Tech feature: Specialized 2008 D4W line, August 7, 2007
The bicycle industry has finally realized that women comprise a substantial portion of the market (about 50%, in case you weren't sure) and continues to deliver more and better products to satisfy the need. Specialized forges ahead with its 'D4W' initiative for another year with new road and mountain bikes, in addition to the usual host of equipment and accessories. Cyclingnews Tech Editor James Huang wraps up his look at Specialized's 2008 line.
Specialized has been riding an enormous wave as of late with a wide range of technologically advanced and visually appealing products, but its biggest recent success is also probably the one few would have expected. Since its introduction, its 'D4W' line (Designs for Women) has experienced the largest growth in the company and Specialized claims that it still represents the greatest growth potential. Last year the women's-specific Ruby road bike even outsold the Tarmac.
As Specialized head honcho Mike Sinyard puts it, "As an industry, this is our biggest opportunity." While this next comment may seem obvious, Sinyard also stated "[But] we didn't have success in the women's area until we let the women design the product." For Specialized, that woman is Eron Chorney, a former Canadian National Team member and Rocky Mountain Bicycles engineer (who also paid her dues in a retail shop in her native British Columbia) who has been running the division since early 2006.
On the road with Eron Chorney
The women's-specific Ruby carbon road line has been among the best-selling of all of Specialized's pavement machines and 2008 will see the introduction of a new top-end S-Works Ruby SL. As compared to last year's S-Works Ruby, the new model is supposedly 81g lighter, 7% more vertically compliant, 3% stiffer at the bottom bracket, and 1% stiffer in torsion. Much of this improvement is due to the more advanced FACT Az1 construction technique (last year's version was a so-called 'triple monocoque').
As with the original S-Works Ruby, the new Ruby SL incorporates Specialized's well-received D4W women's-specific geometry, smaller tubing diameters, proprietary fiber lay-up schedules, and Zertz dampers in both the seat stays and fork blades. Naturally, Specialized claims the new Ruby SL is the "lightest, smoothest riding women's-specific frame in the world [with] best in class strength and stiffness-to-weight ratios."
S-Works Ruby SL bikes are also fitted with women's-specific componentry, including shorter S-Works FACT Carbon cranksets with compact gearing and Slim Shims to reduce reach on the Dura-Ace STI levers. New 2008 components include a lighter and more compliant Roval Fusée SL wheelset, a higher-performance Ruby women's saddle with hollow titanium rails, and the new Rubymac one-piece integrated carbon fiber stem/handlebar combination with shorter reach for smaller hands.
Specialized did not, however, incorporate the tapered and oversized front end as on its new top-end S-Works Tarmac SL2, presumably due to the notion that women are typically lighter and smaller and may not benefit from the additional front-end stiffness. Be that as it may, claimed weight on the complete S-Works Ruby SL package is still an impressive 6.8kg (14.96lb) for a medium frame.
Light and sparkly
Specialized did, however, carry over all of the new developments introduced on the new S-Works Stumpjumper Carbon to its women's lineup... that is, all except for the name as unique model designations are now intended to reflect the 'dedicated focus and approach' of its women's-specific models.
As such, the gem of the line is undoubtedly the new S-Works Safire FSR, which incorporates the same updated FACT IS carbon chassis layout, Az1 construction, and proprietary Brain-equipped FutureShock S120 fork as on the top-end men's S-Works SJ Carbon. D4W features include a specific frame geometry with shorter reach and lower standover height, smaller diameter tubing and revised fiber lay-up schedules, uniquely tuned front and rear suspension, and women's-specific componentry.
The new S-Works Safire FSR carbon frame drops a substantial 300g relative to last year's top alloy model, and total weight for the complete bike is claimed to be just 10.4kg (22.9lb). The Safire will also be offered in new M5 alloy versions (but without the oversized and tapered front end) which drop 150g from the 2007 Stumpjumper.
The performance category is addressed with the new Era line, which includes the Era FSR and hardtail models. The Era FSR (analogous to the men's Epic) looks to share the same frame as last year's Epic Comp Women's but adds a lighter and stiffer carbon fiber link, while Era hardtails boast an all-new M5 alloy frame that borrows the bent top tube configuration of the FSR model for improved standover.
Likewise, the recreational Myka line includes both full-suspension and hardtail models, both using M4 alloys and bent top tubes for extra standover. New Myka FSR models incorporate proven FSR suspension technology with X-Fusion rear shocks, and both FSR and hardtail models include specifically tuned Rock Shox forks.