As with Giant’s Defy, the disc brake chassis of the latest generation SL4 Roubaix isn’t just an adaptation but a reworking from the ground up. The rear disc is mounted inboard between the chain and seatstays, and up front the all-new fork has a carbon pillar mount for the caliper. While the full internal routing for the rear hydraulic hose is neatly done, the fork’s buzz-reducing Zertz elastomer insert means the front hose has to be externally routed to bypass it. It’s a compromise in looks only, and doesn’t affect front end plushness.
- Buy if… You want a bike with commanding handling, ultra-smooth riding and the potential to get off the beaten track
On our test loop, which includes a couple of miles of gravel military roads, we got a real sense of what the SL4 is all about. On tarmac the Roubaix, with more aggressive geometry than the previous version, has an impressive turn of speed, with the stiffness in the frame rewarding hard-pedal efforts, yet the plushness of the chassis and the brilliant CGR (Cobl-Goblr) seatpost keep things comfortable.
It looks strange, but the Cobl-Goblr seatpost adds bags of comfort
Intrigued by this smooth ride, we took the SL4 out again, this time for 60 miles of almost all unmetalled roads, and it shone even more brightly. Specialized doesn’t claim the Roubaix as a ‘gravel’ or adventure bike (it has the Diverge for that), but it’s one very capable machine on rougher surfaces.
Climbing on the Roubaix is a joy. On tarmac it feels light, even though the overall weight would suggest otherwise, and you can stay seated and grind up steep slopes with little traction, gravel even, with the wide cassette giving a light low-torque gear to avoid slips.
The Roubaix behaves impeccably both on smooth tarmac and gravelly surfaces
The drivetrain and braking are all SRAM Rival, save for an FSA chainset, and on the whole we were impressed. Rear shifts proved snappy, accurate and consistent, though at the front the chain occasionally held onto the big ring teeth a pedal rotation too long. We think it’s down to the tooth profiles not meshing as slickly as they should with the 11-speed chain, despite the fast-shifting Yaw front derailleur design.
What does impress are the hydraulic brakes. They’re quiet, with great power modulation and consistency, although compared with Shimano there’s a little more lever travel before you feel the pads start to engage.
Sluggish front shifts aside, the SL4 Elite is an impressive, well-mannered machine, on and ‘off’ road.