All you need to know about the Grand Tour-winning racebike
The Specialized Tarmac has spent the last decade amassing an envy-inspiring collection of victories. But for 2017, Specialized has added a few new ingredients to its well-established race-winning recipe.
The Tarmac is made for racing. It’s not an aero bike built to beat the wind, nor a featherweight climber to take on the mountains, nor a supple endurance chassis to smooth out the cobbles – it’s a machine made for competing, anywhere and everywhere. And few other bikes have been ridden to victory as many times as the Specialized Tarmac.
To take just one year as an example, in 2015 it carried Alberto Contador to his Giro d'Italia title in May, then Fabio Aru to his Vuelta win a few months later. The Tarmac’s also triumphed at the Tour de France (2014) and the Giro (2016) underneath Vincenzo Nibali.
And although victory eluded that trio of Grand Tour winners at the 2016 Tour de France, each of their French campaigns were carried out aboard a Tarmac – custom-painted ones in the cases of Nibali and Contador.
The Tarmac’s also been piloted to a collection of sprint wins with Mark Cavendish at the helm, and world championship titles under Paolo Bettini, Michal Kwiatkowski and Peter Sagan.
The Tarmac’s been winning the biggest races on the professional calendar since 2007 but that hasn’t stopped Specialized from constantly tweaking and refining the design of its full-carbon frame. Even so, each iteration of the Tarmac has retained the core characteristics that have helped earn its reputation as a high-performance machine: low weight, high rigidity and lightning-quick responsiveness.
Sitting at the top of the 2017 range is the S-Works Tarmac eTap. Its frame is constructed from Specialized’s top-of-the-line FACT 11r carbon and comes in both disc (£7,500 / US$9,500 / AU$11,000) and calliper (£7,000 / US$9,500 / AU$11,000) brake versions. But, as its name suggests, has been specifically designed for use with SRAM’s wireless eTap electronic groupset. To that end the frame has no guides, ports or routing – internal or otherwise – for gear cables or wires. It’s a bold step to take, but when combined with the internally integrated seatpost clamp, makes for a frame with an exceptionally clean silhouette.
For riders with a more traditional inclination when it comes to spec, there’s the S-Works Tarmac Dura-Ace (£6,000 / US$8,000 / AU$ TBC). This also gets a frame made from FACT 11r carbon but has Shimano’s cable-actuated Dura-Ace 9100 gears and calliper brakes bolted onto it.
The S-Works models are the pro-race-spec, money-no-object Tarmac models, but there are more affordable options too. The Specialized Tarmac Expert range sits below the S-Works models, and includes the Expert eTap (£4,500 / $5,500 / AU$ TBC), the Expert Disc (£3,000 / $3,900 / AU$ 5,300) and the Expert (£TBC / $3,600 / AU$ 5,300).
Moving down another level, there's the Tarmac Comp models: the Ultegra-equipped Tarmac Comp Disc (£2,600 / $3,000 / AU$TBC) and the similarly-equipped Tarmac Comp (£2,400 / $3,000 / AU$ 3,800).
On the bottom rung, the SL4 Sport (£1,500 / US$2,000 / AU$2,400) is based on the same template as the S-Works Tarmac, but its frame is made from FACT 9r carbon and it gets a mix of Shimano 105 and Tiagra components. The 9r carbon chassis also appears on the SL4 Elite (£1,800 / US$2,400), but in this instance uses a combination of Shimano 105 and Ultegra parts for its drivetrain.
But the components and construction aren’t the only things that change across the Tarmac range – the frame design also changes for each size. The changes are subtle – such as tube diameters and carbon layup – but they’re made to provide uniform performance irrespective of frame size. Specialized calls this approach ‘rider-first engineering’, and developed it with help from supercar manufacturers and F1 racers McLaren.
Racing has been at the heart of the Tarmac’s design since its inception and it continues to be for 2017’s models. The bike’s been through many changes during its lifetime but with continual feedback from some of the world’s best riders, the Tarmac’s victory tally is likely to keep growing.