Specialized S-Works Tarmac review£8,500.00

Radical new Tarmac design

BikeRadar score4/5

The Tarmac has been incredibly successful for Specialized both in terms of race wins and sales.

The new Tarmac replaces the curvy SL5 with a more angular design, with slimmer tube profiles and dropped seatstays, which follow on from lessons learnt on the Venge Vias and Roubaix.

The new frame has lost weight over the last generation, now weighing 733g, over 200g lighter than the SL5. An all-new sub-300g fork is designed to be size specific, so the steerer tube profile changes across the size range to ensure consistent handling.

On the road, the Tarmac feels very familiar, the supersonic speed of the SL5’s handling impressed me hugely, and the new Tarmac feels just as sharp. Where it betters its forefathers is in the hills with its 6.35kg weight, and when weight gets this low you can’t help but feel it when climbing.

The stiffness in the chassis is another huge blessing on steeper slopes, and Specialized has fitted the wide 11-30 Dura-Ace cassette, giving a bottom gear of 36/30, so you’ll keep spinning even on double-digit gradients.

S-Works chainset joins the Dura-Ace gearing
S-Works chainset joins the Dura-Ace gearing

Where the Tarmac really shines is with the comfort levels, the rear end especially feels so much more compliant than before. The new D-shaped seatpost offers sufficent flex and the low-slung frame shape leaves plenty of post exposed to flex too. The carbon bar nulls vibrations, which adds up to a superlight race bike with a smoothness pretty uncommon to the genre.

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 makes an appearance again, but Specialized has combined it with its own S-Works carbon chainset paired with Praxxis chainrings. The cranks are stiff and the rings run smooth, though I did notice the occasional slower shift from big to small ring compared to some Dura-Ace units I've also been testing.

The deep CLX50 wheels from Specialized’s own Roval brand are a fine pairing to the chassis. Their deep, blunt profile, wide rim bed (20.7mm) and low weight (1,429g a pair) impress, as do the supple cotton-cased 26mm-wide Turbo tyres.

Threading the S-Works through tight twists and turns saw me smile from ear to ear
Threading the S-Works through tight twists and turns saw me smile from ear to ear

The rims carry and hold speed well and braking from Shimano’s latest Dura-Ace direct-mount rim offerings is impressive in the dry, but can’t quite hit the highs of Zipp’s Showstopper track or Mavic’s iTgMax track in the wet. However, feel is excellent and there are no issues with vibrations.

Threading the S-Works through tight twists and turns, especially downhill, saw me smile from ear to ear. It’s every bit the equal of the best examples of its kind, bikes such as Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo and the BMC SLR01 and Cervélo R5.

You can flick direction changes so quickly, and weight shifts at your hips and a drop of your shoulder are enough to lean the Tarmac over and snap through the tightest of apexes.

The textured matte black paint and contrasting reflective white S-Works graphics are subtle, contrasting with its bold ride quality and handling. Its light weight, speed and sharp handling responses are combined with a composed and comfortable ride to create a truly exceptional bike.

Any bike at this price should be impressive, that the Tarmac does everything so well means it deserves the highest of praise.

Warren Rossiter

Senior Technical Editor
Approaching two decades of testing bikes, Warren can be found on a daily basis riding and exploring the road and off roads of Wiltshire's Salisbury Plain in the UK. That's when he's not travelling the world to test the latest kit, components and bikes.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 188cm / 6'2''
  • Weight: 92kg / 203lb
  • Waist: 86cm / 34in
  • Chest: 112cm / 44in
  • Discipline: Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Big, fast descents and rough surfaces like cobbles or strada bianca
  • Current Bikes: Decade Tripster ATR, Dedacciai Temarario, Cannondale Synapse, BMC Granfondo Disc Di2, Genesis Day One CX, Parlee Z Zero Custom, Storck Scenario Comp Custom, DMR Trailstar, Bianchi Pista, Cube SUV 29er e-bike
  • Dream Bike: Bianchi Oltre Disc, Bianchi Specialissima, Cannondale Slate, Buffalo Bike
  • Beer of Choice: Brew Dog Punk IPA
  • Location: Wiltshire, UK

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