Specialized Tarmac Sport review£1,500.00

The budget version of Contador’s weapon of choice

BikeRadar score4/5

The heart of any bike is its frame and fork, and provided they’re sound, you’re well on the way to having a great bike. And Specialized’s Tarmac Sport chassis is very sound.

Signature Tarmac frame shapes

The frame design shares the same shapes and tube profiles as Specialized’s range-topping S-Works Tarmac, featuring its signature arched top-tube that flattens out in profile as it nears the seat-tube. The seatstays are triangular and curve in an hourglass shape.

The specialized’s stem is adjustable and very versatile:
The specialized’s stem is adjustable and very versatile:

The Specialized’s stem is adjustable and very versatile

Granted, the FACT 9r carbon used to make the Tarmac Sport isn’t on a par with the material used for the S-Works frame in terms of weight, but the Sport frames are laid up in exactly the same moulds, so they have the same size-specific optimisation. This means that a tiny 49cm frame will ride just like the largest, 61cm frame, and feel just as rigid and comfortable despite the vastly different sizes.

On twisting, technical roads the Tarmac always feels connected, with quick yet controlled steering

In theory, then, the handling on this modestly priced (comparatively speaking) Tarmac should have a similar character to the S-Works model ridden by Alberto Contador. And in practice, it just might. This Tarmac has a truly rapid turn of speed and if you stand up on the pedals it simply wants to go.

The s-works gripton tyres are very impressive on a bike at this price:
The s-works gripton tyres are very impressive on a bike at this price:

The S-Works Gripton tyres are very impressive on a bike at this price

On twisting, technical roads the Tarmac always feels connected, with quick yet controlled steering. The race bike-like steep head angle and long reach are countered by a mid-height stack to offer a very balanced ride. And while ‘balanced’ isn’t a term that summons up much excitement, we reckon this Sport-level Tarmac is capable of delivering as big a dose of thrills as Alberto’s Specialized.

Gripton rubber the spec highlight

Shimano 105 accounts for the shifters and most of the drivetrain, though the crankset is FSA’s new and radical-looking four-arm Gossamer. The old Gossamer looked and felt like a step down from 105, but not only is this version stiff, the new machined chainrings handle shifting as if they’d come from the Shimano factory.

The brakes are Specialized’s own Axis 2.0s, and their long cable anchor means plenty of lever travel before you get any real bite. The soft pads make up for this to some extent, but they feel woolly compared with 105 items. And though the Tarmac’s ride is firm, the comfortable Toupé saddle, excellent bar tape and tyres help to smooth the edges from the roughest road surfaces.

The gripton-compound rubber means an upgrade is unnecessary as the job’s already been done
The gripton-compound rubber means an upgrade is unnecessary as the job’s already been done

The Gripton-compound rubber means an upgrade is unnecessary as the job’s already been done

The Axis 2.0 wheels are fairly modest, but their machined hubs have more of a trick appearance than those you’d normally expect to find on a bike at this level and the new 24mm-deep rim has also grown wider in line with the current trend.

Yet the tyres are where Specialized has really pushed the boat out, which is rarely the case at this price. The Tarmac Sport comes with superb 24mm S-Works Turbo Griptons. Speccing these means a rubber upgrade is unnecessary as the job’s already been done for you.

The Griptons come into their own in corners and their supple casing allows the gummy rubber to deform and bite, which really inspires confidence. Their smoothness is a bonus on fast flat sections too, and their 24mm size makes the firm ride a little more forgiving. Tyres are an easy upgrade, but we’d hope that Specialized is starting a trend for speccing better tyres in the first place.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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