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FIRST LOOK: Specialized Tarmac SL7 Road Bike

   Words by David Hicks

   on 28/07/2020 17:00:17

Specialized Tarmac SL7

Aero, stiff, light. When it comes to choosing a road bike, you’ve always had to compromise - aero and stiff, but heavy. Light and stiff, but as aerodynamic as a house brick. But now, Specialized claims that the brand new Tarmac SL7 ticks all those boxes, with no compromises.

Aero, stiff, light...choose all three.

One bike to rule them all

The Specialized Tarmac has, for the last twenty years, been one of the headliners in the professional road racing peloton and has always delivered with low weight and near-perfect handling. As the sport changed and riders looked towards aerodynamics, the Venge emerged, and so Specialized had two of the best bikes available - the Tarmac for grand tour specialists, and the Venge for sprinters and soloists.

But with professional races getting faster with more climbing, and riders choosing the best bike for that day, ultimately there was a compromise. Cameron Piper, Product Manager at Specialized explains; “No matter how fast the Venge was, no matter how well the Tarmac 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”

Key features

  • 45 seconds faster over 40km
  • 800g frame, 6.7kg total weight
  • Internal cable routing, new Tarmac stem
  • Roval Rapide wheels
  • 32mm tyre clearance
Shop Specialized Tarmac >

Aerodynamics

The goal with the Tarmac SL7 was to make the fastest lightweight race bike available, without sacrificing handling, and it unmistakeably draws on design features from the Venge. The result? A bike that is a whole 45 seconds quicker over 40 kilometres than the current Tarmac SL6.

To capture those gains, Specialized have used their Free Foil library to find the most aerodynamic tube shapes in key areas of the bike, without losing sight of Tarmac trademarks like low weight and sharp handling. The frame has updated shapes in the seat tube, seatstays, headtube and fork blades - the result of a lengthy iterative process with different ply and composite patterns to find the most aerodynamic shapes possible within the bounds of the stiffness and weight targets set by the previous generation Tarmac.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Aerodynamics
Specialized Tarmac SL7 weight

While the frame is the heart of the new Tarmac’s aerodynamic performance, that total improvement wouldn’t have been possible without a component specification to match - and has one eye on weight too.

One of the first things you notice with the SL7 is the complete lack of exposed cables, tucked away into Specialized’s Aerofly II aero handlebar, to improve leading-edge aerodynamics. The cables and hoses route under a new, Tarmac-specific, stem which saves an extra 45 grams over the similar version used on the Venge. This new stem comes with an integrated computer mount to keep your riding stats front and centre.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 stem

Besides the new cockpit, the SL7 rolls on the new Roval Rapide wheels at S-Works and Pro level. Designed to be the fastest all-round wheelset in the world, the Rapide has different depths and profiles with a 60mm deep rear wheel and 51mm deep front wheel which bulges up to 35mm in width. All that aero optimisation is piled into a wheelset which weights just 1,400g.

Weight

For this new Tarmac to eliminate compromises for all types of rider it not only needed to handle well and be much more aerodynamic but needed to do so without bulking up, something which has typically been a challenge for out-and-out aero bikes. To hit the weight target set by the Tarmac SL6, Specialized have cut down the frame’s surface area and wall thickness where they can so no extra weight is added and frame stiffness isn’t impacted.

S-Works Tarmac SL7 Dura Ace

Using Specialized’s top tier FACT 12r carbon, that work has resulted in an S-Works frame that weighs just 800g and a complete bike built up with Shimano Dura Ace Di2 which tips the scales at 6.7kg, just below the UCIs weight limit.

The Pro and Expert models are built with FACT 10r carbon fibre which uses a different layup and materials, but only gives away 120g for a 920g frame weight. With this frame, the Tarmac SL7 Pro UDi2 weighs in at 7.3kg while the Expert UDi2 comes in at 7.65kg - both frames, and the S-Works, share the same design with no difference in handling or ride quality between them.

Handling

So, the new Tarmac has aerodynamic performance and low weight sorted. But what’s a low weight and big aero gains if the bike doesn’t handle well? The Tarmac has always been associated with razor sharp handling, and the SL6 was praised for its excellent ride quality and direct, racy handling.

One of the goals for the new SL7 was to match the stiffness and aero performance of the Venge, to the weight and handling of the Tarmac SL6. To do that, Specialized began by taking a huge database of real-world ride data to create prototype framesets that matched the Venge’s stiffness targets with the compliance and responsiveness of the Tarmac SL6 - and then handed them over to pro riders from the BORA-hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep teams for feedback.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Julian Alaphilippe

The result is a bike which Specialized believes is the best handling Tarmac yet and in line with their Rider First Engineered design principle, ensures the perfect balance of stiffness, weight and ride quality across all sizes.

In terms of fit and geometry, the SL7 matches the Tarmac SL6 and the Venge, but there’s plenty of options to dial the fit to suit your needs. The new Tarmac stem has two angles, -6 and -12 degrees, and is available in anything from 70mm to 140mm lengths and will accept a standard 31.8mm clamp if you choose to swap out the Aerofly bar for something different. The seatpost, specific to the Tarmac, is available in both 20mm and 0mm offsets and two different lengths.

The range

For the 2021 model year, the S-Works, Pro and Expert levels of Tarmac get the all new SL7 frame with all of that lightweight and aerodynamic goodness - there’s also a range of accompanying spec levels depending on your personal choices, such as the Aerofly II bar and new Tarmac stem, and the new Roval Rapide CLX wheels.

Roval Rapide CL

For those models running Shimano Di2, the junction box is tucked away under the saddle in the redesigned seatpost. If you opt for the SRAM 1x specification option, a smart blanking plate covers up mounting holes for the removable front derailleur. All the SL7 models come with 26mm tyres out of the box, but the redesigned frame will swallow up a 32mm tyre with room to spare. And in good news for mechanics, the SL7 comes with a standard 68mm BSA threaded bottom bracket.

At the lower end of the range, the SL6 continues with Comp, Sport and base model specs and while it may not have some of the cutting edge technology of the SL7 frame, it continues to be a more than capable frame for enthusiasts and racers alike. Both the SL6 and SL7 bikes are disc brake only.

Shop Specialized Tarmac >

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