2018 Specialized Tarmac road bike
Photo c. Alex Quesada/Specialized

It’s tour season, which means all the latest road bikes are rolling in just in time for the Grand Départ. Along with the all new Diverge, Specialized had another major road bike announcement while we were in New Jersey – the all new Tarmac. Even with more than 200 victories on the current SL5, Specialized and their racers wanted something better. Citing a need for a bike that’s better at adapting to the needs of different courses, Specialized set out to finish the latest chapter in the Tarmac story. With a wind tunnel at their disposal and a wealth of carbon engineering, the new Tarmac has been crafted to be better in almost every way…

Introduced along with the SL5 Tarmac frame, the Specialized Rider First Engineering concept was responsible for really tuning the ride of each frame to specific rider sizes. More than just changing tube sizes or layups however, Specialized states that it comes down to a different recipe for each frame to maintain the same handling characteristics across the board which results in essentially a completely different frame from size to size. That includes different size fork legs (three different sizes for 44-52, 54-56, and 58-64cm with a truncated airfoil shape), drastically different tube shapes and sizes, and in the past, even different headset bearings. On the Tarmac SL6, all frames use the same 1 1/2″ lower headset bearing for aerodynamic purposes, but each fork utilizes a different taper inside the steerer tube to keep handling consistent. Using their partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies to go through a ply by ply analysis, new frames have 500 pieces compared to 350, but mostly without overlap which Specialized claims keeps the stiffness the same at a lower weight.

While Rider First Engineering ensures that the bikes handle equally well, composites engineering results in a much lighter, and much more aerodynamic frame. With a claimed weight of 733g +/- 20g for a 56 cm frame (average of all the first run of production), the Tarmac SL6 is seriously light. That’s 200g less than the SL5 frame. To get there, Specialized Engineers had to look for every extra gram possible, starting at the bottom bracket. Moving from the larger BB cluster to the smaller one above, the new OSBB shell is 30g lighter and gets there by using a removable sleeve to separate the cables from the bottom bracket as well as a simplified cable port. However, even though the shell is smaller, the frame will still clear 30mm tires. Stock, the Tarmac ships with 26mm Turbo Cotton tires which actually measure 29mm on the wide Roval CLX 50 wheels.

The frame also includes revisions with a super clean cable port on top of the down tube with different inserts for mechanical or electronic drivetrains, a carbon brake booster plate with titanium hardware for direct mount brakes, and a new derailleur hanger for standard quick release axles.

The frame is light, but it’s also aero with Specialized claiming it’s the result of a six month research project in their own Win Tunnel. Looking for ways to save time without adding any weight or affecting the ride quality, there were apparently three primary areas of improvement – the fork, drop stays, and the shape of the seat tube and seat post. Using truncated airfoil shapes, a fork with a reduced crown height, drop stays, and a D-shaped seatpost and seat tube, Specialized claims this gives the Tarmac a 45 second advantage over 40km compared to the Trek Emonda at 770g or the Cannondale Super Six Evo at 772g. All of this while also making the seat post more compliant with a varied layup and supposedly no heavier than the lightest round post.

Photos c. Alex Quesada/Specialized

Cable routing on the frame is internal and super clean for Di2 installations with the wires disappearing between the stem and the derailleurs, tucking in behind the rear brake cable through the top tube. Mechanical builds would see the derailleur housings pop into the downtube with a separate port cap.

All of this results in a 13.69lb (6.21kg) complete for a 56cm of the lightest build – the limited edition S-Works Ultra Light.

Limited to just 500 bikes, the Ultra Light is a special build which starts with the very best frames. Each Tarmac frame that is destined to become an Ultra Light is subject to an extra two hours of hand finishing which ensures they are as light as physically possible. Then the frames are coated in an Ultra Light paint which is said to add just 10g to the complete bike. Finish that off with a set of EE direct mount brakes, ultra light Jagwire segmented brake housing, a Shimano Dura Ace Di2 9150 drivetrain, Roval CLX 32 wheels, and Specialized carbon power cranks, and you have the cream of the crop when it comes to the new Tarmac. Just make sure you act fast to get one in your size and bring along $10,500.

Otherwise, you’re hardly slumming it with the standard S-Works which still checks in at 13.78lbs (6.25kg), though this is for a 54cm “women’s” Tarmac. That’s in quotes because much like the new Diverge, the Tarmac is a shared platform between men and women with the same geometry for each. Thanks to their partnership with Retul, Specialized has been able to analyze more than 40,000 different fits and has come to the conclusion that separate geometry isn’t needed. But the bikes still have spec differences like crank length, saddle choice, and colors, though the colors aren’t exactly definitive. In fact, on the racks for the demo it was often hard to tell which bikes were women’s and which were men’s. On complete builds, the sizing for the women’s bikes does top out at 56cm, though framesets are available up to 61cm, and since they’re the same geometry, any of the men’s completes would work for tall women.

The new SL6 frame is offered from the top down to the Tarmac Expert, but there’s also a Tarmac Expert that still uses the SL5 frameset. The SL5 frameset continues for 2018 with the Tarmac Expert Disc, Tarmac Comp, Elite, Sport, and base Tarmac.

Tarmac Pricing:




Note: Amira will carry over on the lower-end of the women’s performance Road line for MY18



Framesets will be available in the standard red/white of the S-Works Tarmac, but if you want to get a bit more adventurous, there will also be a number of options from mild to wild including the Ultra Light frameset and a Sagan Superstar edition.




  1. They just ruined the best looking bike with that lame rear triangle hitting lower than the top tube. I may cry a little or go out and buy last years version on big discount.

  2. I bought my affordable Tarmac Pro frame back in 2013 together with a custom setup to fit all my needs. Now all they offer is the insane expensive S-Works frame or some bikes with a rubbish setup. Sorry Specialized, you just lost a customer!

  3. Hide those cables on the disc version and you may have something. Not a fan of the gum-wall look, but to each their own. Overall, it seems like a good value.

  4. Hey, that seat post looks like the same one from Giant. I’m sorry, but isn’t truncated air foil shapes something that is not new? That’s not news. LOL

  5. I’ve been riding the SL5 S-Works Tarmac for a few years, and still can’t get enough. While the new design might not feel as “classic” (right now anyway), it looks like Spesh has knocked it out of the park on this one! I’m especially digging the womens S-Works colorway with the pink fade…

  6. I love all the comments of “this looks like a BMC” or “that post looks like a Giant.” There are only so many ways you can join a couple of triangles together. If you think that’s all that goes into a bike you’re missing a lot.

    • Agree. Those poor souls would have had a fit in the period before the mid nineties where all bikes essentially looked the same…steel traditionally tubes of about equal size save the odd AL Klein or C-dale, but performed very differently.

      Outside of really crazy design (which only comes on FS MTB or non-UCI bikes for the most part), make my bike function first. Spesh’s capital allows them to do this well, for better or worse.

    • @Wiscocheese: People are saying it looks like a BMC because it *does* look like a BMC. You’d have to literally be blind not to see it.

  7. @matt
    only the top end tarmacs will be OSBB (s-works/ expert). The lower models will be threaded. Matter of fact on the new Epic every model including the s works is threaded.

    Wonder why they are waiting till next year for the disc version sl6?

    • I have the 2015 S works which has the OSBB 30 and it creaks. In 2017 they wisely used the Praxis thread system BB30 which supposedly solved all creaking issues. Yes the OSBB is probably lighter but who cares if it creaks you don’t even want to ride it. Still love their bikes, but I think I will pick up a 2017.

    • And the “old” super-duper Emonda build was over 3lbs lighter. A 13.5 lb build is pretty standard with an Emonda SLR.

  8. You need to update this article – the weight claim is crap. My 56cm “ultralight” frame came in at 820g, I have seen others who have similar weights. Dishonest marketing tactics from Spesh

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