At the 2009 Specialized Global Launch, I was able to spend a couple of days riding the new Roubaix SL2 and compare it directly with their top-of-the-line race bike, the Tarmac SL2. Even with the Roubaix’s taller head tube, I was able to put the handlebars at my normal position by removing a couple of headset spacers. Lowering of the stem was the only change required to match my position on the Tarmac SL2.
On the road, the first thing I noticed was that the Roubaix SL2 is extremely smooth. The slightly longer wheelbase gives the bike a stable and comfortable feel. Over broken pavement the Roubaix is noticeably more vertically compliant than other bikes. While one can still feel bumps and cracks in the pavement, the impact forces are greatly reduced. With all the improvements to the Roubaix’s torsional stiffness, climbing performance is good with no indication of flex at the bottom bracket. While not producing close to the power of a professional rider, I was unable to determine a difference in bottom bracket stiffness between the Tarmac SL2 and Roubaix SL2.
Descending on the Roubaix is confidence-inspiring. The slighter longer wheelbase and the frame’s vertical compliance allow the rider to ease up on the brakes and let the bike carve its way down the hill. The Zertz damping system really becomes noticeable on longer descents. A lot of the high frequency vibrations that fatigue the hands and cause the back to stiffen up are reduced, and while they are still felt, sharp impacts are muffled. The only place I felt the Roubaix was at a slight disadvantage with pure race machines, like the Tarmac SL2, was in sharp corners. With the longer wheelbase and less aggressive head-tube geometry, the Roubaix requires a cornering technique with more countersteer and a greater exiting arch than the Tarmac SL2.
First impressions of the 2009 Roubaix are impressive, and we look forward to getting one for a long-term test in the near future.