Specialized Tarmac SL7: could be THE best road bike of 2020, here’s why...

Specialized Tarmac SL7 pairs the handling and climbing prowess of the Tarmac with the sprint finish skills of the Venge

Specialized Tarmac SL7
(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized Tarmac SL7 is, so the brand boldly proclaims, the ‘One bike to rule them all. The idea is that it combines the undisputed handling and climbing prowess of the Tarmac with the race-winning aero properties of the Venge to create the best road bike you can buy in 2020. 

• We now have a full Specialized Tarmac SL7 review – the S-Works version, no less

The supreme bike in the new SL7 range is the S-Works model which comes in at a not entirely affordable £10,500 – that's with either Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap groupset. It's got a HUGE RAFT of premium features designed to reduce drag, increase performance and keep weight down to an impressively low level. 

• Find out more about Specialized Tarmac SL7 now

The Specialized Tarmac SL7 has also had input and feedback from the pro peloton in its creation, since Specialized sponsors a number of teams including BORA-hansgrohe, Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Boels Dolmans. While the 2020 race season has been truncated for pro-riders and amateurs alike, you’ll still see the S-Works model of this bike in action ridden by the likes of Peter Sagan and Anna van der Breggen in the near future. 

If you’re a dedicated road bike racer looking for a bike that’ll give you a competitive edge, here’s why you should take a VERY close look at the new Specialized Tarmac SL7.

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

You’ll win races*

The new Tarmac SL7 inherits some serious winning pedigree. The Tarmac spent 14 days in the yellow jersey at the 2019 Tour de France – and that was a Tour with more elevation than any in the last eight years. The Venge set a record for the fastest average speed for a race over 200km at the 2019 Vuelta. 

Blend the best of both bikes, and you’ve got the new Tarmac SL7. Specialized claims it’ll be like having both the climbing style of Juliana Alaphilippe and the sheer power of Peter Sagan. 

There is  certainly nothing marginal about the claimed speed advantage the Tarmac SL7 promises: 45 seconds faster over 40km than the Tarmac SL6 thanks to those aforementioned aero elements plus the low bike weight. 

The acid test will of course be how the bike performs in the upcoming and somewhat truncated UCI race season; we can’t wait to see how it does. 

*Victory not guaranteed; there may be a few other factors involved. 

You’ll save money (because you’ll only need one bike)

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

Or to be completely accurate, according to Specialized the new Tarmac SL7 will mean you no longer need to choose between racing the aero-focused Venge, and the race-ready handling and performance of the Tarmac. 

Given that the current S-Works models of each of these bikes comes in at £10k a piece, being able to run just one bike does certainly save you a double handful of cash. 

For the pros, it’s less a case of cash and more a case of compromise. Choose the Venge, and the speed is great at the expense of handling. Choose the Tarmac, and it climbs brilliantly but doesn’t sprint as well. 

Cameron Piper, Specialized Product Manager, says, "No matter how fast the Venge was, no matter how well the SL6 handled in the mountains, we knew choosing between the two meant our riders had to make compromises on race day.”

From the sounds of it, Specialized has engineered the semi-mythical feat of making a bike that’s more aero without being heavier; stiffer for power transfer without losing compliance where it’s needed for longer distances; and able to muster up sprint speed without compromising all-round handling. 

While the S-Works model may be the top end of the bike price scale, prices for the Tarmac SL7 start at just £4,750. That's for the Expert model, which features a frame with the same engineering with regards to aerodynamics and handling, plus plenty of the same features as it’s premium siblings. That includes the integrated stem, S-Works Tarmac seatpost and power saddle. Less expensive Shimano Ultegra groupset and Roval C wheels complete the package. The weight does go up as the price comes down, however. 

Women and men get the same high-performance kit

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

The new Tarmac is a unisex bike; no men’s and women’s versions here. This means that women who race get access to the same high-level innovation and tech as their male counterparts. And it’s not surprising, given that Specialized sponsors the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team with stars like Anna van der Breggan and Christine Majerus. 

Specialized has moved away from sex-specific bikes or, as it puts it, ‘beyond gender’. It collates data from thousands of bike fits from men and women plus body dimension databases, and uses this to develop bikes like the Tarmac SL7, making them truely unisex. According to the data it’s collected, there are more differences between two men of different sizes than a man and woman of the same size, so getting the right size bike plus a good fit is more important. 

Even the saddle, one of the key contact points where female riders often have to accept compromise, should work well for many women. The Specialized Power saddle with its truncated nose was originally designed for women, then it turned out plenty of men found it comfortable too, so it’s good to see this fitted to the new Tarmac. 

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

You can train and race with power

For the serious racer, knowing and monitoring your power output is as essential as getting the right nutrition. 

The S-Works and Pro Tarmac SL7 bikes come with power meters as standard. Quarq does the honors on the SRAM eTap version, while on the Shimano-equipped bikes it will be Specialized’s own Power Pod.

The Tarmac SL7 S-Works model with Di2 gears comes in at an impressive 6.7kg out of the box, in the 56cm frame size. Yes, that’s under the UCI legal weight limit of 6.8kg, but add pedals and bottle cages, and it should be pretty much spot on, as the UCI weight is judged on the full build. 

In fact, the frame of this model weighs an impossible-sounding 800g without any compromise on strength, stiffness, aerodynamics or ride quality, according to Specialized. It’s all due to careful, painstaking engineering building up layers of Specialized’s premium FACT 12r carbon and innovative painting techniques to create a frame that has exactly what it needs and not a fleck of carbon more. 

The slightly lower spec SL7 Pro and Expert models aren’t chunky monkeys either, both coming in with a frame weight of 920g and 7.3kg and 7.65kg respectively, due mostly to the use of slightly weightier FACT 10r carbon used and a different layup.

It’s as aero as the Venge

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

When it comes to a sprint finish or breakaway, the aerodynamic drag is a major force that inhibits speed, and the Venge was carefully engineered to reduce this force across the bike. 

The new Tarmac SL7 incorporates those key aerodynamic profiles on the tubing of key areas of the bike — head tube, forks, seat tube — identified, tested and refined using Specialized’s in-house Win Tunnel. 

Yes, Win Tunnel. It is a wind tunnel but no, that is not a typo. 

Aero is everywhere on this bike, including the new Roval Rapide CLX wheelset and the cockpit. There’s a new aero cockpit, too. The Tarmac SL7 doesn’t just get the aerodynamic Aerofly II handlebars from the Venge; it also features a brand new Tarmac stem that keeps those messy cables from disrupting airflow around the front of the bike. Another aero boost in action. 

Specialized Tarmac SL7

(Image credit: Specialized)

You’ll still want to attach your computer of course, so the stem also features an integrated mount that’s compatible with Wahoo, Garmin, Polar, Cateye and Bryton computers, and you can get a separate compatible mount for your GoPro action camera, or Specialized Flux and Stix lights.

• Find out more about Specialized Tarmac SL7 now

And 3 reasons you might NOT buy the Specialized Tarmac SL7…

• It’s not cheap if you want the best…

If you want the range topping, race-ready Tarmac S-Works SL7 with Di2 or eTap groupsets and all the whistles and bells, it’s going to take a £10,500 chunk out of your wallet.

But, as we mentioned above, that’s still cheaper than buying two bikes, right? 

• It’s not tubeless-ready. 

Surprisingly, the shiny new Roval Rapide CLX wheels launched in June 2020 are not tubeless or tubular tyre compatible, which means you will need to run inner tubes on these wheels. 

The Rapide CLX wheels are designed to be fast, all-round racing wheels with less drag due to aero features on the rim and hubs, and a claimed weight of just 1,400g. They feature DT Swiss Ratchet EXP freehubs and sealed cartridge bearings, and are disc-brake compatible only, which leads on to the next point...

• It's disc-brake only

This may dismay the traditionalists out there, but there is no rim-brake version of the Tarmac SL7. All models are compatible with disc brakes only

That's not a big surprise given the growth in popularity once they became UCI-legal, though. Disc brakes offer more control and stopping power in a range of conditions. Given 2019's Tour de France saw everything from mud-slides to hail storms, this is all too likely to come in handy…

• Find out more about Specialized Tarmac SL7 now

Aoife Glass

Writer, journalist and Spindrift Podcast host Aoife has over 10 years product-testing experience, and has written and reviewed for Red Bull, MBUK, Trek UK, Bikeradar, BikePerfect, Cycling Plus, Fit&Well and of course T3 (and a few others). A keen cyclist, mountain biker and outdoor adventurer, you’ll usually find her out in the forests or up a mountain somewhere.