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Specialized review Roubaix SL8 Expert – an all-season superbike – GravelBikes.Online


In 2024 the Specialized Roubaix will be 20 years old, and what a journey it has been. A “hell” of a trip you might say. Roubaix has won seven editions of its namesake Monument Classic, the last with Philippe Gilbert in 2019.
Launched earlier this year, the Roubaix SL8 has come a long way since 2004. Then Specialized’s first-of-its-kind endurance bike with a taller stack and carbon ride frame smooth, it offered an alternative to the steep, aggressive and hard run. bicycles of the time.

But 20 years later, racing bikes are much more comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that the same aero bike can be ridden in Milan-Sanremo or Paris-Roubaix with just one tire change. So where does this leave the Specialized Roubaix?
The latest iteration has evolved far beyond its original mission. According to Specialized, riders are demanding more from their bikes than ever before, and the Roubaix SL8 answers that call: “Lighter, faster and smoother than any road bike ever made, unleashing unmatched confidence.” It’s still an endurance road machine, but it’s not afraid of a little gravel, says the American brand.

What’s new? There is an upgraded Future Shock suspension system at the front, an After Shock suspension at the rear and a large tire clearance for 40mm rubber. It’s lighter and faster at the same time: an optimized carbon layout is claimed to shave 50g off the top S-Works frame’s weight compared to the 2020 model, while improved aerodynamics make it four watts faster than before
Added mudguard eyes plus mounting points for a top tube package and extra cage.

Check out our launch story for full details and specs, but here we’re looking at the SRAM Rival AXS-equipped Roubaix Expert – £6,000 at the time of writing and third in the range behind the S -Works and the Pro. – which I have been riding for the past month.

Frame and fork

The flagship S-Works Roubaix SL8 is made from Specialized’s premium 12r carbon and weighs around 825g (7.3kg total weight for a size 56 S-Works Roubaix). All the other models, including the Expert here, are made from 10r carbon and as such are slightly heavier for the same level of stiffness.

The silhouette of the Roubaix SL8 isn’t much different from the 2020 version, but Specialized has saved those four watts (equivalent to 17.7 seconds in 100 miles at 3W/kg, not much, but the brand says the old Roubaix was already). class leader in its aerodynamics) by creating a new fork with deeper blades, a reshaped head tube and down tube, and lower seats that are more hidden from the airflow.

It would be an easy win to save even more watts by hiding the airflow cables, but since the Future Shock suspension, located below the stem, provides 20mm of travel, that’s not possible. The brake hoses must be able to bend as the bar moves up and down in its travel. Not quite as clean a look compared to rival endurance bikes like the Canyon Endurace, but unavoidable in this case.
Tire clearance on the new Roubaix has increased from 33mm to 40mm. The Canyon Endurace has room for a maximum of 35mm, so Specialized wins here. The Roubaix now has fender mounts (the Canyon doesn’t yet) and can mount 35mm tires with fenders.

The geometry and sizing is based on the previous Roubaix with 10mm added to the front center for the larger tires.

The size 56 I tried has a 605mm stack and a 389mm reach, so it’s quite tall at the front, with no chance of hitting the stem as the Future Shock, which adds 30mm of stack, it sits below the hover bar, which itself has a 15mm increase compared to the standard flat-top drop bar.

suspension

Suspension deserves its own section, as it is what the Roubaix SL8 is all about. The bike’s strapline is “softer is faster,” and this is achieved, according to Specialized, by suspending the rider, not the bike: travel is done directly below the rider’s contact points on the bar and saddle

The Future shock at the front is faster because it moves up and down to absorb shocks instead of deflecting back on impact like a traditional fork does, according to Specialized.

The Expert has Future Shock 3.2, which lacks the adjuster dial on the upper stem cap of the 3.3 (equipped on S-Works and Pro models), but it is possible to change the spring inside the shock to a softer one or harder ride and there is a manual with instructions, although I didn’t because the medium spring it comes with felt good, and Specialized’s chart recommends medium for my rider’s weight anyway. Softer and firmer springs are included with the bike.

At the rear is After Shock – a carbon D-profile stem with a dropped clamp that sits 65mm down into the seat tube allowing for more rearward deflection as it is a longer lever. Above the caliper, the seatpost effectively floats inside the larger seat tube, sealed by a rubber boot at the junction with the top tube (under which the long caliper bolt is also located). This avoids the wear issues that plagued the 2021 Canyon Aeroad, which also used a seat tube with a lowered clamp, but Canyon’s VCLS carbon stem, as used by the Endurance, uses a spring construction of blade with a clamp in the standard position to achieve this. the same 20 mm of deflection.

Specialized says the Roubaix SL8 offers the most rearward deflection possible without the need for a damper, the solution for its Diverge STR gravel bike.

components

The £6,000 Roubaix SL8 Expert is fitted with a SRAM Rival AXS groupset with a power meter chain. The wheels are Roval Terra C: carbon with a depth of 33mm and an internal width of 25mm wide with tubeless-ready 32mm S-Works Mondo tires. All of these components are of good quality, but at this point it’s worth checking out what the Roubaix SL8’s competitors have to offer.

The Canyon Endurace undercuts it quite significantly – £750 less at the time of writing, the Endurance CF SLX 8 AXS Aero has a SRAM Force groupset with a power meter chain and DT Swiss ERC 1400 Dicut deep section wheels superior
The Vitus Venon EVO-RS Aero gets a SRAM Force groupset (although it has no power meter and has alloy wheels) for £1,600 less.

The Trek Domane SL6 AXS Gen 4 with Rival AXS (also no power meter and has alloy wheels) is slightly more expensive than the Vitus, but still more than £1000 below the Roubaix SL8 Expert and Giant Defy Advanced 0 with Rival AXS it’s almost half that. the price of the Roubaix SL8 Expert, although again it comes without a power meter and has alloy wheels.

So, judging by the specs, the Roubaix SL8 Expert is priced high for a Rival AXS bike, but things are tight at the top end – the flagship S-Works model with SRAM Red at £12,000 is not more expensive than its top competitors. .

Impressions of the walk

I’ll cut right to the chase and say that the Roubaix SL8 is the most comfortable road bike I’ve ever ridden. I’m a big fan of Canyon’s VCLS seatpost, but on the front end the Endurace relies on squidge tires like any other bike, while the Roubaix SL8 with the After Shock seatpost and Future front Shock, and the big 32mm S-Works Mondo tires. more plush in general.

That said, the execution is more subtle than you’d think from marketing. At first I didn’t even believe the front Future Shock was engaging, especially since there was no sag adjustment and it was at the top of its travel, but on rougher surfaces I could see the brake cables move, and told me the bar was moving up and down.

At higher speeds, especially downhill, the bike benefits much more from the suspension. Downhill fast it feels like a motorcycle. Very stable, very smooth and very fun. In general, the faster you go, the better it works.

Climbed out of the saddle, I expected the Future Shock to climb, but because it’s laterally solid, a standard climbing style, which exerts more lateral torsional force on the hoods, doesn’t activate it.

The more I rode the Roubaix the more I enjoyed it.

Disadvantages? Future Shock inevitably adds some weight, and the Roubaix SL8 Expert at 8.7kg is no lightweight. And there’s no way around the high front—it’s not possible to hit the stem if you want a lower stack height.

Comparing the fit of the Roubaix SL8 to the fit measurements of my ideal bike by fitter Giuseppe Giannechini, on the Roubaix I’m almost 5cm taller in the front, that’s before adding the 1 rise, 5 cm from the Hover bar, and about 4 cm shorter. As with most endurance bikes, it’s important to make sure the geometry is right for you. Personally, I prefer the rider’s weight to be distributed a little more evenly between the saddle and the bars, even for the long rides that endurance bikes are aimed at.

It’s still possible to get into a less-than-optimal aero position, though, and I rode my usual 25-mile loop only slightly slower than I would for similar power on a race bike. Also note that it was November and December when I tested the Roubaix, which means cold tires/more rolling resistance and higher air density.

But thanks to its softness, the Roubaix is ​​deceptively fast even in winter. I dropped it freewheeling on a gentle descent alongside a rider of a similar weight on a “standard” bike with 28mm tires and no suspension.

To his added chagrin, I slapped mud on his face as I pulled ahead. I didn’t wear mudguards even though I rode the Roubaix SL8 in horrible weather. But if you do, you could ride it all year round without bothering your companions and even use it as a luxury commuter.

verdict

It’s tempting to dismiss the latest Roubaix as neither fish nor fowl, especially now that it’s no longer the number one race bike for Specialized’s pro teams in the cobbled classics, and it’s also not a gravel bike like the Diverge STR. But it’s incredibly versatile and ticks a huge number of boxes, probably more than any other road bike out there today, with very little compromise at either end of the spectrum.

Its biggest USP is its softness. It may not be the queen of classics anymore, but it is the undisputed king of comfort.

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