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Is smoother faster? On the surface, that seems like an obvious question. We all may feel that smoother is indeed faster, but just how do you quantify that? That question turned out to be the starting point for the all new, Specialized Roubaix. With so much emphasis being placed on making smoother bikes and trying to improve rider comfort, Specialized realized they first needed to understand just what made a bike smooth and whether that made it fast.

That quest led them back to McLaren. As we know, this isn’t the first time the two companies have worked together, but this time it would be under completely different circumstances. The McLaren Venge was all about how they could go about making the fastest aero road bike. For the new Roubaix, McLaren would need to use their blend of science and magic to quantify what human test riders couldn’t which led to the development of the Rolling Efficiency Simulator. This included everything from complex mathematical models to a chassis dynamics rig that vibrated the rider and the bike to see how riders perceive vibrations, as well as a rolling system that was able to model how impacts affect the entire bicycle essentially one pixel at a time. The beauty to the McLaren method is that all of this testing produced an incredible amount of data in a very short period of time and allowed them to really study each component’s effect on the whole system without actually manufacturing anything.

In the end, they were able to verify something they knew subjectively, that smoother IS faster…

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While McLaren was able to prove that smoother is indeed faster, more importantly they dug into the different ways of making a bike smoother and how those affect the speed. Splay vs. axial compliance turns out to be a major factor in the bike’s design with splay commonly used as a way to add compliance. While it’s sort of effective at smoothing the ride, it’s not the most efficient way to go about it. Axial compliance below the head tube (head shock, suspension fork, etc) is more efficient at adding smoothness and is significantly faster though it still has efficiency losses through suspension bob and can affect the bike’s handling. That leaves axial compliance above the head tube which appears to offer all of the smoothness benefits and performance without the same disadvantages. McLaren’s testing also found that bikes were much faster when the compliance bias was towards the front of the bike rather than the rear.

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You may remember a post back in January of last year with Specialized’ patent of a cobble eating suspension fork, which at one point was exactly where they were headed with the Roubaix’s design. Prototype forks were created with various methods of reducing twisting and prototype frames were made as well with the seat stays cut above leaf springs that were attached to the seat tube. All of this worked great from a comfort perspective, but it also introduced compromises in handling, bobbed under power, and made the back end of the bike feel disconnected.

At the end of the day, the Roubaix has a tough task. It has to be a Paris-Roubaix winning race bike while maintaining compliance for everyday riders. This suspension concept was clearly not the answer, and the whole thing after quite a bit of prototyping investment was scrapped.

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That concept of a compliant upper half and a race bike underneath, led to the creation of what Specialized is calling the Future Shock cartridge – essentially a suspension steerer tube, but only on the upper half. Specialized found that the fork was one of the most critical components to handling with front stiffness being one of the most important metrics. So the answer was to create a fork that was just as stiff and precise from the headtube down, while the Future Shock cartridge suspends the rider’s hands above. In testing the Future Shock wasn’t just found to be slightly more compliant than the Roubaix SL4, it was up to 4538% more compliant. Those numbers don’t even seem real, especially compared to the back of the bike which gained just 19%.

Now before we go any further, there’s no getting away from the inevitable suspension stem comments. While the Future Shock does have some similarities to the suspension stems of old in that the handlebar moves up and down, it’s still quite a bit different. Inside the cartridge are three different springs – the main spring, booster spring, and top out spring. As demonstrated by Chris D’Aluisio, the handlebar essentially floats in the middle of the travel with the main spring and booster spring providing the bump absorption and the top out spring keeping the system from topping out when you pull up to sprint. Consumers will also have three levels of main springs that can be run with soft, medium, and firm settings.  In total there is 20mm of travel – 17mm down, and 3mm up. That 3mm keeps the handlebar almost locked out when you pull up so sprinting is still efficient as possible. The cartridge is kept as simple with a three-sided needle roller bearing without any seals or wipers, just a boot that sits between the headtube and the stem.

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In order to offer a range of fit, the headtube is shorter than the previous Roubaix with the Future Shock cartridge making up the difference. Any stem can be run with the included shim for the cartridge, and in total there is 30mm of stack height adjustment through three different positions of the cartridge itself. According to Specialized, the stem stays in the same place on the cartridge while its height can be adjusted to three different positions. Between stem angle changes, and riser or flat road bars, they say that the bike can accommodate a huge range of positions. Also, since there is no longer a starnut or compression plug, headset adjustments are made with the two grub screws on either side of the aero top cap.

You might guess that the big chunk of metal in the steerer tube adds a good bit of weight, and you’d be right. About 295g to be exact. Fortunately, the new Roubaix frame without the cartridge is the lightest frame Specialized has ever made. That seems absolutely crazy, but Specialized maintains that the S-Works disc brake frame comes in at just 900g, making it their lightest yet. Add the weight of the cartridge and it’s the same weight as the previous Roubaix meeting their goal of adding features without adding weight.

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Just because Specialized and McLaren found that the front of the bike had the greatest impact on smoothness, comfort, and handling, doesn’t mean they neglected the rear. In a similar thought process, Specialized didn’t want to ruin the precise handling of the bike by decoupling the rear end but they did want to eke out as much compliance as possible. To do so, they relocated the seat post clamp 65mm lower to the junction with the seat stays. The seatpost exposed above it is free to flex with a rubber collar up top to keep things sealed. Combined with their CG-R seat post, you get a more compliant ride than the past Roubaix, though nothing like the front of the bike.

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Why not just match the height of the top tube to that of the seat clamp? Aesthetics for one, and Specialized claims the higher top tube equals a stiffer frame.

Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com
Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

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The frame also sees new geometry that is optimized for 28mm tires on the new Roval CLX 32 wheels (more on those in another post). At this point, anyone on a Roubaix should probably be riding bigger rubber, and Specialized has built the bike to reflect that. It also features the same fork offset and head tube angle as the Tarmac which gives it faster handling. Without the Future Shock suspension, Specialized says they wouldn’t have been able to make this geometry change, but separating compliance means new opportunities in frame design.

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Tire clearance on the frame is claimed to be 32mm, which seems accurate given that the 28mm tires on the CLX 32 rims were said to measure out to an actual 30mm.

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Of course aerodynamics can’t be ignored either. Compared to the Roubaix SL4, the new Roubaix is 16 seconds faster over a 40k time trial in aerodynamics alone with much of that speed coming from a redesigned fork. Along with flat mount disc brakes front and rear, the Roubaix frame uses 12×100 and 12x142mm thru axles front and rear to hold everything together. Specialized stated that they still believe in SCS, but they see the value in moving to one standard for riders and shops and will be using 12×142 and 12x100mm axles moving forward.

Since road bikes don’t take kindly to cutting a huge hole in the frame for storage, the Roubaix includes a new bolt on SWAT Box that mounts just above the bottom bracket with two bolts. One size box will fit all frames and the 180g box weighs 400g when fully loaded with the included tube, CO2 inflator, tire levers, and multi tool. And yes, that is a threaded bottom bracket.

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At the top of the line, Specialized will offer an S-Works level Roubaix complete with SRAM Red eTap that will tip the scales at 15.85 lbs. As you might expect, this build will also make a big hit to your wallet at $10,000. Other builds will include the $6,500 Roubaix Pro UDi2, $4,600 Roubaix Expert UDi2, $4,000 Roubaix Expert, $3,200 Roubaix Comp, and the $2,600 Roubaix Elite. Roubaix framesets will also be available in two colors and will include the frame, fork, thru axles, bottom bracket, seatpost, and Future Shock suspension. Zertz may be dead for the newest version of the Roubaix, but Specialized will still have three models of the previous Roubaix SL4 available presumably as lesser priced options next to the new models.

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Over on the Ruby side for the women, the bike sees all of the same targets with the same Rider-First-Engineered frame design with the Future Shock suspension. While the frame features the same tech, the geometry is different with a taller stack and longer wheelbase to prevent toe overlap. Frame sizes start at just 44cm and go up to 58cm, all with 700c wheels and 26mm tires. Rubys will be available in the same builds at the same prices as their Roubaix counterparts with prices from $2,600 to $10,000. Like the Roubaix, three versions of the SL4 Ruby will be sold as well.

First impressions from the Hell of the North are up next!

Specialized.com

61 COMMENTS

  1. At first I dismissed this as nothing more than a Cannondale Headshok ripoff, but the video does seem like some genuine thought went into the Future Shock design. Certainly interesting how it resists being pulled up by the stem or handlebars.

    And I really dig the puncture repair box by the bottom bracket shell. That’s a neat use of space that would otherwise go unused. Good for weight distribution too.

    Add the threaded bottom bracket shell, and this might actually be the first sensible bike I’ve seen from Spez in a while. All it’s missing are eyelets for fender mounting.

      • ive bsa and pf30 bikes and i never saw either as an issue. they both need special tools, just different ones. it seems equally easy/hard to service and to work about as well, though the bsa is a tad heavier and require precise threading while the pf30 require good tolerances in the frame instead

        i suspect they went threaded mainly for marketing reasons, though again to be honest, not a huge diff.

  2. I am not a Cannondale fan but PLEASE PLEASE let this be an infringement on a Cannondale patent…would be fun to watch.

    Sadly Specialized folks are not stupid and have most likely done their due diligence.

    • It may actually infringe on a patent for a telescoping keyed system… Just like Rock Shox and the rest of the suspension seapost makers have infringed on.

  3. Did I miss a tire clearance spec in there? Could you run light gravel tires on it? We have tons of gravel here and it’d be awesome to have a bike to pull dual-duty that isn’t cross/gravel geometry.

    • I am trying to find this too. Fork clearance may be the limit based on pics/vids. I am afraid they missed the great option of running 32+ since this new Future Shock would be so great for a gravel bike.

      Genres are blurring between endurance/gravel/cx and it would be great if we had a bike with big tire clearance and suspension like this (or the new Domane with front and adjustable rear Isospeed).

    • Looks like 32c tire based on other reviews. That matches the new Domane.

      I like it, but wish 35c was the max size. 32c seems like a miss, but maybe larger is overkill for their intents on keeping this as a “rough road” bike and not a full-on gravel bike since they still have the Diverge. I assume the Future Shock will end up on the Diverge some time next year.

      • I traded my 2015 Diverge in on a new Roubaix and couldn’t be happier. I mainly do gravel races. On the Diverge I was running Trigger 33s. Didn’t quite fit on the new Roubaix. Running Clement X’plor MSO 32s. I’ve done 3 gravel races with a very wide variety of road conditions and the Clements performed great.

        The new Roubaix is an incredible bike… it really delivers and lives up to the marketing hype!!!

        • The X’plor MSO 32’s are the exact tire I would run if buying this bike. Are you running them tubeless and what internal rim width ? Any pictures of the bike or of the clearance? Really close to buying one of these if tire clearance is adequate for a small knob 32 tire.

  4. 900g is their lightest frame to date… Well, the Tarmac mold really hasn’t changed since 2010, so I guess that sounds right.

    Now, what gets me is they say “splay” is not as good, obviously going after Trek, but they they use splay with the seatpost clamp redesign. I could never go with a bike where I couldn’t slam the stem…

    • Do you slam to achieve a desired position, or do you do it to keep your stem near your upper bearing? There are stems with big drops you can use to get the same position. Hell, just go to a custom builder and get a 50mm head tube frame and be done with it. Your stem can graze your tire that way.

      • slam because I don’t want a rock solid front end while descending. once I start adding spacers, it starts getting noodly. With this new Roubaix design, I’m curious as to how it descends.

    • I believe that the specialized only has splay on the reach and not the wheelbase when talking about the rear of the frame. The Domane extends the reach and wheelbase as it compresses (on both front and rear).

      • How do you figure that the Domane extends the wheelbase in the rear? The seat tube flexes, which extends the reach, but there is no difference in the rear wheel position relative to the bottom bracket, therefore there is no wheelbase extension.

        In the front, the increased splay does extend the wheelbase under compression. It probably also decreases it under braking.

  5. The suspension stuff is interesting. I’ll keep an open mind until the ride reports. Obviously, we need somebody with the cojones to do a direct comparison with the Domane.

    But there is no way I want Tarmac geometry on a bike like this. Shoot, I don’t want Tarmac front end geo on my Tarmac! Relax the front end a bit. This has become more than a bit of a trend on race xc hardtails, and I expect to see road bikes following.

  6. I really hope the UCI don’t rush into allowing discs back. It’d be hilarious if Specialized had to use the old model come Paris – Roubaix

    • Proflex had them for mtbs, but Softride had the stem for the road bikes and also the beam suspension for the saddle.

      I’ve always wanted to try one of the Softride beam bikes because they supposedly corner like they were on rails. It was one of two times I’ve ever been passed on a downhill.

  7. While I have not ridden this bike, I find it hard to believe that this bike is anything other than marketing BS and cant imagine that it offers performance enhancement for elite athletes. This bike is clearly designed for old men who ride at 20km/h.

    A suspension stem and a seatpost that doesn’t even fit the frame??? WOW.

    Tickle me silly if this garbage is actually ridden by a pro at Roubaix, let alone wins the race.

    How many front suspension bikes have won Roubaix? ZERO!

    Seems like some crap you would find on kickstarter.

    • “How many front suspension bikes have won Roubaix? ZERO!”

      Well, if you don’t count 1992, 1993, and 1994, then you are 100% correct. Otherwise, you are dead WRONG!!!!!1!

      • 1991 was when Greg LeMond showed up with a short travel Rock Shox. 92-93 was won by his teammate with the Rock Shox fork. 94 Tchmil won with a Rock Shox, but many people showed up with dual suspension road bikes too. Then the rein of the Colnago’s started and suspension fell out.

          • What good reason would that be? Suspension got both lighter and more sophisticated in the meantime. Of course you could just say that you were wrong, and leave it at that, but nope…

          • Colango said that the teams that they sponsored absolutely could not use a suspension fork, and they sponsored the top classics teams. It wasn’t a technological reason, it was a marketing reason.

          • I will be very impressed and will eat my words when this stuff/garbage wins Roubaix!

            I was wrong – i only thought that suspension forks had been used in those races.!

            But, when in over 20 years no one else has bothered to develop a legit suspension fork for the race and none have one since, I find it hard to believe this is an expectational system for such demanding courses.

            Fabian has the fastest average speed with REAR suspension! over 44kp/h ! Almost 2kp/h faster than front suspension bikes in the race!

          • Now the company that built Fabian’s race winning bike has added their own version of front suspension with the IsoSpeed fork. Obviously, they recognized the value of compliance at the front of the bike, it just took the a while to figure out how to do it.

            It will also balance out the feel of the bike, which was a major complaint with the original Domane; the rear end was a “magic carpet ride”, but the front was a jackhammer. I’m not fond of that combination and would not buy the original Domane, but I’m intrigued by both the new Domane and the Roubaix.

            OTOH, I’d be more likely to buy a SuperSix Evo for the road (due to its superb handling and balanced compliance) and wait for the Future Shock to appear on a ‘cross/gravel bike with disks and thru axles.

    • @ atbikeshop: Gonna try re-posting, the other one vanished… The reason suspension forks haven’t won the Paris-Roubaix since the 1990’s is not technical, but financial. The suspension forks which won the Paris-Roubaix were modified versions of an existing fork, the MAG20/21. The Paris-Roubaix had a different brace and shorter travel (30mm versus 48mm on a MAG21). This means it could be produced with little further investment. In 1995, the first MTB suspension forks with one piece cast lowers arrived (Manitou Mach 5); in 1997, Rock Shox also began making forks with cast one piece lowers. Those couldn’t be adapted to a different wheel size. Also, travel on XC forks grew from around 50mm to around 80mm; the minimum is now around 100mm. These are specialized products that can’t be modified to create a viable road suspension fork for a single-stage race.

  8. It will be interesting to try out if this “Softride stem” Specialized has made is any good. No sarcasm here. Functionally this is nothing but a Softride stem with variable spring rates, but that does not mean that it’s a bad thing. I’m sure Softride stems had their merits. I was around 12 years old when I tried one (2 decades ago), and can’t possibly judge it by that memory. Let’s wait and see.
    However, I would really like someone from Specialized to step in here and answer how a top tube with a 90° bend on it can possibly give you a stiffer frame than a tube that goes straight between its end points? It’s a detail, but how can this be the case?
    A tube between A and B does not become stiffer by making a de-tour to C along its way. Specialized, can you please explain what I’m missing out on here?

    • The frame torsional stiffness is increased with the higher top tube location. When in saddle and cornering, the loading is transmitted through the saddle, seatpost, frame and this lateral bending load on the ST translates into a torsional load on the front triangle. Bigger front triangle, higher stiffness – or higher targeted stiffness at a lower weight.

      And the key ride feel difference between FutureShock and the suspension stems of the past (like the softride) is that the bars don’t dive when you break or add a vertical load. The displacement is all along the steerer axis.

      • Thanks for the reply Mark.

        The Softride however has (had) a 4 bar linkage that prevents it from diving. For a displacement of approx. 20mm it’s going to move pretty much in the same way as the FutureShock. The difference mostly being what spring stiffness is selected in each case, and differences in friction of their pivots vs. your needle bearings.

        As for the frame torsional stiffness. Yes, a higher top tube gives you extra torsional stiffness, but you’d get a lighter/stiffer frame here by not making the seat tube follow the seatpost upwards before making the 90+° turn. This costs some grams of “dead” material and the fibers don’t love the sharp bends either. It would make for a lighter/stiffer frame if the seat tube above the seatclamp would flow more smoothly upwards and forward from the seatclamp towards an otherwise high top tube. I.e. if the top tube would drop down when it approaches the seatpost, rather than going unnecessarily far rearwards, only to make a sharp bend back forwards.

        Anyway…. it looks good like this, and we’re not talking about many grams. So whatever. 🙂

  9. Would wider supple tires be a simpler more cost effective solution? I bought a Cannondale Slate and I think the tires have more impact on the quality of the ride than the suspension. Check out Jan Heine’s website.

    • Sure, which is why virtually every new road bike design in the past year or two will accommodate 25-28mm tires, or wider in some cases. There’s also a trend toward running sensible pressures, which helps tremendously, though I still meet riders who think they absolutely have to run 120psi in their tires. I have to admit that its kind of fun watching them bounce and rattle their way down the road, as long as I don’t have to sit on their wheels.

  10. “We needed McLauren’s expertise to whip up some data that says this is the better solution than the Domane; especially since only Freds have ridden the Roubaix since it turned into a Sequoia for the financially endowed.”

  11. I like the flexing seat post idea, though nothing new, but why does the seat post itself also have to have the leaf spring design, horrid. Why can people just buy a nice road bike, and a nice mountain bike, and forget all this faffing about in between.

    • Probably because in many areas, the roads are a cracked, potholed mess and a really stiff road frame isn’t ideal. Also, dirt roads are common in some locales and provide a nice change of pace and/or a way of connecting paved roads. Again, a stiff road frame and narrow rubber are not ideal for that. A bike that offers a significant degree of vertical compliance without sacrificing pedaling efficiency makes a lot of sense for a lot of riders. Toss in the ability to use wider rubber and you have a real winner.

  12. it seems to be an old mechanical feature for absorbing vibrations, when an Italian brand as Bianchi is using an American material from Material Science Corporation called Countervail that cancels vibrations!!!!!

  13. The higher top tube is no fun for standover but minor. It’s not a bad looking bike.
    I dispute the claim that it’s the lightest frame they’ve built, though. I’ve weighed S-Works SL4 tarmacs under 900 grams.

  14. Pretty sure I added ~15mm of front-end compliance with less of a weight penalty by moving from 700×25 tires to 650x48b 🙂

    That said, I still want to try this IRL.

    • My local Specialized BS told me to hold off on buying a 2017 Diverge because he heard that they are doing a May ’17 release with the future shock on it. But until I can find something on the web about it ….it is just that, a rumor.

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