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Tech feature: Specialized 2009 road introduction, July 30, 2008

Specialized updates Roubaix to balance stiffness and comfort

Road Tubeless tyres and wheels coming too

By Jez Loftus, BikeRadar.com

2009 Roubaix takes Specialized's sportive bikes
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)

The flagship bike of Specialized's 2009 road line-up is a completely new version of the Roubaix SL, the bike that arguably started the lightweight sportive bike craze.

The new S-Works Roubaix SL2 has been beefed up over its predecessor and to sum it up we're forced to delve into the Big Book of Bike Journalism Clichés. What follows is Specialized's fault you understand. It hurts us as much as it does you.

'Vertical compliance and lateral stiffness' is a much-used phrase of marketers and lazy journalists alike. When it comes to describing the feel of a frame the slack overuse of the phrase warrants plenty of derision. Offenders should be made to crawl along cobbled streets to appreciate the enormity of their crimes.

It's not without serious thought and consideration, then, that we say:

The new 2009 S-Works Roubaix SL2 is perfect balance between vertical compliance and lateral stiffness.

God that hurt.

Now that we have that over with, what has Specialized changed to achieve this?

The 2009 Roubaix SL2 is a completely new frame, though it effectively melds the lower half of the current Tarmac SL2 with the upper section of the '09 Roubaix SL. The seat stays are more widely spaced and radically manipulated, the down tube and chain stays are vastly bigger in diameter than before, and the newly tapered front end has sprouted a 1 3/8in bearing lower bearing that Specialized claims offers a better balance of ultimate stiffness and comfort than the Tarmac SL2's 1 1/2in version.

Oversized everything keeps the bottom
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)
The Roubaix head tube tapers
Photo ©: Specialized
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Zertz inserts help remove
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)
The Tarmac Expert has also been updated
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)
Specialized goes tubeless with the first of a full line
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)
Roval wheels in Road tubeless
Photo ©: Specialized
(Click for larger image)

As before, the chain stays and fork blades are equipped with vibration-damping Zertz inserts. Down below, Specialized has also fitted the new Roubaix SL2 with its integrated FACT carbon crank, which is now down to 623g and boasts new tooth profiles and a more rigid spider for better shifting.

Bigger and burlier all round the S-Works Roubaix SL2 really should tempt those back who felt the 2008 version was just a bit too safe and comfy. According to Specialized, the new rear triangle increases lateral rigidity by 21 percent over the old Roubaix SL, the bottom bracket area is 12 percent stiffer and the front triangle beefs up by 9 percent. Even better, the '09 Roubaix SL2 is also 40g lighter than last year's version.

In the end, the new Roubaix SL2 provides much of the drivetrain and torsional stiffness of the dedicated race machine but Specialized claims it still has the same vertical compliance that has made the Roubaix popular with mile-eating riders. If you think this new shape bears striking resemblance to what Tom Boonen used to win this year's Paris-Roubaix, you're not imagining things; Tornado Tom used a custom prototype version that's remarkably similar to what you'll be able to buy yourself.

From the miles we put into the frame you certainly notice the difference over the softer 2008 Roubaix. There's far better steering precision and power transfer than before, the new frame has loads of life to it and it responds more readily to big power inputs. As promised, this new version is also just as comfortable as before; it's just that much of the mush of the old version has been washed away.

Thankfully, Specialized also hasn't messed with the existing Roubaix geometry whose taller head tube, longer wheelbase and slightly more relaxed angles won't scare you off the road. If 2009 will find you looking for a fast new steed but you're not particularly interested in quick race car-like handling (or if your back just isn't as flexible as it used to be), it looks like you could do far worse than to put the new Roubaix SL2 high on your list.

Tarmac Expert tweaked too

Specialized's top-of-the-line Tarmac SL2 remains largely unchanged from 2008, though a version will be available with a new team-specific geometry with a shorter head tube for a more aggressive position similar to what the company provided for some of its sponsored riders.

However, the SL2's kid brother, the Tarmac Expert, sees substantial changes. The new version is essentially an exact copy of the full-blown SL2 save for a slightly heavier carbon fiber content. As a result, the new Tarmac Expert gets the same tapered front end and 1 1/2in lower headset bearing, larger diameter down tube and more heavily reinforced chain stays for a faster look and feel.

Specialized gets on the Road Tubeless train

Tubeless road tyres have been slow to gain momentum but Specialized's entry into the fray (along with Fulcrum) will certainly help get things moving.

For 2009, Specialized says it will have a complete line of tubeles road tyres, starting in July 2008 with the Turbo Tubeless in 23mm width. More tubeless tyres will appear over the following months and compatible wheels from Roval, Specialized's wheel marque, will appear in mid-2009.

Best foot forward with lighter Pro Road shoes

Like a car modded for speed, Specialized's Pro Road shoes have been lightened and lowered for 2009. The new carbon sole is thinner and stiffer than before (and supposedly even stiffer than the top-end S-Works model) and the new M-Lock SL buckle is now lighter and smaller. The new Micromatrix upper also has a tweaked shape for a better fit and the foam-filled heel has been replaced with a squish-free synthetic liner for better heel hold. Replaceable heel tread means the new model should last longer, too.

Of course, the usual Body Geometry features (varus wedge, metatarsal button, longitudinal arch support) will carry over.

Claimed weight for a pair (size 42) is 550g and Specialized will offer the Pro Road shoe in standard, wide and narrow widths.

Bet your shirt on Solar Jet jersey & your butt on BG Pro SL shorts

Turning to clothing, Specialized describes its Solar Jet jersey as one "your dermatologist will thank you for wearing." Its UPF 50 fabric provides 2-3 times the protection against the sun of a typical jersey, according to Specialized.

Hydrophobic, wicking fabric keeps you cool and there's a zip pocket for valuables and wire ports for electronics.

For the lower half, Specialized's apparently been listening to riders who find some modern multi-layer shorts pads just too bulky. Its new BG Pro SL pad, found in the BG Pro SL shorts, is intended to provide a "closer to the saddle feel". Longer-distance riders (or those who just prefer more cushion) can opt for the more heavily padded BG Pro RBX insert used on the

Photography

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Images by Specialized