Specialized’s new S-Works Tarmac SL7 road bike promises to be the perfect choice for gruelling mountain stages as well as fast finish-line sprints. Is it possible to combine aerodynamics with lightweight frame construction to create the perfect all-round weapon for World Tour stages?
The latest generation Tarmac is here and the American brand is really flexing its muscles with the new SL7, seeming to have ticked all the boxes. The new Tarmac SL7 isn’t just the SL6 with a facelift, more like a revolution the cosmos of high-performance bikes. In developing their latest frameset, Specialized have pushed the limits of what we previously thought was possible, resulting in a bike that is sure to have the competition shaking in their boots. Specialized want compromises to be a thing of the past. As such, the Tarmac SL7 should relieve you of the decision which bike to choose for the next stage, whether it’s Specialized’s aero bike, the S-Works Venge, or their race bike, the S-Works Tarmac SL6. A gruelling mountain stage with a finish sprint? The new Tarmac SL7 will tell you to bring it on! According to Specialized, this road bike is a symbiosis of Julian Alaphilippe’s attacking and climbing skills and the aggressive power of Peter Sagan. The only decision left for you to make is how to time your attack.
The concept for the perfect race all-rounder?
Aerodynamic, stiff and yet just as light as the UCI rulebook allows: after almost two decades of development, the new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 promises to be faster than ever before. Expressed in numbers, Specialized claim that it is 45 seconds faster over a distance of 40 km compared to the predecessor, the Tarmac SL6. Consistently keeping the weight to a minimum, this increased speed is said to have been made possible by the new tube shapes. Specifically the seat tube, seat stays, head tube and fork have been aerodynamically optimised without increasing weight or reducing stiffness. The Aerofly II handlebar as featured on the Specialized Venge now also comes specced on the Tarmac, keeping the cockpit nice and tidy with internal cable routing throughout. According to the manufacturer, the latest Roval Rapide CLX wheels are the world’s fastest all-round road wheels and should make the Tarmac slice through the air even quicker.
The stem is new too and was specially developed for the Tarmac, shaving off 45 g in weight compared to its predecessor and keeping the cables neatly tucked away. Thanks to the 31.8 mm clamp, you’ll be able to mount almost any other handlebar besides the Aerofly. Here, Specialized have successfully combined integration and compatibility. The angle of the integrated GPS mount is adjustable and it can accommodates almost all GPS devices on the market. Depending on the build, the bike comes with different headset covers: one for the integrated stem with an electronic drivetrain, one for the integrated stem with a mechanical drivetrain and one cover for a regular stem with round spacers for both electronic or mechanical drivetrains. Brilliant!
Components and geometry
The new Tarmac SL7 is available in a total of six builds which are all disc brake specific. The Roval Rapide CLX and CL wheels and the Specialized Aerofly II handlebar are reserved for the S-Works and Pro models. Our test bike, the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7, comes with a complete Shimano DURA-ACE Di2 groupset, FACT 12r carbon frame and Roval Rapide CLX wheels, priced at € 11,499. For those who don’t want to or can’t spend at least € 5,000, Specialized will still be offering three versions of the Tarmac SL6 with a FACT 9r carbon frame and mechanical Shimano groupset. This doesn’t only make sense for price reasons, as you’ll find out in our first ride review below!
Drivetrain Shimano DURA-ACE Di2, 2 x 11, 52–36t
Cassette Shimano DURA-ACE 11-30t
Brakes Shimano DURA-ACE 160/140 mm
Wheels Roval Rapide CLX , 21 mm inner width, 51 mm rim depth
Tires Specialized Turbo Cotton 700 x 26C
Seat post 2021 S-Works Tarmac, 20 mm offset
Handlebar Specialized S-Works Aerofly II, 420 mm
Stem Specialized Tarmac, 100 mm
Weight 6.82 kg in size 56
Price € 11,499
Availability as of now
|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|
|Chainstay||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|
Unlike its predecessor, the Tarmac SL7 comes in seven frame sizes, now going all the way down to size 44 for the shorter riders among us. While the reach and stack figures are different to those of the predecessor due to the new headset cover, the geometry is identical to that of the Specialized Tarmac SL6 and that of the Specialized Venge. Why change a winning formula? Thanks to their Rider First Engineered technology, Specialized promise the same levels of stiffness and comfort for every rider on every frame size.
Overview of the Tarmac SL7 models
|S-Works Tarmac SL7 – SRAM RED eTap AXS||FACT 12r carbon||SRAM RED eTap AXS, 2 x 12||Roval Rapide CLX||–||€ 11,499|
|S-Works Tarmac SL7 – Dura-Ace Di2||FACT 12r carbon||Shimano DURA-ACE Di2, 2 x 11||Roval Rapide CLX||6.7 kg||€ 11,499|
|Tarmac SL7 Pro – SRAM Force eTap AXS 1X||FACT 10r carbon||SRAM Force eTap, 1 x 12||Roval Rapide CL||–||€ 7,399|
|Tarmac SL7 Pro – Ultegra Di2||FACT 10r carbon||Shimano ULTEGRA Di2, 2 x 11||Roval Rapide CL||7.3 kg||€ 6,999|
|Tarmac SL7 Expert – Ultegra Di2||FACT 10r carbon||Shimano ULTEGRA Di2, 2 x 11||DT Swiss R470||7.65 kg||€ 5,299|
|Tarmac SL7 Expert||FACT 10r carbon||Shimano ULTEGRA, 2 x 11||Roval C 38 Disc||–||€ 4,999|
|S-Works Tarmac SL7 frameset||FACT 12r carbon||–||–||800 g||€ 4,199|
|Tarmac SL7 frameset||FACT 10r carbon||–||–||920 g||€ 2,999|
Overview of the Tarmac SL6 models
|Tarmac SL6 Comp||FACT 9r carbon||Shimano ULTEGRA, 2 x 11||DT Swiss R470||7.9 kg||€ 3,499|
|Tarmac SL6 Sport||FACT 9r carbon||Shimano 105, 2 x 11||DT Swiss R470||8.1 kg||€ 2,699|
|Tarmac SL6||FACT 9r carbon||Shimano Tiagra, 2 x 10||Axis Sport Disc||8.65 kg||€ 2,199|
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 first ride review
Our expectations of the new Tarmac SL7 were high. Very high! We previously crowned the Tarmac SL6 the best road bike of 2019 and Specialized’s claims of the latest model weren’t exactly modest. Can the brand new S-Works Tarmac SL7 send the previous Tarmac SL6 and the Venge into retirement, or have Specialized promised more than they can deliver? After only a few rides, it immediately becomes clear that the American brand have managed to create a high-performance road bike against which many other bikes on the market will have to be measured!
From 0 to 100 in 3 seconds – okay, the Tarmac SL7 isn’t quite that fast. But that’s almost what it feels like! This road bike accelerates with ease, allowing you to bring it up to speed in no time at all and stay there with minimal effort. It quickly becomes apparent that the new Tarmac is more efficient and quicker accelerating than the previous SL6, which helps spare the rider in this regard. The aerodynamics have been noticeably improved. In a blind test, after riding the SL7, the SL6 would feel as if you were constantly riding into a slight headwind. The Roval Rapide CLX wheels also help make the SL7 more aerodynamic while being less affected by cross winds compared to many other aero bikes. Unfortunately, the wheels aren’t certified tubeless ready, which has most of us shaking our heads in 2020. Specialized have always pushed for tubeless tires on road bikes and were the first bicycle manufacturer to equip their World Tour teams with tubeless wheels. Even if Roval is in independent company with its own mission and strategy, it would have been more consistent for the new Tarmac SL7 to come specced with a tubeless-ready wheelset.
If you go from level terrain onto an upward incline, you’ll notice the light weight of less than 6.82 kg for the size 56 bike. The S-Works Tarmac SL7 feels right at home in the mountains, even if Alaphilippe somehow manages to make it look much easier than we do. To get to World Tour level, we would probably have to train a little harder since having the right bike doesn’t seem to be enough 😉 The Tarmac reveals its best side when riding through corners. There may be bikes that are just as fast on level terrain and on the climbs, but when it comes to handling in the corners, there are few capable of keeping up with the SL7. The Tarmac can be pushed into the corners at high speed and easily carries this speed through and out of them. With a perfect balance of composure and agility, the SL7 can confidently wear the crown as the best handling road bike in Specialized’s portfolio. Lively and agile, it weaves through even the most technically demanding corners, quickly able to change direction while always staying precise. Expectations exceeded! Specialized’s in-house Turbo Cotton tires underline the bike’s balanced handling and offer lots of traction, though lacking in puncture protection. One thing is certain: aboard this red and black rocket, we promise you’ll improve on all of your PB’s on both the ascents and descents! However, if you want to push your limits, we only recommend this bike for experienced riders since beginners are likely to feel overwhelmed when riding such a precise, high-performance machine.
Tuning tip: Convert the S-Works Tarmac SL7 to a tubeless setup with 700x28C tires and tubeless-compatible wheels for improved long-distance comfort.
Specialized have gone a completely different route with the Tarmac SL7 than with the ultra comfortable Roubaix. Instead of “smoother is faster,” Specialized’s latest offering seems to adhere to the motto of faster is faster. While the focus of the Tarmac SL6 was on light weight and sufficient comfort, the new SL7 places much more emphasis on combining light weight with aerodynamic optimisation. It quickly becomes clear that the SL7 is not a replacement for the Tarmac SL6, but rather an extension of Specialized’s portfolio. While the SL6, which will remain available, is sufficiently comfortable for hobbyists and long-distance rides, smoothing out the road even with a passive riding style, the Tarmac SL7 is evidently trimmed more toward racing. Here, comfort only comes with an active and aggressive riding style, when you’re travelling at high speed and pushing the pedals. The vibration damping only works for ambitious riders and pros. You have to keep in mind that this bike is akin to Formula 1 car with brand-new technology. No one drives a Formula 1 car to work in the morning and back in the evening. This type of machine demands to be ridden at high speed with you pedalling as hard as you can, preferably in a head-to-head battle for gold!
Our conclusion on the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7
The new S-Works Tarmac SL7 is made for high performance, high speeds and maximum fun. Experienced riders will love the handling, which is second to none. The SL7 remains lively and precise through tight corners, guaranteed to put a grin on the pilot’s face. Long-distance comfort falls short. However, competitive riders can overlook this, knowing that the well-specced bike beneath them is always ready for a podium position!
- balanced handling
- fast in every situation
- World Tour level components throughout
- unaffected by cross winds
- cockpit compatibility
- not tubeless-ready in this configuration
- little long-distance comfort
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.
Words: Philipp Schwab, Benjamin Topf Photos: Valentin Rühl