What do you get when you combine a Specialized S-Works frame with a Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 group?
When it comes to top-flight road racing products, there are two names that carry with them a proven legacy of winning—Dura-Ace and S-Works. After a new Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset showed up at our door, we were left in search of a new frame to hang the parts on. Since it had been some time since we last tested a Specialized S-Works Tarmac frame, we made a call to Specialized to see about getting a frame. Finishing out the build was a selection of Shimano and Pro components.
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac represents the flagship race machine for the NorCal brand, and it has a race-winning record like few other models. In fact, Specialized offers a stock model fitted with Dura-Ace parts (the biggest difference being the wheel and hard-parts spec) that sells for $8000. Made with their elite S-Works FACT 11r carbon, the frameset weighs 1100 grams and is available for either rim or disc brakes.
Frame details include internal cable routing and a seatpost clamp that uses a hidden wedge system tucked inside the top tube to further maintain the clean aesthetic. With head and seat tube angles hitting 73 and 73.5 degrees respectively, the Tarmac rolls with a definite race-friendly posture. The last time we tested a Tarmac, we rode a 56cm frame but came away feeling too stretched out, so this time we opted for a 54cm size that had a more comfortable 54.8cm top tube length for our own 5-foot-10 frame.
The fork is also made up of their S-Works FACT carbon, and the tapered construction helps provide a stiff front end that is especially noticeable when you need to plant the front end in a high-speed corner. The 45mm rake/offset is a good addition to the 73-degree head tube.
As mentioned, the purpose of the build was to test the new Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset. With both their R9100 mechanical and R9150 electronic Di2 versions, Shimano went all in with the blacked-out look, and the Hollowtech 2 crank being the most imposing piece. Despite their beefy size, the 53-39t crank still hit the scale at 621 grams, which is 7 grams lighter over their previous (and lighter-looking) version.
With this being rim brake-specific, their new calipers really took on a new look with a sleek design. Shimano offers the brakes in both direct-mount and dual-pivot versions with much improved stopping power and room to fit up to a 28c tire. The brake caliper’s adjustment lever sits close in to give it a more clean/aero look. The caliper pair weighs in at 326 grams.
The mechanical shifting levers got a brand-new redesign as well and are both lighter and also have a much improved ergonomics. A shorter lever stroke allows for quicker shifting throughout the gears. The shape of the lever and hoods have both been redesigned. The reach adjustment has been expanded by 14mm for riders with larger hands. The upgraded mechanical stroke in the shifters is what really stood out, as they provided the next easiest shifting compared to electronic.
The front and rear derailleurs were massively overhauled as well. The front derailleur has more cable routing options with an integrated cable-tension adjustment that eliminates any need for a barrel adjuster. The rear derailleur comes with Shimano’s Shadow RD design (borrowed from their mountain bike derailleurs), which gives it a lower profile that results in a more stable operation.
The Dura-Ace C24 carbon-laminated clincher wheels maintain a low 24mm profile and are a good all-around wheel that offers quick acceleration while being stiff as well. A wide flange hub with a lightweight titanium freehub body gives these wheels a weight of 593 grams for the front wheel and 819 grams for the rear wheel.
Just as we expected, pairing the new Dura-Ace R9100 with a Specialized S-Works gives you a ride package that speaks to performance. The race geometry set up on this bike was very stiff with great handling at high speeds. The improved lever stroke was very noticeable in the shifters and provided the quickest- and lightest-action shifting on the mechanical market. We really liked the new design of the hoods, as they sat very comfortably in your palm.
The pairing of the new stiffer crankset with the rigidness of the S-Works bottom bracket gave the bike a noticeable boost when accelerating hard. You could feel the transfer of power when putting your effort into the pedals. While out riding in the hills and going through the gears, the bike would take off and dance under acceleration. On the descents, the front end tracked very well and gave you the sense of confidence needed at high speeds—no twitchy feelings here.
Once you got up to speed, the bike tracked quickly across the road, but pavement imperfections were never left behind. You can definitely feel the roughness of the roads due to such stiffness. For this bike, though, and what it is made for, everyone volunteered to take the stiffer ride over a bike of lesser feel. The all-black look of the new Dura-Ace paired with the Monster Green/Team Yellow paint gave the bike a striking contrast in color that was never short on notice.
It’s safe to assume that everyone knows what kind of quality you get when you pair a Specialized S-Works frame with the new Shimano Dura-Ace components. These two brands have a worthy following for their quality and performance, which is exactly what we found with this bike.
Having been in the lineup for a few years now, the S-Works Tarmac SL continues to shine as a certifiable race bike. Specialized offers a 13-member family of Tarmacs that range in price from $2000 to $9500. However, just as we were wrapping up this test, we did get an invitation from Specialized for a new product launch in early summer. Might there be a new Tarmac being introduced? Stay tuned.
- Easy, smooth shifting
- Improved rim brakes
- S-Works frame plus new Dura-Ace may hurt your wallet
- Price: $3800 (frame)
- Weight: 15.43 pounds
- Sizes: 43, 45, 48, 50, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58cm
- Helmet: Lazer Z1
- Jersey: Primal Wear
- Bibs: Specialized
- Shoes: Specialized Elite