The Specialized Roubaix was created in 2004 to tame the cobbles of the spring Classics and continues to earn its stripes in cycling’s toughest racing environment.
Its reputation was cemented during the first fortnight in April 2010, when Fabian Cancellara did the double and won the two biggest cobbled classics on consecutive weekends: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
But Cancellara isn’t the only cobble specialist to be carried to victory aboard the Roubaix; Belgium’s Tom Boonen took his double two years later with a Roubaix, Niki Terpstra rode it to Roubaix victory in 2014 and Tom Boonen took second place with one in 2016.
The development of the Specialized Roubaix
So exactly what is it that has enabled the Roubaix to be so good on rough roads for so long? Well, it’s been a number of things as the bike has developed over the years, but it began with its split personality.
The first Roubaix was essentially a hybrid of two frames, with the top half (made up of half of the head tube, the top tube, some of the seat tube and the seatstays) that of a supple, thin-tubed comfort-focussed machine and the bottom half (comprising the lower part of the head tube, down tube, seat tube, bottom bracket housing and chainstays) being a big and beefy, rigid pedalling platform.
Further development in the following years saw the addition of Specialized’s ‘Zertz’ inserts in the Roubaix’s fork, seatstays and seatpost. These were rubber bumpers that sat in ports built into the frame, fork and seatpost that were intended to dampen, if not absorb, any shocks from the road.
Zertz was Specialized’s initial dalliance with putting suspension on road bikes and over the years the inserts appeared in a number of different shapes and sizes. But that changed when Specialized unveiled the 2017 Roubaix.
Although a rubber bumper remained in the seatposts across the new Roubaix range, they’d disappeared from many of the frames and forks, to be replaced by a shock absorber — the ‘Future Shock’ — hidden in the head tubes.
Specialized Roubaix 2017 range overview
Topping this year’s range is the S-Works eTap (£8,500 / $10,000). Not only is its Future Shock built into a frame constructed from Specialized’s FACT 11r carbon, the same as that used to make the bikes ridden by the pros.
There are no Dura-Ace equipped models in the Roubaix line-up for 2017, but a pair of bikes: the Roubaix Pro Ultegra Di2 (£6,000 / $6,500) and Roubaix Expert Ultegra Di2 (£4,200 / $4,600) that come with the Ultegra Di2, the electronic version of the Japanese giant’s second-tier groupset. The major difference between the two being the material the frame is constructed from — the Pro uses FACT 11r carbon while the Expert gets FACT 10r carbon.
The S-Works eTap, the Pro and Expert Ultegra Di2 and the Roubaix Expert (equipped with mechanical Ultegra, £3,500 / $4,000) also come with Specialized’s SWAT Road Kit — a small container for tools and spares that’s specially shaped to sit in the well between the down tube and seat tube.
While the Future Shock comes on all the Roubaix bikes bound for the UK, down to the Comp (£2,650 / $3,400) and Elite (£2,100 / $2,600 ), the US gets a further three models: the SL4 Comp Ultegra Di2 ($3,000), SL4 Sport ($2,000) and SL4 ($1,700) — which have yet to incorporate the new suspension system and instead retain the Zertz fork and frame inserts.
The Roubaix has been through many changes during its lifespan,and those introduced for 2017 are perhaps the most dramatic yet. But one characteristic has persisted throughout the Roubaix’s evolution — its ability to smooth out the bumps.
It may have been intended to take on the cobbles of the race that inspired its name but the Roubaix has also been put into service by domestiques during the longest, hardest stages of grand tours. The Roubaix’s ability to keep pros comfortable so they can conserve their energy for later stages is what also helps make it a great bike for amateurs taking on sportives and gran fondos.
To put it another way, if you’re looking for a bike to take on a long day in the saddle taking you over tough terrain, the Roubaix deserves a place on your shortlist.