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From the pages of Velo: Stiff & Stones

  • By Nick Legan and Caley Fretz
  • Published Jun. 27, 2012
  • Updated Jul. 22, 2013 at 10:21 AM EDT
VeloNews June 2011. Photos by Brad Kaminski and Casey B. Gibson

Specialized Roubaix Expert

By Caley Fretz

The Roubaix instigated and has continued to define the endurance bikes category. It’s the only frame in this test that has conquered the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix three out of the last four years, under Tom Boonen in 2008 and 2009 and Fabian Cancellara in 2010. But despite its pedigree, the heavy influx of competition made its success here anything but assured. Nonetheless, it ended up outclassing all comers. We were impressed with its handling and stiffness, akin to a good race bike, as well as its comfort over the long haul and on the harshest surfaces you’d ever ride a road bike. The Roubaix, quite simply, continues to lead the class it created.

Scientific Testing: 30 of 30 Points
The Roubaix dominated in the lab. It achieved the stiffest bottom bracket deflection number of any bike we’ve tested so far, including the aero race bikes in the April issue. Total deflection was a full 2mm less than the second-place Bianchi. Yet somehow the Roubaix was also the best of the bunch at eliminating vertical vibration. With wheels and tires normalized, it narrowly edged the Lapierre on the 1/8-inch bump rollers and crushed all three contenders on the 1/4-inch bump. While it may pain us to use the well-worn phrase, the Roubaix truly is “stiff yet compliant,” in the lab and on the cobbled roads.

Subjective Ride Quality: 24 of 30 Points
Handling is sharp and receptive, with a front end set up identically to Specialized’s thoroughbred Tarmac SL3 and Venge frames except for a taller head tube. The same 56mm of trail provides neutral handling — a good balance between twitchy and stable. Specialized makes its concession to comfort with wheelbase, adding a centimeter to the chain stays and a full 2.4cm to the wheelbase compared to the SL3.

The result is a stable ride both on the road and the rough, but a bike that feels a bit slow to get around tight corners. I normally ride my bars quite low, typically about 2.5cm lower than I could get them on the Roubaix, even with a -17°, 13cm stem. This shifted my weight off the front end and degraded my confidence in fast, hard corners. Those who ride higher positions, however, will notice no difference.

Acceleration is spectacular for a bike not specifically designed for racing, but still felt slightly sub-par compared to those with a more singular focus on speed. The snap it does have is undoubtedly thanks to the race-level stiffness numbers, and the neutral front end feels solid under power both in and out of the saddle.

The comfort I felt on the road was confirmed by our testing, although interestingly I didn’t find it all that impressive on small bumps in the real world. Bad chip-sealed roads, which induce high-frequency vibration, were not smoothed out as well as I had hoped. Larger bumps, like the cobbles in its namesake race, were tangibly less jarring with the Roubaix than on the others.

User Friendliness: 11 of 15 Points
Specialized makes a number of smart component choices, including big, soft 25c tires and plush bar tape, both of which do wonders for ride quality. However, the internal cable routing is a bit of a pain. A good set of sealed cables will last longer and are easier to swap when need be.

Value: 18 of 20 Points
At $3,700, the Roubaix is the most expensive in the test, despite a similar Ultegra build as the other bikes. But the results speak for themselves: the Roubaix is simply a better bike. It tested so well, on the road and in the lab, that the cost premium doesn’t seem beyond the pale.

Weight: 5 of 5 Points
The Roubaix is the lightest bike in this test at 16.86 pounds.

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