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It was only a matter of time. We had the distinct realization after riding the last generation S-Works Venge that the bike was not far off from the weight and ride quality of the Tarmac. We figured it was only a matter of time before the Venge became so good that the bike wizards in Morgan Hill, California, could no longer justify keeping the Tarmac around. Well, we were right…sort of. We got the concept right, but it is the Tarmac name and its two-decade history of winning elite-level races that will continue on, not the Venge, as the brand moves to a single race bike platform for sprint days and Alpe d’Huez alike. Meet the Tarmac SL7.
You’ll notice some distinct aero attributes borrowed from the Venge. First, there’s the low hanging fruit in aero bike design: completely internal cable routing. But then you’ll notice a focus on aero tube shapes in a few places that interact with the wind the most: the seat tube, seat stays, head tube and fork blades. The seat stays and their junction with the seat tube in particular really bring to mind the look of the Venge. Then there is the Aerofly II handlebar, borrowed directly from the Venge. (The cockpit has been designed to still be easy to adjust, apparently at the request of WorldTour mechanics, and probably home mechanics everywhere). In total, all these elements sum up to a bike that Specialized says is a whopping 45 seconds faster over 40 kilometers than the Tarmac SL6. It’s actually still a touch slower than the Venge, according to Specialized’s data, but the new Tarmac definitely beats the Venge on weight.
If you absolutely have to have the Venge, fear not. Specialized is still selling it as a frameset-only option.
Tarmac at Heart
Despite gaining all those aero benefits, the Tarmac SL7 frame doesn’t gain weight. It comes in at 800 grams—painted. Creating a bike that is significantly faster, with WorldTour sprinter-approved stiffness and that is still light is a bit of a challenge to say the least. Specialized says development was a years-long process that started with concept frames that were 20 percent under target weight to see where weight could be shed. Those frames were then overlaid with additional carbon to reach stiffness goals. All told, with the help of software, Specialized engineers went through hundreds of layups with thousands of ply iterations to reach the highest stiffness to weight ratio.
The entire package comes out of the box at under the UCI weight limit of 6.8kg (in the S-Works version).
The S-Works Tarmac SL7 costs $12,000 in Dura-Ace Di2 and SRAM Red eTap AXS builds. There are two lower level versions of the SL7—Pro, available in both eTap and Di2 builds for $7,000 and Expert in a Di2 build for $5,000. The S-Works Frameset costs $5,000 while the lower level frameset made with 10R carbon instead of 12R costs $3,000.
The Tarmac SL6 will also be sticking around in three builds: Comp for $3,500, Sport for $2,600 and Base for $2,000.
First Ride Review:
Jumping on the S-Works version of this bike with Red eTap for the first time, we experienced a bit of a disconnect between what we expected and what we experienced—but in a good way. At multiple distinct points on the maiden voyage, we said to ourselves, “ah, this is definitely a climbing bike.” But then looking down there was this strange experience of riding a super-light bike uphill, but hearing the “whoosh-whoosh” of 50mm-60mm deep carbon rims courtesy of the Roval Rapide CLX wheels. And once we reached a flat section at the top of the climb, the bike quickly accelerated up to speed. The “this is definitely a climbing bike” turned to “no, wait, this is definitely an aero bike.”
It’s a bike that manages to instill two distinct feelings in the span of a single ride. Our simple minds, so used to the binary black and white—either a climbing bike or an aero bike, were enlightened by the experience.
But Specialized hasn’t completely managed the impossible: making one bike that does everything perfectly. The first ride seemed slightly less comfortable through the seat post and saddle than other top end race bikes. Though adding bigger tires like 30c would add in plenty of comfort for most. We’re busy getting some more rides in to get the complete picture. Keep an eye on the pages of Peloton magazine for a full review soon.
More info at specialized.com