The Shiv is the bike Specialized had to build; not because they’ll sell enough of them to recoup the cost of the design and production, but to provide the three ProTour teams they sponsor the equipment necessary to contend for a win in July. And when it comes to wins, the three-year-old Shiv has not let Specialized down. The bike has claimed the Men’s Elite World Time Trial Championship title every year since its production so far.
Over the past decade, frontal drag hasn't hanged dramatically on time trial bikes. What has improved is their ability in crosswinds. The Shiv's downtube design and the orientation of the rear stays give a sail like effect in crosswinds helping push the bike forward.
When Specialized first introduced their radical Shiv TT bike back in 2010, there was a collective, industry-wide gasp over the frame’s modern aesthetic details, which included a radical nose cone. Alas, the Shiv was forced to undergo a few changes after that original model was deemed illegal by the forward-thinkers at the UCI. The reworked frame design got a nose job, or better yet, lost its nose. And now with the nose gone, the 1-inch to 1 1/8-inch tapered head tube is the wind’s first point of contact with the frame. The reasoning behind using 1/8- inch less of a taper than what the Tarmac is twofold: first, it gives the front end a narrower profile for aerodynamics, and second, it damps the ride better, which is important when you’re in the aero bars and don’t have your elbows to act as your suspension.
One of the Shiv’s best features is the integration of the frame, fork, stem and handlebar design. When the stem is mounted, it comes to the same height as the top of the top tube. This keeps the wind flowing evenly across the top tube without any raised edges that could create the burden of unwanted turbulence. The aero bar extensions are drilled to allow a hidden internal routing for the derailleur cables until they pop out at the stem before making a plunge into the frame’s internal routing just behind the headtube. Like the front end, the rear has also been optimized for the cleanest airflow possible, with horizontal dropouts that allow the rear wheel to snug tightly up against the cutout seat tube. Combine these features with tube shapes that have gone from computer design,to a 3D-printed model for wind-tunnel testing, to a rideable prototype for the velodrome, and more wind-tunnel testing and you have yourself a World Championship winning bike.
The frame, stem and handlebar integration is one of the Shiv's best attributes-minimal drag with exceptional aerobar adjustability.
Specialized only sells the Shiv as a “module,” which includes the frame, proprietary fork, stem/handlebar combo, S-Works FACT crank, front and rear brakes, and two seatposts (one gives the effect of a 75-degree seat tube angle, while the other gives a more laid back 74-degree angle). The aerobars come with an assorted pack of spacers for the armrests to give it between 0mm and 115mm of height adjustment. In the continuing effort to “hide” as many non-aero parts on the bike as possible, one component that’s become headache for TT frame designers is the brakes or, more accurately, where to put them. The Shiv is no exception. Not only has positioning become problematic (especially the rear brakes), but so too has finding brakes that perform capably (given the space constraints). Like an increasing number of builders, Specialized ended up spec’ing very retrolooking, center-pull U-brakes mounted under the chainstays (a la very retro-style mountain bikes) to get the job done.
When choosing a wheelset for the Shiv, we decided to go with something that was as advanced as the frame itself. There are a few wheel brands on the market that fit that bill, but since we had yet to try Zipp’s 808 Firecrest wheels, they got the nod. The 26mm-wide, 81mm-deep tubular rims are the latest trend in the wider-is-better philosophy. While the rim’s wide profile wasn’t a problem with chainstay clearance, the springs in the brakes ended up losing tension from being adjusted in such an open position. Unfortunately, this caused the already less-than-stellar brakes to be even less impressive. The rest of the build package included a TT-specific Fizik Ares saddle that features a shortened nose to allow the saddle as forward of a position as possible for sit-bone support while also helping fend off the UCI regulators. We ran SRAM Red derailleurs and carbon 900TT shifters to finish things off.
After spending a month accumulating the parts for our project bike, it was finally time to get out on the road where we could put the bike through a true test: the local 20k time-trial race series. Initially, we set the Shiv up with 30mm of spacers under the armrests, but after one quick shakedown ride, we raised them another 20mm to get what we felt was the right balance of maximizing our power output and aerodynamic efficiency. Even before we fine-tuned our position, the Shiv felt amazing; the amount of speed that we found in every pedal stroke was something we’d never experienced before. With each ensuing ride and millimeter adjustment here and there, our average speeds always increased.
If you were to ask any of the best time trialists what the perfect setup is, they’d tell you that everyone’s perfect setup is different—and that’s what helps make the Shiv so good: its vast amount of handlebar and saddle adjustability, which allowed us to hone in a setup that was exactly what we needed. Just about the time things were fully dialed in and feeling good, it was time to race. The 20k TT route was an out and back course that had about 800 feet of climbing in it—not necessarily hilly, but with a few hard punchers. With a moderate crosswind, the expectation was that the bike would be blown around a bit; well, that wasn’t the case. The frame and wheels’ surface areas gave us the “sail effect” and pushed us along as if the wind was coming from behind. On the puncher hills, the Shiv’s low weight helped us propel it over the climb without much loss of speed.
There’s little doubt Specialized has invested everything possible into making the Shiv one of the fastest time-trial bikes out there—and this kind of innovation doesn’t come cheap. With a price tag of $6100 for the module alone, the Shiv isn’t on the cheap end. But, it could be argued that it’s really a good deal for such a noholds- barred, World Championship-caliber bike. Still, the Shiv isn’t without fault; the brakes are both aesthetically and functionally well below the quality of the rest of the bike. The Shiv isn’t the only TT bike facing similar brake-design woes, but regardless, they’re still disappointing. The integration between the frame and the rest of the front end is what makes the Shiv fast in the wind tunnel, but the ease and abundant adjustability are what makes it fast in the real world.
For 2012, Specialized introduced an all-new triathlon-specific version of the Shiv that flouts the UCI tech rules by incorporating a “Fuelselage” hydration system into the front triangle. Unlike the Shiv TT, the tri version is available as both a frame and complete bike. If dropping between $8000–$9000 for a complete bike isn’t in your budget, Specialized’s Transition, the predecessor to the Shiv, is another option. The Transition Comp offers an aero carbon frame built with SRAM Rival components for $2700.
• Enough adjustment for the craziest of positions
• Brakes aren’t at the same level of the rest of the bike
• If you still can’t go fast on the Shiv, it’s just not going to happen
Price: $6100 frame, fork, seatpost, handlebar,
Weight: 16.4 lbs.
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
For more info: Specialized