The Specialized Tarmac has long topped my list when it comes to the best ‘all-round race bike’. I’ve recommended it to countless clubmates and friends. It’s always been a responsive, quick-handling machine and in my opinion, the Tarmac SL6 perfectly hit the compliance/stiffness balance jackpot. But this isn’t a review of the Tarmac SL6. Enter the Tarmac SL7.
In the CW office we’ve nicknamed this bike the ‘Varmac’, because it’s very much an amalgamation of the longstanding Tarmac and the Venge aero road bike, first introduced in 2011.
It comes as a response to the way the Venge has been gradually encroaching upon the Tarmac’s well-established territory. Rather than letting the Venge erode away the relevance of its older sibling, Specialized has taken the key aero aspects of the Venge and transposed them onto the Tarmac in this SL7 model.
To bring the Tarmac up to date with current trends, Specialized gave it an aero facelift, optimising the seatstays, forks, seatpost and cockpit. This model also comes with the 51/60mm Roval Rapide CLX wheels, which no doubt have an impact.
The aero features mean more integration – which can be problematic, but I had no issues with the Tarmac SL7. The seatpost clamp is hidden beneath a rubber cover, but is easy to access with an Allen key or torque wrench.
The cockpit looks seamless but you still have a separate bar and stem. The headset adjustment is below a top cap.
Weight and geometry
The consensus is that saving watts via aerodynamics is more effective than via a drop in weight on all but the steepest climbs. In any event, with the UCI weight limit stuck at 6.8kg, those making bikes for pro racers have little need to search for more grams to drop. The Tarmac SL7 frame weight comes in at 800g in a size 56, in the top-end FACT 12R carbon used for the S-Works model. My size 52, wearing Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, dropped onto the workshop scales at 6.6kg, which is lightweight enough for me.
The geometry has also seen little change: my 52 came with a stack/reach of 517/383mm, a 975mm wheelbase and 72.5º head angle with a -6º stem angle. This is a racing bike, which has always offered an aggressive geometry without being excessive, so maintaining this seems like a good move to me.
Specialized also says its pro riders requested more rear-end stiffness in the new SL7. This, combined with the deep wheels, aero carbon handlebars and aero profile seatpost all add up to a change in ride quality compared with the outgoing model.
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