Friday, 5 August 2011

Tarmac SL4 - Review

My new 2012 Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4
I've ridden Specialized Tarmacs almost since their first incarnation way back in 2005. I've owned every single full carbon model (with a Giant in between for good measure!) The SL3's been my trusty steed for 18 months now, even after test riding all the 2012 Giants I felt this was where I wanted to be!

Along comes the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4.

The first thing you might think - it's been said to me several times "it doesn't look much different to an SL3". In a way they're right, it's still your typical Specialized Tarmac shape.... but that's where the similarities end.

That top-tube is huge!
Di2 looks much neater as does OSBB
First off it's a fair bit beefier, the SL3 had large tubes at the front end, but the top tube of the SL4 makes it look anorexic! The stays are probably the next thing you'll notice, the stance is a lot wider and the shape changes as you reach the seat tube, almost flattening at the top.
The huge downtube allows Di2 cables to run internally and the brake runs along the inside of the top tube (just remember rubber doughnuts inside!). The whole Di2 integration looks very neat, I just need to bungs to finish it off!

Huge stays as ever and much better dropouts
There's a few more subtle differences too, such as the dropouts - my SL3 used to be a nightmare with a Di2 mech on, this has no such issues.

So enough about how it looks, how does it ride?

This is where I stumble. I can't find a single word to sum it up. Every time I try and describe one characteristic, I lead on to another. I cannot find a superlative good enough!

Lets start with the thing which people comment on most when they ride it. It's smooth. You'd think a full on race-bike is going to be harsh, but this isn't. Specialized have obviously learnt a lot from the Roubaix and put it into the Tarmac, but in just the right amount. Personally I find the Roubaix a bit overkill in terms of smoothness, I like to feel the road, but it suits many people. The Tarmac, for me has hit the nail on the head. It's balanced front and rear, those stays ironing out the vibrations, but you can still feel the road as you should.

Cobra Headtube
Rear stance is much wider
Which leads me on to the front end.... Specialized slimmed down the headtube, but at the same time stiffened it up. It's noticeably a lot more grown-up in the handling compared to the SL3, more composed, more confidence inspiring. It's hugely stiff, but you don't ever feel like you're fighting the stiffness. One thing that astounded me about the new fork isn't the comfort or tracking, but the braking. In fact, both front and rear braking on this bike is the best I have ever encountered. I've run Dura-Ace brakes on many bikes, nothing compares to this.

As you'd expect from a race bike, the rear end is stiff too. As I've mentioned it's compliant and smooth, but if you want to put the power down it will respond -  it will respond with no hassle, no fuss until you want to stop. This is the only bike I've ridden which just wants to keep going harder than you do! I typically sprint up a climb, set a telegraph pole as a finish line... and give up 80% of the way there.  Well I did do until I rode the SL4, I keep riding past the "finish line" now, the bike just won't give in!

These stays are a masterpiece!
You may have noticed I've not really mentioned weight, it comes in at around 15lb, a bit more with deep sections shown. It's not superlight (especially with a reliable build like mine), Specialized themselves haven't shouted much about the weight, but it's the ride that out-shines the 50g weight saving over the SL3.

Obviously £2500 is a lot of money for a frameset, so it should really be a very good bike, but this just keeps making me smile every time I ride it! I must have clocked up nearly 400 miles in just over a week on it and I still cannot find a fault, this is without a doubt the best race bike I have ever ridden.


max said...

Hi very nice bike! How does the OSBB work with the Dura Ace 7900 crankset? i thought that you had to have BB30 cranks? Asking because i'm going to be buying a SL4 S-works frameset. thanks for your time!!

Matt Clinton said...

The frameset actually comes with some adaptors which fit inside the frame as well as bearings and the external race as you can see in the photos.

Tom Filmer said...

hi there. Im not sure if i want a venge or a tarmac! my strength are hills but i also like to get out of the peleton. also whats the colours fo the s works sl4 with sram red on it? thanks so much. great review!

Vlad said...

Great review Matt.
After reading your review I couldn't help myself. Went today to LBS and put a deposit down for an identical frameset (the same colour and all.)
They won't be available in Australia in this colour till December, but It's worth waiting for!
Just wondering what brand bottle cages are these?


Anonymous said...

For sure it's bontrager components!

Anonymous said...

Great bike! Unfortunately
can I find this color is not in Germany. Which color scheme, the frame? He is also available as a frameset?
Thank you!

Kris said...

Hey Matt, I'm looking to buy an Sl-4 frame, any insight on frame sizes? A lot of pro riders ride a smaller size with a longer stem. Personally I favor a deeper position, and I 'm inbetween a 54 and 56...

Anonymous said...


Great bike and great review. I ordered the same frameset last Friday. I will go for Sram Red BB30 and



Andrew said...

I bought the same frame and colour back in September (UK). I built mine with Sram red black and use a Prologo Scratch Pro nack and Campag Shamal ultras. My bike weighs in at 6.2kg.. which is pretty incredible with alloy clinchers. So far i've not ridden it as been building slowly, but my old SL3 was immense & I've been informed this is so much better (as you have done Matt). I have also gone for BB30 ultimate Ceramic bearings as i wanted to make this the best bike i could. Can't wait to ride it. :-)

Anonymous said...

hi Matt,how did you fix the bearing cups inside the BB? glue?

Anonymous said...

They're press fit, though I have got TACX paste between tthe cup and the frame.

max said...

Hey man...assembling my tarmac sl4, too. Which grease did you use on the headset cups? Manual says "grease the cups" but it also says "NEVER use grease on carbon parts" -.- thought teflon grease should do, but I am not sure

SageCycleWorldBikes said...

Can you use a rotor 3d crank with the bearings, cups, and races provided with the s-works sl4?