This quote from Sean Estes, Global PR manager Specialized, is the best lead to my second story about what the pros ride at the Spring Classics
The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are unique and beautiful races, and at the same time, extremely technical and exhausting. The many infamous cobbled sectors in these monuments increase the possibility of a tire puncture, and managing the replacement of wheels is one of the main issues for all competitors – especially those aspiring to a great result. In a time where bikes with disc brakes have not yet been adopted by all teams, there exists a discrepancy in mechanical assistance along the course. For these technical and strategic reasons, working closely with our teams and riders, we’ve decided to supply Tom Boonen (for whom Paris-Roubaix will be the last race of his career), and all of our riders competing at both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, with Roubaix bikes that have traditional rim brakes. This is a platform that’s UCI-approved and could be commercialized, that is if it’s determined to have enough consumer demand.
The first was about the Domane SLR and like Trek, the Specialized pros are racing rim brakes while the media, like me, are recommending you ride bikes with discs.
Setting the disc brake debate aside, we will see Specialized road suspension tech at Roubaix. They’ve got a “smoother is faster” offering in the tuned-ride category. Spesh’s approach isn’t to decouple the frame at the head and seat tube like Trek, but instead, argue against that as ineffective splay compared to axial (or vertical) compliance.
Again, their words
When it comes to compliance, there are two competing schools of thought. In one corner, there’s splay. In the other, there’s axial compliance. Essentially, splay is the fore & aft movement of the front axle, relative to the frame, as a result of any bending of the frame and fork. Meanwhile, axial (or vertical compliance) can be characterized as the movement of the handlebars, relative to the front axle, as a result of fork, frame, and stem compliance.
After testing splay v. axial suspension techniques and quantifying smooth with computational models derived from their relationship with Mclaren, Specialized found that vertical compliance better served the rider than splay.
In simpler terms, Specialized’s answer to Trek’s decouplers is a shock in the headtube that provides up to 20mm of travel.
According to Specialized, when the front wheel encounters rough terrain, the bike moves up towards your hands and preserves your forward momentum without slowing you down. As an aside, Stan’s No Tubes markets their tech similarly, stating that a flexy rim doesn’t slow you down either.
Specialized’s engineering believes that because the wheelbase isn’t changing throughout the suspension’s travel, you get the added benefit of extremely predictable handling.
In practice on the road, I’m initially not so sure about their claims. And that’s because I spent so much time riding the previous iteration of the Roubaix, a performance bike without suspension that offered all-day endurance riding comfort.
The original Roubaix changed the market with a tall head tube (to not look like a rec rider with an up-angled stem) relaxed geometry, a longish wheelbase, and windows in the tubing—filled with Zertz elastomeric dampers now absent from the product-line—to get what was considered at the time to be good vertical compliance.
I have very fond memories of that bike and maybe it’s not fair to directly compare it to what amounts to an entirely different bike, but that’s my point of reference. Also, read about compliance and the Scott Foil, which won Roubaix last year.
The difference between the S-Works Roubaix SL4 and what I’m riding now is what I’ll term “looseness.” Yes, like their archrival Trek, Spesh’s suspension tech totally works. And you can’t argue with the numbers when they get compiled by McLaren. But I can say the bike’s flavor of compliance feels less precise because of the handlebar and saddle movement; especially, the sensation of fork dive on hard braking. The “20 degrees of rearward arc compliance,” derived from moving the seatpost clamp down and elastomer saddle clamp also moves noticeably.
In comparison, I don’t notice Trek’s decouplers. At first, it feels like maybe your tires are a bit low over bumps and then it’s just how the bike rides.
I’m sure I’ll get used to the nuances of the Roubaix’s ride and can’t argue with anything else in their spec. I’m likely noticing aspects of the bike that many would not. That comes with the job of being a bike reviewer, and I consider the Tarmac a benchmark. It was just ridden to victory at the Tour of Flanders.
In the short history of bike manufacturers focusing on tuning the ride, Spesh’s Future Shock feels like there’s an upgrade already designed and I expect it’ll address the brake dive that’s inherent to a front suspension.
The Roubaix will absolutely take the edge off a long ride and in the lineage of endurance bikes has its place. It’ll likely win its famous namesake race.
I hope it does because I’m a Boonen fan too. If a rider only raced cobbles, then Spesh’s technology is better, but it’s a long season and most of Roubaix route is paved.
Unlike brakes or splay v. axial, there is no debate in traction. Everybody wants that, especially roadies riding on gravel. And, today, Spesh has announced their new S-Works Turbo, “Hell of the North” edition for Roubaix. If they can’t promote the benefits of disc brakes, then it’s suspension and tires….right?
In this point of bike design trajectory, one prediction I’ve made has come true—that’ll we’ll see systems from manufacturers instead of a chassis with components hanging off it. Complementing the increased vertical compliance of the Roubaix, Spesh has also developed (in the 28mm casing) an extended tread pattern that adds an extra 8mm in width, with diamond roughness in the center, and added sidewall protection.
A flat in Roubaix will cost a champion the race, for sure, so will an overly rough, punishing ride. I just imagine how much faster they could go with discs.
That tech will have to wait another year, but you can buy it now and I recommend you do.