At the peak of the Spring Classics, we had the chance to put Specialized’s all-new Future Shock 2.0 front suspension Roubaix endurance road bike to a true test on the bergs, pavé & wind swept roads that define those iconic one-day races. While the Roubaix certainly proved its mettle with Phillipe Gilbert winning Paris-Roubaix on the new bike, it was versatility that stood out for me. And as a smaller woman, Specialized’s new Beyond Gender concept proved a great way to offer a top-level riding experience, accessible to everyone….
Riding the Specialized Roubaix on the road to Roubaix
The week in between Flanders and Paris-Roubaix brought great weather conditions to experience authentic atmosphere of spring classics to test the all-new Specialized Roubaix. Freezing winds riding in Flanders. Rain and mud on the cobblestone secteurs to Roubaix. And crushing crosswinds between Ghent & Brugge.
Did you know that when you ride pavé sections over 1km long, with constant shaking of your bike & your body, it feels like you went uphill all that time, even though it was actually fairly flat all the way? I remembered a couple of sections of pavé that I’ve ridden in the past on my steel Gunnar CX bike with a carbon fork and tubular setup (which I think is pretty comfortable on cobbles), and I clearly remembered the Arenberg trench as a hill in the forest! Well it is not a hill – the segment is effectively flat once you factor a small drop in elevation at the beginning. (Seriously, the Arenberg segment on Strava says 0% of elevation change).
Anyway, we got the chance to ride the all-new Roubaix for several days in very different weather conditions in northern France and across Flanders to test out the new bike’ Classics versatility. That hit everything from strong Belgian crosswinds to an entire day of non-stop rain on muddy cobbles. For sure our review of the Roubaix was destined for the authentic experience of the Spring Classics conditions.
I test rode the bike on relatively smooth cobblestones with the short steep hills of Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) as well as slippery and rough pavé sections throughout the last 100km of Paris-Roubaix (including the five-star Trouée d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pévèle, Carrefour de l’Arbre, and every other secteur in between). The trying to get away from cobbles I also jumped into a faster but windy ride on smoother Belgian roads, more reminiscent of the Scheldeprijs.
Has the new Specialized Roubaix conquered hell?
Suffice it to say that Specialized has fully adopted the idea of adding suspension to make the bike+rider combo faster on rough roads. Their concept is “Suspend the rider, not the bike”, and we got into full detail on the all-new Roubaix when it debuted with Future Shock 2.0 just two weeks ago now. If you want the full tech breakdown, go there. Here we’ll stick to what it is to ride the new bike.
The big debate over appropriateness of front & rear suspension for a road race or even an amateur road bike won’t end anytime soon. Riders will argue that they don’t want to feel it moving (or how much movement is acceptable) while riding on smooth pavement, over cobbles, or sprinting standing up. Racers are surely concerned about losing efficiency, especially after the undamped Future Shock 1.0 could not be locked. The all-new Future Shock 2.0 solves that with internal hydraulic damping, offering the same vertical compliance, now also with on-the-fly lockout.
It really is hard to argue with Specialized saying they rule the “Hell of the North” with this bike. Days after I packed the bike up, Gilbert went on to win the 2019 Paris-Roubaix on the S-Works version of the bike I rode. And in fact, 7 of the last 10 editions of Paris-Roubaix were won on a Specialized Roubaix. (Gilbert 2019, Sagan 2018, Terpstra 2014, Boonen 2008/2009/2012, Cancellara 2010) Specialized hasn’t even been able to keep track, not adding the latest win yet.
Sagan actually even won last year’s Roubaix on a prototype version of this Future Shock 2.0 with a lockout. We thought his team-only rim brakes made that bike unique, not noticing the lockout control. But you could actually see the dial adjuster top cap in the Eurosport feed from that race in 2018.
Does smoother mean faster?
Suspend the rider means smoother for sure, but the Roubaix still needed to be fast for the likes Gilbert & Sagan, and their aspiring wannabes. Racers were concerned that unlocking the front suspension on cobbles will slow them down. So to straighten that out, Specialized says they performed efficiency tests using stationary bikes with opened/locked shock and they found minimal if any difference in resulting speed based on the same ride output.
For me standing up going uphill or sprinting, there was no undesired flexibility felt. Sprinting or pedaling standing with the shock unlocked, the bike felt stiff enough, and I did not feel the shock to be moving or feeling soft.
For those concerned about muting the road feel, the all-new Roubaix isn’t a full-suspension mountain bike bouncing smoothly from one cobble to the next. With the Future Shock open, you can still feel it roll over the pave, so you feel connected to the road with handling that feels normal.
Review: The new Roubaix in the details
The big trick beyond the smoother damped internals, all-new Future Shock 2.0 gets a lockout dial on top of the steerer so you can control the suspended handlebar on the fly. I have used my fingers to pinch & spin the button, but some other riders found it easier to use their palms to push down & spin it.
From the first look I expected that Future Shock 2.0 would be adjusted on the weight of the specific rider, but it is not. As Specialized said, only 15% of rider’s weight is in the front, so it would not make significant difference in performance.
Personally, I’m not so convinced about math in that argument because I know that with my weight (50kg/110lb), it can often be difficult to feel the difference of front suspension that is usually set up for a rider 10, 20, or even 30kg heavier than me. (15% of my weight is just 7.5kg, but that’s still a lot of difference between 15% of my husband’s weight 12kg.)
So I tried to lock out the shock in the middle of a pavé sector to see if I will actually realize it. And hell yes. I even had hard time to lock it back when the bar started jumping around in my hand.
In order to balance the suspended front end, Specialized invested effort into finding a balanced solution for the rear end too. Their first ideas were designing a rear suspension similar to Future Shock, but it just didn’t work. Test riders felt like they were falling down when it hit any bump. So it appeared that using a more flexible, but conventional seatpost with dropped clamp in the frame was much better idea. The D-shaped aero seat post came from the Tarmac, and got extra built-in flex to become the new Pavé post.
Now whether I could feel the rear end move… not really that much, actually. But honestly I am short (160cm) and light (50kg), so 1. my Pavé seatpost was sticking out much less than for somebody who is 180cm tall and 2. my weight will not flex the seat post so much as if I weighed 80kg. So smaller riders aren’t likely to get the full seatpost flex benefits, but to be honest I still finished without back pain.
Beyond Gender: fit for everyone, me included
In hand with the all-new Roubaix comes Specialized’s new Beyond Gender concept, eliminating women’s geometry. Specialized says that after looking deep into tins of Retül fit data, they came to the conclusion that offering more sizing options was a better way to get every rider on the best fitting bike, and there wasn’t really a true male/female difference in core bike fit geometry anyway.
That’s quite a big step for Specialized who have long been champions of their Body Geometry concepts and women-specific bikes. And I won’t lie that as a short woman (160cm/5’3″) that scared me a bit. But I did a detailed Retül fit and ended up on a new bike that fit perfectly, and Specialized still offers some women-specific contact points like the new Mimic saddle I rode, plus my narrow 38cm Hover bars.
Interestingly, my Retül fit data was based on a 49cm version of the old Roubaix, so I was surprised to be put on a 52cm of the new bike. (I tend to ride 47-49cm bike to get my ideal frame reach under 370mm max.) But while many new bikes have gone for longer front ends, the new 2019/2020 Roubaix is more than 1cm shorter at the lower end. (Last year’s smallest 49 had a 374mm of Reach, now there are three sizes with less than that offering better fits for small riders, although each seems to have a more upright position.)
As a short rider I really appreciate the idea of creating one unisex bike in more sizes because than Specialized can invest more effort into important touches like Future Shocks and saddles, while still giving me access to bikes from entry-level pricepoints all the way up to the top-tier pro bikes. As a woman rider I am definitely not offended that there is not a woman-specific bike. I like pink and all, but I would rather ride bikes that fit my riding style and my body proportions anyway.
Last while looking at fit but certainly not least, many small frames get compromised geometry and are often too stiff to ride comfortably. Now that more brands like Specialized (and several others, to be fair) have some real ideas how to make small frames equal comfort–wise to average & large sized bikes, the options are really opening up for me. The paired suspension in the new Roubaix seems to work very well in this regard.
Specialized Roubaix Pro eTap actual weight
It might seem that adding damping into the Future Shock 2.0 would increase the weight of the bike, and that is always something competitive riders are afraid of. Sure the new Future Shock is a bit heavier itself ~175g, but Specialized knew weight weenies would complain. So they trimmed weight out of the rest of the bike, and in the end the whole set of frame/fork/seat post is now ~50g lighter than the previous Roubaix.
As I rode it, my 52cm Roubaix Pro with its Force eTap 2x build weighed in at 8.19kg/18.1lb. That is set up tubeless with sealant, with a Garmin out-front mount, and includes a pair of Specialized Rib cages with a SWAT road mini-tool (~150g for cages & tool), plus a 235g pair of Dura-Ace R9100 pedals. My small bike is certainly lighter than those of larger riders, but at definitely under 8kg or 17.5lb isn’t bad considering this is a second-tier FACT 10R carbon Roubaix, and not the top-level FACT 11R of the S-Works version.
Riding Impressions: more comfortable on any road, and just as fast!
Next to pure asphalt road rides, I often ride roads that are everything but smooth on my regular Cube aero road Axial or Cannondale endurance road Synapse. Squeezing a 32mm tire into that poor, unsuspecting aero bike, I’ve even put it to multi-day gravel racing. That meaning I’m used to rough surfaces including pavé, even on some unforgivingly stiff road bikes. I live next to a medieval castle and have to ride cobblestones every time I head out on any bike. I also deal regularly with uncomfortable tension in my upper body after a majority of longer, rougher road rides. Part of that is because small bikes end up being overly stiff, partly that I’m over 40 maybe, but…
This all-new Roubaix was totally different!
The bike simply felt fast on the first cobblestone section, smoothly flying over the pavé at speed. There was no need to get used to it. It climbed well. No toe overlap even with 700C wheels & 28mm tires on my 52cm frame (that’s a rarity for me for frames with the short Reach I need for a comfortable fit). At speeds up to 55kph I did not experience any noticeable frame/fork shake (again, a common issue with compromised geometry of small frames, especially those that fit bigger tires). I got some side push a couple of times because of the slightly aero tube shaping & mid section wheels in strong wind gusts, but the bike’s handling was easily manageable.
I was more so pleasantly surprised that I felt fresh after riding cobbles on windy French & Belgian roads for three days in a row. And I felt so good that I was even motivated to go riding after I arrived home.
My hesitation for riding pavé had been a good bit of pain in my upper back and neck. Well, riding the all-new Roubaix, I guess I got suspended instead of the bike and my back and neck felt happy.
Riding the all-new Roubaix I felt I finished strongly on each of the rides, and really my only discomfort from riding pavé was me being cold from standing around and taking photos after we finished at Roubaix Velodrome soaking wet. A couple days later back at home I went for a rough road/pavé ride on my un-suspended endurance road bike, and I felt uncomfortable 50km into the ride and tired after the ride. That’s half the distance I rode each day on the Roubaix, which kept me feeling surprisingly fresh.
Since the Roubaix already has on more than a handful of Paris-Roubaixs, it might seem the bike is specifically designed only for top-level riders who are devoted to riding the harsh cobbles of the Hell of North. Who else really needs to have a special bike built for cobbles? Well, I am never gonna race Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, or other Spring Classics, but I still can imagine how much I would benefit from such extra comfortable feeling on my road bike. After a few long days on the new bike, I feel pretty confidently that my regular road rides would be smoother & faster, and I would arrive home ready for another ride. And I could certainly get used to a new Roubaix for my all-around road riding.