Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 review: a proper dream road bike for those with cash and calories to burn

Fast, light and oh so smooth, the Specialized Tarmac SL7 is race-ready magic

T3 Platinum Award
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM Red ETap AXS review
(Image credit: Specialized)
T3 Verdict

If you’re a rider who likes speed, efficiency and precise handling, the newly redesigned Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 offers race-proven performance and aerodynamic design.

Reasons to buy
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    Fast, light and incredibly fun to ride

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    Surprisingly comfortable for a performance-focussed bike

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    Designed to be equally suited to men and women

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Handlebar shape makes attaching lights very tricky

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    Wheels aren’t tubeless tyre compatible

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 review in a sentence: if you need something fast and have over £10k/$10k to spend on your new bicycles, the Specialized Tarmac SL7 should be on the top of 'road bikes to consider' list. It's pure race-ready magic.

Please note, we are specifically reviewing this model: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 SRAM Red ETap AXS.

Specialized have weaved some kind of magic here, creating one of the best road bikes in recent history, giving it a planted, secure feeling while you ride that also takes the sting out of rougher surfaces, resulting in a ride that’s smooth and oh so fast. You’ll want to push harder, ride faster and descend more aggressively, because it just feels so good on this bike when you do. 

The Tarmac has been the stalwart of Specialized’s racing ecosystem for many years now, but 2020 saw a radical overhaul that blended its race pedigree with the aerodynamic qualities of the Venge, Specialized’s aero-focussed race bike. The Venge is no more, and the Tarmac now also holds that niche in the ecosystem. 

When a bike expands its remit there are usually compromises along the way, but they are magically minimal here. While the SL7 model is fractionally heavier than its predecessor the SL6, it still has the exceptional performance and handling the Tarmac is known for, plus aero gains. In fact, Specialized claims the SL7 offers a gain of 45 seconds over 40 kilometers when compared to the SL6, which is no small amount.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7: price and availability

The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 SRAM Red ETap AXS is available at Specialized, priced at £11,750 / $12,300. 

Less expensive builds start with the Tarmac SL7 Expert at £5,250 / $5,000 which has the same geometry and frame design, though with FACT 10r carbon and Shimano Di2.

Specialized supply the Tarmac in in a wide size range from 44 up to a 61. This means riders from 4’8’’ or 142 mm up to 6’5’’ or 196 mm are provided for.

Tarmac is available from Specialized, Specialized Concept Store shops and a variety of independent bike shops. The likelihood is that supply will be short. 

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM Red ETap AXS review

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 review: frame and features

The Tarmac SL7 S-Works frame is constructed from Specialized’s premium FACT12r carbon in a size-specific layup that’s designed to optimise strength to weight for each size. The tuned layup also engineers in comfort-providing compliance and efficiency-boosting stiffness where it’s needed in the frame.

On the 54cm frame tested, the Tarmac SL7 offers a reach of 387mm, stack of 534mm and a seat tube length of 475mm. In keeping with its race-focus, this places the rider in an aggressive on-bike position that’s perfect for pushing out watts. The eagle-eyed out there might notice that the geometry is different to that of the SL6, but other changes to the cockpit etc mean that, according to Specialized, the actual body position you end up in is the same or very similar to the one you’d achieve on the SL6.

Aerodynamic elements include the blade-shaped seat post, seat tube and seat stays, while in the cockpit an integrated stem with cover keeps everything neatly tucked away. Deep section rims on the wheels also aid in cutting through the air, though do mean the Tarmac is susceptible to side winds which can noticeably blow you off course.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM Red ETap AXS review

(Image credit: Specialized)

There are two versions of the Tarmac SL7 S-Works; the SRAM Red ETap AXS version tested here, and a Shimano DuraAce Di2 model.

The SRAM build has premium quality parts throughout. Starting at the cockpit, the S-Works Aerofly II carbon handlebars plus integrated Tarmac stem provide control and aero gains.

A super comfortable S-Works Power saddle with carbon rails and base combined with a carbon seatpost is lightweight and provides compliance to help smooth out road chatter without losing the direct feel with the road surface.

The eTap AXS build continues with derailleurs, integrated power meter and race-ready 10-33t cassette with 48/35t chainrings which provides plenty of range for churning out high sprint speeds while also giving lower gears for tackling long ascents. SRAM eTap AXS hydraulic disc brakes provide powerful, modulated braking that allows you to shave off speed subtly when you need to or quickly for hard stops. 

The build is completed with a set of Roval Rapide CLX carbon wheels with 21mm inner rim width and deep sections, 51mm on the front and 60mm at the rear. Roval AFD hubs and DT Swiss Aerolite spokes finish off this aero-focussed wheel set, plus narrow Specialized Turbo Cotton tyres in 26mm width.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM Red ETap AXS review

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7: performance

In action, the Specialized Tarmac SL7 is a bike that’s built for speed and feels its best when going flat out. The on-bike position is aggressive but comfortably so, allowing you to push out the power for longer rides as well as hard sprint efforts. 

While it feels efficient and stiff, it’s remarkable in its ability to smooth out the road surface, even on particularly rough roads, without ever losing the sensation of speed. It's a bike you feel in, rather than feeling balanced on, with superb traction encourages you to push hard on descents and push your own limits.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM Red ETap AXS review

(Image credit: Specialized)

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7: verdict

Put simply, Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 is one of the best bikes I've ever ridden. It might not be suitable for most peoples' commutes but it is lightning fast and responsive. Given the lashings of performance ladled on, it's also surprisingly comfortable to ride. The fact that there is only one, unisex model is another novel – and very welcome – twist.

It's hard rating a bike such as this for the everyday user. There are very few people who would use this to ride to work, or as a daily runaround. However, for those who like to hit the open roads and fearsome inclines – for those who are serious about their weekend rides – there's little better out there. 

S-Works Tarmac SL7: what pros ride it?

The S-Works model of the new Tarmac is the bike you’ll see under some of the best pro race teams and riders in the world. The likes of Boels-Dolmans, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and Bora-hansgrohe, and riders including Peter Sagan, Anna van der Breggen and Julian Alaphilippe, aren’t just racing the new SL7 however; it’s their testing and feedback that went into developing and improving the Tarmac to help create it.