With its bullet-fast power transfer and samurai-sharp handling, the weight-gain over the Tarmac is unnoticeable
- Sharp handling
- Absolute power transfer
- Effortless flat-level speed
- Around four million times easier to live with than the Venge Vias
- Doesn't come with tubeless tyres as standard, which which will be offputting for a select few
It's been two years since Specialized launched the current iteration of the S-Works Venge, and we thought it about time to put one through its paces to see if it's really worthy of a spot in our guide to the best aero road bikes.
For as long as the Venge has been around, it's unashamedly been touting itself as one of the best aero bikes available, and this model stays true to its genes. The American brand's range-topping aero bike has, as with previous iterations, been designed for outright straight-line speed, power transfer and maximum aerodynamic efficiency, and, like any aero bike launch, it came with a mountain of claimed improvements.
The takeaway from all this paperwork wasn't just that the bike was faster (of course, that was in there, though); instead, the Venge had taken aim at the bike market as a whole in a bid to not only be an aero bike but be one of the best road bikes, no matter what your needs.
Specialized reduced the weight, improved the aerodynamics, increased tyre clearances and, perhaps most importantly, learned from the mistakes made with the Venge Vias, making the bike considerably easier to live with, and launching the latest iteration of the Venge as a disc-brakes-only bike.
Specialized claims a 56cm S-Works Venge to be 480 grams lighter than its predecessor at just 7.1kg, having saved 240g in the frame, 25g in the fork, 107g in the cockpit, 25g in the seatpost, and 63g across the remaining parts.
Aerodynamically, the new Venge is claimed to be eight seconds faster than the Venge Vias over 40km at zero degrees of yaw, and faster out on the road in all wind conditions.
Specialized provides its fleet to men's WorldTour teams Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep, and to Boels Dolmans in the Women's WorldTour. Given the new-found improvements, it's unsurprisingly the go-to choice of sprinters Pascal Ackermann of Bora-Hansgrohe and Sam Bennett of Deceuninck QuickStep, both of whom have provided Cyclingnews with their opinions on the bike.
When we spoke to Ackermann at his team's December training camp in Majorca, he explained that he'd committed to using the Venge for all races, whether mountainous, flat, cobbled or otherwise.
When Bennett spoke to us at the Tour Down Under in January, we discussed the differences between the bikes in Specialized's range.
"The Venge is just such a quick bike that you have to use the Venge," Bennett explained.
Design and aesthetic
The colour of our SRAM Red eTap AXS-equipped model is given the official title of 'Gloss Metallic White Silver/Lite Silver Fade', and it shimmers in the sun with a subtle sense of class. The fade helps to highlight the frame's lines without being in your face, and the contrasting black logo leaves no doubt as to what you're riding.
Both S-Works Venge and Venge Pro models start with the same frameset, made up of Fact 11R carbon. All models are committed purely to disc brakes and electronic groupsets, so the difference comes courtesy of the spec. Your groupset choice is limited to Shimano or SRAM, and the two S-Works models are given the range-topping Red eTap AXS and Dura-Ace DI2 groupsets, respectively, along with Roval CLX64 carbon wheels, while Pro models are fitted with the more affordable Force eTap and Ultegra DI2 groupsets, with Roval CL64 wheels.
Geometry is aggressive, as one would expect from a pure aero race bike. The stack and reach on my 58cm frame is longer than both the Trek Madone and Cannondale SystemSix by 9 and 7mm respectively. The stack is within 1mm of the aforementioned models, and 10mm lower than the Tarmac.
The head- and seat-tube angles both come in at 73.5 degrees, which is a happy average when compared to other aero bikes.
Unlike the Venge Vias, cabling is much easier to live with. However, that's only made possible by the Venge's commitment to electronic groupsets. Rather than integrating the housing inside the bar and stem, the cables now run beneath the proprietary Venge stem, and the headset spacers are splittable.
This means you don't need to re-cable the entire front end in order to make small adjustments to your position. The handlebars are still integrated, but it's a considerably easier job to route the cables into the frame than on the Venge's predecessor.
The stem's faceplate features an integrated Bar Fly out-front computer mount (with adapters for all of the best cycling computers). Out back, the seatpost was updated, too. The flat-backed seatpost is tightened using a typical wedge mount but also features a housing point for a Shimano Di2 junction box.
This model is fitted with the SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 12-speed road groupset, complete with 48/35T chainset and 10-33T cassette offering more than wide enough gear spread for our needs. I'm yet to put the bike to the test in a bunch sprint to see if those rumours of drivetrain loss are noticeable, but it's rare that I'd sprint in the 48/10 anyway.
The brakes are, thankfully, a marked improvement over what the rim-brake-equipped Venge Vias had to offer. A pairing of 140 and 160mm SRAM rotors does well to rein in the speed, and the lever feel is a considerable improvement over SRAM's own Rival hydraulic brakes.
While Specialized is one of the biggest advocates for tubeless in the pro peloton, none of the Venge models will come set up inner-tube-free off the shelf. The entire Roval CLX wheel range – of which this bike uses CLX64 – is tubeless compatible, and the bike will come with spare Roval tubeless valves, but you'll have to factor the cost of tubeless tyres and sealant if you want to go down this route.
Off the shelf, this model will come with Specialized's ultra-fast race tyre, the Turbo Cotton. Don't be disappointed – it's one of the best road tyres out there – but if you do want to swap, rejoice in the knowledge that the tyre clearances are astronomical for an aero bike. Officially, you can fit 32mm road tyres, but probably even wider ones.
The frame is fitted with CeramicSpeed bearings all round, including headset, bottom bracket and wheels, and while the efficiency differences are small, they certainly help with the longevity of the components.
Both S-Works models come fitted with a factory-fitted power meter and, on this model with its SRAM componentry, power measurement comes courtesy of the Quarq power meter built into the chainrings of the SRAM Red AXS chainset. Therefore, when you eventually wear out your chainrings, you'll be met with a hefty bill to replace your power meter. Why SRAM thought that was a good idea, we're unsure.
The fitment of 175mm cranks is standard in this frame size. They spin freely in the SRAM DUB BB30 bottom bracket, and so far have remained completely creak-free.
As part of requesting the Venge for review, I was asked to provide bike-fit data. I'd not long been given a bike fit by the Retül experts while at the Bora-Hansgrohe training camp in December, so my data was duly shared. The result? Instead of receiving the stock-standard 44cm wide handlebars and 110mm stem, Specialized tailored the bike to my preferences: 40cm handlebars and a 130mm stem. This led me to wonder why this service – or a similar one to that – wasn't offered to paying customers.
The frame features three bottle cage bosses on the down tube, meaning there are two positions on offer, as well as the ability to also fit a SWAT bottle cage storage compartment, should you want to carry a few extra tools. There are also two bolts fitted to the underside of the S-Works Power saddle, where you can fit a Stix light or Specialized's Road Bandit tool storage system.
Specialized's line on the new bike, at the time of launch, was that if it were any more aero, it would have to be heavier, and if it were any lighter, it would be less aero. Of course, Specialized isn't shy of a bit of marketing spiel, but the first pedal stroke of this ride will back up the bold claims.
Specialized seems to have struck a fine balance, and the weight difference between the Tarmac and the Venge is all-but unnoticeable, short of on alpine climbs. Take the Venge onto short steep terrain and the frame's extra stiffness more than makes up for the weight it concedes. Quick-fire, out-of-the-saddle efforts are rewarded with immediate, explosive responsiveness, and the bike leaves you feeling like every single watt of energy is being transformed into forward momentum.
And once you're up to speed, the Venge just holds onto it. The aero frame shape, cable-free cockpit, aero handlebars, 64mm deep wheels and fast-rolling tyres all contribute to a bike that wants to go fast and stay fast.
Cornering is better than anything I've ridden, and while lockdown riding has limited my risk-taking to a minimum, the 73.5-degree head angle and 44mm rake combine to provide samurai sharp handling precision, and the Turbo Cotton tyres find grip like a free solo climber clinging to a rock face.
The Venge is a cinch to own. Of course, owning any of today's best road bikes requires a modicum of mechanical sympathy and ability, and the Venge is no different, but the things you're likely to need to do outside of a full service are made easy.
When compared to the Tarmac, the stiffness of the Venge can take its toll over longer rides over broken and imperfect terrain, but it's still a considerable improvement over the Venge's predecessor, and it didn't stop Kasper Asgreen winning at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
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Taking aim at the best carbon road bikes on the market, the Venge no longer looks to fill its aero niche. Rather, the lower weight, simplified maintenance and improved brakes combine to make the Venge a viable consideration for anyone looking to go fast.
The aggressive position will exclude riders looking for an all-day comfortable ride, but for riders looking to go fast, be that for one hour or five, it'll be hard to beat the Venge.
Unsurprisingly, when aiming to create the best road bike, the price reflects that.
Starting at £6,500.00 / US$8,000.00 / €7,299.00 / AU$10,000.00 for the Venge Pro, the S-Works eTap model here retails at £9,750.00 / US$12,500.00 / €11,499.00 / AU$16,500.00.
At that price, it's likely to be a highly considered investment, and we don't blame you. But pitted against the competition, an equally specced Trek Madone SLR 9 will set you back over £11,000.00.
Logbook: Specialized S-Works Venge SRAM Red eTap AXS
- Month: 3 months
- Rides: 20
- Mileage: 600km
- Punctures: 0
- Ride types: Training rides, sprint training, indoor rides
Specifications: Specialized S-Works Venge
- Price: £9,750.00 / US$12,500.00 / €11,499.00 / AU$16,500.00
- Frame: S-Works Venge Fact 11R
- Size: 58cm
- Weight: 7.59kg
- Groupset: SRAM Red eTap AXS
- Crankset: SRAM Red Quarq power meter crank; 48/35T, SRAM Red XG-1290; 10-33T
- Wheels: Roval CLX64
- Brakes: SRAM RED eTap AXS HRD
- Handlebar: Specialized S-Works Aerofly II
- Stem: Specialized S-Works Venge stem
- Seatpost: Specialized S-Works Venge carbon seatpost
- Saddle: Specialized S-Works Power
- Tyres: Specialized Turbo Cotton 26c