Bike riding has been my go-to for clearing my head, processing thoughts, and just being. The world around us is too chaotic, confusing, and if you struggle mentally, it’s particularly hard to get by on most days. For these reasons, and the fact that I end up with nicely toned legs and several calories burned, I cannot discount the value of bike riding. The only catch is that you need to find the best bike for different conditions. Over the years, I’ve experienced the best biking experiences on the Specialized range of bikes.
While I have owned bikes from other brands, I seem to always fall back on Specialized. In this review, I’ll help you learn more about some of the best models of Specialized bikes on the market today.
Specialized Bikes: Then and Now
If there is a word that would be used to describe brands, Specialized bikes would be best described by the word ‘innovation.’
This brand of bikes is one of the most popular brands on the market today, and if you are anyone interested in the history behind brands, the evolution of Specialized is one that will leave you in awe.
Established back in 1974 by Mike Sinyard, the proprietor behind Specialized bikes, the brand’s first wheeler was a bike trailer. But this dream didn’t just come to life from Mike Sinyard’s savings – to make the dream a reality, the founder of Specialized sold off his Volkswagen Microbus for only $1500n then used these proceeds to invest in Italian bike parts that would help him build his first bike trailers.
Why Italian parts, you ask? Well, a little research informed Mike Sinyard’s choices as he learned that the roadies throughout California coveted the Italian bikes. So, he builds on this idea to bring Italian bikes home by starting off with legit Italian parts that would eventually give way to the best of Specialized bikes. As any of us can imagine, this dream didn’t turn into reality overnight. After buying the Italian parts, he stashed the parts into a bike trailer then pedaled around in and out of stores looking for more parts.
It wasn’t until 1976 that Mike Sinyard’s dream came true. This was when his first original Specialized product, the road tire, was released. Puzzling, isn’t it? Why is this guy choosing to focus on the bike’s tires more than the bike itself? Well, it turns out that this was Sinyard’s smartest move, one that was guided by his beliefs. Sinyard believed that the bike’s tire was the most important piece of equipment/ part of the bike, and every rider depended on it. You need the best tires to conquer different roads and landscapes, and none of the options on the market at the time met his needs or left him feeling confident in riding. So, he build his own bike tires. Now that he was satisfied with the quality of the tires, he set out to work on the rest of the bike.
Working with a frame builder called Tim Neenan, they spent a number of years building toad frames, and in 1981, Specialized directed its attention towards the creation of the fully-fledged niche of mountain bikes when they launched their first Stumpjumper. While the Stumpjumperwasn’t the first high-quality mountain bike on the market, it’s worth noting that this mountain bike line by Specialized was the first bike to be mass-produced, and it also allowed for the introduction of mountain biking to thousands of cyclists all over the world.
It’s also worth noting that besides the tires, Specialized has also placed focus on the bikes’ gears, and the brand boasts bikes with excellent gear systems and robust tires.
Before we review the leading bike models from Specialized, a look at the innovation history of the brand. As mentioned above, this 44-year brand is all about innovation. Here’s what we are talking about.
Innovation is a crucial process that allows for the success of any brand (and individual), and it involves the use of new methods, products, and ideas. Specialized has, over the years, taken this definition as is in a bid to solve cycling problems, and thanks to their innovations, the brand has been able to solve problems even cyclists didn’t recognize as problems. How?
Suspension System/ Saddles/ Shocks
The brand’s innovative streak started in 1993 when it debuted its FSR 4-Bar suspension system. This suspension system developed by Specialized with a lot of help from Horst Leitner (AMP Research) resulted in one of the best bike suspension systems that remain in use to date. But that wasn’t it. In 1999, the brand introduced the Full Suspension system for the cross-country cycling crowd, the S-Works, FSR XC.
In the same year, Specialized Bikes got themselves into the Body Geometry business, where they tried to look for ways and engineering techniques that would result in a more comfortable saddle. Their works resulted in one of the most intelligent shock technologies, Brain, in 2003. This technological feature is seen in the S-Works Epic line of bikes.
Then in 2015, the brand went for the aerodynamics, unveiling “Win” tunnel thanks to helping from leading NASA engineers.
The other impressive technological innovation seen in some of their bikes is the Fit System Retül, a feature that makes use of infrared mapping for the perfect placement of the frame and the saddle.
From then on, and in between, this brand has worked on giving cyclists only the best bikes, ranging from mountain and adventure bikes to road bikes with the best aerodynamics and commuter e-bikes, plus everything else in between.
Brands Bike Models and Types
A look at the range of bikes from Specialized tells you that this brand is nowhere close to slowing down as they crank out new and updated bike designs and gears often.
Their full-suspension mountain bikes are designed to match different needs and budgets, the e-bikes offer excellent hard road biking performance, and their Stumpjumper is a customized range that allows customers to choose bikes with specific suspension kits, wheel sizes, or frame colors from the limited edition range.
They also offer the best women’s specific bikes thanks to their Beyond Gender program. The other different feature you can expect from these bikes is that the brand has moved from the traditional sizing of their bikes – inch-based, small, medium, or large, and now they have bikes denoted S2, S3, S4, or S5, a reach-based sizing that allows riders to select bikes depending on what they need. The Shorter bikes for a more playful and quicker feel, and the longer bikes for a stable, more planted ride.
Now that we have a general overview of what to expect from the Specialized bikes let’s look at some of the bikes you might want to try.
Reviews of the best Specialized Bikes
Specialized Tarmac Review
The Specialized Tarmac bike could easily be regarded as the best race bike of all time thanks to its design and the razor-edge technological features fitted into this bike. It has everything going on for it, first because most riders have fallen in love with this bike, and also, there is the fact that this bike is more on the nerdy side of things specs, and it offers the most advanced features for top racing performance.
The Tarmac range of bikes by Specialized has to be the most popular lines, and with years of innovation and research, improvements, and updates to the original Specialized Tarmac, there are numerous Tarmac models on the market. This means that if you are looking for the best race bike from Specialized, you will need to pay closer attention to what each model on the Tarmac series has to offer.
We are talking about Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Tarmac E5, Tarmac Expert, Tarmac SL2, SL5, SL6, and the All Women’s Tarmac.
These models have gone through significant design changes that set apart each bike from the last. Below, we take a brief look into the features that set these bikes apart from each other.
- Specialized S-Works – this bike has been around for over 20 years, and it boasts that consistent zip and high-quality rides.
- Specialized Tarmac E5 – Developed in 2003, this bike is a half-carbon, half-aluminum, and full gas. It’s the first bike by Specialized with a carbon frame, but it’s not 100% carbon-framed, with of the frame being carbon and bonded to the lower part of the frame made of aluminum. The half carbon, half aluminum frame design is an innovative design that was picked on to reduce the weight of the bike by combining aluminum’s stiffness with the compliance and weight savings features of carbon. Note that the first all-carbon frame bike by Specialized was Roubaix, developed in 2004, and developed along with the E5.While the E5 premiered the half-carbon, half-aluminum look, it was quite stiff. However, its performance was uncanny, hence the maintained design and the trademark arched cobra at the top tube that remained part of the Tarmac range up to 2015.
- TarmacSL1 – This range of Tarmac bikes was produced in 2006. It was their first full-carbon Tarmac that offers an overall good torsional stiffness.
- Tarmac SL2 – The SL2 was made in 2008 when the carbon frame got really dialed in. This is the bike that you’d hop on today and feel the carbon racer feel in the bikes on the market today. It’s not that stiff, light, or aero, but it works very well. In 2012, the SL2 was improved, and the first Tarmac SL2, the Rider-First initiative was unveiled. The rider’s bike was made with advanced carbon engineering, layups and new shapes were introduced – frames cut shorter or longer.
- SL4 – This range has strain gauges, a carbon frame, and good handling/ responsiveness.
- Tarmac SL5 – This bike is the leading out disc road bike that was released in 2015. It’s available in 30 different types of frames and 15 forks, and also features an aero-down tube, plus a top tube which is beefier on the disc models. This bike is more responsive and offers better handling than the SL4.
- Tarmac SL6 – in 2018, the SL5 turned into a complete Tarmac, SL6. This bike is the real deal, and it boasts the most advanced engineering features. It’s not the lightest bike, but it’s an ideal cycling bike that boasts excellent performance. The aerodynamics, handling, and weight are all balanced for the perfect tarmac bike.
- Women’s Bike – then in 2018, Specialized upped their game with the women’s bike by coming up with women’s bikes with high-end frames, better saddles, cranks, and bars.
Now that we all know what to expect from the Specialized Tarmac range of bikes let’s look at the other specialty bikes by the brand.
Beyond the bikes above, the Specialized Tarmac build is also made of bike options like Tarmac Sport, S-Works Tarmac, Tarmac Elite, Tarmac Pro, and Tarmac Expert.
All Tarmac Specialized bikes have a carbon frame, and they are ideal for road racers, climbers, as well as cycling enthusiasts interested in putting in bigger miles, hence the need for high-end riding tools.
Comparison Table for Specialized Bikes
Specialized Tarmac SL5 Comp Disc Review
Most Versatile Bike
FACT 10r Carbon
Specialized Roubaix Ultegra Di2
Excellent Road Bike
Specialized Tarmac SL6 Pro Disc
Best Road and Mountain Bike
FACT 10r Carbon
Specialized Tarmac Expert SL3
Best Racing Bike
FACT 10r Carbon
Specialized Tarmac Sport
Best Racing Sports Bike
FACT 9r carbon
Specialized Tarmac SL5 Review
Designed with different fork sizes based on the size of the bike, the Tarmac SL5 is a carbon-frame Specialized bike that promises the most versatile frame and fork designs. It’s the first of Specialized bikes with a disc brake option, and you get to choose from the 15 forks and 30 variations of the frames. The introduction of the disc brakes made the SL5 a true road racing bike.
This bike also featured a radically redesigned frame with more of an aero-down and a straight top-tube, features that gave this bike a beefier look compared to other models. These design features further enhances the responsiveness and the handling of the bike, making it better than its predecessor, the SL4. All the design features of this bike also made it one of the fastest road race bikes by Specialized.
Specialized Tarmac SL5 Comp Disc Review – Most Versatile Bike
One of the specialized SL5 Tarmac bikes the stands out is the Specialized Tarmac SL5 Comp Disc, a naturally responsive, lively, and all-rounded bike with great fatigue-reduction forgiveness.
It is a classic climb bike with relatively stout fork blades and not the expected aero-profiled blades. It has an hourglass head tube, which feeds into a boxy, broad, down tube. It also offers flat and wide top tubes flowing out of the curved cheekbones before they curved out gently into two skinny and sturdy seatstays on each side of the skinny tube seat’s tube.
The seat tube holds in place a 27mm Seatpost via an internal wedge clamp that can be accessed from the side easily. The carbon frame has a mountain-bike style design, but with rather chunky chainstays. It also features easy and fast-to-use quick-release spindles.
The rims of this bike are the shallow DT Swiss rims, and these offer more forgiveness and are livelier than what you find in other bikes. There’s also the IceTec rotors that will absorb the extra braking heat and the seamless Shimano Ultegra for smooth functions. The KMC chain, the 105 cassettes, minimalist saddle, and the skinny Seatpost enhance the performance of the bike by reducing its overall weight and enhancing comfort. You might not, however, like the compact, bar-shaped design of the brakes because the design makes it harder for you to reach the brakes.
The shifters are Shimano Ultegra R8020 hydraulic, the stem is a specialized 3D forged stem, and it comes in different sizes from 49cm to 61cm.
- Good suspension
- Very responsive and lively
- Good forgiveness
- Low weight design
- Brakes are hard to reach
- Soft at full power
Specialized Roubaix Ultegra Di2 Review – Excellent Road Bike
The Roubaix Ultegra Di2 is one of the best road bikes on the market today as it is designed to offer the best riding experience around.
It boasts a super-light frame made of Specialized’s FACT 10r carbon fiber. The frame gives it a high level of stiffness, which makes the bike faster, with a whole new level of geometrical efficiency.
This bike is made with some of the best technological and engineering features designed to improve its performance. These include the Future Shock suspension, which comes in the form of a piston fitted into a head tube with a 20mm travel. This suspension system was developed as a partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies, and it has resulted in the most drastic improvements in the performance of the bike, especially in terms of its vertical compliance. Specifically, this bike lacks the fork splay design, which means an improvement in the bike’s speed, comfort, and smoothness, all in a single fell swoop. Note that the advanced suspension system results from the brand’s specialized engineering technology, the Rider-Fast Engineering design. This engineering is behind the smooth rides and the bike’s responsiveness. Working with the Future Shock suspension system, the bike offers the best level of control and comfort.
This bike has also been tested with the Rolling Efficiency Model, and its performance is like non-other on the market. The bike also makes use of the hydraulic 8070 disc brakes, the latest Ultegra 8050 Shifting, as well as the alloy DT R470 disc wheels.
Then you have the hydraulic disc brakes (Ultegra Di2) for smooth and super-crisp shifts, along with an incredible level of modulation and stopping power.
The DT R470 disc wheels are reliable, and they come with sealed cartridge hubs along with 24 rear and front spokes designed to enhance the bike’s durability while keeping the weight low.
- Smooth and very crisp shifts from the hydraulic disc brakes
- Low weight
- Durable design
- Sturdy, reliable, and smooth wheels
- Sealed cartridge hubs
- 28mm turbo pro tires
- Carbon frame offers a great balance of aerodynamics and weight
- Rider-First Engineering for best performance
- Great balance in ride quality and weight
- Exceptional frame stiffness and performance
- 20mm travel from the Future Shock suspension system
- Reduced fatigue and high riding speeds
- Faultless design and use
- Few color options
- Lacks a lockout in the Future Shock, meaning that it bounces a lot on hard surfaces
Specialized Tarmac SL6 Pro Disc Review – Best Road and Mountain Bike
The SL6 Pro represents one of the most refined road bikes delivering the highest level of performance. It’s the best bike you could expect from the S-Works line from Specialized Tarmac. The best part about this bike is that despite all the advanced design and engineering features incorporated, it’s rather affordable. It features the SRAM Force eTap AXS, a 12-speed high-performance groupset.
One of the things that stands out from this bike is its lightweight design, stiff frame, and a comfortable overall feel that ensures easy handling. The carbon frame is lighter than what you’d get from other bikes in the S-Works line, and it weighs a mere 16.6lbs.
You could take this bike to the mountains too since the frame is stiff but not harsh, and you can take all those hard turns without worrying about the bike feeling twitchy. It also boasts improved aerodynamics.
The other features that make this Specialized bike one of the best include the perfect balance from the 160mm front rotor and the 140mm rear rotor.
It supports extreme measures thanks to the dual-sided power meter, and it’s designed to ensure the smoothest running experiences thanks to the CeramicSpeed components fitted into the wheel bearings and the bottom bracket.
- The fat 30mm rubber tires
- Carbon hoops from the Roval CL50 Disc and tubeless-ready wheels are very strong for daily riding
- More aerodynamics from the drop in the seatstays, which makes the bikes faster
- 12-speeds from its 10-33 cassette offering several gearing options and no big jumps
- No proprietary handlebar, integrated stem, or internal brake routing features
- Refined riding feel
- A perfect balance in handling
- The Di2 cable is problematic
Specialized Tarmac Expert SL3 Review – Best Racing Bike
The Specialized Tarmac Expert SL3 is a mid-compact bike by specialized bikes known for its powerful acceleration, as well as the razor-sharp handling. This Tarmac bike has been designed specifically for racing.
Some of the features that stand out from this bike include the ultra-lightweight SL3 frame construction that’s behind the tour-winning times of this bike. It also features the top-rated Ultegra components, including the FSA carbon crank, along with the Fulcrum 4 wheels, which give this bike its race-ready performance.
A Pro-Tour bike, it features FACT IS 10r carbon frame, which comes with elliptical seatstays and a tapered head tube. These features give the bike its fast and stiff design and zero compromises on both its performance and compliance features. Then you have the carbon fork that’s compliant, stiff and light and a tapered steerer.
The Fulcrum wheels are durable, light, and fast, which means that they are ideal for the high-mileage races and training sessions. The wheels were made by Campagnolo, and they boast a legendary level of performance.
The other features that stand out from this bike include the adjustable three dimensional forged alloy stem with 4 position options featuring a bar clamp (31.8mm) for high-strength performance and multiple positioning. It also features the 10-speed Shimano Ultegra shifters, which are laser-accurate and lightweight for the best performance. Finally, the BG Romin Comp with a shaped profile promising maximum power. The Cr-Mo rails make the bike extra durable.
- 10r carbon construction for top performance
- 1 – ½” lower bearing
- Great racing bike with great confidence
- Good level of forgiveness, despite its stiffness
- Sturdy frame
- Fast Fulcrum 4 wheels
- Laser-accurate and lightweight shifters
- High-performance bike
- Needs an aggressive riding position
- Internal cabling is a little complicated
Specialized Tarmac Sport – Best Racing Sports Bike
For a bike that offers great value for money, you might want to try out this Specialized Tarmac Sportbike. It boasts the best quality frame and equipment that are well-balanced and designed to offer great value for money.
Launched in 2013, Tarmac Sport features a carbon frame with a tapered head tube along with a matching carbon fork. In as much as the head tube looks significantly long, most of the tube’s length is down in the down tube, while the top-line is arched subtly for the top tube.
It has a predominantly Shimano drivetrain fitted with the FSA Gossamer chainset, a feature that results in the slickest shifting, albeit with some occasional noises at the far end of the block. The gearing components are also elegant, and they come as a combination of the 11-28T cassette working with the 52/36 chainset for the perfect tall range for racing and low ranges for those extended climbs. The 52/36 combo is more reliable and has grown in popularity in the recent past.
For the wheels, you have the new DT Axis 2.0. These are affordable, basic, but solid wheels that boast great detailing form the CNC’D hub flanges. The subtle finish of the wheels elevates its look, while the tight build and the smooth-running design of the hubs ensure the best-quality performance. Note that the CNC’d body keeps the weight of the bike low, while the cartridge pads enhance the bike’s performance and its stopping power.
- Smooth and balanced riding
- Good level of stiffness for sprints
- Ideal for extended climbs
- Excellent stopping power, even on wet surfaces
- Solid wheels
- Comfortable, classy Toupe saddle
- Excellent DT Axis 2.0
- Alloy handlebar
- Tapering fork reduced vibration
- Smaller cap
- The braking could be more powerful
What are some bikes similar to Specialized Tarmac?
Some of the bikes that are similar to or comparable to Specialized Tarmac include Giant TCR Advanced SL2, Canyon Aeroad CF SL 8.0, Cannondale Super Six Evo Disc, and Trek Madone SL6 Disc.
How much does a Specialized Tarmac weigh?
The Specialized Tarmac SL6 Expert weighs 7.63Kgs. The weight will, however, vary depending on the model you choose.
Who makes specialized bikes?
Though the brand is based in Morgan Hill, California, the main contractor for the bikes is based in Taiwan. The manufacturer is called Merida.
Who makes specialized bike frames?
The actual manufacturing is by Merida, the Taiwanese company, but the design work, prototyping, as well as the product development are all done in California.
What is the reputation of Specialized bikes?
Specialized bikes boast a good reputation in the bicycle scene, and they are known for high-quality road and sportbikes. But you need to bear in mind that Specialized is a brand that deals with high-end and expensive bikes.
Are Specialized bikes worth the money?
Though expensive, Specialized bikes are designed using the most innovative engineering techniques, and they offer excellent performance. If you don’t mind splurging on a bike, Specialized would be a good place for you.
Are Specialized bikes better than Trek Bikes?
If you are looking for high-quality bikes, you won’t go wrong with bikes from either Specialized or Trek. Both brands offer high-quality bikes, but if you are looking for the best entry-level bikes, Specialized would be a good brand for you to work with. The reason for this is that Specialized offers higher-quality parts for entry-level bikes than Trek. But for the high-end, specialty bikes, there are slight differences seen in the geometry.
Both brands will, however, offer excellent full-suspension, hardtails, hybrids, and e-bikes, etc. Both brands also feature Women’s bikes.
The main differences between bikes by these two brands include differences in the rear-suspension design. Trek offers Active Braking Pivot and Full-Floater, while Specialized offers the Future Shock Rear. Both brands promise the best suspension performance on different terrains.
It’s worth noting that an expensive Specialized bike is always better than the Cheap Trek bike, even if they are both made of the same materials – aluminum and FACT carbon.
It’s safe to say that there is no clear winner between these two brands, and the main difference between the bikes by either brand will vary depending on the components and materials used, as well as your budget. However, ¸ you always get better quality parts from Specialized.
What are the best Specialized bike models?
- Specialized Tarmac – road racing bike
- Specialized Venge – road racing bike
- Specialized Allez- road racing bike
- Specialized Allez Sprint – road racing bike
- Specialized Roubaix – Endurance road bike
- Specialized AWOL – Best Touring bike
- Specialized Diverge – Best All-Road bike
- Specialized CruX – Best Cyclocross bike
- Specialized Sequoia – adventure bike
- Specialized Shiv – Triathlon bike
- Specialized XC Epic/ Epic Hardtail/ Chisel/ Epic Evo – Mountain bikes
- Specialized Stumpjumper – a trail bike
Specialized is a leading brand of high-end bikes meeting varied user needs, and they have a bike for everyone, from entry-level bikes to high-end dream bikes. There are aero road and elegant downhill mountain bikes, which means that if you are not keen about the features you are looking for in a bike, you might end up with a less than perfect bike for your needs. To choose the best Specialized bike, consider your needs and level of experience, then decide if you are better off with carbon or an aluminum-frame bike, a disc, or a rim brake bike. But the choices don’t end there; you need to make sure that the bike you choose will meet your needs and weight requirements. Some bikes are ideal for sprinters and breakaway artists, while others are ideal for climbers are road racers or mountain climbers. So, choose wisely.