Like any other company marketing high-end technology, Specialized uses product buzz words like a TV chef throwing spices into a dish to turn it up a notch. The S-Works Tarmac SL is built with FACT, 10r carbon, Az1 construction, compact race design, Zertz inserts, proprietary oversized integrated bottom bracket, and a bunch of other fast stuff. The results, “the secret sauce,” is a light, stiff, compliant frame.
I test rode Pam’s new S-Works Tarmac SL up a hill, and amazingly I stopped pedaling and it kept right on rolling briefly – up hill. My totally nonscientific criteria for a race bike is that it “rolls” and has “momentum.” I want to get a bike up to speed and have it roll with that momentum. I don’t know how they’d measure that in a lab, but I know it when I ride it. As a benchmark, my Trek Madone rolls really well. Pam’s S-Works feels quick, light, and snaps up to speed, and also rolls – fast.
The marketing brochures would say that’s transferring power, because of a stiff and huge bottom bracket, minimal deflection, and a compliant frame. Those brochure writers can think of all they different ways to say, “light, stiff, fast, complaint frame” and toss out a bunch of created words on decals. When it comes down to it, all the technology Specialized uses results in all-around outstanding race bike that weights about 15 pounds and reassures any rider turning in a chicane, or about to descend on chipsealed, rural roads, at 40 + mph.
Looking at the attention to detail on the bike, I also realized how far carbon frames have progressed. My first racing bike was an Epic Allez, the old aluminun-lugged, bonded-carbon tubed model. I loved that bike, despite the whippy bottom bracket and you still see them being ridden today. Props also to Specialized for achieving lightweight without doing anything stupid. I don’t know enough about their line to note the year-to-year subtle differences in the frame and suspect a proprietary bottom bracket design gives people pause. Also, the fix for the slipping seatposts is an aluminum or steel seat clamp instead of the Ti version the bike ships with.
Markee’s Cycling Center
What’s nice about Markee’s Cycling Center is they’ve got knowledgeable staff, very helpful, into the sport, and stayed on task with fitting Pam to the bike. As opposed to a high school kid that doesn’t know Miguel Indurain from House of Pain, the staff was about as thrilled to sell an S-Works road bike as Pam was to ride it on Mother’s Day.
It’s also nice to remember “back in the day,” when Jerry and I used to race and train together.
While riding with members of the Chinook Cycling club in the Tri Cities last weekend, up in the Horse Heavens Hill, we passed a “euro” (no helmet) cyclist going the other way and one of the Chinooks yelled out, “HELMET!!!” We all laughed at the instaneous response to the helmetless rider, and it also reminded me of seeing Pam slide into a curb headfirst, sitting with her in the hospital while she recovered from a concussion, and how a helmet saved her.
The guy that yelled had a serious Evel Knievel-style bollard accident last year. Cracked ribs, punctured lungs, his story about the accident reminded me of the intro to the Six Million Dollar Man. Dude’s got a right to yell at anybody about not wearing a helmet. If there’s anything that’ll cause me to blurt out a warning, besides seeing a cyclist riding on a busy, congested, blue-collar worker road instead of the more quieter road a block over or the other one with a bike lane, is no helmet.
Modern helmets are light, breezy, and stylish and there’s no reason whatsoever for not wearing them. A few years ago, the pro peloton lost one of it’s one in a freak accident at the start of the race and helmets were mandated. Check this story from the AP about a delivery truck that ran over a cyclist’s head, “leaving him only with a concussion and a mangled helmet,” and tell me how cool you are by not wearing a helmet.
Somedays I roll out of bed and I think to myself “Mark, you are a god*&%$ed genius!”
Once in a while I have a brilliant idea. Like my super compact track bike design.
Back in 1999 while delivering pizzas on a 13” Fisher Ziggarat mtb with a 400mm seatpost, I noticed that I could launch an almighty sprint form a standstill since with the low top tube I had so much room to rock the bike. Coincidently, customers noticed that their pizzas were all scrambled in the box after I delivered them. Pizza aside, wouldn’t a track bike frame also benefit from loads of clearance? So started my 8 years of experimenting with track bike design.
For my new Sycip track bike, the tubing and fork will be the biggest differences from its predecessors. The geometry of the new frame will be the ultimate expression of what I laid out in my original Sycip and refined in my Sycip No2, which this latest bike (the 3rd true track frame) will replace. In this geometry, the top tube is equivalent to a 49cm bike, but the seat tube is cut down to 38cm. The bottom bracket is about 1cm higher than most track bikes (2 to 2.5cm higher than a road bike), and the front-center (bottom bracket to front axle dimension) is fairly long compared to a keirin frame. The head and seat angles are steep, but not markedly so.
The super-compact design gets the top tube down out of the way of my knees, so if the sprint begins at low speed (thus low cadence) I can really throw the bike side to side, putting everything into the acceleration. The long front-center makes the bike sure-footed when I lunge forward in the sprint so that the rear wheel stays glued down. There is a line of thought that says that a track bike should be twitchy fast in handling, but I think that a little stability is a good thing in the middle of a combat melee. You have to expect some contact, and most other riders outweigh me. My bikes handle well on a velodrome or on the road.
Would this geometry work for all track riders? Probably not, but then again design is tailored for me. Still, that original track frame changed hands a few times among messengers in Seattle after I sold it. No.1 was well liked by smaller riders, enough so that a local builder attempted to copy the design. The fact that the copy was a disappointment is a testament to the skills of Jeremy Sycip. Sadly, No.1 was stolen late last year. As for Sycip No. 2 that I currently ride, I had standing offers for it even before I committed to the newest frame.
While lacking the latest carbon technology, using bonded round tubes and lugs, the Trek Madone is still a favorite race bike contender with it’s predictable, solid handling, reasonable weight, and refined ride. A criticism of Trek is that they rely on 15-yr old technology in their frames. That changed when they started incrementally updating the frames based on the systems approach Lance and company took to bike racing.
What I noticed in the first years of Madones is that there’s a real road feel. Where carbon was always “wooden” and dull feeling, you can feel the road in the Madones. You can also throw that bike into a corner and know what to expect coming out the other side. It’s not the lightest carbon bike, but it’s also not sketchy and descends like it’s on rails.
For 07, the Wines of Washington team is racing on Team Issue Project One Madones – a custom paint job, with Shimano Dura Ace, Ritchey components, and my choice in Hed Jet 60s. I took this photo against a round-about backdrop in the Tri-Cities. We were there for Mother’s day and rode some good miles with old friends.
In upcoming review, we’ll feature the S-Works Tarmac SL, which is about as technologically advanced as a racing bike gets.