all-rounder with fatigue-reducing forgiveness
Cons: Slightly soft at full power and the short stem makes for a cramped and twitchy feel
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Tarmac is the classic climb and distance option in the Specialized arsenal, which is reflected in the mix of chassis features on the SL5 Comp Disc.

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Fork blades are relatively stout rather than aero profiled and the hourglass head-tube feeds into a broad, boxy down tube. The flat, wide top-tube flows out of curved cheekbones before curving gently back to split into two very skinny seatstays either side of the similarly skinny seat tube.

This holds a round, rather than aero, 27mm seatpost via a neat and user-friendly side-accessed internal wedge clamp. The seat tube then swells twice on its way down to a threaded bottom bracket that will be appreciated by high mileage traditionalists who have had bad experiences with press-fit setups.

The frame shows its ‘before the latest standards became standard’ age slightly. Mountain bike-style post brake mounts at the end of the chunky chainstays aren’t as neat as flat mounts. Conventional quick-release spindles aren’t as secure as thru-axles either, but are fractionally faster to use.

It’s not all about aero with the slightly ‘stout’ fork
It’s not all about aero with the slightly ‘stout’ fork
David Caudrey / Immediate Media

Specialized has specced the Tarmac appropriately for its all-rounder character. The shallow DT Swiss rims are noticeably more forgiving and lively in feel than the deep section rims on other bikes. The S-Works Turbo tyres have a quality, smoothing feel compared to the mid-range rubber elsewhere too.

You get steel/alloy sandwich IceTec rotors to soak up a bit of extra braking heat without looking like ’70s spoke protectors. The new Shimano Ultegra is also flawless in function, even though Specialized has sneaked a KMC chain and 105 cassette into the mix.

The minimalist saddle and skinny seatpost keep overall weight low and comfort levels good, even on grim road surfaces. The compact bar shape means it’s surprisingly hard to reach the brakes from the drops, and the short 90mm stem didn’t agree with most of our testers.

While some riders might like the lighter steering feel and reduced reach, the consensus was that it creates a cramped front end on an otherwise well balanced shape. It’s very twitchy too, catching me out with a sudden, treacherous tuck under when I was sprinting hard out of the saddle.

Shimano Ultegra has proven to be flawless, here coupled with a KMC chain
Shimano Ultegra has proven to be flawless, here coupled with a KMC chain
David Caudrey / Immediate Media

Position and handling are easily remedied with a 110mm stem, and I’d take advantage of Specialized’s bike fitting service to get one swapped in before you leave the shop.

Once sorted the Tarmac is an enjoyable and entertaining all-rounder that runs a happy balance between most performance parameters. The light rims and tyres mean it accelerates eagerly and the shortest wheelbase and some of the steepest handling angles on test make it equally keen to dive through corners. It’s not the stiffest bike when it comes to grinding a big gear from the saddle, but stand up and dance and it won’t make climbing more of a chore than it needs to be.

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Even with relatively small volume tyres it screens out smaller road buzz and chatter for comfortable cruising. Just be ready for a jolt over bigger/squarer black top blemishes — particularly out of the saddle — as it’s still very much a road race bike in character.

Product Specifications

Product

Name Tarmac SL5 Comp Disc
Brand Specialized

Available Sizes 49cm 52cm 54cm 56cm 58cm 61cm
Seat Tube (cm) 48
Shifters Shimano Ultegra R8020 hydraulic
Stem Specialized 3D forged
Trail 5.7
Weight (kg) 8.24
Wheelset DT Swiss R470 Disc
Chainstays (cm) 40.5
Top Tube (cm) 55
Seat Angle 73.5
Wheelbase (cm) 98
Frame size tested 54cm
Head Tube (cm) 14
Stack (cm) 54.3
Reach (cm) 38.7
All measurements for frame size tested 54cm
Seatpost Specialized Comp carbon
Saddle Specialized Toupé Comp Gel
Bottom Bracket Shimano BB72
Frame Material FACT 10r carbon disc
Brakes Shimano RS785, Centerlock 160mm rotors
Cassette Shimano 105 5800 11-28
Chain KMC X11EL
Cranks Shimano Ultegra R8000 52/36
Fork FACT carbon full monocoque disc
Fork Offset 4.5
Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra R8000
Rear Wheel Weight 1740
Front Tyre Specialized S-Works Turbo 24mm
Front Wheel Weight 1330
Handlebar Specialized Shallow Drop
Head Angle 73
Headset Type Specialized
Rear Derailleur Shimano Ultegra R8000
Rear Tyre Specialized S-Works Turbo 24mm
Bottom-bracket drop (cm) 6.9