Specialized Allez Elite road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Specialized Allez Elite road bike – review

Does Specialized's revamped Allez set the benchmark for a £1,000 road bike?

(Update: 14/12/2017) Since this review was published, all 2018 Specialized Allez bikes have been subject to a recall due to a potentially defective fork. Here’s the full statement from Specialized.

For many years the Specialized Allez has been an alloy race bike with a strong reputation. Up there with the Cannondale CAAD-series machines as a highly-rated entry-level race bike, it’s been a stalwart of the sub-£1,000 scene.

Despite the relatively racy geometry, that competitive price tag has meant that new roadies and Cycle To Work schemers have flocked to the Allez as the go-to machine to dip their toes into the sport or upgrade from their previous bicycle. This reviewer was among them, once.

That popularity has partly led to the old version’s extraordinarily long shelf-life – it remained fundamentally unchanged since the back end of 2010 – and so while it was still popular in the bike shops, it was really beginning to show its age. Compared to the likes of the CAAD10 and, latterly, Cannondale CAAD12 – both of which I’ve had my hands on for some short taster rides over the years – my previous generation Allez weighed a proverbial ton, while it couldn’t hold a candle to the Cannondales in terms of overall ride quality.

The Allez has been a key bike in Specialized’s range for a long time and this update only reinforces the aluminium frame’s reputation
  • Specification

  • Price: £999.00
  • Weight: 8.85kg (56cm)
  • Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
  • Website: Specialized

So, over time I grudgingly had to admit that I didn’t have the best entry-level road bike anymore, while more recently it’s also come under threat from the likes of Canyon with the Ultimate and Endurace alloy frames, and Giant’s Contend bikes. So, clearly it was high time for a change… and what a change it is, mostly for the better, too.

The 2018 Specialized Allez Elite offers a finely-tuned ride, with a lightweight frame, predictable yet agile handling, and everyday versatility, making this a real contender if you’ve got £1,000 to spend on a road bike. While the Elite-spec model featured here comes in at £999 with Shimano 105 shifters and derailleurs, there are also Allez Sport and standard Allez models with Shimano Sora and Shimano Claris bits for £799 and £599 respectively.

The chassis – relaxed geometry, revamped frame

As I mentioned in my first look piece, the new frame features a completely redesigned geometry to better reflect the Allez’s position in the market. Instead of going toe-to-toe with the likes of the CAAD12 alloy race bike (with the exception of the Allez Sprint – a crit racer’s bike in its own right now), the latest Allez has embraced the everyday rider with a more relaxed riding position than its predecessor. It’s a geometry designed to work for a wider range of cyclists, according to Specialized.

That’s resulted in a longer wheelbase (up 10mm to 996mm in the 56cm frame size on test), shorter reach (385mm on our test bike) and higher stack (596mm), putting the Allez more in line with Specialized’s Roubaix endurance bike, rather than the Tarmac race machine, as was the case before. It should make the Allez an easier bike to ride on a day-to-day basis, and hopefully save the newbie from adopting an unsuitable position by default – an issue I had with my first bike purchase all those years ago.

A revamped aluminium frame and new carbon fork combine to offer a 450g weight reduction over the old Allez

The latest Allez continues to be made from Specialized’s E5 aluminium, but it’s a completely new frame. It’s a more refined chassis, according to Specialized, with variable tube wall thickness used throughout to save weight and improve stiffness, while up front there’s a new carbon fork. Together the frame and fork are said to weigh 450g less than the old frameset – that’s some saving.

While the bottom bracket area is classically svelte in the way an alloy bike tends to be, it’s supported with a small strut that doubles as a mudguard mount. Additionally, you’ll also find pannier mounts too, so the Allez has really developed a do-it-all road personality.

Specialized Allez Elite road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Specialized Allez Elite road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Specialized Allez Elite road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Compliance has also been addressed, with dropped seatstays that mirror those of the Tarmac carbon race bike. The redesigned carbon fork is also said to do the double job of reducing road vibrations while providing a direct front end. There’s sadly no carbon seatpost to further improve comfort, but we’ll get onto that later.

We’re also told that the Specialized’s wind tunnel was also consulted in the design of the alloy tubes and carbon fork – it might no longer be a race bike, but it’s clear that the dropped seatstays are hidden away a little more effectively, while the entire frameset just looks tidier compared to the old version, helped by the internal cable routing. The toptube also looks slightly more truncated than the previous flattened oval shape of old.

The ride – more forgiving, but still exciting

The Allez’s frameset redesign dominates the whole experience. As an owner of a recently-retired Allez, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two – but actually what occurs to me most is how fundamentally similar they are.

‘Hold on a minute’, I hear you say. ‘Isn’t this is effectively an entirely different bike that bears practically no geometrical resemblance to its predecessor. How can it be so similar?’ Well, let me explain.

While Specialized was redesigning the geometry to achieve a rider position that’s certainly easier to ride in for longer stints and repeated short journeys, it also had to make sure the Allez could compete with its up-to-date rivals in the weight stakes, too. The entire bike here comes in at 8.85kg, and that has the overall effect of recouping any loss in responsiveness from the geometry change.

“There’s stiffness aplenty when you want to attack a climb, and direct handling that still makes tipping the bike into downhill bends an enjoyable experience”

In fact, I think it’s actually a more agile ride, with stiffness aplenty when you want to attack a climb, and direct handling that still makes tipping the bike into downhill bends an enjoyable experience. It’s a finely-tuned ride; the latest geometry adds stability and composure, while the weight savings and stiffness really help the bike come alive.

A Praxis Alba 2D chainset sits at the heart of the drivetrain

That said, show the Allez long flat roads and it laps them up like an endurance bike. It’s smooth, confident, composed and well-suited to either settling on the hoods or bending down into the drops for long periods of time. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the frame tweaks have made it any more efficient aerodynamically, but you do get an overall sense of an easier ride than you did with the old frame. Certainly, it fatigued me less.

Part of that is also down to the improvements made in compliance. While on the outside you can only really spot dropped seatstays, the truth is that the new fork is a great piece of work. The full carbon design does a great job of reducing unwanted harshness in the hands, while the rear end is taken care of by those redesigned stays. It produces a bike that can handle pimply British tarmac and winter roads remarkably well with the fitted 25c Espoir rubber (there’s space for 28c tyres to be squeezed in there), and is only undone by potholes.

Specialized Allez Elite road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

The overall effect of this balanced geometry married to a lighter, stiffer and more comfortable frameset is a bike which is far more well-rounded and finessed than its predecessor. The old geometry (which has been retained by the Sprint model) is still the one you want for a truly aggressive ride on the crit scene, but for most everyday riders I’m convinced it’s a good improvement.

This means that if you want to use your new Allez for regular weekend 100km rides, as a commuter workhorse, or a combination of both, it’s now well up to the task and is as rewarding as it is versatile.

The build – Shimano 105 drivetrain, solid and reliable finishing kit

As you might expect with a bike based around a completely new frame that sneaks under the £1,000 barrier, there are certain concessions made in order to hit this important price point – but the good thing is that, while you may justifiably be tempted to upgrade certain parts, the stock kit is solid and dependable.

The rolling stock is based around DT Swiss R460 rims. With an 18mm internal width, the R460 rimis a good match for the 25mm tyres. It’s a solid setup but you do get the sense that a lighter wheelset would unlock far more performance from the very competent frameset.

Certainly, the wheels are good enough for anyone who doesn’t know any different and is just starting out with road cycling, while experienced riders might conceivably already have a set of summer wheels they’ll want to break out when the weather changes. What’s for sure is that the supplied wheelset will do just fine through the depths of winter and for general workhorse duties, while the Specialized Espoir tyres are fairly grippy and hardy enough to withstand most punishment dished out by the road. Again, there’s the opportunity to upgrade to something lighter and faster for summer riding, thanks to the excellent frame at the heart of the bike.

The DT Swiss R460 rims and Specialized Espoir Sport tyres are dependable performers but there’s obvious upgrade potential here

The shifters and derailleurs come from Shimano’s mid-range 105 setup, but bear in mind it’s not the complete groupset. You get a Praxis Alba 2D chainset on which to churn the KMC chain, and they aren’t 105-spec brake calipers either.

“At its core the Allez still boasts an exciting, enjoyable and responsive ride – except this time it’s truly designed for the people who actually buy one”

Instead, in order to help give the 28c tyre clearance at this price, Spesh has gone with Tektro Axis calipers. Cynics might say this is all blatant cost cutting, but in truth I found them to be on a par with the 105-series counterparts. The fact is that 105 is now long in the tooth and due an upgrade – and if the latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra is anything to go by, we hope the new calipers will feature wider clearance for 28c tyres – so fitting calipers that maximise the frame’s versatility is a good thing.

Moreover, the Praxis chainset is stiff and allows swift chain engagement under load. I do think the 105 5800-series chainset is slightly sweeter in its engagement both on upshifts and downshifts, but the difference is only slight and probably only noticeable if you’re a seasoned 5800 chainset user. Meanwhile, a KMC chain is a common swap in the industry wherever you look, and there’s nothing to fault there at this price point.

Finally, the saddle is a Specialized Body Geometry Toupé Sport model, complete with cutout for pressure relief, and this sits atop a standard alloy seatpost. There’s nothing to shout about here – what compliance you do get comes from the frame design. That said, some will appreciate the Body Geometry saddle. Personally, it’s not my cup of tea – I prefer something flatter and racier through experience – but if you’re new to the road cycling game it’s as good a place to start as any.

A Specialized Body Geometry Toupé Sport saddle sits atop an aluminium seatpost(Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Conclusion

The new Specialized Allez represents a change of thinking for the American brand. It’s a rethought bike with rethought priorities. However, at its core it still boasts an exciting, enjoyable and responsive ride – except this time it’s truly designed for the people who actually buy one. As a result, you get a composed geometry and improved levels of compliance in a bike that is as capable of meeting the needs of the commuter as it is the keen sportive rider. The sub-£1k market is competitive, to say the least, and the Allez Elite comes up against some stiff competition, but Specialized’s redesign has put this long-time favourite right back in the mix.

Pros

  • More versatile geometry
  • Exciting ride

  • Integrated mudguard and pannier eyelets

  • Dependable finishing kit

  • Mismatched components

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