I was never that convinced by the original Roubaix’s Zertz inserts, and the big S has now decided that its best vibration-absorbing solution involves a bona fide spring.
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Specialized began by creating its lightest ever frame with the stiffest FACT 11r carbon, which seems unwise for something aiming to soak up rough roads.
Apparently considerably stiffer than the outgoing SL4 Roubaix, with new geometry but the same fit, the new model is more revolutionary than evolutionary.
The fork’s steerer is shorter than usual, its top clamped by a collar above the upper headset bearing. A choice of headset covers adds either zero or 15mm extra stack, then the Future Shock cartridge, essentially a piston allowing 20mm of travel, drops into place.
The headset is adjusted by a pair of telescoping grub hex screws on each side. Swapping the Future Shock’s spring is far less involved, and takes around 10 minutes.
My Future Shock had its firmest spring installed, but medium and soft options are provided. Once some weight is applied to the bar, you’re essentially suspended, but because the fork is just like any other road bike’s, there’s no sloppiness or play, just crisp, positive control.
Getting out of the saddle shifts weight forwards, causing a slight bobbing feeling, but it’s minimal and not intrusive.
Riding a trail usually reserved for gravel or cyclocross bikes, the Roubaix lapped up potholes, bricks and mud, before romping up my longest local tarmac climb with the efficiency of my favourite, and substantially lighter, race bike.
The frame’s lateral rigidity and wheel stiffness give the Roubaix devastating acceleration that isn’t affected by the suspension. If anything, feeling able to push the front wheel into the surface when climbing or accelerating increases confidence, and speed.
The gearing is well judged, with a 50/34 compact up front, turned by Specialized’s carbon crank, and 11-32 cassette, for real go-anywhere range.
The tyres don’t look that voluminous, as the rims almost dwarf them, but with 85psi under a 75kg rider, I never lacked grip at full speed on potholed dirt and gravel, and sustaining speeds above 25mph on tarmac felt quite natural aboard the Roubaix. Attacking rough surfaces became addictive.
The front wheel feels so planted, it’s as if downforce is acting on it. The confidence and additional corner grip it produces helps even nervous descenders dispatch downhills in a hurry.
Sunken road repairs can be traversed at full speed, and just keeping your rubber in contact with the ground makes such a difference to control. Under hard braking there’s a small amount of dive — with the firm spring fitted — but it wasn’t a problem.
It’s too easy to pigeonhole the Roubaix as a bike only for riders seeking comfort, which would do it a major disservice. The Roubaix is as efficient, effective and rapid as any road bike, but with the ability to absorb the worst surfaces, and help you concentrate on getting places faster and safer.
It’s so much fun you’ll need to clear your schedule and fit lights, in case you get carried away riding it like I did.