In the days leading up to the 2019 Paris-Roubaix, Specialized launched their new, full suspension Roubaix frame system. Four days after the launch and the new bike was dominant at its namesake race, with five of the top-10 riding the new bike.
A day after the new Specialized Roubaix was launched, Pinarello also launched a full suspension road bike, but unlike the Specialized, it failed to make the top-20. Legs and luck are two of the most important factors when it comes to winning Paris-Roubaix but how much of a role did the new Specialized Roubaix play in Philippe Gilbert’s victory.
Paris-Roubaix has long attracted unusual technologies in an attempt to tame the brutal cobbles of the Hell of the North and while many have been marketing gimmicks, unsuccessful gambles, dangerous, stupid or all of the above, since the first Specialized Roubaix was launched and raced on 15 years ago, the bikes have been ridden to victory an impressive seven times.
It goes without saying that it’s no coincidence that Specialized just happen to sponsor the season’s in-form team in Deceuninck-QuickStep and have the sport’s biggest star and 2018 Paris-Roubaix winner in Bora-Hansgrohe's Peter Sagan. However, we have to look back to the dominance of Mapei-Quickstep and Domo - Farm Frites in the late 1990s and early 2000s, respectively, to find a similar representation from a single team making the top-10.
Specialized’s mantra since launching their first full suspension mountain bike in the early 1980s has been ‘smoother is faster’. This concept has been continued in the various iterations of the Specialized Roubaix but in the most recent version, the brand has produced a fast bike that is also comfortable.
The new Roubaix updated its unique Future Shock front suspension system, which puts a dampened shock above the head tube and allows the handlebars to move independently to the frame as the bike is ridden over rough surfaces. To the rear, Specialized used new carbon technology to create their flexible S-Works Pavé seat post to allow move comfort through the rear and back without dramatically changing the pedalling angle.
Increasing rider comfort isn’t so Specialized’s riders have a more enjoyable time racing Paris-Roubaix, the 29 sectors of cobbles will see to that, it ultimately, and more importantly, reduces their fatigue. Combining this with the more forgiving ride means that as mistakes do occur as the race goes on, whether by taking the wrong line or being pushed into the gutter, these mistakes don’t take as much out as a super stiff race bike designed for smoother asphalt would.
The claims, the brand’s aero performance data, are not independent and, as with all new bike launches, should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, Specialized say that the bike is as fast as their first Specialized Venge and more aero than the current Specialized Tarmac SL6. Offering comfort over the toughest surfaces of the season and adding aero performance to a race that is continually above 40km/h average speeds is a winning balance that has clearly been struck.
Unlike previous versions of the Specialized Roubaix, such as Peter Sagan’s winning bike from last season, this year’s bikes were near enough identical to the commercially available models. The same ‘Team Geo’ aggressive geometry is available and all 14 riders from the two teams raced with disc brakes instead of the specially produced rim brake versions seen last year.
Making up half of the top-10 on its debut race is an impressive feat, especially as we’re unlikely to see the bike raced in the WorldTour for another 12 months. Gilbert’s victory and the other four riders making the top-10 is, of course, down to more than just the bike, but nonetheless, Specialized deserve credit for continually pushing development and becoming the first full suspension road bike to win at Paris-Roubaix.
It’s also worth noting that the brand has made the decision through extensive research using their Retul bike fitting company to produce non-gender specific bikes and will not produce a Specialized Ruby, the female-specific version of the bike that has been released with earlier models.
In line with this decision, the brand also called out the Paris-Roubaix race organiser (ASO) for a women’s version of the event through a campaign video for the new bike. Whether or not we will see a women’s version of the race in the coming years remains to be seen.