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Can Specialized save you five minutes over 40km?

Can Specialized save you five minutes over 40km?

Words by Lennard Zinn

Photos by Specialized and Lennard Zinn

If you ride these 2016 Specialized products together — the Venge ViAS bike, mounted up with new Roval CLX64 wheels and Turbo Cotton clinchers, Evade helmet, Sub 6 BG shoe, and Evade GC skinsuit — you will go more than five minutes faster over 40 kilometers versus other high-quality pro-team issue bike, wheels, tires, helmet, shoes, and clothes … at least that’s what the Specialized R&D department claims.

This might make your gullibility alarm go off. How can a collection of road cycling equipment save any rider five minutes over 40km without resorting to aero bars? And how can different riders of different speeds and power outputs get similar time savings?

You may know that air resistance increases with the cube of the velocity. Since the sum of the Specialized-calculated time savings is actually 5:32, that means a strong rider who can go 40km in 55 minutes in a road position would be going 10 percent faster! But you know that the aerodynamic drag on him and his bike will have gone up by a lot more than 10 percent. So obviously, you say, a strong Tour rider can’t expect to go that much faster.

Thing is, Specialized never quoted power savings for this equipment; it quoted time savings. We’re used to seeing wind tunnel results saying that with X piece of equipment going 40kph, there will be Y drop in aerodynamic drag force, resulting in Z savings in power. But Specialized said any rider using this stuff would save five minutes over 40km, and it has three levels of data to back it up. In addition to wind tunnel results (and, in the case of the Turbo Cotton tire, laboratory rolling-resistance results), it has measured times on a 20km course near its headquarters for a handful of riders, and it has computer simulations predicting similar results from McLaren Applied Technologies, the computer-modeling arm of the McLaren Formula 1 car-racing team.

Is your gullibility alarm still blaring? Consider Peter Sagan and yourself. Sagan rode the new bike, wheels, and shoes to a stage 6 win and the points jersey in the Tour de Suisse. He was also wearing the Evade helmet and the zero-rise handlebar on a 143mm stem. That black points jersey is not the Evade skinsuit, however. Mark Cavendish was also riding the Venge ViAS with a 25mm-rise handlebar and Evade helmet at the Tour de Suisse, but to take full advantage, the legs have to be going well, too.

Because in a 40km solo ride he’d be going faster, Sagan will get a greater increase in watts saved due to aerodynamics with the same change in equipment as you would. That’s because drag increases with the cube of the speed, and the corresponding increase in power output goes up in proportion to the increase in drag force (because power is equal to force X distance divided by time).

Think of time savings as water pouring into a bucket. Sagan, since his power savings are so much higher with the new equipment than yours are, turns the faucet up high, but he pulls the bucket away sooner because he’s done with his 40km sooner; that limits the total water collected in the bucket. Because our power savings would be lower for the same change in equipment, we would have the faucet on a lower flow rate. But since we’re out there longer, our bucket stays under the faucet longer and ends up with a similar amount of water in it as Sagan’s does.

Specialized has come up with a time savings number for each individual piece of equipment, adding up to over five minutes of total predicted time savings.

S-Works Venge ViAS bike, with Roval CLX64 wheels — 120 seconds saved

Claim: The new Venge ViAS bike with 64mm-deep Roval CLX 64 wheels is 120 seconds faster over 40km than a Specialized Tarmac SL4 with 40mm-deep wheels.

The bike sells for a cool $12,500 with Di2 or as a module for $5,800 and has a number of separate, unique features.

Brakes: Possibly most unique about the Venge ViAS are its hinge-type brakes extending behind the fork crown and off the rear of the seat tube. By mounting at the crown, rather than doing a V-brake-type of arrangement as others have, Specialized didn’t have to add beef to the fork legs; the crown is already plenty beefy.

The rear brake extending off the back of the seat tube is protected from the wind by the water bottle, adding no aerodynamic drag. That location also eliminates the side-side alternating rub of the wheel against the brake pads with hard, out-of-saddle pedaling. There is no “hidden” brake under the bottom bracket that the wind can see even if you can’t.

Specialized has an in-house brake-testing machine, which its engineers used to match the performance of a Dura-Ace brake. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to hook up, though. The cable is hidden the entire way inside the frame and fork, and it pops out at the brake and makes some tight curves.

Tube shapes: The Venge’s down tube is two aero shapes — not a single shape, and it is designed with two bottles on the bike in mind. The upper half of the down tube tapers to the top and forms the trailing edge of the wheel, tire, and head tube. The aero section of the tube flips 180 degrees in the middle. The lower half of the down tube is the leading edge of the stuff behind it (bottles, seat tube), and it’s also critical to a bike’s stiffness. Making it as big as possible at the bottom bracket stiffens the frame up, and this is balanced with aerodynamic consequences.

The head tube is as narrow as possible while maintaining front-end stiffness. Its lower skirt was redesigned a number of times to obtain the narrowest shape while still allowing big enough headset ball bearings and steering tube.

The seat stays meet low to cut drag, and the top-tube slope is combined with a tube shape to decrease drag as well.

Stem and Handlebar: Specialized has cleaned up the aerodynamics of the stem and handlebar, but without going to a non-adjustable one-piece stem/bar like Trek has. After their collaborators at McLaren laughed at a traditional stem clamped onto a handlebar, noting that it looked like plumbing, Specialized engineers made a handlebar clamp with two bolts that go right through the bar. The round clamping area with oval holes front and back allows the bar to rotate as well as to be interchanged to alter width and/or rise. At the same time, it also allows fully internal routing of cables through the bar and stem, and into the frame. The cables are not visible at all until they pop out at the derailleurs and brakes.

The handlebar is thin and aero-shaped on either side of the stem clamp, but since the bar’s top is already perpendicular to the wind, Specialized built in much of the height adjustability of the bike’s front end into the handlebar. It comes with either a flat top or with 25mm of rise, which raises the brake levers the same as a 6-degree, 110mm stem would.

Wheels: As Specialized road engineering manager Mark Cote says, “narrow is aero,” yet this bike and wheels are optimized in the wind tunnel for faster-rolling/better-cornering 24mm wide tires, not 19mm or 21mm. Cote claims that the CLX64 is the first spoked wheel with performance in crosswinds on par with a disc wheel.

When compared to a standard aluminum wheelset, Specialized claims the CLX64s are 44 seconds faster over 40km in no wind or in a headwind, and in crosswinds, they’re up to 104 seconds faster, depending on wind angle.

Happily, Specialized found in the wind tunnel that the drag was unchanged between internal and external spoke nipples. So this wheel is easily adjustable for spoke tension, something often lacking on deep aero wheels. Flat spokes did make an improvement over round ones, though, so the CLX64 is built up with DT Swiss Aerolite butted-and-bladed spokes.

Sagan is riding the tubular version, and other riders are using the clincher wheels with the Turbo cotton clincher tire.

The Roval CLX64 wheelset sells for $2800/pair and is tubeless compatible.

Fitting: Since there are only a couple of oval, skirt-shaped aero headset spacers possible, which — along with two optional handlebar rises — limits the magnitude of variation of the height of the hands, proper fitting of the bike is critical. Specialized worked with Retul on a fitting tool to transfer the stack/reach of a rider’s existing road bike to the Venge. It determines which size of frame and which combination of stem, bar, and spacers is required to duplicate the fit.

S-Works Evade skinsuit — 96 seconds saved

Claim: The new Evade GC skinsuit is 96 seconds faster over 40km than a standard pro-fit jersey and bib shorts.

In development for over three years, the suit fits very tightly without air-grabbing bunches or seams. For practicality in road racing, it has a full-length zipper and three back pockets, as well as Cold Fabric to reflect heat normally absorbed by dark colors. Cuffless, welded sleeve openings with seamless, golf ball-like Dimplex fabric at the shoulders reduce air drag. Panels at the back and legs reduce weight and increase fatigue-reducing muscle compression.

Compare this with shaved legs, which Specialized’s aero engineers claim trim around 76 seconds off of a rider’s 40km time, depending on where he or she lines up on the “wookie spectrum.”

The S-Works Evade Skinsuit sells for $500 and comes in 11 sizes.

S-Works Evade helmet — 46 seconds saved

Claim: The Evade helmet is 46 seconds faster over 40km than an S-Works Prevail helmet. This is based on testing of Evade vs. Prevail helmets on over 60 riders in the company’s “Win Tunnel.”

Profiled similar to Specialized’s S-Works McLaren TT helmet, the Evade is also designed for comfort, featuring numerous front air vents and rear exhaust ports. The Trifix web-splitter fit system combines height adjustment with a dial tensioner.

The S-Works Evade helmet sells for $250.

S-Works Sub 6 shoes — 35 seconds saved

Claim: The S-Works Sub 6 Shoes are 35 seconds faster over 40km than 2015 S-Works shoes. This is without shoe covers, but with “Warp Sleeve” lace covers. At 170 grams per shoe, the S-Works 6 shoe is also among the world’s lightest and is the shoe in which Alberto Contador won the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

Who knew there was much to be gained aerodynamically with shoes? Again, “narrow is aero,” and these shoes are very trim and contour-hugging around the heels. In fact, Specialized has wind-tunnel results demonstrating that trim shaping makes significantly more aerodynamic difference than shoe covers, and that in most cases shoe covers do not actually improve aerodynamics.

Like previous Body Geometry shoes, the S-Works 6 shoes were designed in conjunction with Dr. Andy Pruitt and scientifically tested by the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM). Biomechanist Rob Pickels performed the tests at BCSM and found on a standing-start 10-second sprint, all test subjects reached maximum watts around one second sooner and could sustain the max watts longer than with the predecessor shoes. Nonetheless, this time savings is based entirely on aerodynamics; any additional time savings due to greater pedaling efficiency are not measured or included in the tally.

Pruitt originally designed the Body Geometry shoe line as a way of reducing repetitive-stress injuries to riders’ joints, mainly by tipping the foot bed slightly to the outside. The findings of improved performance and power transfer were gravy, and subsequent peer-reviewed medical journal articles attest to this.

The new heel cup is injection-molded and interlocks like a jigsaw piece with the outsole to perfectly and repeatedly maintain the volume and location of the heel cup. This is in contrast to most shoe building, in which uppers are nailed to cardboard insoles and then glued to the outsoles, making precision difficult.

The “Stroble-construction,” lightweight, durable, and breathable perforated synthetic microfiber laser-cut upper is a single piece integrated with the insole that wraps around and glues to the opposite side to guarantee consistent fit. This is glued directly to the carbon outsole. Again, this is in contrast to gluing and lasting on a board and then to the outsole. The fit is snug, as it is designed to lock the foot into place, and testers have complained the snug fit around the edges makes the shoe harder to get on and off. A lightweight, non-stretch, aerospace-grade material that’s used in spacecraft parachutes surrounds the heel and instep. The closures on the S-Works 6 shoes are BOA S2-Snap twist buckles, and the S-Works Sub 6 shoes tighten with laces.

The Powerline carbon outsole is thicker along the inboard edge to raise the big toe higher than the little toe as on other BG shoes, and it’s Specialized’s most rigid shoe. Rather than three cleat holes, it has three cleat slots with offset T-nuts to allow more cleat-position options; the cleat can go back 5mm further than other shoes.

S-Works 6 shoes sell for $400/pair, while Sub 6 lace-up shoes sell for $325/pair.

S-Works Turbo tire — 35 seconds saved

Claim: The S-Works “700x24c” Turbo Cotton tire is 35 seconds faster over 40km in rolling resistance alone compared to one of the world’s best-selling tires, the Continental Grand Prix 4000.

This is the tire Tony Martin made famous. Judging by rolling resistance results Velo has obtained from the Wheel Energy lab in Finland, Specialized has done its homework with the Turbo Cotton tire. The handmade, 320TPI open-tubular casing, with thin polyester/cotton threads lightly coated with latex rather than vulcanized, make it supple and able to absorb small road imperfections without robbing more energy by deflecting the entire bike and rider.

There are other open tubulars with similar casings on the market, but Specialized has also worked hard on its Gripton tread compound and BlackBelt puncture-protection strip to achieve rolling-resistance results considerably lower than open tubulars of competitors.

The tire is labeled as 700x22c, but when installed on the Roval CLX64 rim, which has an internal rim width of 21mm, it measures 24mm wide. It weighs 210 grams and sells for $80.