2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike

Specialized is on a roll with single-bike launches this year. First there was the Venge + McLaren aero road bike, now the Tarmac gets a complete overhaul with the new SL4 model and (sshhhhh) there’s a new gravity rig coming in a couple weeks.

Taking over the top of the heap, the new 2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 is what you’ll see Contador, Porte, Vino, Kreuziger, Van Garderen and Martin will be riding in the 2011 Tour de France. The frame has been reworked to drop weight and improve both torsional and lateral rigidity by going with a one-piece bottom bracket section, widening the seatstay’s stance and modifying their King Cobra headtube, among other tweaks.

Make the jump for all the goods…

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike

Compared to the SL3, both use their FACT 11R carbon fiber, but the new Tarmac SL4 boasts a 19% better stiffness to weight ratio and 16% improvement in overall stiffness, all while dropping the total frame module weight.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike frame module weight comparisons

The system weight for the frame, fork, S-Works crankset and headset is just 1995g (4.4lbs).

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike head tube

Starting at  the front, weight savings start with the headtube. It uses their King Cobra shaping, but actually decreases the taper size from the SL3. By wrapping the oversized top- and downtubes further around the sides of the headtube, they were able to reduce the amount of material while stiffening it enough to drop to a 1-3/8″ lower bearing (from 1-1/2″ on SL3), which reduces the overall size of the headtube and sheds grams.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike bottom bracket and carbon fiber dropouts

The bottom bracket shell and chainstays are molded as one piece, running seamlessly from the BB to the dropouts, which saves weight and improves torsional stiffness under power. The rear dropouts are hollow carbon fiber, but they’ve got steel inserts co-molded into them to protect the carbon during wheel changes.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike bottom bracket carbon fiber layup

Gratuitous carbon fiber construction shot. Mmmmmm…sexy.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike fork and carbon dropouts

The fork also gets hollow carbon fiber dropouts, and the new fork is 10% lighter than the previous model.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike

While some frames run only the shift cables internally, Specialized’s new Tarmac SL4 runs both shift cables through the downtube, with the rear continuing on through the chainstay, and the rear brake cable hides inside the top tube.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike

The seatstays were spread wider to join on the outsides of the seat tube. Specialized says they used “dual taper” shaping near the brake bridge to make it stiffer and improve braking performance. The dropouts are designed to allow the rear shift cable (or wire!) to run through it from the chainstay and pop out the back of the seatstay.

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike frameset

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 road bike torsional stiffness comparison chart

2012 Specialized Tarmac SL4 Di2 road bike with Shimano electronic shifting

Yep, there’s a Di2 model. We’re working on details for this, whether it’s a separate frame from the mechanical, and also waiting on complete bike and frame-only weights and U.S. retail pricing. Will update as we get it.


  1. @Kovas
    You do realize almost 90% of all flagship road bikes have been using hoolow carbon dropouts since 2009? (Cervelo R5, Supersix Evo, etc.)

    Basically if the S-Works SL3’s BB stiffness was 126nm/deg/kg…and if this is truly 19% more…that means 149nm/deg/kg for S-Works SL4….we have a new world record.

  2. Dave, probably because Giant’s bikes were just announced a few days ago and no one had access to them for comparisons. In fact, only their teams have them for now, the rest of us have to wait until August, competing brands included.

    Kovas, presumably it means the sections leading up the actual dropout, meaning the ends of the tubes, but we’ve asked Specialized to chime in on this.

  3. Too bad for big S theres a new Cannondale Super Six EVO.. 🙂 I mean, the whole bike is 4.8Kg on standard equipment? Get a load of that!

  4. I love how they used the Cerbelo RS in the comparison instead of the R3 or R5. Thats like comparing a Ferrari to a Mustang. How about apples-to-apples “S” brand.

  5. @Tyler (Editor)

    Does the 6th picture “carbon fiber construction shot” truly shows an actual Tarmac SL4 mold???

    To me it looks like an other (hopefully older) frame and not the latest Specialized flagship…
    …at least the shown outer carbon-layer is a bit oldscool!

  6. I’m so happy I have the 2011 s-works w/out the internal cable routing and about 60gr more weight. Mines built up pretty standard and hits the scale at 12.92lbs, 13.1 w/ two cages and complete Cateye.

    Just sayin

  7. @Jim,

    I believe THE BIG RED S still uses ‘module’ because they have comparatively heavy frames. the module includes crank, seatpost, headset , etc,,,,makes it harder for Joe Public to compare apples to apples.

  8. I have both a Cervelo R5 with Sram Red and a Tarmac SL3 with 7900 Dura Ace. I cant remember when last I rode my Cervelo. The Spesh corners on rails so its function over form for me – weight regardless – so the SL4 should be a great ride. Each to their own I guess……

  9. Ha, Just 119 N*m/deg in Torsional Stiffness. The 2012 Cannondale SuperSix Evo is 142.3 N*m/deg in Torsional Stiffness.

  10. Pay attention: Specialized is quoting the torsional stiffness here (in Nm/deg) whilst Cannondale is quoting the stiffness to weight (STW) for their frame (in Nm/deg/kg). Hence to receive a comparative figure (of the absolute torsional stiffness) for the C’dale one would have to multiply the published STW with its weight; being quoted at 0.695kg the SuperSix Evo thus would result in a torsional stiffness of 99.5 Nm/deg.

    It is sad that marketing is dictated by numbers to fool people by leading them to think “more is better” and even more for them to come up with distorted graphs where their offering tops the ranks such as Specialized’s “frame module system weight” here.

  11. Interesting.. BUT!

    The comments are right if you are going to get into frame stiffness then compare correctly.. Specialized do have heavy frames (a gram is a gram!) but frame weight speaks for its self; make a super light bike that is stiff and that rides well – thats hard, I’m looking for a new bike and I’m keen to ride the ‘dale Evo, I can’t buy a Cervello California but I can buy one of those..

    Plus how many bikes do they make that are Red/White, Black/White.. They all look the same from the cheapy to the sworks – this puts me off I want something cool that is fast..

  12. “The bottom bracket shell and chainstays are molded as one piece, running seamlessly from the BB to the dropouts, which saves weight and improves torsional stiffness under power.” No change from the SL3! Same 1-piece system. The SL3 works for me! Honestly…you won’t feel the difference between this and the SL3…end of story.

  13. also notice the bike comparisons are for 2010’s and 2011’s, so the real apple comparison is what others 2012 models are. anyone can compare to 2 yr old technology and look really good.

    just a thought

  14. To Pepito : I truly understand how you feel about what happened to you and I would be frustrated myself but I don’t think it’s something that should go against Specialized, I think it’s more a question of who gave you that service, it’s a question of people not company. I don’t know how it works in your country, but sometimes it’s trough a distributor that has nothing to do with the thinking of the whole company. That being said, replacing bottle holder insert is something pretty common in the bike industry, people are stripping them or sometimes they are just being louse after a certain period of time. It’s been many years now that I work in the industry with many companys such as Rocky Mountain, Look, Specialized to name just a few, and nobody would have replaced a frame for bottle holder insert. That does’nt affect the ride at all or the integrity of the frame. For your scratches, you can protect them with a touch of clear nail protector. It will look fine and it’s gonna stay safe till the end of the frame life. Hope it helps.

  15. I just test road a SL4 and I felt every bump in the road even when I lowered the tire pressure. My customized 2011 Trek 6.9 SSL Madone is less expensive and far more compliant than the SL4. The charts are overexaggerated.

    Whatever you do, don’t crack your SL4, because Specialized won’t back their lame warranty.

  16. I just changed my saddle out making my 2011 6.9 SSL (customized) Trek Madone only 13.99 lbs. and I have clinchers! Just think if I had tubulars. Trek is the best when it comes to practicality and price. The SL4 doesn’t customize, you stuck with two colors.

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