First Ride: Specialized’s Radical New Venge Aero Road Bike

The invite was short and somewhat cryptic, but everyone still had a pretty strong hunch what it was all about. Specialized was going to be showing-off their new Venge aero road bike. After all, it had been four years since the bike made the splashiest of splashy intros, when it was first unveiled in 2011 at the McLaren F1 wind tunnel where it was co-developed, and then the following day ridden to a huge victory on the road when (then) team HTC rider Matt Goss rode his in to win Milano-Sanremo.

We were told that the bike first began to take shape over two years ago when a prototype using the new front triangle mated an old rear triangle was tested in the A2 wind tunnel. In between wind stints, the frame was hack-sawed in half and bondo’d back together as Specialized’s designers charted the bike’s flow visualization in seeking to create its initial “design language.”

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ABOUT THE BIKE
If there was one take-way from going over the specs and science behind the new Venge, it’s that in pursuit of maximizing speed and aero efficiencies, things are going to start getting complicated. Just as we have already found with the aero road bikes from Look that rely on a high (and delicate) level of system integration, the Venge too has entered the realm of truly specialized equipment. Collectively, the bike industry is pedaling further down a path where swapping bikes between different riders is not just a matter of raising or lowering the saddle. Ease of set-up is no longer a consideration when we’re talking about bikes has highly evolved as the Venge.

As repeatable a mantra that “fit is paramount” is for all riders, on all bikes, it is doubly paramount here. The Venge uses what’s called the “Aerofly ViAS cockpit” which is based on a unique negative 17 degree stem and 25mm rise Aerofly handlebar combo. To zero in on fit, the stem will be available in seven sizes with a selection of six handlebars and four seatposts. Additionally, we were told that anyone interested in buying a Venge will first have to navigate an impressive “Venge Finder” web site specifically designed as a sizing tool to fit you (or at least get you close) to the bike before you visit your dealer.

As  for visiting your local dealer, Specialized says the new S-Works Venge should be available at your local dealer in the late summer for close to $12,000 with a Pro  model due further down the road.

No doubt the unique, integrated brakes are the bikes most standout features. As Chris D’Alusio explained, “We weren’t moving the needle with either the stock fork or an aero version (with standard brake mounting). With the new design there was a big improvement in the aero numbers, but unless it worked as good, if not better, than what we already had, it was a no-go.” Apparently, the fork also plays a big role in maximizing the bikes steering response.

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We expected the Venge to feel fast on the flats, but we were in for a pleasant surprise on most of the climbs as well. Photo: Chris Riekert

OUTSIDE OF THE WIND TUNNEL

We headed to Morgan Hill, California, home of Specialized headquarters, for an exclusive first ride on the new Venge, which included 87 miles in the saddle with over 10,000 feet of climbing. Here are our first impressions.

We’ll be the first to admit that aero-road bikes usually aren’t our favorite bikes to ride because compared to most round tube road bikes, they’re heavier, don’t have the same torsional stiffness, and have a harsher ride. Ultimately, they’re just not as much fun to ride over a wide range of terrain. As for the new Venge, it’s definitely no featherweight at 17 pounds (including Quarq power meter), but as we found out just minutes into the ride, overall torsional and pedaling stiffness is at a different level than anything else we’ve ridden, and not just aero-road bikes—all road bikes!

Concerning ride comfort, the Venge also does well in this department, though it isn’t from anything Specialized has done with tube profiles or elastomer inserts. We’re chalking up the ride quality to the 21mm internal width Roval rims and 24mm wide tires. At 90 psi, the wheel and tire combo did wonders for minimizing what we felt coming from the road.

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Stellar torsional stiffness along with the wide wheels and tires makes hitting high-speed descents a a casual affair. Photo: Chris Riekert

One initial cause for concern we had was with the brakes and how much would be sacrificed in the name of saving a few grams of drag. Their placement and design is completely unique and are oriented around optimizing airflow, especially the rear brake. At the lever, the brakes have a slightly heavier feel than a SRAM Red or Dura-Ace rim brake, more than likely from the intricate routing that keeps the cables hidden away and out of sight. Functionally though, the brakes had plenty of stopping power, and at least for the one ride, didn’t have any notable downsides.

The 90-mile ride included 8,000 feet of climbing, mostly coming from climbs up to a mile in length, save for a seven-mile, 6% climb. In what was surprising was the fact that this type of terrain ended up being tailor-made for the Venge. Because of the bike’s efficiency coming from aerodynamics and stiffness, it was rocket fast on undulations where you can pin it down a descent and carry the momentum mid-way up the next hill before jumping out of the saddle and holding speed over the top, before doing it all over again.

Even though the Venge would not be our ultimate bike for riding alpine passes, it was much more efficient across most every terrain than we had expected before the ride, and not only in terms of speed, but also in ride quality. We’re really looking forward to riding the new Venue more, and we’re eager to get it on our home roads for a long-term test. Look for that soon in an upcoming issue of Road Bike Action magazine!

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