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Road Gear

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 review

The aero Venge fuses into the S-Works Tarmac race machine with exceptional ride qualities, aero performance, and a price tag to match.

Review Rating


Basics

An 800g aero frame built up into a 6.8kg / 14.99lb bike (size 56cm), including deep 51/60mm wheels and a power meter


Pros

A seemingly perfect blend of aero traits, light weight, adjustability, and ideal handling characteristics; excellent small-detail execution; integrated power meter

Cons

There are twelve thousand marks in this column; tubeless fans will be disappointed in the clincher-only wheels; handlebar ergonomics and low seat-tube mount might not work for everyone


Our Thoughts

Fair warning: This review is fairly gushing. The new Tarmac is incredible — as it damn well should be for the price!


Size Reviewed

56

Weight

6.8kg / 14.99lb

Price

$12,000

Brand

Specialized


With the S-Works Tarmac SL7, Specialized has managed to deliver all the things a bike racer would want – theoretical and practical – into one fast, lightweight, and comfortable bike. And holy cow, is it expensive.

Related:

S-Works Tarmac SL7
Photo: Ben Delaney

Aero Venge meets road-race Tarmac

For years, Specialized has had three road bikes: the endurance Roubaix for comfort, the aero Venge for minimal drag, and the Tarmac for all-around performance and racing. Now, the Venge is going away (except for sales as a frameset in a few countries), and Specialized has applied many of its aero lessons learned into the Tarmac SL7.

In some ways, designing aero shapes is the easy part; getting aero shapes to feel comfortable for a rider — whether in compliance in the seatpost or ergonomically at the handlebar — is trickier.

One of the incredible things about this bike is how much it feels like an excellent all-around race bike yet still acts in the wind like a time trial machine with drop bars.

Specialized claims the S-Works Tarmac is as fast in the wind tunnel (unique to the bike industry, the company has its own) as the previous generation Venge ViAS, yet it weighs a full kilogram less. VeloNews does not have a wind tunnel, but looking at the shape of the frame, wheels, and cockpit, this seems believable.

S-Works Tarmac cockpit
A svelte Aerofly II bar and integrated routing make for a fast front end. Photo: Ben Delaney

As always, it’s the full package of things that adds up to the total performance, and weight… and price. The frame’s hyper-optimized layup does triple duty as a laterally rigid chassis that weighs 800g (size 56cm), slices through the wind and doesn’t beat you up. Extra credit goes to the engineers of the seatpost, which isn’t an aero spine cracker but a luxury perch. The Aerofly II handlebar and integrated spacers definitely shave off grams of drag, and wheels and Turbo Cotton tires are among the best I’ve ever ridden.

At this price — $12,000! — the bike should feel and perform like this.

(Not so scary) fast wheel

The Rapide CLX wheels must account for a huge part of the fast feelings here. At 1,400g, the wheels are light for any depth, but exceptionally so for deep rims. This means accelerations are gratifyingly easy, whether sprinting up to speed or just standing up in a switchback.

But the aerodynamics shine as brightly. Simply letting go of the brakes on my local descent felt like I was on a scooter. The front is deep and fat, at 35mm wide and 51mm deep. The rear is 30mm wide but 60mm deep. Side winds are still noticeable, for sure, but I never got the dreaded wind slap in crosswinds, just a predictable pressure.

The Roval Rapide CLX wheels have 51mm and 60mm rims front and rear, respectively. Photo: Ben Delaney

In stark contrast to other high-end wheel makers, Roval has opted to make these clincher only; no tubeless tires here. While I am a tubeless evangelist for gravel widths and up, I’m decidedly meh about 25-28mm road tires, where in my experience sealant often can’t patch larger nicks and maintain high pressure. That to say, I’m not bothered by a clincher-only road wheel; but I could well be in the minority here.

Another thing to note: the new DT Swiss hub is crazy loud!

Ride notes – mountains, Monuments and small-group rides

I realize this will sound like gushing, but the new Tarmac handles like a road race bike should — light, agile, eager to accelerate, telepathic in steering, stops like a well-trained — but with the wind-cheating capacity of a dedicated aero bike.

Over a few hundred miles of riding, I took the bike up and down a few local mountain around Boulder, Colorado, jumped in two spirited small-group rides, and enjoyed ripping around the Colorado National Monument — home to Roll Massif’s Tour of the Moon.

When seated, or when accelerating out of the saddle, or even just picking the bike up, the S-Works Tarmac feels like an ultra-light race bike — which is visually contrary to the deep rims and all-around aero shaping.

Aero but adjustable cockpit

The Aerofly II handlebar has been brought over from Venge. There is internal  routing through the bar and the spacers, but the stem is relatively normal and thus far more adjustable. You can tweak the bar’s angle, and swap out the stem to get your fit dialed. Many aero bikes have fully integrated bar/stem designs, which look great to the eye and the drag charts, but aren’t necessarily ideal for your fit unless dumb luck lands you in precisely the right spot.

S-Works Tarmac integrated stem
Brake hoses route underneath the removable stem and through the snap-on spacers. This means you get the aero benefit of an integrated system without losing adjustability. Photo: Ben Delaney

Two other details I appreciated about the Aerofly II: The metal Barfly computer mount is solid and works with any major computer (and light or GoPro), and the naked top has tiny bumps for traction. Often, aero road bars have chintzy, plastic computer mounts that wobble and slippery tops. So kudos to Specialized for solving these problems.

Whether the shape of the wide tops actually works for you is a personal call. I’d just recommend that you always tuck your thumbs around the back of the bar.

SRAM Red eTap AXS

This top-end S-Works Tarmac comes in either Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 or the SRAM Red eTap AXS version that I tested. This wireless 12-speed group dressed the Tarmac in a 48/35 and 10-33 configuration, which offers a leisurely low end for climbing while still offering enough rope on the top end.

48/35? Yes, but it pairs to a 12-speed 10-33 cassette. Photo: Ben Delaney

The group here features a Quarq power meter, which measures power at the spider and calculates a left/right power balance.

You can also plug in satellite shifters, but the bike does not come stock with them.

S-Works Tarmac SL7 vs Trek Emonda SLR 9 and BMC Roadmachine

BMC may have been the first major company to roll out a $12,000 road machine with its Teammachine, and Trek has joined the club with its Emonda SLR 9. I am still astounded that road bicycles can fetch such a price with straightforward albeit high-end components.

Both the BMC and the Trek achieve similar goals with all-around luxury race performance that include some aero-saving claims without being one-trick ponies.

Potential issues

The handlebar shape could be an issue for some riders, particularly those with smaller hands or just those who spend a lot of time with their hands on the tops instead of on the hoods (or in the drops). Also, the water bottle mount on the seat tube is quite low. This is done for aerodynamic benefit, but the end result for riders is that you have to bend down more than normal to fetch and replace your bottle.

The Aerofly II handlebar is certainly faster in the wind than a round bar, but it could be a bad ergonomic fit for some riders. Photo: Ben Delaney

S-Works Tarmac SL7 verdict

With comfortable but agile road-race manners, elite aerodynamic design, and absurdly lightweight overall performance, the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 is a joy to ride. In terms of on-the-bike experience, it’s hard to find fault with the new S-Works Tarmac, providing that you’re on board with the aero road bar and clincher tires. But the price tag? That one is hard to dance around; the SL7 isn’t alone on this $12,000 mountain, but that doesn’t make it any less steep.