Reviews

Specialized Tarmac SL7 Review (2021)

The Specialized Tarmac SL7 is finally here, and it heralds the conclusion of the brand’s long-running battle between aerodynamics and weight. The new model will replace both the current Tarmac SL6 and the more aerodynamically oriented Venge as the company’s premier racing bike in 2021.

A disc-only setup is also available on the new Tarmac SL7, and the S-Works version is touted to weigh only 6.7kg when equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components.

Tarmac SL7 versions are available in three different price ranges. The Tarmac SL6, which was introduced in the previous generation, will stay in the lineup as the entry-level carbon choice.

Here’s all you need to know about specialized tarmac SL7.

  • The Tarmac SL6 and the aero Venge are both being replaced by a new disc-only premier racing bike.
  • The top-of-the-line S-Works model is said to weigh 6.7kg for a 56cm bike.
  • The S-Works frame is stated to weigh 800g, whereas less expensive ones weigh 920g.
  • Over 40km, it is said to be 45 seconds quicker than the SL6.
  • The SL6 and Venge have the same unisex geometry.
  • clearance for tyres with a diameter of 32mm
  • Bottom bracket with a threaded hole
  • User-friendly frame

Aerodynamic of Lightweight?

The Specialized Tarmac SL7 is aerodynamic and lightweight, not aerodynamic or lightweight.

Instead of producing distinct aero and lightweight racing bikes, Specialized is focused on a “one bike to rule them all” that incorporates substantial aerodynamic optimization as well as an appropriately light frameset, according to the company’s marketing materials.

The S-Works Tarmac SL7 is said to weigh 6.7kg for a 56cm bike when equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 in its lightest configuration.

Although, of course, Specialized’s number does not include the pedals, bottle cages, and other equipment that racers can’t live without, it would still fall under the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum allowed weight for racing.

Because of its sleek cockpit and prominent aerodynamic elements, the Tarmac SL7 may easily be mistaken for a Venge at first sight.

Clearly, the design owes a debt to both the Venge and the Tarmac SL6 it is intended to replace; nevertheless, the aesthetics tilt significantly more to the Tarmac side, with a daintiness that the Venge does not possess.

In comparison to the Tarmac SL6, Specialized claims that the seat tube, seatstays, head tube, and fork blades were the primary targets of the aerodynamic improvements.

The SL7 is supposed to be almost as aerodynamic as the Venge (Specialized refused to disclose figures) and quicker than the Tarmac SL6, saving a claimed 45 seconds over a 40-kilometer distance. The SL7 comes with a clean cockpit and some tasty new Roval Rapide CLX aero wheels.

While this is going on, the top-spec S-Works SL7 frame is stated to weigh under 800g for a 56cm with paint, which is precisely the same weight as the SL6-generation S-Works Tarmac Disc frame. The frame of the departing S-Works Venge, on the other hand, is stated to weigh 960 grams.

The new S-Works Tarmac is built using Specialized’s newest and greatest FACT 12r carbon lay-up, while the more affordable Pro and Expert versions are built with less expensive FACT 10r carbon, which according to Specialized adds around 120g to a 56cm frame for a stated frame weight of 920g.

But wait, I hear you say, isn’t the new Trek Emonda SLR, due out in 2021, supposed to weigh less than 700g? Because that number does not include paint, the Emonda may or may not be lighter in the actual world than it appears in the figure.

Tarmac SL7’s geometry is similar to that of the Venge on paper, and it is somewhat lower in stack and longer in reach than the Tarmac SL6, which has a shorter reach and a higher stack.

Specifications for the Tarmac SL6 and SL7 are the same, according to Specialized, and the only variations between the two models are in the headset configuration and the manner stack and reach measurements are taken.

In addition, Specialized no longer creates bikes that are specifically designed for men and women; the Tarmac is deemed unisex.

When seen from the side, the Tarmac SL7 seems to be a cross between the Tarmac SL6 and the Venge, with tubes that are thinner than the latter but bigger than the former, as shown in the image below.

The Tarmac SL7 may be thought of as a hybrid between the Tarmac SL6 and the Venge.

The cut-out in the seat tube is more noticeable than it was previously – primarily because it does not hug the wheel as closely – and the seatpost is now straight for the majority of its length, with a bulging section near the top, rather than the smooth organic curve of the SL6. The seatpost is also shorter than it was previously.

The SL7 is unmistakably a Tarmac, although it has a somewhat more aggressive and Venge-like appearance than the previous model.

With the rapid advancement of road technology, the Tarmac SL7 is right on the money in a number of critical categories, including design and performance.

However, unlike its predecessor, the SL7 is capable of accepting tyres up to 30mm in diameter. The SL7 is also capable of taking up to 32mm rubber (on rims having an internal width of 21mm), however the bikes will come with 26mm tyres as standard.

Threaded Bottom Bracket – Yeah!

Another notable feature is the switch from a threaded bottom bracket to a non-threaded bottom bracket, which is great news for DIY mechanics worldwide.

Bottom bracket clearance as well as rear tyre clearance

Many riders will like the threaded bottom bracket and large tyre clearances provided by this bike.

The Roval Rapide CLX wheels have a substantial depth and width for their size. As for bottom bracket standards, there is still no unanimity in the industry, although there has been a significant return to threads among some groups, and Specialized has already dropped press-fit on the Diverge 2021.

Rather of the super-sized T47 platform used by Trek’s most recent products, such as the Emonda 2021, the company chose a regular 68mm-wide ISO (BSA) shell.

While press-fit bottom brackets may be effective and provide theoretical benefits from an engineering standpoint, we favor threaded bottom brackets because they are just simpler to live with and are less likely to create mechanical issues than press-fit brackets.

Finally, the new Tarmac is 1-friendly, and Specialized is providing a 1 setup as standard with SRAM Force eTap AXS, which is a first for the company.

The front derailleur mount is detachable, and the hole it left may be filled up with a blanking plug, resulting in an extremely clean appearance.

What about the tubeless option?

Considering all of the excitement surrounding Specialized’s own S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless tyre, which made its debut in 2019, it may come as a surprise to some that the Tarmac SL7’s top-spec S-Works and Pro versions do not come with tubeless-ready wheels.

With the debut of its clincher-only Roval wheels in June, we noticed that the company seemed to be going back and forth on tubeless technology. The Tarmac SL7 is equipped with Roval Rapide CLX wheels at S-Works level and the Rapide CL at Pro Level.

The following is the statement from Specialized regarding these wheels: “By designing them specifically for tube types, we were able to build lighter and better complete wheels systems for competitive road riders.”

“To make these wheels tubeless would have necessitated the use of more materials, and the weight of the additional materials would have overshadowed the advantages of tubeless tires.”

Even with their substantial depths (51mm front, 60mm rear) and widths (21mm internal, 35mm external front, 30.7mm external rear), the Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is claimed to weigh only 1,400g. This is despite their substantial depths (51mm front, 60mm rear) and widths (21mm internal, 35mm external front, 30.7mm external rear).

From an aerodynamic standpoint, the Roval front rim is substantially wider than the 26mm S-Works Turbo Cotton tyre, which is a huge advantage.

In spite of this, given the current situation of the market, this seems to be an odd choice, especially for a company that has gone to such efforts to stress the benefits of aerodynamics and rolling resistance over weight.

At the Tarmac SL7 launch, Specialized representatives admitted that the future of cycling would most likely involve tubeless technology. As a result, prospective Tarmac buyers should carefully consider whether the S-Works and Pro builds currently on offer are sufficiently future-proof for their requirements before making a purchase.

Integration Taken To It’s Natural Conclusion

Integration is all the trend these days, and the Tarmac SL7 is a far more aesthetically pleasing motorcycle than its predecessor. This is primarily due to improved cable routing, which eliminates the need for loops of hose and outer cable to run from bar to frame, as was the case on the Venge’s chassis.

This bar has extremely broad tops, and it’s paired with a sleek stem that Specialized modified from the Venge for use on this bike. The new Tarmac’s stem is touted to be 45 grams lighter than the previous model.

Stems are installed as standard throughout the range, but a more extreme -12 degree variant is available aftermarket for those who want to go even farther.

All of the wires are tucked away behind the stem and into the top of the headset spacer stack, making for an almost seamless appearance.

Similar designs have been found on a number of recently introduced bikes, including the Trek Emonda, Rose Pro SL, and Merida Scultura Endurance, among others.

It’s not quite as neat as BMC’s clever ICS (‘Integrated Cable System’), but it’s intended to provide a similar trade-off in terms of aerodynamics and practicality as the BMC system does.

However, while designs like this add mechanical complexity (you’ll typically have to disconnect the hydraulic hoses in order to replace the upper headset bearing), they allow you to perform more everyday tasks such as swapping the stem and removing headset spacers without having to completely dismantle your bicycle.

In addition to the Tarmac SL7’s factory-installed detachable plastic cover over the steerer clamp bolts, Specialized includes an optional cover with the bike that enables you to mount normal round headset spacers above the stem.

This means that you may lower the bars without having to commit to cutting the fork steerer at the same time.

Because the stem clamp is a standard 31.8mm, you aren’t restricted to utilizing Specialized’s own bar as an alternative.

There is an integrated out-front computer mount that contains adapters to accommodate Garmin, Polar, Cateye and Bryton devices on top and GoPros or Specialized lights beneath. This is a really convenient feature.

But how does it handle on the road?

An S-Works Tarmac SL7 equipped with SRAM Red eTap AXS was tested.

This is one of two top-of-the-line versions – the other is equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 – and it weights 7.0kg on our scales in a size 54, according to the manufacturer.

Specialized’s new flagship racer is devastatingly effective, but it is also uncompromising in its approach.

The S-Works Tarmac is a fantastic racing bike that will reward the most talented riders, but it is likely to be overkill for the majority of the population.

Pros: Fast and exhilarating ride, extremely efficient-feeling frame, beautiful finish, and extensive feature set

Cons: Exorbitant price tag, non-tubeless wheels, and a ride that may be too concentrated for certain riders.

In lieu of the former Specialized Tarmac SL6 model and Specialized Venge aerodynamic racing bike, Specialized has developed the Tarmac SL7, which incorporates elements from both models into a race bike that is both aerodynamic and light.

Top Of The Line – Top Price

For the sake of this evaluation, the top end S-Works model equipped with SRAM Red eTap AXS and Roval Rapide CLX wheelset, which retails for $12,000.

It’s a colossally pricey, colossally effective speed machine that will excite go-fast riders with its ultra-stiff frame, immaculate handling, and engaging ride, but it may be a little too race-focused for more relaxed road riders.

The S-Works Tarmac is built of Specialized’s finest carbon fiber, referred to as FACT 12r by the brand. It is the company’s flagship model.

S-Works hasn’t said what this implies at the lay-up level, but it’s utilized to construct a frame that weights 800g for the 56cm version, which is precisely the same as the previous generation S-Works Tarmac Disc and 160g less than the departing S-Works Venge frame.

The more economical Pro and Expert versions come with FACT 10r, which has a stated weight penalty of just 120g and is designed to be as light as possible.

Aside from the carbon fiber, the S-Works offers precisely the same features as the lower variants, as well as the exact same shape.

According to Specialized, this is carried over straight from the Venge and provides the same true fit as the previous-generation Tarmac as well. The figures fluctuate somewhat because of the new bike’s headset configuration and the method by which they are measured, but the riding posture seems to have remained same.

For comparison, a 54cm bike has 387mm of reach and 534mm of stack, whilst the Tarmac SL6 has 384mm and 544mm of reach and stack, respectively. A complete geometry chart for all sizes may be seen in our separate news post.

Even while the basic layout of the new 2021 bike is identical to the previous model, aerodynamic improvements have been made throughout the bike, including a switch to a far more aesthetically pleasing cable routing system that flows beneath the stem and into the top headset cover.

However, in the event that you need to repair the top headset bearing, the brake lines will need to be detached. This system is meant to make common modifications, such as adjusting the bar height, simpler.

Specialized has chosen a Venge-style specialized stem for the Tarmac, one that totally covers the headset preload and steerer clamp bolts beneath a plastic cover to give the bike a more aerodynamic profile.

It is possible to use regular round spacers on top of the stem by using an alternate cover that Specialized provides, which eliminates the need to cut the steerer when trying out a lower position for the first time.

On the frame itself, Specialized claims that it concentrated on improving the aerodynamics of the seat tube, seatstays, and head tube in particular.

There are truncated aerofoil tube sections throughout the frame, as well as a prominent hourglass shape on the head tube.

The Tarmac SL6’s lowered seatstays have been retained by the designers, a non-traditional feature that many bike manufacturers have enthusiastically embraced since it is one method of increasing rear-end comfort and lateral rigidity, as well as the possibility of gaining aerodynamic advantages.

In comparison to the SL6, one significant improvement is the improved tyre clearance, with the Tarmac SL7 now officially taking 32s (on 21mm internal rims), which would have been inconceivable on a racing bike just a few years ago. Another improvement is the increased fuel capacity.

Aside from that, Specialized has eliminated the press-fit bottom bracket in favor of a conventional threaded unit, a decision that will be welcomed by riders who intend to service their own bikes as well as bike shop technicians throughout the globe.

There are two equally priced S-Works models for 2021, one with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components and the other with SRAM Red eTap AXS components, the latter of which is the type under review.

This bike is equipped with the full wireless 12-speed groupset, which includes a Quarq power meter crank, as well as the new Roval Rapide CLX wheelset, which was introduced by Specialized earlier this year.

With respect to SRAM’s Red eTap AXS groupset, the company took a novel approach to gearing when it introduced the groupset. The 48/35 crank option, for example, is equivalent to a more common 52/36 semi-compact when combined with one of the company’s cassettes, which start with a tiny 10-tooth cog.

To the contrary, the Tarmac is generously geared for racing, with an appropriate winch bottom gear and an ample top end that will make it difficult to spin out of a corner on a fast course.

Roval Rapide CLX Wheels

Because of their very deep rims (51mm front, 60mm rear), the Roval Rapide CLX wheels are easily distinguished from the competition. They also have differing front and rear profiles.

When measured internally, both rims measure 21mm. However, the front rim is wider and blunter, with a maximum width of 35mm, while the rear has a narrower cross-section, with a maximum width of 30.7mm.

The staggered design is all in the name of achieving a better balance between aerodynamics and handling. Because of the blunt shape and lesser depth of the front, it is intended to be more manageable in side breezes while yet being the fastest it can possibly be.

Having a rim that is wider than the tyre is known to improve aerodynamics, and the front of the car takes this to extremes.

The design concerns for the rear wheel are somewhat different from those for the front wheel since it is insulated to some degree and is not at the forefront of pure air as the front wheel is.

A smaller rim also helps to decrease weight, with the stated total weight for the set coming in at only 1,400g – a very good number for deep section clinchers in general.

However, there is an elephant in the room, and that is the absence of tubeless compatibility, or the lack of such compatibility.

Roval Rapide CLX wheels are very deep and wide, yet they are not tubeless-compatible due to their design.

Despite the fact that they are not tubeless compatible, as noted in the launch news piece, the Rapide CLXs are still an unexpected pick for a company that has been a strong proponent of the technology in recent years.

The Rovals come equipped with 26mm Specialized Turbo Cotton clinchers with a quality 320 TPI shell and a premium 320 TPI clincher.

As you would anticipate, Specialized designed and built the Tarmac’s finishing kit from the ground up. The Aerofly II bar is an important component of the bike’s aerodynamic design, but the conventional clamp diameter of the Tarmac stem ensures you aren’t tied to it for the rest of your riding days.

Custom Seatpost Integrates Di2 Seamlessly

The seatpost is also customized for the bike, and there’s a special mount for Di2-equipped versions that conceals the junction box beneath the seat.

After that, there’s the much-loved Power saddle, a short-nose design that’s gained enormous appeal since it first appeared on the market in 2015.

A 54cm Specialized S-Works build with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 weights 7.0kg, which is somewhat heavier than the alternative S-Works build with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, which Specialized claims weighs 6.7kg for a 56cm bike.

Riding the SL7 is a thrilling experience.

I completely reject the notion that bicycles have a distinct personality. They’re inanimate things with no will of their own, and you can’t get any more out of them than you put into them.

In spite of this, if the S-Works Tarmac were a person, it would be continually, loudly encouraging you to ride faster and inflict more pain on yourself.

Not one single characteristic distinguishes the bike; rather, it is the combination of a supremely stiff frame, a clean, integrated aesthetic, and a colossal set of aero wheels that whoosh delightfully when you wind them up and give the distinct impression that you are traveling extremely quickly – regardless of whether or not you have the means to prove it.

The SL7 follows in the footsteps of previous Tarmacs, which have blended astoundingly direct power delivery with an extraordinary degree of composure.

A complete pleasure to ride, with the power of disc brakes at your fingertips and a front end that appears to be devoid of flex, the riding experience is one that blends surgical precision with a sense of complete efficiency.

Climbing and sprinting are a pleasure, though I found the latter to be ever so slightly hampered by the harsh edges of the Aerofly II bar rubbing against the inside of my forearms.

Perhaps it’s because of my unique sprinting stance and the location of my grasp on the drops, but the trailing edge of the wing-shaped top portion stretches backwards more than the trailing edge of a round bar, and I’ve even managed to hook a knobbly knee on it while climbing exuberantly.

Whether I’m looking for aero benefits or not, I’d probably prefer a round bar regardless since I appreciate being able to wrap my fingers over the tops of the bars on occasion, which seems less natural on a broad bar. That is, of course, a matter of personal opinion, and many riders will undoubtedly like both the aesthetics and the ergonomics.

There is a disadvantage to the Tarmac’s relentless raciness, however: the bike is fairly harsh in its approach to racing. You feel very much in contact with the road surface thanks to the strong, direct ride, which is not conducive to calm cruising but rather to unrelenting pace.

You can get a lot more done when you’re in a good mood and feeling good. It’s engaging, and one would be tempted to use the cliché about it being “full with feedback.” For example, if you’ve been riding for a long time and are weary and hurting, you could find yourself wishing for a little more squish.

There’s obviously room to improve the ride quality by taking use of the generous tyre clearances, but the Tarmac is designed to perform best on smoother surfaced terrain, as the name indicates.

It’s clearly not the kind of road bike that lends itself to gravelly romps, and you won’t be able to casually glide over potholes on a normal disintegrating lane like you might on, say, a Specialized Roubaix.

Those Roval Rapide CLX wheels make a huge difference to the Tarmac’s overall riding experience as well as the way it is perceived by the rider.

Aside from their freehub, which, because to its DT Swiss internals, makes a sound like a forest full of rutting cicadas when ridden at speed, their substantial depth is difficult to overlook, and they look gorgeous when paired with tan-wall tyres.

When you’re riding, the tremendous breadth of the wheels becomes much more apparent.

While riding, you’ll notice that the front rim is particularly wide and that the 26mm tyre is completely concealed from view when you look down, creating the strange sensation that you’re riding on carbon rather than rubber.

From an aerodynamic standpoint, the Roval front rim is substantially wider than the 26mm S-Works Turbo Cotton tyre, which is a huge advantage.

Additionally, these wheels are amazingly unflappable in windy circumstances, in spite of the fact that they are fitted with 26mm Turbo Cotton tyres (I was able to run both front and rear tires comfortably in the 60-something pressure range with my 53kg body weight).

In terms of steering torque, Specialized claims that the Rapide CLXs are 25% more stable than the earlier CLX50s. I believe them; they handle very well for a bike with such a deep profile.

Given my small stature, I’m particularly sensitive to crosswinds; the Rovals, though, are much more forgiving than the majority of other bikes I’ve rode in a genuine gale.

The verdict on the S-Works Tarmac SL7 is as follows: it’s a beautiful bike, but is the S-Works really necessary?

The S-Works Tarmac SL7 is an absolutely incredible bike that will please any rider while also rewarding the more experienced riders greatly.

A few of the specifications may be improved upon, such as the choice of bar and the use of non-tubeless tires, but the overall package is rather appealing, and for the same money you can also choose for the slightly lighter Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 construction if that’s your taste.

The benefits of free speed are obvious, and the aero benefits are certainly appreciated, but they are not immediately noticeable in daily riding.

If you’re satisfied with your Tarmac SL6, the SL7 isn’t going to seem like a significant step forward in terms of performance. Apart from the apparent allure of flashy new goods, there may also be particular features in the newly released frameset that appeal to riders, such as the increased tyre clearance, super-organized cable routing, or a threaded bottom bracket, that they would want to have.

In the event that you’re considering trading in your Venge, keep in mind that even Specialized concedes that although the new Tarmac is lighter, it is also significantly less aerodynamic.

This price range allows you to essentially disregard any sense of value for money since you are so far into the realm of diminishing returns that it is rendered useless.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to ride a more inexpensive SL7, but in the past, the second-tier Tarmacs have always been excellent machines, and they are likely the better value for the most of us.

Moving from the lower models’ FACT 10r carbon to the S-Works’ FACT 12r carbon saves you just 120g (according to the manufacturer) and comes at a significant cost premium, but for riders who want the best and need the term “S-Works” on the down tube, this won’t be a consideration.

However, on a more realistic budget, the absolute bottom of the S-Works Tarmac line, possibly the Expert model with mechanical Ultegra and Roval C 38 wheels, which, although heavier, are probably more future-proof since they’re tubeless-ready.

Summary

The new Specialized Tarmac SL7 is the company’s premier racing bike for 2021. Replacement for the SL6 replaces the more aerodynamically-oriented Venge. S-Works version is touted to weigh only 6.7kg when equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components. The S-Works SL7 frame is said to weigh the same as the SL6-generation Tarmac Disc frame, saving 45 seconds over a 40-kilometer distance. The SL7 is right on the money in design and performance.

It can fit tyres up to 30mm in diameter and will come with 26mm tyres as standard. Features include a non-threaded bottom bracket and 1-friendly SRAM eTap AXS. The Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is claimed to weigh only 1,400g. This is despite their substantial depths (51mm front, 60mm rear) and widths (21mm internal, 35mm external front, 30.7mm external rear). Comes with optional cover that allows you to mount normal round headset spacers above stem. Reviewed on a top-of-the-line version equipped with SRAM Red eTap AXS.

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