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Crusty Mark

10 March, 2018 Journal

2018 S-Works Tarmac

I am lucky to live around the corner from Velofix Rozelle in Sydneya great local bike shop. Two weeks ago, I was stoked to receive an email inviting me to come and test ride the new 2018 road bikes from Specialized, including the Roubaix and the all new S-Works Tarmac. Having seen the bikes a while ago when we were shooting a video introduction, I knew exactly which one I wanted to get my hands on: the S-Works Tarmac, thank you very much! 

VeloFix put on the ride and a shout-out must go to Anthony and the crew from the store, as it's a lot of work getting 10 or so folks set-up on test bikes at the same time...not to mention the 6AM start doing it. If you are looking for a workshop-focused store in Sydney's inner west, check them out. 

Some background on the S-Works Tarmac

Now on to the bike. There is so much talk about in terms of engineering and design it's hard to know where to start. It's also hard not to waffle on for paragraph after paragraph, so I'll attempt to keep this tight.

The carbon layup for the Tarmac SL6 is Specialized's most advanced ever, and this isn't just your average marketing hype. How do we know? Because the new S-Works Tarmac frame is 200 grams lighter than the 2017 model. You read that right...200 grams! If you check out the specialized website they reference aerospace, warp drives and laser beams, from memory. Whatever the case, based on my 2 hours on the bike, the laser beams are working. But I'll get to the ride later on. Spoiler alert... it's *&#@^! Amazing!

Technology aside, I particularly like the thought that has gone into the ride quality and aerodynamics based on experience with other road bikes in the Specialized line-up. While the S-Works Tarmac takes its aerodynamic cues from the Venge, the compliance comes from the Roubaix. And this shouldn't be understated because it is a design challenge. Creating an aero bike that is light and compliant is often an oxymoron -  but the new Tarmac has nailed it.

The Ride

I got to spend around 2 hours on the Tarmac heading out on one of Sydney's Eastern suburbs rides that has some hills, descents and areas for some good old fashioned drag racing. I was riding a 54 that comes with a 100mm stem off the peg, so the compact bars aren't a perfect fit for me but it came pretty close. 

My first impression was one that lasted with me the entire ride, and it's the first thing that comes to mind as I write this review. It felt, and sounded, like a spaceship. For those out there with little experience in piloting spaceships, I'll try and explain. I jumped on the bike having just adjusted the saddle to my correct height and stomped on the pedals getting the bike up to around 37-38 km/hr in what seemed like just a few seconds. The power transfer was sickening. Once up to speed, I felt like the bike was travelling on air about 10mm above the road. In fact, the only way I know I wasn't actually floating was the warp-drive like sound coming from the wheels.

In all seriousness, the frames compliance coupled with large volume cotton tyres on wide Roval wheels provide the silky smooth ride quality that does feel like floating. But when you lay down the power, the frame and wheels transfer every watt of power into forward motion. Nothing is lost. 

The S-Works Tarmac is still as ^@&%*^, which can make bikes uncomfortable. But one of the neat design features of the new Tarmac is the dropped seat stays. This allows the engineers to design in more compliance into the seat tube/post intersection, thus delivering the silky smooth feel. When I mentioned earlier in this post that the bike feels like it's floating, it really isn't an exaggeration. You have to try it to believe it. 

Another feature of the bike worth mentioning is the direct mount brakes. Direct mount brakes pivot from a point on each stay, as opposed to a central pivot associated with standard calliper brakes. What you end up with is some good braking power, even on carbon rims. In fact, I personally have moved back from a disc roadie to direct mount calliper brakes because they are fantastic. I don't think there is any stopping the charge of road-disc brakes, but this is a great move forward in standard braking. 

The Verdict

Well just in case you haven't picked this up by now...I want one. I really, really want one! My only challenge now is to work out how to build up my international drug empire, so that I can afford one. Unless my long, lost rich uncle Doug dies and leaves me a small fortune. But if you do have the coin and want the best, this all-new beast of a Tarmac must be an option. To put it in perspective, there are other high-end boutique brands out there making amazing road frames. Parlee,Factor and Lightweight to name just a few. The S-Works Tarmac is as good, and arguably better.  This means you can get yourself a world-class frameset for around $4,500 which is near as dammit half of what the fancy pants frames will cost you. For me, that's a trip to Europe. You do the math.

More Info

Check out the spec, more images, or find local dealers from here:

S-Works Tarmac SL6

Alternatives Worth Checking Out

So you love the Tarmac but want to know what else is worth considering depending on your specific needs. Check out some of these also: 

Another Tarmac but on a more modest budget: Specialized Tarmac
The comparable bike from Trek: Trek Emonda SLR 9
The comparable bike from Cervelo: Cervelo S5

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