The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 has killed its sibling, the Venge aero bike, and single-handedly created the category of speed all-rounders that no longer distinguishes between aerodynamics and lightweight construction. As the founder of this category, will it also outpace the four fastest race bikes of the 2021 season?
Get an overview of the grouptest here: The best race bike of 2021 – 5 high-end models on test
With the S-Works Tarmac SL7, Specialized send a bike into the race that could be considered the prototype for the modern speed all-rounder. No other manufacturer in the test pursues the agenda of the one, true speed all-rounder so zealously, or offers just one model for all fast riding on asphalt. While the four other manufacturers still offer a pure aero bike, the Specialized Venge, which used to take up this role, has fallen victim to the latest generation of the Tarmac. Our test bike comes with a SRAM RED eTap AXS wireless groupset with 48/35 t chainrings and a 10–33 t cassette. This provides enough range to keep pedalling on fast descents while providing sufficient reserves for challenging climbs. However, the wide range comes at the expense of bigger gear jumps, especially in the easy gears. On the other hand, shifting is just as precise and quick as usual. With 160 mm brake discs at the front and rear, the SRAM brakes provide top-level deceleration that is also easy to control. Only the rattling brake levers mar the otherwise excellent picture. The Tarmac is the only bike in the test to use a two-piece cockpit, combining a 100 mm S-Works Tarmac integrated stem with a 420 mm wide S-Works Aerofly II bar. While this offers advantages when it comes to routing the brake lines and making adjustments with each part individually configurable, it doesn’t look quite as clean as its four competitors.
The most impressive thing about the Tarmac SL7 is not its sheer speed, but the way it produces speed. No hectics, almost bored.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 2021
Seatpost S-Works Tarmac Carbon Seatpost 20 mm
Brakes SRAM RED eTap AXS HRD 160/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM RED eTap AXS GS-RED-E-B1 2 x 12
Stem S-Works Tarmac Integrated Stem 100 mm
Handlebar S-Works Aerofly II 420 mm
Wheelset Roval Rapide
Tires S-Works Turbo Cotton 28 mm
Size 44 49 52 54 56 58 61
Weight 6.93 kg
mixed rim depth Roval Rapide CLX wheelset
two-piece Aerofly cockpit
dual-sided power meter
Specialized also go their own way with the wheels. The Roval Rapide CLX wheelset uses different rims – shallower and wider at the front, narrower and deeper at the rear. This is supposed to achieve greater stability in crosswinds while simultaneously improving aerodynamics. They are definitely fast but also the most susceptible to crosswind in the test. In addition, together with the frameset and the freewheel, they contribute to an almost intimidating soundscape as the bike rumbles along. Cool when you’re sitting on it and you can safely go without a bell. The bike rolls on 700 x 26C S-Works Turbo Cotton tires which measure 28 mm wide. Our test bike in size 56 weighs 6.93 kg and costs € 12,799.
|Seat tube||435 mm||447 mm||458 mm||475 mm||496 mm||517 mm||547 mm|
|Top tube||496 mm||509 mm||531 mm||541 mm||563 mm||577 mm||595 mm|
|Head tube||93 mm||102 mm||113 mm||131 mm||151 mm||178 mm||198 mm|
|Chainstays||410 mm||410 mm||410 mm||410 mm||410 mm||410 mm||410 mm|
|BB Drop||74 mm||74 mm||74 mm||72 mm||72 mm||72 mm||72 mm|
|Wheelbase||970 mm||973 mm||975 mm||978 mm||991 mm||1,006 mm||1,013 mm|
|Reach||369 mm||378 mm||383 mm||387 mm||398 mm||405 mm||411 mm|
|Stack||491 mm||504 mm||517 mm||534 mm||555 mm||581 mm||602 mm|
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 has only one mission: to be fast. Damn fast. And it fulfils this brilliantly! It mercilessly outruns the other test bikes on flat and undulating terrain, benefiting from the best aerodynamics in the test and laying the foundation for the test victory. But it also masters both fast and technical sections on the downhills, staying close on the heels of the fastest bikes, the Wilier Filante SLR and SCOTT Addict RC Pro. The same applies to its uphill performance: the Tarmac loses hardly any time to the fastest uphill bike, the SCOTT Addict RC Pro, over our timed section.
In total, the Tarmac is more than four minutes ahead of its nearest rival on our test track. It covered the virtual 150 km test distance with almost 2,000 metres of climbing with an average speed of 26.4 km/h and needed 5 h 40 m 26 s to do so.
The S-Works combines its breathtaking speed with a handling that leaves its precision and directness more controllable than any other bike in the test. This makes the road bike a weapon in experienced hands, without immediately overwhelming inexperienced performance fans. To get this performance into the bike, comfort had to take a back seat. The S-Works Tarmac SL7 provides only average vibration damping and is an overall stiff bike. This contradicts Specialized’s claim that “Smoother is faster”. In terms of safety, the Specialized is more susceptible to crosswinds than its competitors, though that’s likely due to it having the deepest wheels in the test. In gusty conditions, this can sometimes lead to some squirrelly behaviour. However, the powerful and well-modulated brakes together with the outstanding handling ensure a high overall sense of security on the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7.
Tuning tips: titanium SILCA bottle cage for the street cred and off you go! | nothing else: if you’re looking for an off-the-shelf race weapon, you’ll find it here.
A clear Best in Test! The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 is the fastest race bike of the 2021 season and shines with maximum efficiency and outstanding handling. It is in a league of its own on the flats, can easily keep up on uphills and downhills and is docile enough not to put off less experienced riders. However, strong crosswinds give it a hard time and anyone who appreciates a little more comfort, even on a purebred race bike, may have to think twice about the Tarmac.
- highest efficiency on the flats and fast everywhere else
- best handling in the test
- not just for professionals and good-natured enough for less experienced riders
- coherent overall package
- highest susceptibility to crosswinds in the test
- less comfortable than the competitors and than the Tarmac SL6
- rattling SRAM shift levers
You can find out more about at specialized.com
The test field
Get an overview of the grouptest here: The best race bike of 2021 – 5 high-end models on test
All bikes in test: BMC Teammachine SLR01 ONE (Click for review) | SCOTT Addict RC Pro (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 | Trek Émonda SLR 9 eTap (Click for review) | Wilier Filante SLR Astana-Premier Tech Team Edition (Click for review)
This is where you eat up the miles, setting a quick pace for a long time. Anything that is pan flat or includes short punchy climbs or slightly longer ones, albeit with limited elevation gain, falls into this category. If you want to be fast here, you need a bike that offers excellent aerodynamics and maximum efficiency – from 15 km/h on level ground, air resistance is the greatest force a cyclist needs to overcome. On the other hand, weight is comparatively insignificant, with no need to constantly change speed or fight earth’s gravity. However, the most aerodynamic package is no use if the rider ruins everything – after all, they are responsible for 75 % of the total drag on a bike. To blossom fully in this terrain, a bike needs to do well when it comes to ergonomics and comfort so that the rider can maintain a low and aerodynamic riding position for a long time. On top of aerodynamics, rolling resistance, comfort and smoothness play a key role. Thus, tire dimensions and pressure should be adjusted to suit the surface for maximum speed. A nervous bike will tire you out faster, because it requires constant work to hold your line.↩
The steeper the hill, the more significant weight becomes. That’s because as your speed drops on ever steeper climbs, air resistance decreases too, meaning that gravity becomes an ever-larger proportion of the force acting against your progress. Stiffness in the right places, together with a sensibly chosen gear ratio, ensure maximum climbing efficiency. A good climbing bike delivers low weight and gearing that lets you maintain a smooth and comfortable cadence. However, it also takes aerodynamics into account, given that there’s usually a descent after every mountain – what good is the best time on the mountain if your whole advantage is wiped out by poor aerodynamics on the downhill?↩
Descending a mountain quickly is possibly the most demanding task for both rider and bike. The steeper and more winding the descent, the greater the handling skills of the rider need to be and the larger the demands on the bike itself. A good downhill bike combines aerodynamics with balanced handling. It should be agile and yet offer sufficient security to master fast changes of direction and stay safely on track at high speeds. It needs to deliver the highest precision to hit your chosen line exactly and steer quickly without excessive input required. If you ride fast, you need good anchors too: powerful brakes that are easy to modulate are fundamental on every good downhill bike. To put that braking power on the ground, tires with good grip are needed and they’re just as indispensable for fast cornering. In addition to the tires, the frame itself helps generate grip through corners. If it’s stiff as a board, it can’t build up much grip before being shaken up by the smallest bumps. An appropriate amount of flex ensures optimum grip in bends, but it’s a narrow margin before the bike simply becomes spongy and imprecise.↩
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl