Price: £1500 (RRP)
Weight: 21lb 10oz (9.9kg)
Supplier: Specialized Concept Store - Berkshire, UK
1 - RIDE & HANDLING
The ride of the Roubaix series is probably is defining characteristic. It's been built to make those longer rides more agreeable for those who are blessed with a good chunk more ballast than the average peloton rider. I have a triple butted alloy framed CX bike and on road the Roubaix is a good deal less brutal to the undercarriage and palms meaning you can clock up considerably more mileage before you start shuffling about in the saddle.
The geometry is slacker than the typical hardcore road racer so the SL4 feels far less pointy on the road and enables you to concentrate on form rather than steering precision. That said considering it's relaxed nature it's still responsive enough to corner at speed without feeling lazy.
The Roubaix is equipped with Specialized's patented Zertz which help the Fact 8R carbon absorb even more of the road surfaces imperfections. It also comes with Roubaix bar tape which is underlaid with gel pads to take the sting out of your palms. A carbon seat post finishes off the factory's best efforts to smooth the road out. The effect is quite remarkable, and has to be ridden to be believed. Whilst decent alloy frames have improved in recent years in the comfort stakes, this is something else. Don't expect a magic carpet ride, but against your average steed this rig provides serious comfort.
Finally (and worthy of note as it came as a surprise to me), equipped with pedals this bike nearly weighs 22lbs (10kgs), yes you read that right! Thankfully on the road it doesn't ride like it and feels relatively spritely, but there have been some serious compromises to the drivetrain / wheels to get the price point down to offer full carbon inside 1500 quid but I'll come on to that later in the components section. Don't be put off by the weight penalty as if you're prepared to put your hand slightly deeper in your pocket when parts need to be changed / upgraded I've estimated there are a few lbs of weight savings up for easy grabs!
2 - COMPONENTS
Enough gushing, here's the catch. To get a carbon frame / fork / seatpost / disc brake equipped for 1500 of your Queens Heads summat's gotta give. The real shame is the group set and wheels have taken quite a big hit.
The compact group set (50/34 - 11/32) is a 9x2 Sora set up and thankfully the new Sora kit doesn't have the awful click button changer but instead the conventional lever shifting of the higher model ranges. It's honest, light and true, but the huge gear range and 9 speed set up mean maintaining cadence on hills can be a challenge as the jumps between gears are way too steep. The cables are also exposed, so for those looking for a clean front end I'm afraid you'll likely be offended by the cable spray emanating from the bars. The mechs are true and slick, but the changes feel a touch plasticky rather than mechanical like the higher range kit. Don't get me wrong, it's not Mickey Mouse, but after 20 years of XT/XTR and XO it just doesn't feel quite as well engineered. That said, no drama's and once it goes in a year or so (making way for 11 speed Ultegra from Merlin) there will be some handsome weight savings on offer.
Oh dear..... So I'm told the Axis wheels are made by DT Swiss and run 25c Specialized tyres, but wow do they weigh some. I ripped them straight out on day of purchase and substituted with an old set of Mavic Open Pro wheels on Novatec disc hubs and Sapim race spokes (With Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tyres and Conti Supersonic tubes) and saved a pound and a half of heft; kerching! This is prime upgrade territory and something like the Mavic Aksium Disc One rims would really benefit the bike tremendously as the bike now rides much lighter.
Time to upset the traditionalists. I bought this bike because it HAS disc brakes. If that makes me a philistine then I'll take it, but as a rider of CX and MTB bikes I just don't see the point of choosing traditional brakes over discs when I find discs to be so effective in all conditions. Yes the cable brakes are not as efficient as hydraulics (as only one caliper moves), but it's the consistency in all conditions that I find comforting. Also if you weighed what I weigh you may start to appreciate the ungainly beasts and forgive their excess weight and clumsy looks. Personally I think discs are coming if you like it or not, and I saw this as an opportunity to future proof the frame and forks ready for the onslaught. The BB7 Roads are about as good as cable discs get so no complaints here at all.
The controls are predominantly entry level Specialized road 'Comp' kit and are adequate if unexceptional. Only the seatpost is slightly trick being made of carbon (well the shaft), and unlike other carbon posts it's still 250g despite only measuring 27.2 thick so it's robust rather than weight weenie. I've steered away from upgrading to the Pave or Cobl-Goblr seat posts as supposedly the single bolt clasps have been known to move under heavier riders like myself (near 100kgs), so this stays for now.
The bike comes with 'get you going' cage pedals, so these were ripped off (along with the bell and reflectors) and substituted for Ultegra's which are beautifully built but slightly overeager to keep you clipped in!
3 - VERDICT
I've now had the chance to do a good few 25 mile+ runs on this bike since acquiring it a few weeks back and feel qualified to offer an opinion. As an out of the box bike the Roubaix SL4 is a fine bike. For longer distance weekend rides it will cosset you, and your body will repay you as you suffer less fatigue and continue with better form. However this is just one of the party pieces of the rather beautifully finished Roubaix. Some may be put off by the bargain basement components on offer to get the bike to a price, but don't discount it too soon. If you have longer term aspirations for your cycling this bike provides a great platform for future upgrades and would enable you to turn a comfy endurance/sportive bike into something quite a bit more specialist. It's never going to weigh or handle like a Tarmac S-Works, but thats not it's raison d-etre. I've now upgraded the bars, stem, wheels, saddle and cassette and the bike now feels that little bit sharper and focussed whilst still retaining a huge dollop of comfort. What's not to love? If you getting near middle age and are carrying just a bit more than you'd like then I urge you to give Roubaix a test ride as it's ticked a lot of boxes for me. I'm just waiting for the London Surrey 2015 to put it to the test.
Verdict in standard specification: 8/10
Verdict with upgrades: 9/10
Starting weight: 21lb 10oz
Current weight: 19lb 10oz
UPGRADES TO DATE
Shimano SLX 9 speed cassette
Prologo Nago Evo CPC Saxo Tinkoff Team replica saddle
Mavic Open Pro Rims / Novatec disc hubs / Sapim Spokes
Specialized S-Works Carbon Compact Handlebars
Specialized S-Works SL Stem
Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tyres (23c)
Conti Supersonic Tubes
Lizardskin bar tape
Specialized bison cages
Garmin Edge Mount / 510 computer / cadence / speed sensors
Shimano Ultegra pedals
Specialized carbon stem spacers