Over the past few years we’ve seen a handful of suspension and pseudo-suspension designs on the Trek Domane, Pinarello K8-S and Calfee Manta, yet all of these bikes have targeted only the rear-end (with the exception of the latest Domane SLR that also uses their IsoSpeed design in the front). With the Roubaix, Specialized has gone in the other direction by placing a much higher priority on front suspension. Based on the aptly named “Future Shock” which (ironically was the name of their mountain bike suspension fork in the mid-90s) sits under the stem and is comprised of a coil spring housed in a cartridge that provides 2cm of nearly friction-free suspension.
IN WITH THE SHOCK, OUT WITH THE ZERTZ
The Future Shock design was the brainchild of Specialized engineer Chris D’Aluisio, who had been looking for a way to apply suspension to the front-end without compromising the bike’s performance. “I tried placing the suspension on the fork tips, like the design of the CG-R seatpost, and it worked to a certain extent, but it would bob”, D’Aluisio told us. “I went down that road for a year and a half and was pretty upset that I couldn’t figure it out”, he continued. “We even explored doing a suspension stem, but you can’t get the linear action by doing that.” After ultimately realizing where he felt the ideal shock placement should be, D’Aluisio had a working prototype within a week.
Even though it’s the front suspension that is going to be the new trademark feature of the Roubaix, much has been done to improve rear compliance as well. For one, Specialized lowered where the seat stays intersect the seat tube, which in itself allows more vertical flex when the saddle is weighted. But more than that, the seat clamp is re-located to where the seat stays now intersect the seat tube–65mm lower than its previous location. It’s a design unlike any other we’ve previously seen, and allowed Specialized to make the seat tube a larger diameter than that of the 27.2mm CG-R seatpost all the way down to the clamp. Inside the larger diameter tube the seatpost “floats”, allowing much more flex than if it was fixed higher up, resulting in a claimed 19-percent compliance increase over the previous model.
GEOMETRY TWEAKS AND DISC ONLY
Geometry also changes from the previous Roubaix, with a decrease in wheelbase by 8mm to 99.3cm (size 56cm) as a result of going from a 72.5-degree head tube angle to a 73.5-degree angle. Specialized told us that because of the addition of the Future Shock, a quicker geometry could be achieved without sacrificing the stability that an endurance geometry brings. And even though the head tube length decreases a whopping 40mm, the addition of the Future Shock brings an overall stack increase of 7mm.
Just like nearly every other endurance bike that’s been released in the past year, rim brakes aren’t even an option on the Roubaix. Disc brakes it is, and with that comes flat-mount calipers and 12mm thru-axles. Fortunately, the rear uses a 12×142 standard spacing rather than the not-so-standard 12x135mm SCS spacing given to the previous Roubaix and other bikes in their line.
ROVAL CLX 32 WHEELS HIGHLIGHT BUILD
Because we got our hands on a Roubaix to begin testing a couple of months before the official unveiling, the final spec wasn’t complete and so the build didn’t represent an available model. Our Roubaix Pro had a full Dura-Ace Di2 group and included the new Roval CLX 32 Disc carbon wheelset. The wheels are an especially appealing addition since they have some key elements like tubeless-ready, a wide profile optimized for a 26mm tire, and a sub-1400-gram weight. Although, the CLX wheels will only come stock on the S-Works Roubaix, the Pro will come with the CL level wheels that roll with the same features, just with a slightly heavier weight. While all the stock builds are coming with 26mm wide tires, the Roubaix can accommodate up to a 32mm width.
Something Specialized has been doing for the past few years on their mountain bikes is providing storage solutions for a tube, inflator, and tire levers in what’s called a SWAT box. That now comes on the Roubaix (mounted in the bottom of the front triangle) in the form of a box that mounts to the down tube via a braze-on. It’s clean and simple. Unfortunately, our test bike didn’t come with one so we can’t speak to how much could be stashed in it.
“IT’S NOT TOO SOFT. JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU RIDE IT, THEN YOU’LL SEE”
When Specialized’s Sean Estes showed up in the RBA office with our Roubaix test bike the first thing we did was see what the suspension system was all about. After just a couple pushes downward on the handlebar we already knew it was way too soft since we blew through all 2cm of travel without really even trying. “It’s not too soft. Just wait until you ride it, then you’ll see”, he told us. So we headed out on one of the roughest paved road rides we have in our area; and as it turns out, he was right, it wasn’t too soft after all.
The difference between pushing straight down with all your weight versus being on the bike in a riding position made a huge difference in how the force was applied to the handlebars, and while on the road, there were few times we ever went through all the travel. What seemed like a gimmick at first turned into an incredibly efficient design that eliminated road vibrations, and greatly reduced the force of impact on bigger hits.
When riding out of the saddle there is minimal movement in the suspension, but as we focused on our form and pulled on the bars rather than bouncing on them most of the movement disappeared. One of the test riders noticed suspension drop when getting hard on the front brake, which shifted him forward and compressed the suspension. It didn’t affect handling, but was a rather new feeling than what we’ve experienced on a road bike.
Where the Roubaix truly shined was on descents, and the rougher the pavement the better. The handlebars practically float in your hands as they are shielded from the blows coming at them from the ground. This without a doubt not only improved comfort, but also handling and allowed us to actually go faster. After just a few rides we didn’t even seem to notice the suspension, until of course we rode something else. Specialized offers three spring rates for the Future Shock. We were told that spring rate shouldn’t be decided based on rider weight, rather it should be picked based on the terrain. We used the medium spring during our testing.
A ROUBAIX FOR MOST PRICE POINTS
Specialized is offering the new Roubaix in S-Works, Pro, Expert, Comp and Elite models that range from the $10,000 S-Works Roubaix e-Tap to the $2,600 Roubaix Elite with Shimano 105. The previous Roubaix SL4 will also remain in the line with the Comp, Sport and standard Roubaix models. The women’s Ruby also receives the same overhaul as the Roubaix and will come in the same build options at the same price.
When a company as big as Specialized pours so much research and development time and money dollars into a suspension road bike it’s safe to wonder what impact it will have throughout the sport. We can’t answer that just yet, but what we can say is that in their first attempt they’ve achieved a lot of good with very little bad.
We knew the Future Shock would do a good job in reducing the severity of jolts with bigger hits, but it exceeded our expectations when it came to eating up the small bumps and vibrations. Combining that with a more compliant rear-end gives the Roubaix an impressively well-balanced ride–from front to back. We like the fact that the new Roubaix is being offered in a number of models that hit most price points, not just the uber-expensive ones. Hopefully, when Specialized updates the Diverge it too will come with the Future Shock design.
Price: $2,600 to $10,000
Weight: 17.1 pounds (as tested)
Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 61