The Roubaix was one of the earliest ‘endurance’ bikes to market: a trend that has grown exponentially with the unstoppable rise in cycling’s popularity among riders no longer in the first flush of youth. More recently, however, we’ve seen an emerging trend for race-weight machinery with comfort-oriented geometry (LOOK’s 675 Light the latest to cross the threshold of RCUK Towers), and the upscale Roubaixs, notably the S-Works flagship, further narrow the gap between race weapon and all-rounder.
The development of hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes has added further fuel to the rise in popularity of the endurance bike. UCI regulations remove any purpose in manufacturers deploying them on racing bikes, creating the unusual (and perhaps untenable) situation of the amateur’s bike being more technically advanced than the professional’s.
Such technology, however, provides a perfect match for bikes like the Roubaix, intended to be ridden, as the name suggests, over demanding terrain in which consistent braking takes on additional importance. The MY2015 Roubaix range features a host of different disc options, though none from SRAM, following the American component brand’s well-documented recall issues.
Instead, Specialized have opted for full Shimano hydraulic systems (the BR785 and accompanying electronic STI lever), and set-ups in which Shimano’s ST-RS685 lever – one that combines a hydraulic fluid reservoir with a mechanical shift mechanism – is paired variously with Shimano mechanical derailleurs and TRP calipers. Additionally, Specialized have paired Shimano’s 105 mechanical shifter with TRP hydraulic disc systems in which the fluid reservoir is part of the caliper rather than the STI. “Plethora” feels like the appropriate phrase.
With all this in mind, we’ve chosen to feature the Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc, a machine that combines Shimano’s aforementioned ST-RS685 lever, with R785 hydraulic calipers and accompanying 140mm FREEZA rotors. Eagle-eyed readers will have noted the presence of Shimano’s 6800-series Ultegra STI lever on the model pictured, but such ‘hybrids’ often appear early in the new model year as manufacturers scramble to assemble machines to display to dealers.
There is much to like about the SL4 Comp Disc, in our opinion: fifth in line to the Roubaix throne and one of nine models offered this year. The drivetrain and braking we’ve already discussed, but the TURN Zayante crank, with its muscular 30mm axle and Praxis Works rings are not offensive either. Gel tape, Specialized’s own ‘cobble gobbler’ seatpost, rather nice Toupé Comp gel saddle and gel bar tape provide further clues to the Roubaix’s raison d’être: comfort. At £2,500, it strikes us as good value.