Updated: 4th January 2018
The Tarmac is Specialized’s high-end road race bike, and with victories in all three Grand Tours, as well as the cobbled classics, the race heritage of the Specialized Tarmac is beyond doubt. For 2018 we see the introduction of a brand-new frame that is available in both women’s specific as well as men’s/unisex models. More than just a race bike, we review the whole Specialized Tarmac range that offers all-round road race performance for the cyclist who like to ride quickly everywhere.
The Tarmac range has been expanded for 2018 with 12 models available at a range of price points to suit every road bike enthusiast. There are three different carbon frame options in the Specialized Tarmac range; the affordable SL4, the mid-range SL5 and the high-end SL6. Each bike in the range gets a capable component spec, with entry level race kit on the SL4 bikes up to full pro builds on the S-Works models.
Of the three frame options it is the high end SL6 frame that has seen major changes for 2018. Made from Specialized’s FACT 12r (S-Works) or 10r (Pro) carbon fibre, the SL6 frame now offers a smoother ride thanks to the dropped seatstays and revised seatpost profile. Aerodynamics have also been improved and the Tarmac SL6 now slices through the air as efficiently as the original Venge. The new Tarmac frame is lighter too thanks to refined design and construction methods. Showing Specialized’s commitment to elite women’s road racing, it is great to see two female specific SL6 Tarmac models.
The SL4 frames, made from FACT 9r carbon, and the FACT 10r SL5 frames are both the made to the traditional Tarmac design. This is the same lightweight frame shape that has achieved so much success at the highest level, so you can be sure of its pedigree. Every Tarmac in the range gets a full carbon fork and features a similar racy geometry for high-performance road cycling.
Made with Specialized’s Rider-First construction philosophy, the carbon layup on each frame size is designed specifically for that frame size. This means that you get the same great performance on a small size bike as you do on a large.
This is a bike that knows what it wants. Put the pedal down, and it takes off, responding decisively to rider input. Taking full advantage of its newly advanced aerodynamics, this Tarmac leaves no watt wasted and accelerates with ease – Peloton Magazine
Poised is how we would describe it, you can make a switch around pretty quickly, lean into bends nicely and feel the strength in the bike throughout the corner. – Cycling Weekly
From Shimano’s workhorse Tiagra drivetrain, through 105 and Ultegra all the way up to Dura Ace, each Tarmac model gives you the range of gears and shifting reliability you need for serious road riding. There are four models with electronic shifting, the Tarmac Pro gets Ultegra Di2 while the S-Works bikes all feature top of the line Dura-Ace Di2. Most models are spec’d with slick shifting Shimano Ultegra drivetrains and Semi Compact 52/36t chainsets. The entry level SL4 and the SL4 Sport both get smaller compact 50/34t chainsets which gives you more lower gears for easier pedalling.
Most Tarmac models use conventional calliper brakes, which will please the cycling traditionalists. There is one disc equipped model, the SL5 Comp Disc, for those who appreciate the consistent all-weather performance that only hydraulic disc brakes can offer.
With an emphasis on general road riding and racing, the wheels on the Specialized Tarmac tend towards lightweight for improved climbing performance. The deep section Roval rims on the Pro and S-Works bikes do offer an aero advantage but these carbon wheels are seriously lightweight too.
The SL6 Tarmac models all get Roval wheels with wider 26mm Turbo Cotton tyres. These improve the ride quality and offer more grip in the corners as well as helping with the air flow around the wheels. The SL5 bikes get Roval or DT Swiss wheels with 24mm tyres while the SL4 bikes each get DT Swiss Wheels with traditional 23mm road race tyres.
When it comes to the ride – we’re afraid we’re going to gush. This bike is a total dream to ride, and has been from the moment we jumped on to it. – Cycling Weekly
A thoroughbred road race bike the Specialized Tarmac is quick to accelerate, fast up the climbs and assured on the descents, so the serious cyclist will find it ideal for general road riding, racing and training. While not as smooth rolling as a Sportive bike, the Tarmac offers a more comfortable ride than you would expect from such a rapid road race bike, so you can really rack up the miles.
Available at a range of price points each Tarmac model is built around a high-end carbon frame. This means that while your budget may not stretch to an S-Works, you can be sure that the model you choose will give you a solid performance and will be worthy of future component upgrades.
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