Let’s face it, we aren’t all Cat III racers with 18-year-old backs, legs and fitness levels. It’s just a fact that, at some point, everyone will need to accept (we are still working on it). While most riders believe that the perfect bike is a short-coupled, ultra-rigid sprinter, truth be told, a fast, comfortable bike that will perform well in all conditions is what we actually need. Meet the 2008 Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL. If you are expecting the term ‘comfortable’ to mean ‘slow, boring and non-responsive,’ look elsewhere. While the Roubaix S-Works is comfortable, it is also light, responsive, sleek-looking and it represents the culmination of Specialized’s focus in the endurance-road category. The endurance-road category is very loosely defined (by us) as a bike that you can use for a double-century or 60-mile group ride-and still be able to mow the lawn the next day without seeing a chiropractor or local energy-healer. Now, thanks to the Specialized Roubaix S-Works, you can feel like an 18-year-old Cat III racer at the end of your ride, regardless of your age at the start line.
The Roubaix is a popular bike for people who want to ride fast without the drawbacks of a super-stiff, race-only frame.
The S-Works title is reserved for only the highest end of the Specialized product spectrum. The Roubaix S-Works features the S-Works AZ1 construction, which refers to the tube-to-tube method that bonds high-strength tubes together at each junction with external carbon fiber reinforcements. The secret to the Roubaix’s comfort is in the ‘Zertz’ inserts pressed into windows in the seatstays, the S-Works SL carbon seatpost, and the carbon fork. Zertz inserts are made from a special plastic material that acts as a vibration damper. Do you see a pattern? The sloping top-tube ‘compact’ style frame may be built for comfort, but it’s more than that: it’s an endurance road frame with race-ready features and a strikingly low weight for a 58cm bike.
The geometry of the S-Works Roubaix is mild. A 72.5 degree head tube angle and a 73 degree seat tube angle, mated to a 58.2-centimeter top tube and an 82.6 centimeter stand-over height allows you to sit much more upright for longer distance riding and gives the non-yoga trained cyclist a breather on long rides and intense efforts. For some test riders, it took some tweaking to get used to the position; for others it was instantly natural and more comfortable.
Our 58-centimeter S-Works Roubaix SL was built up with Shimano Dura-Ace components, (although you will be able to get the S-Works SL with SRAM Red soon for $7400), Roval Fuse wheels, Specialized Roubaix tires, and a Body Geometry Toupe Gel saddle. ‘Integration’ is an important term at Specialized and the Specialized-designed FACT carbon crank and bottom bracket system are designed to install directly into the frame..
Do the Zertz inserts work? Yes. The bike soaked up road chatter with the best of them.
As you would imagine, and hope for a $6300 bike, the Roubaix was very comfortable and stable. On long rides, it almost felt like it got better as the day went on, probably because our torso and legs were able to plod without the normal, back, neck and arm maladies. We attribute some of the Roubaix’s creature comforts to the Body Geometry accessories that complete the package. The Specialized is remarkably fast on the flats, and it descends really well. Cornering was fluid, and in the drops, the Roubaix was exceptionally controllable. The move down into the drops and the stability once there was one of the highlights of the Roubaix that we didn’t expect. The sloping top tube places the drops significantly higher than on a conventional frame, and this encourages Roubaix riders to use them more often. Sprinting in and out of the saddle was solid and climbing was achieved with ease and a level of comfort that seemed to push us to climb stronger and for longer. That is the point of the Roubaix, but there’s a difference between reading about it and actually experiencing it. The one drawback, which is intuitive and logical, was due to the more upright riding position. Those who spend most of the time on the hoods will find themselves pushing the wind more often, but that is an easy problem to fix. Drop down and go.
As we talk to bike shops, riders and RBA readers, the Specialized Roubaix is the bike that many are talking up. Being able to pass it around to a variety of RBA test riders allowed us to confirm all the rumors. It’s a bike that will keep you riding for a long time. Don’t take the comfort moniker the wrong way. Just look at the bike, look at the build, then realize that the same technology that goes into the race-ready Tarmac SL is used on this frame. If you aren’t 18 any more, then consider the Specialized Roubaix SL-a bike that will actually make you want to get up on Saturday morning, dig a little deeper and go a little bit farther than you did last week.
Weight: 16 pounds (58cm)