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Endurance is where the truly significant changes in bike design have taken place. Today’s focus on fit was spawned in the endurance category—along with larger-tire widths and lower pressures. New materials, like viscoelastic inserts and vibration-damping layers in the carbon lay-up, come from endurance too. Trek went next level with IsoSpeed, isolating control and comfort from power transfer with pivots. Now Specialized has launched a new Roubaix, the undisputed king of endurance until the Domane arrived. Specialized clearly wants the endurance crown back.
Gone are the famous Zertz inserts that knocked down high-frequency vibration and the sky-high head tubes that delivered such an upright ride. The most notable change is what appears to be a stack of spacers under the stem. That’s actually suspension. We know what you’re thinking: "Like a Headshock or old ProFlex stem?" Well, yes, and no. It’s called a Future Shock and consists of three springs providing 20mm of travel. The center spring handles the majority of travel, with top and bottom springs to take out hard stops. Specialized placed the shock directly under the stem because it found the Future Shock was less likely to be influenced by a rider’s upper-body movement, which travels at an acute angle to the steer tube and is more responsive to road surfaces that impact directly up the steer tube. The system cannot be adjusted on the fly like an MTB shock, but three different spring stiffnesses are available. The system weighs 200 grams, but to help offset that the 2017 Roubaix is the lightest frame Specialized has ever made.
The more compliant the front gets, the more compliant the rear needs to be to create that elusive sense of balance. Specialized has moved the seat binder a few centimeters down the seat tube, which essentially extends the amount of seat post exposed to flex within the top of the seat tube, which is flared out to allow this. It essentially mimics a much longer seat post and has the same effect as Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler in a more primitive, or elegant, solution depending on your perspective. Unlike the new Domane it is not adjustable, although using a stiffer post than the carbon CG-R post would reduce compliance. Creating a moveable insert to change the amount of post exposed to flexing would seem a simple update as well.
The bike’s other truly significant change is in the geometry. This 2017 Roubaix is more aggressive, with lower stack and longer reach and a shorter wheelbase. If a more upright ride is desired a taller Future Shock is available, and mated to Specialized’s gull-wing style bars it will create as tall a position as anyone should desire. The bike we have been testing, a 58cm Project Black edition with Dura-Ace Di2 and Roval CXL 32 wheels, weighed 17.1 pounds. The closest build Specialized will offer to this one is the Pro UDi2 build for $6,500. The S-Works bike gets eTap for $10,000.
The 2017 Roubaix’s technology is about making the bike faster, not more comfortable, by reducing rider fatigue and improving bike-handling and power-transfer through better traction. While this may be true, the new bike is certainly incredibly comfortable. It glides as smooth as glass over horrendous pavement, allowing the rider to put down power and attack corners as if it was week-old tarmac. Which proves Specialized’s point—in many situations, it is faster and more comfortable for the exact same reasons. Now that’s a happy coincidence
The balance is there too, allowing the bike to flow as one over rough roads and into high-load corners. With the Future Shock and disc brakes, the new Roubaix is a stunning descender—gobs of hook-up and a limit we could not find. The compliance is also isolated nicely from torsional stiffness; whether cranking on the bars or stamping on the pedals, the bike resists flex, making speed out of very-high-wattage efforts.
Watch the Future Shock In Action
That’s not to say you won’t feel the bike working. The bars do bob a bit, but less than you would think after feeling the shock on the showroom floor. Unless you focus on it, it is almost invisible while riding. I’m sure a climber will worry about the energy lost in that movement, but a climber should be on a Tarmac. The level of vertical flex out of the rear is also profound. We found it about equal to a new Domane at maximum compliance. But that will be dependent on your own saddle height—we tested a 58cm at 85cm of saddle, an extreme case.<
The Future Shock’s only drawback may just be vanity. A stack of spacers simply does not look pro, and the Future Shock looks like a stack of spacers. We hope to see a more refined and integrated unit in the next generation. Of course, if your local fondo is any indication, most riders are not afflicted with the same level of revulsion to spacers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While Specialized may not have dethroned the Domane, it has certainly pulled wheel to wheel with it. The 2017 Roubaix’s Future Shock is no gimmick, taking compliance to new levels and creating more comfort and speed in the process.
PRICE: $6,500 Pro UDI2. WEIGHT: 17.1 lbs (58cm prototype Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 build w/o pedals or cages). AS TESTED : Shimano Dura Ace Di2 with hydraulic disc brakes, Specialized alloy stem and carbon bars with CG-R carbon seat post and Toupé saddle. Roval CLX 32 carbon clinchers with S-Works tires. specialized.com