Review: 2017 Specialized Roubaix Expert

Specialized have recently come out with a new version of the Roubaix, and thankfully it is a huge departure from the old versiom. The old Roubaix I always thought was a little ugly, even if it has the same name as the mightiest of bike races to be held every year.

The Roubaix looks actually pretty similar to a normal road bike. The weird Zerts inserts that made the whole bike look weird before are gone, in fact the whole bike has been re-designed from the ground up. The Roubaix is a really well thought out bike, with features that speak loudly towards it’s endurance focussed geometry. The most obvious feature is the future shock in the front end, but when you look a little closer you also see the seat clamp a lot lower down the seat tube. The point where the seat post enters the frame only has a rubber seal to keep some water and dust out. This allows a lot more of the post to come into play to keep your backside comfy. The riser hover bars help lift the front end a little more to give that more relaxed feel, expected of an endurance bike. Even the tool kit placed over the bottom bracket is a great little thought, to keep some weight lower, and tuck your spares out of the way.

The best angle showing the rise on the hover bars I could get on a rainy day whilst babysitting my kids… On the plus side, you now know what my hallway looks like.

I was able to ride the Expert model, equipped with a full Ultegra Di2 groupset, hydraulic disc brakes and DT Swiss R470 wheels.

Immediate impression when riding this bike is that it is smoooooooth. Barry White smooth. Peter Sagan descending a French mountain smooth. Ryan Reynolds running his hands through his fingers in slow motion, whilst wearing just a towel on a beach at sunset smooth… The ugly CB-R seatpost mixed with the re-positioned clamping point means the back end is super compliant. But this is overshadowed by the future shock which easily hums along, soaking up the terrain. I was dubious about how much the shock would move before experiencing the bike, but it is easily able to be actuated when stationary. On the road it creates a very, VERY soft ride. To the point that I started actively looking for rougher parts of the road to ride on. Speedhumps, recessed man-hole covers, after a while I started riding on the gravel verge of the road! But it’s not sluggish like riding a hardtail mountain bike, the BB is still stuff (which is threaded btw, pressfit BB’s can EAD), the bike is still light, and it has road bike geometry. The Roubaix just glides smoothly and comfortably over the road, no matter how rough the road is.

The future shock is a small spring system that sits just under the stem. At first glance on the bike, it is barely noticeable.

But the bikes still climbs really well. I’m sure theoretically the shock takes some efficiency out of your climbing speed, but I sure as hell didn’t notice, instead I was able to climb comfortably both seated and standing. This is thanks to a massive down tube, wrapped around a very meaty bottom bracket, which transitions to some very substantial chain stays. This bulky core of the frame is what allows the bike to maintain the strength it needs to ride so very well. It is more amazing that the bike rides so smoothly, given how stiff the frame is. Seated and standing with this strong core of the chassis, climbing is as effortless as a you could ask for. Yes it’s not a 6km featherweight, pure climbing bike, but this bike easily accommodates a rising gradient. That’s not even a ‘it climbs well despite xxx’, the bike climbs well full stop.

Immediately after my first little roll, my mind immediately wanted to know what it felt like to get out on gravel, and see exactly how smooth it is. Plus riding gravel is just way more fun than road anyways. I stuck on a set of cyclocross tyres to see if they’d fit, and there was enough clearance – just. I certainly wouldn’t ride like that as standard, but with a damp morning, I couldn’t ride slicks. There wasn’t any frame rub, just no mud clearance with those bags, and I wouldn’t want to be unlucky, and jam a rock in between the frame and the tyre.

CX tyres totally fit….

Riding this bike on dirt was a revelation. Oh man, that was SO MUCH GODDAM FUN! That stiff chassis, combined with the suspended rider system makes for a really enjoyable experience. Bumps that I would normally brace for were smooth and easy. That agility in climbing transferred to the dirt easily, and the Roubaix made light work of some flowing single track. So I took it onto some much looser gravel, which it rode well. So I found looser and steeper tracks. Yet still the bike rode along with panache. I threw some gnarly old tracks at this bike, and it rode along beautifully. It was a real pleasure to tick off the kilometres. Definitely it is not a gravel bike, in that it cannot take a large tyre (the cx tyre I was using really was pushing the limits of friendship, and not a long term solution), but the way it handled the gravel, this is definitely a bike that is able to be taken on exploring rides, with a mix of tarmac and dirt.

In all of this, is there a downside that I found to the bike? There was just one really. Fast, flowing road descents. On these bends I found that the front wheel was drifting around a little, and I couldn’t properly hold a line. I was able to overcome some of this by changing my position around, and leaning more of my weight forward to load up the front tyre, a little like Caleb Ewan in a sprint. I feel that if I had my time, and it was my own bike, that swapping around for a much lower front end would definitely have helped alleviate some of this problem. None-the-less it was a bit of a downside to the ride. Does that stop me from loving this bike? Not really. I love riding fast downhill, it’s exhillerating, and it would stop me from having this as my only road bike. But with the huge bag of tricks that this bike brings to the party otherwise, the Roubaix definitely overcomes this obstacle.

All-in-all this bike is a really revolutionary package, there is nothing out there quite like it. The engineering that has gone in to create such a bike is outstanding. If you are looking for a do-it-all bike, something to have as a one-bike stable, then this is it. So comfortable, yet so capable. I am a big fan of what this bike offers.

What do you think? Has your ride experience differed? Leave your thoughts below.



Author: Dave Edwards

Exploring the mental side of endurance cycling challenges.

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