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Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 review

Endurance features but race character

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The Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 might not be exactly what you expect. It has the positioning and handling of an endurance bike but the spunk and weight of a full-blown racer. Ride quality is somewhere in between, too.

The Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 might not be exactly what you expect. It has the positioning and handling of an endurance bike but the spunk and weight of a full-blown racer. Ride quality is somewhere in between, too. (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Specialized's latest S-Works Roubaix SL4 injects a healthy dose of race bike DNA into the company's long-standing endurance platform.

Specialized's latest S-Works Roubaix SL4 injects a healthy dose of race bike DNA into the company's long-standing endurance platform. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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SRAM's Red 2012 front derailleur incorporates a clever feature called Yaw that automatically adjusts changes the angle of the chain for a rub-free drivetrain.

SRAM's Red 2012 front derailleur incorporates a clever feature called Yaw that automatically adjusts changes the angle of the chain for a rub-free drivetrain. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Our test bike came with a mountain taming 11-28T cassette.

Our test bike came with a mountain taming 11-28T cassette. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized includes supple 25mm-wide Turbo Pro clinchers as stock equipment but there's room for 27-28mm rubber, too, depending on the rim.

Specialized includes supple 25mm-wide Turbo Pro clinchers as stock equipment but there's room for 27-28mm rubber, too, depending on the rim. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized's house brand Roval Rapide CLX 40 carbon clinchers are pretty light at just under 1,400g (claimed) but braking performance is poor with the stock pads (even in dry conditions) and they're easily blown around in crosswinds.

Specialized's house brand Roval Rapide CLX 40 carbon clinchers are pretty light at just under 1,400g (claimed) but braking performance is poor with the stock pads (even in dry conditions) and they're easily blown around in crosswinds. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Details, details - a small decal keeps the long valve stem from rattling.

Details, details - a small decal keeps the long valve stem from rattling. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Not surprisingly, Specialized builds the S-Works Roubaix SL4 with its top-end FACT 11r carbon fiber blend.

Not surprisingly, Specialized builds the S-Works Roubaix SL4 with its top-end FACT 11r carbon fiber blend. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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We've found the SRAM Red 2012 brake calipers to provide heaps of stopping power on other bikes but unfortunately, there just isn't enough friction generated between the Roval Rapide CLX 40's carbon rims and the stock pads to make good use of it.

We've found the SRAM Red 2012 brake calipers to provide heaps of stopping power on other bikes but unfortunately, there just isn't enough friction generated between the Roval Rapide CLX 40's carbon rims and the stock pads to make good use of it. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The carbon-bodied hubs are filled with cartridge bearings from CeramicSpeed.

The carbon-bodied hubs are filled with cartridge bearings from CeramicSpeed. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Given the fantastic stiffness down low, it's no surprise that the bottom bracket area is well reinforced.

Given the fantastic stiffness down low, it's no surprise that the bottom bracket area is well reinforced. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Meaty asymmetrical chain stays give the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 the drivetrain response of a pure race bike.

Meaty asymmetrical chain stays give the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 the drivetrain response of a pure race bike. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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More details: water bottle bolts are aluminum to save a few grams and laser-etched for style points.

More details: water bottle bolts are aluminum to save a few grams and laser-etched for style points. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Two-to-one lacing on the rear wheel helps equalize the spoke tension from left to right.

Two-to-one lacing on the rear wheel helps equalize the spoke tension from left to right. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The SRAM Red crankset is fitted with compact 50/34T chainrings.

The SRAM Red crankset is fitted with compact 50/34T chainrings. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The compact-bend Specialized carbon bars are comfortable and light with good stiffness that complements the frameset's personality.

The compact-bend Specialized carbon bars are comfortable and light with good stiffness that complements the frameset's personality. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized carries some of the shaping concepts from the full-blown Tarmac SL4 line to the Roubaix SL4 but with a size-specific lower steerer diameter that varies from 1 1/8" to 1 3/8".

Specialized carries some of the shaping concepts from the full-blown Tarmac SL4 line to the Roubaix SL4 but with a size-specific lower steerer diameter that varies from 1 1/8" to 1 3/8". (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Our 52cm test sample actually uses a straight 1 1/8" steerer while larger samples go with tapered front ends. Amazingly, we were still able to go straight and turn when desired.

Our 52cm test sample actually uses a straight 1 1/8" steerer while larger samples go with tapered front ends. Amazingly, we were still able to go straight and turn when desired. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized Zertz elastomeric inserts have long generated healthy amounts of skepticism. Whether it's due to these or some other engineering trickery, there's little denying the S-Works Roubaix SL4 does a fantastic job of squashing road buzz.

Specialized Zertz elastomeric inserts have long generated healthy amounts of skepticism. Whether it's due to these or some other engineering trickery, there's little denying the S-Works Roubaix SL4 does a fantastic job of squashing road buzz. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The top tube and down tube effectively wrap around the sides of the head tube to help stiffen up the front end.

The top tube and down tube effectively wrap around the sides of the head tube to help stiffen up the front end. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The slightly curved top tube has now become somewhat of a Specialized styling trademark.

The slightly curved top tube has now become somewhat of a Specialized styling trademark. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The tapered seat tube starts out round up top but becomes more rectangular down by the bottom bracket.

The tapered seat tube starts out round up top but becomes more rectangular down by the bottom bracket. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized augments the now-classic big chain stays/small seat stays concept with its Zertz inserts.

Specialized augments the now-classic big chain stays/small seat stays concept with its Zertz inserts. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The rear derailleur cable is routed through the chain stay and hollow carbon fiber dropout. Interchangeable inserts make them compatible with both mechanical and electronic drivetrains.

The rear derailleur cable is routed through the chain stay and hollow carbon fiber dropout. Interchangeable inserts make them compatible with both mechanical and electronic drivetrains. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Don't laugh - the strange-looking Specialized COBL GOBL-R really works, and quite well in fact. The benefits vary depending on saddle positioning but even in the forward-most setting, it takes the sting out of bigger bumps in the road.

Don't laugh - the strange-looking Specialized COBL GOBL-R really works, and quite well in fact. The benefits vary depending on saddle positioning but even in the forward-most setting, it takes the sting out of bigger bumps in the road. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The internally routed derailleur cables enter the frame at the top of the top tube so they don't rattle inside the frame as they make their way to the underside of the bottom bracket shell.

The internally routed derailleur cables enter the frame at the top of the top tube so they don't rattle inside the frame as they make their way to the underside of the bottom bracket shell. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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Specialized outfits the S-Works Roubaix SL4 with its own forged aluminum stem. Even with the neat adjustable angle feature, though, some riders might not be able to get low enough without resorting to a more aggressive -17° stem given the relatively long head tube.

Specialized outfits the S-Works Roubaix SL4 with its own forged aluminum stem. Even with the neat adjustable angle feature, though, some riders might not be able to get low enough without resorting to a more aggressive -17° stem given the relatively long head tube. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)
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The little carbon fiber clip holds the faceplate in place even when the bolts are removed - so you have one fewer thing to hold on to if you're swapping a stem.

The little carbon fiber clip holds the faceplate in place even when the bolts are removed - so you have one fewer thing to hold on to if you're swapping a stem. (Image credit: Jonny Irick)

This article was originally published on BikeRadar

Set aside your notions of the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 being some cushy doctor/lawyer machine. While the geometry and positioning says "endurance bike", the rest of the bike screams "race me", with a rigid backbone, an impressively low weight, and a ride quality that's likely firmer than you expect – for better or worse.

Ride & handling: Smooth yet firm

Specialized has hardened up its flagship Roubaix considerably for this year, setting aside its previous Barcalounger-like glide in favor of one that's surprisingly two-faced. On the one hand, it utterly erases any hint of road texture or buzz and feels more like you're riding an air hockey puck made of butter on a red-hot table.

Seriously, on even moderately good pavement this thing is smooth. If vibration was like a field of greens, this new Roubaix is like some guy with a machete who's hopped up on caffeine and speed.

Yet for all the bike's remarkable ability to gloss over smaller imperfections, the frame is much harsher on washboarded dirt roads, potholes, and frost heave than previous Roubaix iterations.

In some ways, the unusual COBL GOBL-R seatpost picks up where the frame leaves off and does a much better job out back than we expected with bigger impacts. But, unfortunately, there's no corresponding aid up front. It's almost as though that air hockey puck made of butter is gliding across the table only to be violently whacked right back at you.

Mind you, this seemingly disjointed ride quality isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on your wants and needs. The trade-off for that firmer ride is a far sharper personality than before in terms of pedaling responsiveness and handling precision.

Unfortunately, we don't have independent numbers to support this but after spending an appreciable amount of time on Specialized's Tarmac SL4 last year, we'd dare say that this Roubaix gives up nothing in terms of efficiency (and a recent conversation we had with Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider Sylvain Chavanel seems to back up this assertion).

Mash the pedals and there's a greater sense of urgency than there has been with previous Roubaix models, especially when you're attacking steep grades or sprinting for a sign. Likewise, there's almost no perceptible give when torqueing on the bar, and high-speed handling is utterly predictable, with minimal twist front-to-back as you snake through corners.

As with previous Roubaix chassis, handling tends towards the stable end of the spectrum as opposed to the more point-and-shoot nature of the Tarmac. Crit racers might find the Roubaix SL4 to be a little too lazy for their liking, but most people will probably have few complaints with such rock solid high-speed stability.

What's indisputable, though, is that this sucker is light. Total weight for our 52cm sample without pedals is just 6.41kg (14.13lb).

Frame: More 'Tarmac with Zertz' than classic Roubaix

Visually speaking, there's little to hint at the new carbon fiber Roubaix SL4's firmer ride, as it's a distinctly evolutionary progression from the previous SL3 version.

Distinctive features include the way the humongous down tube and top tube effectively wrap around the head tube to promote front-end stiffness, the tapered seat tube that morphs from round up top to rectangular down at the OSBB (Specialized's version of PF30) bottom bracket shell, and the now-trademark curved and flattened 'cobra' top tube.

One key feature borrowed from the Tarmac range is the new one-piece bottom bracket and asymmetric chain stay assembly, which supposedly boosts drivetrain efficiency under power.

The seat stays are straighter and offset further from the centerline of the seat tube up top, too, which Specialized claims further increases rear-end stiffness – to the tune of nearly 20 percent compared to the SL3 if you believe company claims.

Many brands vary tubing sizes and shapes according to frame size, but Specialized has gone one step further with the Roubaix SL4 by varying the lower steerer tube diameter as well, to help maintain the same ride quality across the range: 1 1/8in for 49-52cm sizes, 1 1/4in for 54-56cm, and 1 1/2in for 58-61cm. All sizes get a standard 1 1/8in diameter up top.

Other features include well executed internal cable routing that's convertible for mechanical or electronic drivetrains, molded-in bearing seats for the integrated headsets, a carbon fiber sleeve for the press-fit bottom bracket cups, and hollow carbon fiber dropouts.

Tire clearance is refreshingly generous. The stock 25mm-wide Specialized Turbo Pro clinchers actually measure closer to 26mm across, and 28mm ones fit easily.

Actual weight for our 52cm frame is 961g including the seatpost collar, rear derailleur hanger, and anodized aluminum water bottle bolts – just 40g heavier than the similarly sized S-Works Tarmac SL4 we tested last year. The matching 390g fork tacks on a more significant 80g weight penalty but, even so, they're impressive numbers.

Equipment: Wide-range gearing and lots of lightweight bits but so-so brake performance

Specialized offers not just one but two top-end S-Works Roubaix SL4 variants: the monumentally expensive US$12,000/£8,500 Roubaix SL4 Di2 Compact with Shimano's latest Dura-Ace electronic group and the somewhat more reasonable US$8,000 Roubaix SL4 Red Compact with a SRAM Red 2012 group, which we've tested here (UK markets get a Dura-Ace mechanical build option for £6,500).

In addition to the SRAM Red 2012 group (which includes the company's BB30 crankset instead of Specialized's own FACT carbon cranks), nearly every other line on the spec sheet is filled in from the Specialized corporate parts bin: Roval Rapide CLX 40 carbon clincher wheels, 25mm-wide Turbo Pro tires, a compact bend carbon fiber handlebar clamped in an adjustable-angle forged aluminum stem, the aforementioned COBL GOBL-R carbon seatpost, and a cushy Body Geometry Toupe RBX Pro saddle with carbon rails.

We've already tested the SRAM Red 2012 group extensively, so there were no surprises there. The drivetrain shifts precisely and reliably under power, and it runs much more quietly than previous iterations. The impressively accommodating stock gearing is 50/34T up front and a mountain taming 11-28T out back.

Specialized swaps out the usual SRAM chain for a KMC X10SL that's visually augmented with a black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating. It runs quietly and shifts well but after a couple of months of steady use, including a few wet and nasty rides on local dirt roads, the snazzy finish is already starting to wear.

Previous experience on SRAM's latest linkage-enhanced single-pivot rim brake calipers has shown them to generate heaps of power, with very good lever feel and modulation. In this instance, however, braking performance from the Roval Rapide CLX 40's carbon sidewalls and the included carbon-specific pads (made for Specialized by SwissStop) was more inconsistent.

Braking performance in dry conditions with freshly surfaced pads is about average as far as carbon rims go, with passable initial bite but a very progressive build-up in power the further back you pull the lever.

That performance degrades tremendously when the pads are even somewhat dirty or glazed, however – which doesn't seem to take long. In one instance, our hands actually started to cramp towards the bottom of a sketchy 300m (1,000ft) dirt road descent with lots of loose switchbacks. Needless to say, things don't improve when the rims are wet.

Specialized contracts these pads from SwissStop, whose carbon-specific pads we've generally found to be among the best available in the past. In fairness, sanding down the glaze and grime restores braking performance normal, but even then it's never as good as other setups we've used, such as SwissStop's benchmark Yellow King pad.

"The red pads have been like a red version of Yellow King but with a bit less power which came with the color change," said Christian Heule of SwissStop.

That said, he also told BikeRadar that Specialized has already discontinued the red pads in favor of the company's far more capable Black Prince carbon-specific compound.

Otherwise, the rolling stock fares quite well. The wheels are notably light at just under 1,400g (claimed), they spin exceptionally well on the stock CeramicSpeed bearings, the well-damped ride is a good match for the chassis, they're reasonably stable in crosswinds, and the internal-cam skewers generate heaps of clamp force. The Turbo Pro tyre's supple casing rides smoothly, too, and its round profile is predictable in corners, with a gently progressive turn-in.

Hidden nipples on the rims will slow down any required truing, however, and we feel this type of bike could certainly benefit from an internal rim width greater than the 16.2mm used here.

Otherwise, the rest of the Specialized bits passed with flying colors. We found the densely padded saddle very comfortable for long days in the saddle, and while fitter riders might prefer a handlebar with more drop, the compact bend one used here is comfortable and well shaped.

Despite having an extra shim included to provide the angle adjustment, the forged aluminum stem is solid and creak free, too.

Switch-hitter

Given such disparate performance characteristics, the question becomes a matter of whom Specialized has built this thing for.

Enthusiast riders who want a premium rig for comfortable long-distance cruising might very well want something with a more progressive ride quality. Racers, on the other hand, will enjoy getting to the finish line feeling a little less beat-up on more poorly maintained courses, but might take issue with the higher stack height and more leisurely handling (we had to use a -17-degree stem to replicate our typical, not-super-aggressive position).

Specialized marketing man Chris Riekert puts it this way:

"I think for years the idea of a comfort bike being laterally stiff enough to race was absurd. The best way to make an endurance bike better is to make it faster. The new SL4 provides the exact same amount of deflection as the Roubaix SL3 but is a substantial amount more laterally stiff.

"In my experience on the bike, there is a perception that the SL4 is stiffer on large impacts because the frame is only allowed to bend in a vertical path, whereas the SL3 could soak up some of the hit in lateral movement. That is a large reason why we pushed so hard for the system of the sharper SL4 frame paired with the COBL GOBL-R to deal with large impacts."

Riekert doesn't necessarily dispute our findings on the bike, but poses the question in this manner: "Is the best endurance a) the softest ride or b) the best blend of comfort and performance?"

We can't answer that question for you, but on more than one occasion we climbed off this thing wondering what it would be like with fast-rolling, 28mm-wide open tubular tires (which would largely offset the frame's curious ride quality), a slightly shorter head tube (do aggressive positioning and comfort have to be mutually exclusive?), and the option of hydraulic disc brakes – all of which we're estimating would add about half a kilo but mind-blowing versatility. We're allowed to dream, right?

Price: US$8,000
Weight: 6.41kg (14.13lb, complete bike, as tested, without pedals); 961g (frame only, with rear derailleur hanger, seatpost collar, and water bottle bolts); 390g (fork only, without compression plug)
Pros: Fantastic vibration damping, race bike-like reflexes, ultralight weight
Cons: Surprisingly harsh ride on medium-to-large bumps, inconsistent braking performance
Cyclingnews verdict: 4 stars
More information: www.specialized.com

Complete bicycle specifications

Frame: Specialized S-Works Roubaix FACT 11r carbon
Available sizes: 49, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Fork: Specialized S-Works Roubaix, 1 1/8" upper and size-specific (1 1/8", 1 1/4", or 1 3/8") lower steerer diameter
Headset: FSA Orbit IS
Stem: Specialized S-Works Pro-Set
Handlebars: Specialized S-Works SL carbon, shallow drop
Tape/grips: Specialized S-Wrap Roubaix
Front brake: SRAM Red 2012 w/ Roval carbon-specific pads by SwissStop
Rear brake: SRAM Red 2012 w/ Roval carbon-specific pads by SwissStop
Brake levers: SRAM Red 2012 DoubleTap
Front derailleur: SRAM Red 2012
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red 2012
Shift levers: SRAM Red 2012 DoubleTap
Cassette: SRAM XG-1090, 11-28T
Chain: KMC X10SL-DLC/Black
Crankset: SRAM Red 2012 BB30, 50/34T
Bottom bracket: Specialized OSBB by CeramicSpeed
Pedals: n/a
Wheelset: Roval Rapide CLX 40 w/ CeramicSpeed bearings
Front tire: Specialized Turbo Pro, 700x25c
Rear tire: Specialized Turbo Pro, 700x25c
Saddle: Specialized Body Geometry Toupe RBX Pro
Seat post: Specialized COBL GOBL-R

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