The Santa Cruz Mountains provided our testing grounds for Specialized’s comfort bike.
The Specialized Roubaix helped usher in the endurance/sportive category of road bikes nearly a decade ago, and Specialized still promotes the family of bikes to riders who are looking for high performance without back-cracking geometry. For 2013 however, the Big Red S added SRAM’s Red hydraulic road disc brake system to its top-end model, the Roubaix SL4. Weight of the brake set is 449 grams per wheel, which includes the lever, caliper, hose and 160mm HSX rotor. MSRP for the complete bike is $8,500.
According to Sean Estes, Specialized’s global public relations manager, Roubaix owners tend to use their bikes for longer, adventure-driven rides across a wide variety of surfaces, and in all types of weather. The sizable clearance on the Roubaix’s rear triangle and front fork are ideal for these types of rides, where fatter tire choices are often the norm. Mating the model with disc brakes — which perform better in the rain — seemed like a no-brainer.
“Given the increase in performance it seems like a great option for a lot of riders,” Estes said.
The SRAM Red hydraulic road disc brakes have 160mm rotors for max stopping power.
We rode the Roubaix SL4 on a series of roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains just east of the coastal town of Pescadero to see how the rig fared on the region’s steep descents and patchy pavement. Full disclosure, we owned a Roubaix Pro model back in 2005 and loved the comfort and compliance of that bike. However, that rig felt like a noodle on the climbs and cornered like a luxury yacht.
The disc brakes gave the bike a more stable feel through the tight turns.
That was not the case with the SL4. A super stiff integrated bottom bracket with ceramic bearings helps the Roubaix SL4 zip forward when we pushed on the pedals. The front end has been reworked since 2005, as have the pencil-thin seat stays and sloping top tube.
The Roubaix SL4 climbed wonderfully up Pescadero Creek road, however it was on the descent that our eyes were opened. Unfamiliar with the downhill, we chose to ride conservatively at first, only to realize we could open the throttle into the turns. Yes, the 1039mm wheelbase added stability through turns. But the disc brakes allowed us to scrub speed in tiny modulated increments, which gave an added feeling of control. While some popular lightweight road calipers can feel grabby in high-speed turns, the hydraulic disc brakes did not.
We even came back with some Strava bragging rights. Our time on the 573-foot twisting descent slotted in as the 6th fastest for the segment, titled “Haskins Down,” even though we had no prior knowledge of the road. Yes, we handily dropped our riding buddies. And it felt great.