Groundbreaking technology, all wrapped up in a sleek little package that would slip unnoticed to the untrained eye

The new Roubaix features groundbreaking technology wrapped in a sleek little package that would slip unnoticed past the untrained eye.​

Lowdown: 2017 Specialized Roubaix

The newest iteration of the Specialized Roubaix is a game changer. It's the lightest frame that Specialized has ever built, an unexpected title for a bike built to perform on the rugged terrain after which it was named. It also features a groundbreaking vibration damping system that is all but guaranteed to make big waves as it rolls onto the international market this fall. And as you'd expect from any new Specialized product, the bike features an improved aerodynamic profile over previous generations. Developed in close collaboration with McLaren Applied Technologies, the new Roubaix lays claim to some lofty performance advantages over the many other "endurance" category road bikes on the market. Check out this video from Specialized and then read our full review to find out more.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-fBm6bCmcM

Available: Purchase and pre-order nowPrice: $2600-$10,000
Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61Rating:
5 Stars
5 out of 5 stars
Frameset Weight: 1230g (size 56 cm); 290g (futureshock)
Stat Box


Pluses

Minuses
  • Lightest Specialized frame
  • New design may not appeal to all
  • Improved aerodynamic profile
  • No lock-out mechanism
  • Improved traction and handling
  • Increased comfort and power transfer
  • Disc brakes come standard

Review: 2017 Specialized Roubaix

Gathered around the dinner table one evening in Kortrijk, Belgium, Duncan Bradley engaged us in a bit of philosophical conversation that was perfectly astute considering that which had brought this rag-tag assortment of cyclists to the table. Bradley is the head of high-performance design at McLaren Applied Technologies, a brand which made its name in the performance auto industry and Formula 1 racing. Lately, McLaren has been applying the same principles of high tech, data-driven design to a host of different industries, including cycling. Their unique partnership with Specialized was what brought us together on this particular evening. We were here for the unveiling of Specialized's newest offering, the entirely revamped 2017 Roubaix.

The McLaren badge of honor. Photo by BrakeThrough Media

The McLaren badge of honor. Photo by BrakeThrough Media​

This iconic design, the arguable leader of the "endurance" category, already breaks the mold on what a road race bike should look like. It's been scoffed at for it's relaxed geometry. It's been burned at the stake for it's innovative vibration damping features. But the Roubaix has proven, time and time again, that the traditional concept of a road bike is far too one-dimensional to be fast in all conditions. The tried-and-true Roubaix has been ridden to victory in the fabled cobbled classics many, many times over the years, most notably by Belgium's Tom Boonen, one of the best classics riders of all time. Fittingly, Boonen joined in on one of our test rides to answer questions about the bike that he and his Etixx-QuickStep teammates will be competing on next season.

Tom Boonen of Etixx-QuickStep demonstrating the goods.

Tom Boonen of Etixx-QuickStep demonstrating the goods.​

"It's very compliant," said Boonen. "But that doesn't mean it's not responsive."

Compliance is precisely what is needed in wheel-driven sports, across the board. How fitting that McLaren should be the one to convince the stubborn traditionalists of the cycling world that the same concepts of compliance apply to a bicycle as they do to a car. With the new Roubaix, Specialized has taken the mantra, "smoother is faster" to a new level.

The Roubaix at home on the cobbles.

The Roubaix at home on the cobbles.​

Not all compliance is created equal, though. Axial compliance (the vertical sort), comes at a huge advantage to splay compliance (the horizontal sort). Specialized tested both along with all of the critical performance metrics. And while splay was shown to result in comfort gains for the rider, vertical compliance offers many of the same metrics for comfort but is "off the charts" in regards to offering measurable performance gains. Thus the futureshock, the star in the new Roubaix's design.


This key feature is offered as a replaceable spring-loaded cartridge, offering 20mm of travel above the head tube. The futureshock, combined with the Specialized CGR seatpost and more minor developments in the rear-end of the bike, makes for a 5.1% gain in vertical compliance compared to the SL4 Roubaix and other competitors in this category (including Trek's Domane), claims Specialized. This equates to a more comfortable ride and what Specialized is claiming to be 3 seconds of time savings at all fitness levels over 40km.

The bike's rear end features seat stays that attach the seat post below the top tube, along with a CGR seat post, which actually interfaces with the frame a bit differently via an elastomer junction inside the larger diameter seat tube. Photo by BrakeThrough Media

The bike's rear end features seatstays that attach the seat post below the top tube, along with a CGR seat post, which actually interfaces with the frame a bit differently via an elastomer junction inside the larger diameter seat tube. Photo by BrakeThrough Media​

The new frame is the lightest Specialized has ever built, despite the fact that it's built to perform in far rougher conditions than most of its predecessors. This is due to advancements in carbon technology and layup. The bike's futureshock system weighs 290 grams, enough to tip the scales in excess of the previous iteration of this bike, but just barely. Total system weight (frame, fork, and futureshock) is up 16g over the SL4 iteration. This makes for an acceptable margin considering the incredible advancements in performance we see with this new model.

Continue to page 2 to learn more about the 2017 Specialized Roubaix »


Even on the smoothest of roads, the Specialized Roubaix rolls smooth and efficiently. Photo by BrakeThrough Media

The Specialized Roubaix rolls smooth and efficiently. Photo by BrakeThrough Media​

As can be expected of any new Specialized product, the bike is now more aerodynamic than the SL4 Roubaix. It features disc brakes, standard equipment on even the base Elite model at $2600.

S-Works Roubaix frameset, complete with CGR seat post, Futureshock unit, and SWAT storage unit above bottom bracket.

The S-Works Roubaix frameset, complete with CGR seat post, futureshock unit, and SWAT storage unit above the bottom bracket.​

Riding the new system, as Specialized prefers to call it, was a enlightening experience. On our first day at press camp in Kortrijk, we were taken on a loop around the city and across some rural paved roads. Most of us were bunny hopping sidewalks and intentionally slamming through every pothole in sight just to get a taste, misunderstanding a critical component in this system. On the smooth, dry pavement, this bike performs like any other. However, it takes some serious mental acrobatics to "get beyond" the initial shock of the futureshock system. In the parking lot scenario, it feels odd. The seasoned rider yearns to dismiss this system as a marketing ploy. It feels like a bike with a loose headset. But I gave it a chance anyway.

On the cobbled corners, especially at speed, the Roubaix's true beauty shines through.

On the cobbled corners, especially at speed, the Roubaix's true beauty shines through.​

I rode this bike in all conditions. On the smooth stuff, on the cobbles, off road, and on everything in between. In its intended application, the 2017 Roubaix is remarkable. I had the chance to compare ride feel on the cobbles to the SL4 Roubaix and I was floored. The SL4 Roubaix performs better than a standard road frame on the cobbles, but this advantage is hardly even a comparison to the new bike.

The 2017 Roubaix is a game changer on the rougher stuff. But even on the smoothest bits of roadway, where most riders will probably spend the majority of their time, any concerns about power output or the like soon dissipate.

Quick comprehension quiz? What do the Roubaix and an F1 car have in common?

Quick comprehension quiz? What do the Roubaix and an F1 car have in common?​

To back up this statement, I offer the Formula 1 race car as a most fitting example. Suspension is an integral piece of this system. Yet this car is designed explicitly for on-road travel. This is because there is no drawback aside from weight, but that marginal weight gain is offset in a huge way by performance gains in traction and stability. For even the smallest bumps, hit at speed, physically displace a bike's contact with the ground. Needless to say, you're not getting any traction if your tires are suspended in midair. Be it on the cobbles of Northern Europe, or the backroads of Northern California, road bikes should keep their tires on the ground whenever that is the rider's goal.

The 2017 Specialized Roubaix.

The 2017 Specialized Roubaix.​

The aforementioned Duncan Bradley was a key player in the collaboration between McLaren and Specialized for the development of the new Roubaix. His detailed understanding of the countless variables that go into the idea that smoother is faster can be a bit mind boggling. But Bradley put it far more simply that evening in Kortrijk as we awaited our frites.

"There's a key principle in driving technology that is behind every successful technological innovation," he explained. "We have so many data points at our fingertips now, so many variables that were once unknown that are now explicitly quantifiable."

The trick in his business, just as applicable to super cars as it is to bikes, is balancing the high tech innovations derived from all this analysis with much more delicate principles of human psychology - namely, control.

Out-of-the-saddle sprinting feels a bit odd at first, but is ultimately uncompromised (yes, there's a heap of data there). Photo by BrakeThrough Media

Out-of-the-saddle sprinting feels a bit odd at first, but is ultimately uncompromised. Photo by BrakeThrough Media​

"At this point, we could make any car, any bike, perform flawlessly with the right amount of analysis and testing," added Bradley. "But not many people would want to drive that car, or ride that bike."

So with all this data at our fingertips, McLaren and Specialized have asked a very basic question: Why not continually push that limit, between the doldrums of the self-driving car and the most basic horse-driven wagon? By asking that question, and coming to this answer, we've arrived at the 2017 Specialized Roubaix.

For more information visit www.specialized.com.