This article originally published on BikeRadar
This April Tom Boonen was winning the infamous ‘Hell of the North,' Paris-Roubaix, on a Specialized Roubaix. In Utah, Specialized recently revealed the details of that new S-Works Roubaix SL4, along with many other new road bikes and new wheels in the 2013 line.
Specialized has a new S-Works Allez aluminum bike, a Campagnolo Super Record EPS version of the Venge plus a version commemorating the career - so far - of Tom Boonen.
Of course bikes are not the only thing in Specialized's bag, and the manufacturer took the time to go over their latest project with McLaren. The S-Works McLaren TT helmet, which we've previously covered, is still so new that only select riders had access to it in this month's Tour de France.
Finally, Specialized got into the carbon fiber clincher game for 2013 with three new Roval wheelsets.
Boonen's form and timing could not have been better for Specialized, as they soft launched this latest version of the Roubaix, which is delineated with the SL4 moniker, just days prior to the win. "We had to launch it then, the UCI required it," said Chris D'Aluisio, Specialized's director of advanced research and design. "But we didn't give away all the details, we're doing that now."
Specialized's goal with the new SL4 variant of the Roubaix was to bring more of a ‘Tarmac' feel to the bike; give it a bit more snap while still catering to its goal of being a comfortable ride. "We wanted to control the compliance," said Mark Cote, an aerodynamicist and Tri specialist on Specialized's development team. "We wanted to make it sharper, perform better and corner harder."
To do this, Specialized took the size-specific construction methods to new lengths. In addition to size-specific tube profiles and layups, the Roubaix now includes three different head tube and headset sizes: 49-52cm sizes get a straight 1.125in head tube and headset; sizes 54-56cm get a 1.125in upper and 1.25in lower bearing and tapered head tube; while sizes 58cm and above stick with the 1.375in standard used in the previous SL3 iteration.
It's important to note that the three different standards require Specialized to build three different forks for the model line. While more work, it allows more overall control over the tune of the ride, so that the ideal is maintained across the range, Specialized say.
But stepping down in head tube and bearing size doesn't mean Specialized gave up stiffness. Rather, by massaging shapes — namely eliminating flat spots on the head, top and down tubes — and refining layup techniques, they have added stiffness to the chassis.
They've also paid attention to the design of the rear end. The new bike has a Tarmac-style, one-piece bottom bracket and asymmetric chain stay assembly paired to new straighter and wider seat stays. These new features coupled with consideration of the orientation of the carbon fibers have increased the rear end's stiffness by a claimed 18.5 percent when compared to the SL3 model. By offsetting the fibers on spans from the seat stays through the top tube Specialized claim to increase both vertical deflection and lateral stiffness; however, it took over 30 different prototypes to nail the latest layup.
Add in the new Cobl Gobl-R, carbon leaf spring-style seatpost, and you have the most compliant, greatest deflecting, sharpest handling, Roubaix that Specialized have ever built.
Specialized president Mike Sinyard used two analogies to describe the bike's ride and geometry. The ride is like a Porsche, he said, which goes fast, yet "nobody ever suffers in a Porsche, and nobody will suffer on this bike."
As for the geometry, Sinyard sees the Roubaix more like a classic, stable, Grand Tour bike of the '70s and '80s, rather than the upright old man bikes that have come to be the industry's definition of the endurance category.
Specialized make lots of claims in regards to the comfort of the Roubaix and they're using their relationship with McLaren to work at validating the vibration damping characteristics of the bike.
"They've spent a long time building up the infrastructure to understand these studies [in vibration damping]," Cote said of McLaren. "When we partnered with them we asked how we could study the bicycle [with their tools]. This is a glimpse into the future of what we're doing. This is a study to validate what we're doing in the SL4."
To top Specialized's 2013 Roubaix SL4 presentation, they'll be offering it with the option of disc brakes at the Expert level, with delivery slated for late fall, early winter. The disc brake bike features 135mm rear spacing and though not immediately available Specialized say an S-Works model is in the works. "We very much believe in disc brakes," said Cote. "And this is one statement to our commitment."
Specialized LTD: new EPS Venge and Boonen Limited line
Specialized have focused in on the niches too, with specific models like the EPS Venge, an over-the-top-model equipped with Campagnolo's Super Record EPS electronic group. The bike will be produced in limited numbers, and cater to a limited clientele, yet it can still be admired by all.
This season Tom Boonen used Specialized's whole quiver of top-tier bikes to win races. In a golden three-week period this spring he won Ghent-Wevelgem on a Venge, the Tour of Flanders on a Tarmac SL4 and Paris-Roubaix on a Roubaix SL4.
To commemorate this impressive haul, and his longtime involvement with the brand, Specialized have built a limited ‘Boonen' edition of their S-Works Venge, Prevail helmet and Chicane saddle. The frames will be limited to a run of 200, but the saddle and helmet will be more widely available.
Something special for Tom Boonen, a Venge frame commemorating all of his professional wins
S-Works Allez: Specialized's most advanced aluminum bike
Specialized's S-Works Allez was an engineering exercise. The S-Works moniker points to the best the brand can possibly build, yet the budget level Allez line (including the model we just tested in our $1000 road bike test) did not seem ripe for the treatment. Why then did Specialized spend two years to develop the frame for a model that's likely to be outshone by their less-costly-to-produce Expert level carbon models?
Specialized has used a new method of butting, hydroforming and then ‘smart welding' the E5 aluminum alloy frame at its head tube connection. The new hydro formed tube connections create a natural void that's filled with weld material, which is said to allow a stronger, but also lighter finished structure.
"Traditional frames are mitered and joined with a weld that goes around that area," said Cote. "This is very different. It's a hydroformed top tube, down tube and head tube — an independent head tube for every size of frame — and this was a concept that Chris [D'Aluisio] came up with a couple of years ago in how to make a weld more efficient. It's about creating a natural valley that you can fill with weld material. That way you can make the walls thin as opposed to a butted section with a thick wall."
It's this design and its potential to be both lighter and stronger that Specialized want to develop and learn from so that it may be used in the future throughout the aluminum lines, on and off road.
The 2013 Allez S-Works frame weighs less than 1,200g in a 56cm size — which is claimed to be more than 200g lighter than the current model — and the full bike, built with the same top-shelf S-Works build found on the S-Works Tarmac SL4, weighs just 14.5lbs without pedals.
Roval wheels: Rapid CLX 40 and 60 clinchers
You'll find Specialized's new Roval Rapid CLX wheels on almost every S-Works road model the manufacturer offers for 2013. The three carbon clincher models (40mm and 60mm rim brake and 40mm disc models) are differentiated by rim profile (either 40mm or 60mm) and hub type (standard or disc).
Of course the wheels are built to be light, durable and all the things one requires when forking out upwards of two grand for a wheelset, but there are a couple of attributes Specialized have also paid attention to: the inertial features of the wheel (i.e. keeping the rims light so they accelerate quickly), and the relationship between a low drag shape and the torque affect of such a shape in a crosswind.
Specialized say they were specifically careful to balance a coveted low drag number with the counteractive torque effects. "When the targets were set for these wheels it was as much about stability as it was about low drag," said Cote. "These wheels are low-drag wheels. The key difference is how we measured and how we studied it."
Specialized started development on the CLX rim profiles in a CFD program, which brought engineers through 38 different iterations of the profile of the rim. Each of which sought to balance low drag with low steering torque, which makes for a stable wheel that tracks true and turns easily. "We saw a low correlation between low drag and peak steering torques [in the wind tunnel]," said Cote.
These are carbon clinchers, and Specialized say they've worked hard with the rim material and layup in the sidewall to make sure it can manage the heat put into it under extreme braking. "We've also spec'd a brake pad that's going to work with that compound to manage all of that heat," said Chris Riekert from Specialized's PR department.
Roval’s Rapide CLX 60