Specialized’s new Roubaix: hydraulic suspension, improved aerodynamics, women’s-specific tweaks
The Ruby is dead, long live the Roubaix.
Specialized’s all-new Roubaix is tackling a lot of different fronts, and while the technology behind the new Future Shock 2.0 and the brand’s claim to have drastically improved the bike’s aero capabilities are certainly things to talk about, the biggest change for the brand is the elimination of a women’s specific model, its Ruby. That by no means suggests Specialized is backing away from its commitment to women; if anything, the brand appears to be pushing more than ever for equity and representation within the sport. What they have done is reexamine whether gender is a predictor of sizing or fit. Specialized’s data says no.
For almost 20 years, the bike industry has largely assumed that female body proportions are different than male proportions with shorter torsos and longer legs, and many bike brands, including Specialized, built bikes for women based on these assumptions. (These assumptions were supported or reinforced by surveys released by the U.S. military on body measurements of its recruits.)
There have also been critics of these assumptions for almost as many years, pointing out that the frames designed to address those different proportions often sacrificed performance or handling in some fashion. But for all practical purposes, the understanding that women have proportionally shorter torsos and proportionally longer legs than men has been a core tenet of women’s bike design until the last couple of years.
Since its purchase of Retül in 2012, Specialized has been able to capture fit data in a digital format that no single source had access to before. The archived data from the fit system includes 3D digitized body segment lengths, segment proportions, as well as the resulting fit coordinates. When Specialized crunched the numbers, it found no evidence of gender-based body length ratios, and in fact found more variability within either sex than between them.
Specialized has been making this change to its bike lines without a lot of fanfare for a while. It started with the Stumpjumper and Rhyme, offering what it calls a “shared platform,” which means the same geometry is applied across men’s and women’s bikes. The Rhyme comes with different touch-points, for example, the saddle, but is otherwise the same bike as the men’s version. Specialized launched the Diverge as a shared platform model, and, with the release of the Tarmac SL6, Specialized also retired the Amira, its women’s race bike.
Future Shock 2.0
The Future Shock 2.0 does two things: it adds hydraulic damping and cleans up the messy front-end that was an integral part of Future Shock 1.0.
The goal of the Future Shock remains the same: reduce rider fatigue and maintain contact with the ground to aid in both improved power efficiency and improved traction. Just like Future Shock 1.0, the newest iteration offers 20mm of travel at the steerer tube above the frame in order to provide compliance without negatively impacting handling. Unlike the original, 2.0 swaps its springs for a hydraulic system that controls both the compression and rebound damping, bringing this road bike’s suspended components closer in design to its flat-bar brethren.
Why the change? Hydraulic systems are predictable, smooth, and, most importantly, controllable. Specialized cites consistent feedback from its pro riders wanting to be able to turn the system on and off. And that’s exactly what this hydraulic system allows. Utilizing a knob that’s integrated into the top cap, you can open and close your suspension, just like the lockout on your mountain bike fork. Like other hydraulic suspension systems, Future Shock 2.0 will need servicing. Specialized recommends a 500-hour service interval.
The revamped aesthetics, which eliminate the spring cover around the steerer and create a cleaner overall integration with the frame, are another welcome change to the bike.
In addition to requests for damping control, Specialized said it received a lot of feedback noting the jarring disparity between the plushness of the front end and the stiffness of the back end. The Pavé Seatpost is meant to address that concern. It also borrows its D-shape design from the Tarmac SL6, making it more aerodynamic as well as more compliant. While the bike comes spec’d with a 20mm offset, a zero offset will be available.
With sizes from 44cm to 64cm, the Roubaix attempts to address the needs of a wide range of riders. And while its data-crunching didn’t reveal a need for frame-geometry differences, it did suggest that a 155mm saddle fits more women and a 143mm saddle fits more men. Because of that, and because women tend to ride smaller frame sizes, Specialized has chosen to spec frame sizes 52cm and smaller with 155mm saddles and frames 54cm and larger with 143mm saddles.
Specialized is also making a Team Line of framesets, available in sizes 53cm, 57cm, and 59cm. The Team Line has the same stack and reach as the corresponding Tarmac SL6 size. This is how many of Specialized’s pro riders are set up, in order to maintain the same position regardless of which bike they’re on. So, if you’re in the middle range of sizes and want the Roubaix plushness with a Tarmac fit, you can make that happen.
Specialized also increased tire clearance to 33c tires (up from the 28c of the previous edition). The increased clearance makes sense for a bike with the capabilities of the Roubaix. While the Diverge is still the adventure bike that can cross over from rough roads to light singletrack, the Roubaix follows the general market trend of wider tires on the road for increased comfort and traction. Threaded bottom brackets are also standard.
The Roubaix is still a performance-focused bike though. In fact, Specialized utilized its research from the Venge, the brand’s aero road bike, to create tube shapes for the Roubaix. Based on its own wind tunnel testing, the brands claims the new Roubaix is 22-24 seconds faster over 40km when compared to the previous Roubaix, or 8-10 seconds faster than the Tarmac SL6 depending on yaw.
How well does it ride?
I was able to spend a couple days testing the bike in its natural habitat: the pavé of Paris-Roubaix, as well as some of the steep punchy climbs that feature in the Tour of Flanders. I rode the Pro build with the 10r carbon frame, carbon CL wheels, and the new SRAM Force Etap AXS kit. The model will retail for $7,000. While it wasn’t the ultralight 11r carbon frame, it didn’t feel heavy or sluggish. The 49cm frame was set up using my measurements from a Retül fit, making it very similar to my own bike set up. The immediate impression was one of familiar comfort.
On the cobbles, the Future Shock makes perfect sense. While it didn’t make the Arenberg Forest pavé comfortable, it did provide an additional measure of control and did decrease the jarring. This was a benefit for a single sector of cobbles, but an even better addition to the bike’s design as the day progressed, and the miles and fatigue added up.
While riding some of the punchy climbs around Oudenaarde, Belgium, which feature in the Tour of Flanders, I noticed some bob when attacking smooth, cobble-free climbs out of the saddle. When I locked out the Future Shock, the bob was greatly reduced.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try the bike on long climbs or long descents, given the terrain of the region. Thus, I wasn’t able to judge if the bike would be the best choice for a long, switchback-filled descent where you’re constantly leaning the bike to either side at high rates of speed, or if the compression of the Future Shock would make the front end of the bike feel like it was diving into corners in a less-than-ideal way.
I also can’t speak to the actual aerodynamic gains of the latest Roubaix. What I can say is the bike is quick, light, comfortable, and plenty capable. If you plan to ride washboards or you do long rides on rough or pothole-filled roads, it will handle all of that with aplomb.