Specialized unveils new Project Black machine for Saxo Bank

Saxo Bank team sponsor Specialized has provided a few of its riders with its latest 'Project Black' machine for this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. Based on prior experience with an earlier Project Black bike it first tested under Tom Boonen that eventually became the S-Works Roubaix SL2, this new rig is almost certainly a thinly veiled preview of an upcoming S-Works Roubaix SL3.

Overall design cues are fairly similar with a giant down tube, a slightly smaller and notably bowed top tube, a tapered 1 1/8"-to-1 3/8" front end, and enormous chain stays matched to dramatically smaller seat stays, all damped by Specialized's trademark Zertz elastomeric inserts in the seat stays and fork blades. As compared to the current Roubaix SL2, though, this new SL3 takes most of those concepts and pushes them even further.

First off, the Zertz inserts are now significantly larger than before at both ends and are now secured with a metallic plate bolted in from the backside (though it's possible that plate is just cosmetic). In addition, the SL3 seat stays are spindlier than before though when viewed from behind, they now follow a straighter path from the seat cluster to the dropouts. That likely will stiffen up the rear end laterally but based on Specialized's usual design directions, we still expect the new SL3 to offer even greater vibration damping capabilities relative to the SL2 for a smoother ride, too.

Down tube, top tube and chain stay dimensions are still comparatively huge on the SL3 but with slight tweaks. The top tube is now more evenly bowed from end to end (as compared to the SL2's sudden kink at the head tube) and both the down tube and chain stays attach further down on the bottom bracket shell. Down tube height looks to have actually decreased a tad down there as well and the transition to the chain stays is much smoother and cleaner looking than before.

The seat tube has clearly received some attention, too, being more squared off toward the bottom and taking a noticeably more asymmetrical shape than before. Unlike on the SL2, the outer diameter also bulges out a bit as it joins the top tube and chain stay – suggesting perhaps a new joint method.

Dropouts are again aluminum at both ends with the rear likely using the same trick hollow construction as on the Tarmac SL3. In a first for Specialized on the road (if not, please feel free to let us know!), cable routing is fully internal for both derailleurs and the rear brake with the exception of a short exposed section at the bottom bracket guide – likely for ease of maintenance and setup. In addition to offering a cleaner look, the bolt-on entry and exit ports will almost certainly be made compatible with Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2 group for a nicely integrated package.

Unfortunately, Specialized director of research and development Chris D'Alusio was very tight-lipped about the new Project Black frameset, refusing to quote any weight or stiffness figures or even confirm or deny our observations. As of right now, he said there are no firm plans for production, either, but we're betting something very similar to this will be debuted as a 2011 model.

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