Is Specialized’s £12k Roubaix SL8 the ultimate gravel bike?

This cobble-conquering machine is smoother, lighter and faster than ever before

Specialized SL8
(Image credit: Specialized)

Named after the infamously tough Paris-Roubaix bike race, which sees riders covered in mud, often bleeding from falls and emotionally drained, the Specialized Roubaix has always been about high performance on the toughest terrain.

Recently, the Californian firm announced the launch of its latest gravel, cobble and general dirt-devouring machine in the Roubaix SL8.

Living by the mantra of "hell below, heaven above", this bike is designed to roll over the most disgusting terrain imaginable, and it does so with a few clever pieces of bike tech.

For starters, Specialized has revamped its Future Shock system, which is now in its third generation. Unlike traditional front fork suspension, Future Shock sees a spring (offering 20mm of travel) placed between the stem and head tube, drastically reducing vibration felt through the bars without compromising overall speed and efficiency.

Now, riders have full control over the tune of Future Shock up front, as three different springs are offered - covering firm, medium, and soft – and with each of those springs, up to five preload washers can be used.

Specialized SL8

(Image credit: Specialized)

According to Specialized, the tune of the front end can easily be tweaked at home in a matter of minutes. If you can remove a stem, you can dial in a Future Shock 3.0.

Of course, there’s still a dial on the head tube of those bikes fitted with Future Shock 3.3 to adjust the amount of travel during a ride.

But, to further add to the vibration damping, Specialized has also added AfterShock technology to the rear in the form of the brand’s carbon fibre Pavé seat post and Dropped Clamp design. In essence, this allows the seat post to move fore and aft as it soaks up impact from bumps.

The thinking is that this prevents riders from being "bucked" from the bike but doesn't eat into pedal efficiency like most full-on rear suspension systems.

Specialized SL8

(Image credit: Specialized)

The range-topping S-Works SL8 costs a whopping £12,000, but it tips the scales at just 7.3kg, making it the lightest bike in its class. It comes decked out with a SRAM Red eTAP AXS drivetrain, S-Works carbon bars, Roval Terra CLX II carbon rims and Specialized’s range-topping FACT 12R carbon fibre for the frame.

Those looking to avoid re-mortgaging the house can also look towards the much more affordable Roubaix SL8 model, which comes with a Future Shock 3.1 front fork suspension that isn’t tuneable on the fly but still soaks up bumps nicely.

A Shimano Tiagra 10-speed groupset and cheaper Axis Elite wheels help to keep the cost down to, ahem, £2,500.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.