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Tech Update with Lennard Zinn – Specialized for 2010

When Specialized began making the bikes for Tom Boonen, he was not exactly complimentary about their stiffness. The company’s engineers worked hard to get him what he wanted, and when they delivered the S-Works Tarmac SL2 to the Quick Step team, the riders gave it a thumbs-up. Nonetheless, they decided for 2010 to again re-engineer the Tarmac from the ground up. Knowing that the SL2 was already a home run made the goals for the Tarmac SL3 different.

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By Lennard Zinn

Specialized 2010: 13.2 pounds is pretty light for a stock bike right out of the box.

Specialized 2010: 13.2 pounds is pretty light for a stock bike right out of the box.

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When Specialized began making the bikes for Tom Boonen, he was not exactly complimentary about their stiffness.

The company’s engineers worked hard to get him what he wanted, and when they delivered the S-Works Tarmac SL2 to the Quick Step team, the riders gave it a thumbs-up. Nonetheless, they decided for 2010 to again re-engineer the Tarmac from the ground up. Knowing that the SL2 was already a home run made the goals for the Tarmac SL3 different.

Rather than a project to come up with a bike its teams could embrace, the project was to raise the performance bar for production bikes, the ones you and I can buy at our local bike shops.

Of course, performance as generally been improved by making frames stiffer and lighter. But if it’s already super stiff – and stiff enough for Tom Boonen – is it an improvement to make it stiffer yet? Nevertheless Specialized engineer Chris D’Alusio and his design team set out to stiffen it torsionally and laterally without increasing its vertical stiffness.

Specialized 2010: SL3 aluminum dropouts before and after welding the cap over the hollow pocket.

Specialized 2010: SL3 aluminum dropouts before and after welding the cap over the hollow pocket.

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The ability to undertake that sort of fine-tuning is one of the beauties of working in carbon fiber. By adding ultra-high-stiffness “pitch” fibers to the SL3’s structure and by integrating the chainstays as a monocoque with the bottom bracket shell (the bottom bracket on the SL2 was part of the seat tube monocoque, and the chainstays were bonded to it), they were able to increase the rear triangle’s lateral stiffness by almost 20 percent.

At the front, stiffening ribs wrapped around the inner wall of the oversized head tube, giving the area more strength.

Specialized made use of ‘pitch’ fibers to stiffen key parts of the frame. The special fibers are so stiff they can’t be used on the bias; they cannot bend enough to be wrapped around a tube, even at 45 degrees to it. So, they are only used on the sides of the tubes, running in a linear direction.

The addition of pitch fibers along the sides of the front triangle tubes, along with the increased diameter of those tubes, meant that the frame’s torsional stiffness also increased by almost 20 percent.

The fork also gets some pitch fibers and a resulting increase in lateral stiffness.

The use of pitch fibers add to the overall stiffness of the frame with no weight increase. They have to be used carefully, however, as those pitch fibers are too brittle to be used throughout the bike. Used improperly, the bike might be very stiff but it would break easily. In some ways it would be like a steel frame made out of the high-temper steel used in premium knife blades.

Specialized 2010: Stiffening ribs inside a Tarmac SL3 head tube.

Specialized 2010: Stiffening ribs inside a Tarmac SL3 head tube.

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In order to carry the rear triangle stiffness from the chainstays into the seatstays and tie the whole structure together, the design needed very stiff dropouts. Neither a carbon dropout nor a traditional aluminum version was up to the task, so the company instead settled upon a hollow aluminum design. The dropout is forged with a large hollow in it, and a cap is welded over the pocket.

The seatstays are wide for high resistance against lateral flex. They are thin vertically for compliance and long-ride comfort.

In addition to the stiffness provided by the large-diameter bottom bracket shell accepting a BB30 crank, Specialized also made its S-Works SL carbon crank stiffer and lighter than before. Its separate carbon spider, available in standard and compact sizes, adds stiffness to the D-shaped carbon arms, and the 7050 Premium Aluminum chainrings are stiffer than before, too. And with ABEC-5-grade ceramic bearings, they require less energy to spin.

The bearings are pressed onto the 30mm spindle stubs that protrude from each arm and meet in the center at a splined Hirth joint, like Campagnolo, except larger and in aluminum.

Specialized 2010: The S-Works crank has ceramic bearings on its 2-piece 30mm spindle.

Specialized 2010: The S-Works crank has ceramic bearings on its 2-piece 30mm spindle.

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Specialized is now also selling the crank as an aftermarket item, since it is compatible with any BB30 frame. A 172.5mm set weighs 597 grams in standard and 573 grams in compact (34-50). Saxo Bank’s entire team runs the S-Works SL production crank (Quick Step runs Campagnolo, so Specialized puts a threaded shell on those bikes).

Stiffer is better?

D’Alusio says the stiffness increasek, just makes the frame better.

“You tried it,” he said to a room of journalists who had just ridden SL3s down from Snowbird ski area to Salt Lake City and back up again, “and now you know what I mean. There’s not a downside. The bottom bracket stiffness is better for sprinting, and the front-end torsional stiffness keeps it tracking better on high-speed turns.”

Indeed, it felt very stiff and stable on the rough, curvy descent, but the long climb was hardly the way to gauge its sprinting or out-of-the-saddle attacking of short hills. It was incredibly light, though. That I could feel.

This frame being the main tool for teams like Quick Step and Saxo Bank, the proof is in the pudding, and you can see it being used by Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, and the Schleck brothers in the Tour.

In a 56cm, Specialized claims a weight of 875 grams and says its “module,” including cranks, is 153 grams lighter than before and now sets the weight standard for a production model. A stock SL3 SRAM Red version with Zipp 202 wheels, TRP brakes, and a 175-gram Specialized handlebar weighs 13.1-13.2 pounds out of the box.

Specialized 2010: The Secteur: performance of the Roubaix at a low price.

Specialized 2010: The Secteur: performance of the Roubaix at a low price.

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Specialized does not use an integrated seat mast in any of its frames. Engineers say there is no upside in strength, stiffness or weight, just a downside in convenience. “Anybody getting a bike like this is likely to travel with it, and an integrated seat mast makes it hard to fit in a travel case,” says road engineering director Luc Callahan.

The least expensive Tarmac, the 105-equipped Expert, has received the trickle-down and now is the made in the same molds (with a different layup) as last year’s SL2. “It’s stiffer than the bike Levi Leipheimer won the Tour of Germany on in 2007,” says Callahan.

Now, for something completely different: Bikes for the cobbles

Winner of two straight Paris-Roubaix classics, the S-Works Roubaix SL2’s designers say, “we own the stones!”

The only thing the Roubaix SL2 shares with the Tarmac SL3 is the crank; everything else is built for compliance and comfort on long rides and on rough roads. New for 2010 are tubeless tires: Dura-Ace tubeless carbon wheels with S-Works Turbo Tubeless tires. It comes stock with a compact crank.

The Roubaix has a taller head tube, more relaxed angles, and longer chainstays, front center and wheelbase than the Tarmac. Its carbon fork has a 1-3/8-inch lower headset bearing, rather than a 1.5-inch. Seatstays and seatpost are built for compliance, damping vibration with Zertz elastomer inserts plugged into oval holes. There are no pitch fibers anywhere, and no high modulus fibers whatsoever in the seatstays, making them more compliant.

An entirely new bike for 2010 follows in the footsteps of the Roubaix and brings its ride-smoothing features down to a manageable price point for a lot more riders. It is called Secteur, the French word for the sections of pave (cobbles) in the Paris-Roubaix course. It has the exact same geometry as the Roubaix, but it is made out of aluminum. The top model has carbon seatstays and seatpost with Zertz inserts, and all models have carbon fork legs with Zertz inserts. The welds are smoothed off and the tubes are shaped for a look similar to the carbon Roubaix.

No-compromise women’s road bikes

Specialized has committed itself fully to women’s bikes and now has 23 women’s performance road bikes built on two platforms. The Ruby platform has been around for awhile – it’s the women’s equivalent of the Roubaix, built for performance with comfort. But now there is a full competition road race bike as well: the women’s equivalent of the Tarmac, and it’s called Amira.

Specialized 2010: The essential elements of a Tarmac SL3

Specialized 2010: The essential elements of a Tarmac SL3

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Women’s bike product manager Devon Chorney claims the S-Works Amira to be the lightest and stiffest production women’s racing frame. It is built with the Tarmac SL2 construction method, bonding together the same separate monocoque pieces, and it uses a tapered head tube with carbon bearing cups holding 1-1/8-inch top and 1-3/8-inch bottom headset bearings. The lower bearing is smaller than on the Tarmac in order to find a more appropriate balance of vertical compliance with ample torsional stiffness and steering precision for the strongest rider.

Amira comes in five sizes between 44 and 56cm, with the medium size being designed for a 5-foot-4-inch (160cm) woman. The touch points are women’s-specific, including narrower handlebars and shorter stem and a 167.5mm S-Works FACT crank on the smaller sizes.

The Amira’s considerable rear end stiffness is further enhanced with oversized chainstays and seatstays that are specifically molded for each size frame. Each size has its seatstays angling sharply inward from the brake bridge to the seat lug, like trusses against flex. And like the Tarmac, the seatstays are laterally wide for lateral stiffness and vertically thin for vertical compliance.

Specialized 2010: Zinn nearing Snowbird on a 62cm S-Works Tarmac SL3.

Specialized 2010: Zinn nearing Snowbird on a 62cm S-Works Tarmac SL3.

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With the Amira to deal with competition road racing, the Ruby now takes its place like the Roubaix in the men’s line and has been re-worked that way, rather than trying to find a compromise between racing and comfort as it did before. It now gets Endurance Road geometry similar to the Roubaix, with longer chainstays and a taller head tube. And of course, like the Roubaix, it has seatstays, fork, and seatpost designed for compliance with Zertz inserts. Chorney says that the re-work has increased the Ruby’s vertical compliance and vibration damping by more than nine percent.

While its vertical compliance has been improved, the Ruby’s torsional and lateral stiffness has been beefed up by around 15 percent, with a bulged down tube emanating from the 1-1/8-inch-bearing head tube (thinner than the Amira for more fork compliance), an enlarged BB30 bottom bracket area, and widened “Dog leg” seatstay design. At the same time, the down tube has been shifted down at the bottom bracket to make more room for the two water bottles. The size run has been expanded up to a 57cm. Like the Roubaix, it is offered with Dura-Ace tubeless carbon wheels with S-Works Turbo Tubeless tires and an S-Works BB30-compatible compact crank. It comes in S-Works, Pro, Expert, Comp, and Elite models in 44-57cm sizes.

Bringing this concept to the masses in the same way as the Secteur does for men, the new Dolce is the first bike in Specialized’s women’s category built for the new road rider, including its low price. It has the exact same geometry as the Ruby and is made of aluminum (the top model has carbon seatstays with Zertz elastomers).

As a way to make a difference with a disease affecting one in eight women, Specialized has expanded its commitment to the Susan G. Komen Foundation committed to finding a cure for breast cancer. The company has donated over $600,000 to the Komen foundation since 2007 and participates in three ways: (1) by having pink-ribbon branded products, including a Ruby model, a portion of whose sales go to the Komen foundation, (2) by putting on its “Passionately Pink” fundraising party every October at the company’s Morgan Hill, California, headquarters, and (3) by creating fund-raising events, including company president Mike Sinyard’s annual bike ride from Morgan Hill to the Interbike show in Las Vegas.

“Fitness may reduce a women’s incidence of breast cancer,” says Chorney, “so it is a natural fit for us as a company already committed to that to extend ourselves in this way.”

Specialized has made enormous efforts to cover the field for 2010 with road bikes for every rider. While the sky’s the limit to how much you can spend for ultimate performance and lowest weight, the wide range of high-performance Specialized models at relatively modest prices bodes well for its success in the current economy.


Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com),a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn. Zinn’s column appears here each Tuesday.

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