When we had the exclusive test on the new Roubaix back in the summer of 2016 Specialized hadn’t yet come up with a name for its unique front suspension, but in true Specialized fashion its now got a natty marketable name — the Future Shock. Well whatever you call it, it’s certainly a seismic shift in front-end comfort.
Now there are bikes already out there that offer some impressive compliance, like Fuji’s Gran Fondo with its clever carbon construction, the Focus Paralane and Cérvelo’s C series and not forgetting the pioneering Trek Domane — especially now it has Isospeed suspension, both front and rear, on its SL and SLR models.
They all rely to one extent or another on ‘splay’ movement, that’s allowing the fork to move fore-and-aft to generate compliance and comfort. Where the Roubaix differs is that the Future Shock works on an axial path — that’s up and down (like a traditional mountain bike telescopic fork).
A mountain bike style system would however cause the front end to dive and bob under normal riding conditions, unless running some sort of lock-out — which would negate the benefits, so you'd just be carrying extra weight. To get around this Specialized has moved the shock position to above the headtube, so rather than suspending the whole front end of the bike it merely suspends the cockpit and you, the rider, along with the massively compliant rear end taking care of the rest of your mass.
The back end's clever design, which drops the seatstays 3.5 inches below the top tube junction and incorporates the seat clamp into the seat stay ends via twin bolts, allows for much more movement from the post. The top of the seat tube is covered by a rubber seal and the tube is significantly bigger than the slender post allowing for plenty of room to move. Add to this the clever elastomer infused CG-R head to the seat post and you’ve got a back end that offers a wonderful balanced feel to the front end too.
Out on the road the Roubaix instantly feels different and impressively so once you become accustomed to its charms — the feeling of floating across the surface, even on rough frost scarred tarmac doesn’t bother the smoothness. When things get rougher or choppier it simply swallows up the harshness while still giving you enough feedback to read the surface for grip.
The ride position is still endurance biased, but a tad more aggressive than the previous SL4 model. The reach is 392mm and the stack 629mm using the higher (28mm) headset cap — a 10mm lower option is also included (though once you're riding a little sag is introduced in the Future Shock taking around 5mm out of that figure).
The 1,011mm wheelbase is solid endurance stuff too, but the frame angles of parallel 73.5 puts it firmly in more racy territory. The front end is adaptable with a choice of three springs, which alter the speed of movement, so if you prefer a firmer front end then its 20 minutes of fettling to switch between springs and it's well worth taking the time to explore the options.
If you prefer a more traditionally upright sportive position or a flatter racier set up then the distinctive ‘hover’ bar design comes in three height flavours: flat, mid and high. A fitting with your Specialized dealer should be able to sort that one out for you.
On rolling roads and flatter stretches the Roubaix really puts you at ease, on the climbs when seated you feel the back end compliance digging in and giving sweet levels of traction, and it's only when you get out of the saddle and really honk on the bars that you can feel a bit of movement from the front end. It doesn’t feel like its sapping any progress, but it's something I did need to get accustomed to.
Add in the climbing friendly 50/34, 11-32 pairing and you’ll rarely need to get out of the saddle unless you're wanting to attack your fellow riders. When the inevitable descent comes at the end of a climb this is where the Roubaix comes into its own and where all of the cossetted ride feel translates into traction and control. The Roubaix sits in and grips impressively and I found as my confidence in the system grew I’d simply push on and keep the hammer down on scarred surfaces, ruts, surface breaks and potholes, even at full chat through a corner's apex where I’d normally change my line or back off.
The equipment on the Comp level Roubaix is a mixed bag, the Ultegra mechs work smoothly and the Praxis Zayante chainset is a previous test winner for its stiffness to weight ratio, and its beautifully machined ring pairing.
Braking comes from a lower level with Shimano’s RS505 flat mount calipers and levers. The levers divide opinion with their slightly bulky appearance and our testers were equally split on the ergonomics of the hood shape.
The oddly sized 26c Gripton Turbo tyres are puncture protected, which takes a little of the edge off what is a supple compound, but like their more pricey (less protected) siblings I’ve no qualms with the level of grip on offer.
The DT Swiss R470 wheels offer a reasonably wide profile (18mm internal) rim that shapes the tyre well and DT’s legendary quality hubs are present and correct, they're among the lightest around in the mid- to entry-level disc wheelsets and help keep the Roubaix’s weight down to a very respectable 8.45kg for my 58cm test machine.
My only quibble is the Phenom saddle, which is obviously a personal choice, but while I like the slightly longer, narrower shape the excess padding feels somewhat unnecessary on a bike with a chassis that offers this much compliance and I’d have preferred something a little less bulky on the padding front.
Overall though the Roubaix is one of 2017’s most technically advanced and exciting rides in what traditionally could be called the less glamorous end of road riding. It offers incredible comfort, masses of control and the ability to exploit pretty much any road surface from blacktop to gravel with the only limiting factor being the tread on the tyres and your level of wanderlust.