Specialized partners with McLaren on new Roubaix

The original Specialized Roubaix was arguably one of the first ‘comfort performance’ road bikes on the market, a category that a plethora of manufacturers now build bikes for. For 2017 Specialized hasn’t just updated the Roubaix — rather they’ve revamped it, producing a bike with technical features, and one in particular, that they hope will keep the brand at the cutting edge.

In crunching the data to develop the 2017 Roubaix, Specialized again partnered with British McLaren Applied Technologies, the F1 engineers that had a helping hand in creating both the current Tarmac and the Venge ViAS.

The original Roubaix featured a longer wheelbase and slightly shallower geometry than what was typically being ridden at the time. It also had generous clearance for big tires (it was able to accept up to 28mm rubber), and most distinctively, had polymer bumpers (called Zertz) molded into the frame to damp the ride and take the sting out of the cobbles. The head tube was taller than most road race bikes, putting the rider in a slightly more “heads-up” position.

This latest iteration of the Roubaix bike is all of those things and none of them at once. The frame is a radical departure from the original model. Gone are the Zertz inserts, longer wheelbase, and greater rake to the fork. The head angle now matches that of the Tarmac (Specialized’s carbon race bike), and the rider position is lower. The frame weight is lighter than the outgoing Roubaix. The fork borrows heavily from that found on the Tarmac, too, albeit with a longer axle-to-crown distance to better clear the tires. The whole frame is structurally stiffer than the previous SL4 Roubaix, with a massive new down tube and stout bottom-bracket area. It will accept tires up to 32mm wide, and it’s disc-brake only.

At the core of the new bike is what Specialized calls the FutureShock cartridge. It’s composed of a tube-within-a-tube rolling on four sets of needle bearings and supported by three coil springs: two for support and one for tuning. It sits in the steerer tube (much like a traditional seatpost slides into a seat tube) and is clamped in place at the top of the fork. A traditional stem clamps to the outside of the cartridge. The FutureShock offers 17mm of downward travel and 3mm of upward travel, effectively isolating the rider and lending a smoother feel at the bars; perhaps even more importantly, it allows the front tire to maintain superb contact with the ground over both smooth and choppy terrain. The Roubaix will be sold with three different springs to tune the ride; they’ll be shipped with the medium spring installed, but riders can swap to either a softer or firmer spring to better tune for riding style and terrain.

The top-end Roubaix’s frame is crafted from Specialized’s Fact 11 carbon, while less expensive models will be built with Fact 10 carbon. Like other bikes in the line, it also gets “Rider First Tuning,” which is how Specialized refers to the varying tube sizes and shapes that allow it to get the same performance across the complete range of sizes available (49 to 61cm.) And in a not-so-strange (but very welcome) twist: There is a threaded bottom-bracket interface, rather than the BB30 style that has been used on the company’s race frames for the past few years. Specialized is also adding SWAT (storage, water, air, tools) storage to the new frame with a box tucked above the BB shell to carry tools, a tube, and a CO2 cartridge.

The last puzzle piece in the quest for comfort and control comes courtesy of the Roval CLX32 wheels. The carbon rims have an internal width of 21mm to add volume and support to the 28mm S-Works tires, and a new shape and shallower depth that rides less harshly than deeper offerings, and has more aero benefit than the old, narrower CLX 40s they replace. The wheels are tubeless ready and can be sealed at the spoke holes with tubeless tape or with Specialized’s tubeless rim plugs for slight weight savings over traditional tape. The hubs share the same aero profile of the deeper CLX64 found on the Venge ViAS disc and use DT Swiss internals. The hubs are Centerlock-compatible and end caps can be swapped between 12/12mm thru-axles or traditional quick releases. The wheels are available separately from the bike as an aftermarket offering and come in either tubular or clincher versions.

A full range of models is planned, ranging from the entry-level Roubaix Elite ($2,600) to the highest-end S-Works model outfitted with SRAM eTap and the newest hydraulic disc brakes ($10,000).