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Bike Test – Specialized Roubaix

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Sitting in the corner of the RCUK office is a very dirty Specialized Roubaix bike. This poor thing has experienced the worst of this winter’s weather – and it shows. In a month’s time the Paris-Roubaix will test the world’s best riders against the toughest road race course imaginable, by the end of it their bikes will look pretty similar to this one, but will the bikes they ride be as comfortable and as suited as this compact frame from the big ‘S’?

Specialized are no strangers to the world of carbon fibre, or for that matter road bikes. They were one of the first companies to make a lugged carbon mountain bike frame (and they were titanium lugs too!) long before Merlin had even thought of mixing materials. OK this was a dabble into the magical black stuff but the stage was set. Although their mountain bikes are now predominantly aluminium they have stuck to Carbon for all of their top end road frames.


Frame
Specialized have used a carbon ‘monocoque’ frame. It has similar shape to De Rosa’s King or Merckx’s MXM, albeit different materials and moulding, they use an aluminium head tube and BB insert and the rest of the frame is constructed as a single monocoque form. What’s different with the Roubaix is the geometry. They have incorporated much of the scientific research involving bike fit and made a frame that is ergonomic first and foremost, it just so happens that it looks pretty too.

The current road bike trend for rider fit tends to be; cut the steerer down, keep the spacers to a minimum and your bike looks like it would sit perfectly under any Tour de France rider. You end up with a arse-up-head-down (AUHD) position that’ll have you shouting ‘lumbago’ after half an hour… So have the pros got it wrong? Well not really they are a lot more flexible than us for starters and they also are a certain shape/height/build (usually smaller than you’d think). So generally speaking they can get away with a medium to small sized frame and getting low at the front. Yet some riders are now riding with a 6 inch drop between the saddle and the bars and this cannot be comfortable. Look at how many of them have their controls jacked way back on the bars, just so they can reach them.

Zertz viscoelastic inserts are exclusive to Specialized and are intended to provide added compliance to the rear end and forks. I can’t say that I noticed them work as I rode, especially as the wheels (see below) provided some confusing feedback from the road. Also most of the reaction to them was negative (usually: “what they hell are they then?”)
On a technical level I’m not sure that carbon needs this special attention as it already has excellent road damping qualities, but aesthetically they don’t do it for me.

Geometry is the major shake up on the Roubaix. It is quite subdued compared to most road bikes although a 74° seat angle brings the bike back into the realms of feeling like a racing bike. The long(ish) wheel base and chainstays adds plenty of stability and helps the frame soak up the shock. They have countered the ‘AUHD’ position by extending the headtube and adding a conical shaped spacer under the stem, this makes the upright position easier to attain without flipping the stem which can look really ugly.

The wishbone rear end and shaped tubes are attractive and the frame is a refreshing change from the many over-done and over-shaped carbon frames available.



Front end
The 49cm rake on the F.A.C.T. (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) fork is pretty relaxed too, combined with a 72° head angle it’s an easy bike to steer and this is welcome on a small compact frame, you get none of that twitchy acceleration or vulnerable feeling because of the tight clearance between your toes and the front wheel as you steer. However on the downside it can be a bit sluggish at slower speeds.


Wheels
Somebody needs to tell the wheel designers that removing most of the spokes from a wheel means that you will need to either a) make the rim stronger or b) make the spokes stronger – preferably both. Specialized have specced the flash-looking Alex A-Class ALX295 on their Roubaix bikes, sadly they have neither of the wheel prerequisites.

Radially (up/down) they are aggressive and harsh and laterally (side to side) they are so mushy you have to let the brakes off to prevent the pads rubbing when you crank the bike out of the saddle. Take a look at the weedy front hub and it’ll explain more of the flex. Wheels need to be strong and taught first and lightweight second, these were simply neither one thing or the other.

The only saving grace for the wheel department are the tyres. Specialized began their business making tyres and the Specialized All Conditions Pro tyres are the best they’ve produced since the Turbo tyre some twenty plus years ago. Grippy in the wet and fast rolling, they also kept the thorns and glass at bay during some rotten weather in the test period.

My advice would be to upgrade the wheels at the earliest opportunity, they simply don’t live up to this otherwise excellent bike. I just don’t know why they didn’t go for a complete 105 group and a better set of wheels? It would be a far more sensible option – to meet the price point and keep the bike riding as it should.


Out on the road – The Ride
A perfectly fitting bike straight out of the box is a rare occasion and something worth celebrating. This bike could have been made for me. A little tweaking of the stem shim and changing around of the saddle and it was spot on.

Then the disappointing bit, the Alex wheels flexed like a plate of spaghetti. But I wanted to give the Roubaix a fair crack, so I changed the wheels to a (similar priced?) set of Shimano 550s. The transformation was heart warming and the bike leapt into life.

The Roubaix was just at home on the rough roads of London as it was on the smooth tarmac of Hillingdon cycle circuit. The oversized headtube and handlebar all add into the ‘rocket ship’ mix helping the secure feel as you grip the bars and sprint. It’s fast AND comfortable so it will suited to all day riding and criteriums on smooth circuits.

There’s no doubting that this bike fills the gap between all-day Audax bike and full-on racing snake. So if you want that mix of comfort and exhilaration this could be the bike for you. And there are some pro riders who agree, indeed many of the Domina Vacanze team used the Roubaix at Flanders – pic at Cyclingews.com last year.

Contact points
Specialized’s own brand kit is always well thought out. Here you get quite a good deal of value in parts. An Avatar saddle and Phat tape would cost around £70 alone, then the bars, stem and seatpost another £150 or so… so the package has value and unlike some ‘own brand’ kit it works well too. The Adjustable stem is my highlight as it allows you to adjust the stem angle into 4 positions, this is similar to the Colnago Ergo system although it will fit 1 1/8″ steerers and Ernetso’s (Colnago) is only avaliable for 1″ steerers. Basically there is an internal cam shaped shim that can be rotated to allow an element of angle change. Obviously not as adjustable as Look’s Ergo Stem but it certainly looks better and weighs pretty much the same as a standard Aheadstem.

The Phat bar wrap stuff is very comfortable with gel inserts at the tops and drops it takes any buzz (that the forks didn’t remove) away from your hands. The Specialized saddle has a lot more behind it than I can find space for here (there will be another article on this tomorrow) but for now rest assured that it’s comfortable and looks the part too.

Components
Like I said the wheels aren’t up to the bike and the components (apart from the Specialized stuff) also had to be shaved in order to get the bike in under £1500. This means the gears are a bit of a Shimano parts bin and the nine speed set up will be uninspiring for many after ten speed performance. Having said that it all worked fine, but this bike really deserves a Ultegra 10 speed group as an absolute minimum.

FSA cranks are now established as the ‘bench mark’ carbon crank and in the specification this is a true highlight. Combined onto a sealed cartridge Octalink pattern BB they offer a sturdy platform for sprinting and climbing. The triple rings will be a welcome addition for Etape riders and those heading to the hills this summer and the 42/52 rings are closely ratio-ed for flat riding and racing. I would like to see a compact drive or standard double option on this bike as I think the triple is a little OTT for most club riders and makes the Roubaix out to be a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Conclusion
It can be argued that Ben Serotta has lead the way in designing bikes to fit everyday people. Now Specialized have set about making this available for everyday wallets too as most of us can’t afford a Serotta (their ‘cheapest’ frame is around £1000). The truth is we’re all struggling to squeeze our ageing bodies onto bikes that simply do not fit us, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re as flexible as a Elite level pro athlete and if you are, you’re lucky as there are plenty of bikes out there made to fit you.

Custom built bikes do tend to follow the trends too, so they will also (possibly) offer something too stretched out and way too racey. The truth hurts, and if you are carrying injuries and ageing joints, your body will too especially when placed on a poorly fitting bike. Specialized rules the roost when it comes to acronyms and buzz words – which can be a tad tiring to those who prefer their bikes simple – but the truth is this bike has a pile of features I like and the fit and ride is spot on for a rider who likes a fast BUT comfortable bike.

Many of the larger manufacturers have cottoned on to the Roubaix and Trek have followed Specialized into this arena. It has to be said that their Pilot bike could be a serious threat to the Roubaix’s trailblazing presence in the road market. And it doesn’t end there, even at the high end of the market Colnago’s E1 and Serotta’s various models will now fit the less elite rider out there which, I’m afraid to say, is most of us.

The Roubaix is great value and as a first time bike it will blow you away, especially with the added value from Specialized’s excellent BG components. However as a complete bike it is not without problems and I was left feeling a little sorry for it. It so badly wants a Ultegra 10 or Chorus 10 group and some better wheels and I feel most people would be happy to spend the few hundred quid extra to get it right. It would then be a market leading carbon bike, make no mistake.



RCUK VERDICT



Good:
A great frame. One of the best carbon frames we’ve ridden with some neat touches



Bad:
Shockingly bad wheels, mix and match components – why no frame only option?


Specification
Frame sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58 & 62cm (c/c) (compact)
Size tested: 54 (54.8 cm top tube)
Frame tubing: Carbon Monocoque
Fork: Full Carbon Specialized integrated with Zertz inserts
Headset: Specialized Mindset 1 1/8″
Crankarms: FSA CK-8680 carbon triple cranks 170mm
Chainrings: 52/42/30T
B/B: FSA Octalink
Pedals: none supplied
Chain: Shimano HG73

Freewheel: Shimano 105 nine speed 12-25
F/D: Shimano 105 9 speed
R/D: Shimano Ultegra 9 speed
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra 9 speed
Handlebar: Specialized Zertz Roubaix 31.8mm clamp 42cm
Stem: Specialized 31.8mm 4 position adjustable 10cm
Tape: Specialized BG Bar Phat
Brakes: Shimano 105
Wheels: Alex ALX-295 20h front – 24h rear
Tyres: Specialized All Condition Pro SL 700x23c

Saddle: Specialized BG Avatar
Seatpost: Specialized Pave
Colour: Blue
Weight: 19.7lbs less pedals
Price: Complete bike as shown £1499.99 Frame and fork £TBA

Contact: SBC – 020 8391 3511

www.specialized.com

Geometry, specs etc.

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