First Ride: Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert

Is the new Tarmac the one road bike to rule them all?

Pro Review Road Bike

Specialized has lifted the veil on the latest version of its iconic road race bike, the Tarmac. The Tarmac SL7 breaks from the Tarmac legacy with an aero-inspired silhouette and wind tunnel data that puts this road race bike ahead of Specialized’s own wind-cheating Venge ViAS.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Highlights

  • New frame design balances aerodynamics and weight savings
  • Claimed complete weight of 14.77lbs / 6.7kg for the complete bike (56cm frame, S-Works Di2 kit, no pedals)
  • Claimed frame weight of 800g (painted, size 56cm)
  • Claimed to be faster than the Venge ViAS in a wind tunnel
  • BSA threaded bottom bracket
  • 32mm tire clearance
  • Price range: $5,000-$12,000
  • Available now

The End of the Road Race Quiver?

For years, cycling companies have sought to design road bikes that shaved seconds off the clock and grams from the scale. In many instances, these were competing goals that led to the development of purpose-built, aero bikes, and feather-light climbing bikes.

Aero bikes are fast through the wind, but frequently carry a weight penalty resulting from the large airfoil tube shapes of the fork blades, downtube, and seat tube. At the other end of the spectrum are climbing bikes that sit at the limit of the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit and feature slender framesets with less consideration for aerodynamics. This horses for courses approach has become commonplace, but as composite technology and aerodynamic modeling improves, road race bikes are blending back into singular platforms that slice through the wind and are light as the sport’s governing body will allow.

The Tarmac SL7 is a prime example of this coalescence. “No matter how fast the Venge was, no matter how well the SL6 handled in the mountains, we knew choosing between the two meant our riders had to make compromises on race day. We just weren’t okay with that. That’s where the new SL7 came from, we were simply unwilling to allow those compromises anymore,” said Cameron Piper, Specialized’s road product manager.

The SL7 has some impressive stats.

The SL7 has some impressive stats.

Tarmac SL7 Frame Features

In order to create one frame that’s faster in every riding scenario, Specialized’s Tarmac development team targeted the elements that had the greatest impact on aerodynamics. The Tarmac’s frontal silhouette was minimized with full internal cable routing, slender fork blades, an hourglass headtube that’s as narrow as the headset bearings will permit, dropped seatstays that sit inline with the fork blades, and a seat tube and seatpost with truncated airfoil profiles. The top-tier Tarmac builds round out the aero features with the S-Works Aerofly II handlebar featured on the Venge. Specialized claims the SL7 is 45 seconds faster over 40km than the Tarmac SL6 (both with S-Works Di2 builds.)

While the Venge served as Specialized’s benchmark for aerodynamic improvements, the previous generation SL6 Tarmac served as the target for ride quality, handling and weight.

Extensive analysis of the carbon layup allowed Specialized to drop the frame weight to a scant 800g (S-works frame, size 56cm, painted.) The Tarmac SL7 Pro and Expert models use our a slightly heavier carbon layup and have a frame claimed weight of 920g (Size 56.)

Most manufacturers are below the UCI’s minimum 6.8kg mandate these days, so this isn’t impressive in itself. What is remarkable—or at the very least refreshing for professional and home mechanics around the world—is the return to the tried and true 68mm BSA 1.37×24 threaded bottom bracket. Another mechanic-friendly nod is the clean and clever integration of the Di2 junction box into the seatpost.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Pricing and Availability

The SL7 Tarmac is currently offered in the S-Works through Expert levels. For now, at least, the SL6 steps into entry-level, Sport and Comp price points. Specialized offers the S-Works and Pro models with both SRAM and Shimano build options. The SL7 is available now through Specialized retailers.

  • Tarmac SL7 S-Works Di2 $12,000
  • Tarmac SL7 S-Works eTap $12,000
  • Tarmac SL7 Pro eTap $7,000
  • Tarmac SL7 Pro Di2 $7,000 Tarmac
  • SL7 Expert Di2 $5,000 Tarmac
  • SL7 SW Frameset $5,000
  • Tarmac SL7 10R Frameset $3,000
  • Tarmac SL6 Comp $3,500
  • Tarmac SL6 Sport $2,600
  • Tarmac SL6 Base $2,000

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert First Ride Impressions

I’ve been testing the Expert-level SL7 for several weeks now, so this isn’t a true first ride nor is it a full review.

The “entry-level” SL7 Expert model, features a Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain, round alloy bar in place of the Aerofly II carbon model and an alloy DT Swiss R-460 wheelset. After getting a feel for the stock build, I installed a Roval Rapide CLX wheelset (shown in photos) to test the SL7 with what will be a popular upgrade. Weight for my stock SL7 Expert is 16.87-pounds. Swapping the stock wheelset for the Roval Rapid CLX dropped the weight to 16.2-pounds.

Against the wind, the SL7 has much in common with the Venge. It immediately feels swift and carries speed with ease. Crosswind performance is excellent. The Tarmac’s frameset shrugs off gusts. Even with the deeper, Rapide CLX wheelset installed, handling in blustery conditions is excellent.

The SL6 is one of my favorite road bikes of all time—the fit and handling just felt right for me. Thankfully, the lauded handling of the SL6 was preserved by carrying the same geometry numbers over to the SL7. Initially, I was concerned that the larger diameter seatpost would transmit more road buzz from the frame to the rider. If it does, it’s by a negligible amount.

Tarmac SL7 Early Verdict

Specialized appears to have set a new benchmark for what road race bikes are capable of. The lack of entry-level SL7 builds is disappointing. We hope to see the SL7 line expand to more attainable price points in the coming months. In the meantime, the SL7 does pack impressive performance into a frame that balances weight savings with aero gains. If you’re a rider with a fleet of race bikes in your garage the SL7 will allow you to consolidate your quiver— a simple wheel swap will let you transition from crits to climbing. Check back for our long-term review.

About the author: Josh Patterson

Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998, and has been writing about mountain biking and cyclocross since 2006. He was also at the forefront of the gravel cycling movement, and is a multi-time finisher of Dirty Kanza. These days, Josh spends most of this time riding the rocky trails and exploring the lonely gravel roads around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.


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Comments:

  • buh says:

    your title is:
    +++++++++++++++++++++++
    First Ride: Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert
    Is the new Tarmac the one road bike to rule them all?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    but then you list the specs of one of the other bikes.

    not sure, but i think you have the specs for the “Di2” frame (you do, i admit, list “DI2 kit”, which, if I have figured out correctly, actually means DA Di2 vs. the Ultegra Di2 model–which is the “pro” frame. there is quite a big weight diff. in both the frames and the build.

    Specialized Tarmac SL7 Highlights
    New frame design balances aerodynamics and weight savings
    Claimed complete weight of 14.77lbs / 6.7kg for the complete bike (56cm frame, S-Works Di2 kit, no pedals)
    Claimed frame weight of 800g (painted, size 56cm)

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