Tech feature: Specialized refines Roubaix comfort superbike, June 21,
Roubaix @ Roubaix - Specializing in cobbles
Specialized's entry into European pro road racing as sponsor of the
Gerolsteiner team has given the company a powerful incentive to develop
its road bikes for the needs of some of the world's top riders. The shock-damping
Roubaix bike is one of the most interesting machines to emerge from the
Specialized development bunker. Ben Atkins was at the launch of
the 2007 version of the bike's super-light pro racing incarnation, the
S-Works Roubaix SL - and so was one of his heroes, one Johan Museeuw.
The star of the show, the 2007
Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL
On the second weekend of June this year, Specialized Bicycles assembled
a motley international group of cycle journalists and aspiring classics
heroes in northern France to witness the launch of Specialized's latest
assault on the Cobbled Classics, the new S-Works Roubaix SL.
The venue was the Dolce Hotel, not far from the beautiful Chateau de
Chantilly, in an area famous for its lace, and bizarrely synonymous in
France with whipped cream! It is used every April by some of the teams
racing in the Paris - Roubaix.
Chantilly has an important place in the history of the Paris-Roubaix.
In 1968 when the first modern race took place, the organisers had to move
the start north of Paris to allow for the twists and turns of the new
course. The place chosen was Chantilly, the race was won by Eddy Merckx,
and neither he nor it looked back. The race has since got even more twisty
and so the start has moved a few kilometres to the east to the Imperial
town of Compiegne.
As well as the guys from Specialized, we have some help from Yellow Jersey
Tours to look after our every whim. Nikane will be organising the rides
and driving the team car and she'll be ably backed up by Patxi and Pedri,
two Basque soigneurs - who have had lots of top Euskal pros legs under
their care. As guides on our ride we also have a Continental pro, Belgian
Tim Meeusen and a Flandrian legend Jo Planckaert (second at Roubaix in
1997). If this wasn't enough, we have a special guest with us, to make
the Roubaix experience all the more authentic - it's Johan Museeuw! My
The new forks
The sexy new
The rear end
Surely I must have seen this
"Keep talking Ben
The boys from the Boulder
Just like the sunflowers
Why do I always
The main reason we'd been assembled here in this part of France was to
witness the unveiling of the 2007 S-Works Roubaix SL. The unveiling took
the form of a multimedia presentation with Specialized founder and CEO,
Mike Sinyard. Tech gurus Chris D'Aluisio and Luc Callaghan went through
the philosophy behind the Roubaix. They also listed a great many of the
technical stats that set this new frame apart from the other bikes in
the Specialized stable - what they feel sets it apart from the other brands
in the peloton.
The most noticeable thing about the new S-Works frame is its curvy tubes.
At first glance it looks more like a Tarmac than a Roubaix. Closer inspection
though reveals the other change - a new look to the seatstays and forks
- the things that identify this frame as definitely a Roubaix - the Zertz.
The Zertz (elastomer inserts) on the 2007 SL are in a similar place to
the existing Roubaix frames, i.e. one in each seatstay, and one in each
fork blade - as well as the one in the seat post. these new inserts, however
- particularly those at the rear - have been re-scuplted to allow for
even more vertical damping, giving the front and rear of the bike an appearance
reminiscent of the curves on a Pinarello Dogma.
Regardless of shape though, according to statistics gathered using Specialized's
own test benches, the S-Works Roubaix SL is one of the most vertically
compliant (i.e. comfy) frames out there, while still remaining up there
with the best in terms of bottom bracket stiffness and torsional rigidity.
All this adds up, claims Specialized, to a bike that will transfer as
much as possible of your power to the road, while at the same time stopping
the road form transferring its power to you.
Although the S-works SL looks entirely different from the other frames
in the Roubaix stable, it does have the same geometry. The Tarmac-style
tubes and wiggly Zertz areas have been changed in order to enhance the
frames characteristics and to make it look more "sexy" - the last point
being most important for many of us.
The elite application of the Roubaix is obviously the cobbled classics,
but surprisingly this is not the origin of the design. With the Roubaix
frames, Specialized is attempting to do on the road what it did with the
Stumpjumper off it - to create a bike that everyone will feel comfortable
riding. The longer wheelbase (retaining the standard fork rake) and Zertz
not only help the bike to take some of the sting out of some of France's
most notorious cart tracks, but is also meant to make the longest rides
more comfortable, allowing everyone to ride all day without getting beaten
up by the road surface.
Specialized had already asked us for our usual bike measurements in order
to assemble a bike that is as close as possible to the one we ride at
home. Before we're allowed anywhere near it though, we had to make it
For this task we were put under the care of Andy Pruitt and Todd Carver
from the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM). Pruitt has been in
sports medicine for over 30 years, working with such elite athletes as
Gunn-Rita Dahle and Floyd Landis. He literally wrote the book on cycling
and medicine - "Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists" - and while he's
not actually the father of Specialized Body Geometry he's certainly a
fraternal uncle. A presentation from Pruitt focused on two key areas;
the correct treatment of the contact points with the bike (hands, feet,
'saddle area') and the neutral position on the bike.
Pruitt's ideas on contact fit nicely with the features of a lot of Specialized's
Body Geometry products. This is no coincidence as he works very closely
with Specialized in development.
Andy Pruitt seems to be most proud of the Body geometry range of shoes.
His studies - and studies performed by others - show that 85 percent of
people's feet are naturally lower on the outside (little toe), meaning
that when the pedal is pressed the knee moves to one side, putting pressure
on the joints and sometimes causing injury. You can see this for yourself
by watching your knees get closer to the top tube in the middle of the
Pruitt's work with Specialized has produced the range of Body Geometry
shoes - the latest of which we were presented with this weekend - designed
to correct this problem by supporting the foot at its natural angle, thus
making the knew bend in a straight line, minimising the chance of injury.
After the presentation I had a one on one session with Todd Carver to
fine tune my position. With the bike set up to the measurements I'd sent
in, Carver fitted my cleats to the new BG shoes (by sight alone, and was
spot on!) and watched me as I pedaled. In the end I was pretty much perfect
- if I do say so - and we switched the 120mm stem for a 110 with a minus
8 degree angle, basically because the top tube is 5mm longer than my bike
at home. Otherwise, all my angles and measurements were within the right
ranges, a Gold star for the old Italian that fitted my custom Battaglin!
Unfortunately we weren't to ride all 250+km of the Paris-Roubaix course,
but our plan for the day was to drive to St Quentin - part way along the
course - then ride north for around 80-90km, taking in around seven or
eight sectors of pavé. You can picture the scene - Jo Planckaert, a dozen
or so wannabe Museeuws, and... Museeuw.
The first 20 - 30 km, before we reached Troisvilles and the first pavé
sector, the time was used well. Everybody took turns to be photographed
with the Lieeuw of Flanders. I'm not sure how he felt about this, but
I guess that was what he was there for!
Finally the pavé arrived. The sector at Troisvilles is only rated as
a three-star sector, which is quite enough to get started with. It's predominantly
downhill for the first half before turning sharp left and levelling out,
it's a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon! It was a great pleasure
riding over my favourite roads on a quality bike that was designed for
the purpose. The fact that it was someone else's bike just added to the
experience. It wouldn't be my problem if it broke, but there was no way
this bike was going to break!
Compared to my previous excursions onto these beautiful 'roads' on a
full aluminium frame, the bike felt pretty plush. The sting was definitely
taken out of the bumps . Whether the geometry or the Zertz was responsible
for that isn't obvious, but whatever the specific reason Specialized has
certainly got something right here.
As a total self confessed pavé-aholic, I attacked each sector like Fabien
Cancellara. Sadly, unlike Fabian Cancellara, I tended to run out of steam
when the road started to rise in front of me. Even the slightest upward
gradient on this kind of surface can turn into a real leg sapper once
your speed drops, and I tended to get overtaken by a steady stream of
other journos and Specialized staff on every sector. But I didn't care,
if I went slowly it just meant that I got more time on the pavé!
After a few hours of this exquisite torture, under atypically sunny skies
for this sort of course, we rolled up to the waiting vans in the village
of Aulnoy-les-Valenciennes. It was all over too soon, we'd done around
a third of the cobbled sectors and I wanted more. Actually, what I wanted
was Pablo to work his magic on my legs again, he's a miracle worker!
Look out for a full test of the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL in the
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here