Lighter, stiffer, faster – but also better? At Glasgow’s UCI World cycling championships we had the opportunity to put Specialized’s latest all-purpose aero weapon, the Tarmac SL8 2024, through its paces. Is the SL8 the next big thing or just an evolution of the SL7?
Riding Specialized means riding superlatives, at least in terms of marketing. But is the Specialized Tarmac SL8 a revolutionary new take on road cycling? True to the motto “One Bike to Rule Them All”, Specialized continue to push the boundaries in an attempt to create the ultimate all-round racer. This time, however, the American manufacturer really means business, presenting what’s meant to be not only the lightest, but also the fastest bike in the peloton. To make this possible, Specialized combined the Venge’s head tube and the Aethos’ bottom bracket area. According to Specialized, the frame weighs less than 700 g and is also faster than the Venge aero weapon, which is admittedly getting on in years. We had the chance to test the S-Works Tarmac SL8 with a price tag of € 14,000 at the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. Rain and chilly temperatures didn’t stop us from putting the bike through its paces across the Scottish Lowlands and the UCI race course. While we chose to let the pros compete for those final seconds, we certainly didn’t miss out on the excitement at the finish line, the vibrant atmosphere of the bike-crazy city, and the joy of celebrating with fellow enthusiasts.
Is the Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024 all-rounder still in keeping with the times?
With the release of the Tarmac SL7 back in 2020, Specialized declared the Venge deceased, and with it the era of aero bikes. Three years on, however, it seems that not all manufacturers got the memo. The trend of assigning different roles to bikes is making a comeback. The Factor O2 VAM and the new Orbea Orca focus on lightweight construction, while Scott’s Foil is aimed at speed junkies. Only Cannondale’s new Supersix remains true to its all-round roots. Sure, Specialized have the Aethos, but calling it a road bike is a bit of a stretch.
Now the question is:do all-rounders still fit into the picture? The original point remains valid: while all-rounders are probably still the faster bikes, they’re inferior to the specialists in their respective fields. Perhaps, it makes more sense to follow the example of the Jumbo Visma pros and choose the best bike for the job, rather than opting for an all-purpose weapon. For hobby riders like us, the choice isn’t always easy, and very few of us have the luxury of choosing between several bikes. So why not consider the Swiss army knife of bikes? Or would you rather go for the excitement of an uncompromising specialist after all?
Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024 – More evolution than revolution?
At first glance, it’s evident that the SL7 and SL8 are heading in the same direction. In purely visual terms, not much has changed, except for the head tube, which is now significantly lower. In times when every brand seems to have created a lighter, stiffer and, of course, faster bike, how do Specialized back up their claim? In a nutshell, they used the experience gathered in lightweight construction while developing the Aethos and mixed it with some “new” old aero know-how and the optimised carbon layup used for their latest road bike.
While they were at it, they also improved the aerodynamics in three areas. The most significant and noticeable change is the head tube. As seen on the Venge and aero bikes from 3T and Cannondale, the head tube extends further forward. This ensures a pointier shape and at the same time allows for a cleaner transition from the top tube to the down tube.
The second major change is the one-piece cockpit. Just before the launch, Specialized introduced the new Roval Rapide cockpit, which is also compatible with the old Tarmac SL7 that relies on a conventional stem/handlebar combo. The new cockpit design saves up to 4 watts compared to its predecessor, but it is currently only available with the S-Works models. Although this innovation is impressive in terms of power-saving, one-piece aero cockpits are nothing new on road bikes and have been around for several years.
Specialized also improved the bike’s rear-end aerodinamics, taking advantage of the new UCI regulations that allow thinner seatstays and a seat tube as narrow as the SL7’s seatpost. The battery for the Shimano Di2 drivetrain is tucked away inside the seat tube directly under the seat post.
These subtle changes give the new Tarmac SL8 a more rounded, visually faster appearance. In direct comparison with the Venge, the bike’s said to be 16.6 seconds quicker over 40km, which is quite an achievement considering that the Venge is a thoroughbred aero machine. That said,, the aero improvements are rather limited, giving the impression of an evolution rather than a real revolution.
Aethos know-how: The new DNA of the Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024
The biggest improvement, however, is the weight: in size 56, the S-Works frame in the lightest Satin Carbon/Chameleon Snake Eye finish is meant to weigh just 685g, which is more than 100 g lighter than its predecessor and about the weight of a chocolate.
Allegedly, the expertise gained from developing the Specialized Aethos played a crucial role in achieving this incredibly low weight. According to chief developer Peter Denk, the area around the bottom bracket is almost identical to that of the Aethos. The downtube, seat tube, and chainstays have been borrowed from the lightweight racer, resulting in substantial weight savings.
Moreover, the carbon layup was tested to perfection; it took the Americans 55 virtual iterations on Specialized’s supercomputer to find the ideal layup.
The result is one of the lightest road frames currently available on the market. A fully assembled bike should be within the UCI weight limit of 6.8kg, a real revolution for an all-round race bike.
Specialized use the same process to find the perfect carbon layup for all sizes and frame variants, ensuring consistent handling across all models and sizes. But the surprises don’t end here: the new Tarmac SL8 is supposed to take handling and ride quality to a whole new level compared to all previous Tarmac models – and that is no exaggeration, especially at the rear where the bike is extremely well balanced and absorbs vibrations smoothly. Even on the pot-holed roads of the Scottish hinterland, the Tarmac performs exceptionally well. Only the Aethos is slightly lighter and more comfortable
Still the same – The geometry of the new Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” is what Specialized must have thought when they decided to leave the geometry of the new Tarmac SL8 untouched, relying on the proven numbers of its predecessor instead. And that was a good move, because the Tarmac is renowned for its direct and agile handling, which is probably why it is such a popular race bike.
|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|
All models of the new Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024 at a glance
First off, the Tarmac SL8 is not the bike for you if you’re a fan of mechanical groupsets. Both the frame and Roval Rapide cockpit are exclusively compatible with electronic components. However, this aligns with the price range, because in typical Specialized fashion, these bikes aren’t cheap.
The entry-level Tarmac SL8 Expert retails at € 6,500 and comes equipped with a SRAM Rival AXS drivetrain, while the flagship S-Works Tarmac SL8 model is available with either an Shimano DURA-ACE Di2 or SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset, retailing at an an eye-watering € 14,000. However, the S-Works model comes with a new Roval Rapide cockpit and power metre as standard. All other models rely on the cockpit of the previous Tarmac SL7. Specialized have maintained the same price point as with the previous model, but have dropped the more affordable Comp model for the time being. The framesets, though, are a little more expensive. Specialized charge € 5,500 for S-Works frames, while a standard Tarmac SL8 frame retails at € 4,000.
Overview of the Tarmac SL8 models
|Model||Frame||Groupset||Wheels||Manufacturer’s weight in size 56||Price|
|S-Works Tarmac SL8 Di2||FACT 12r Carbon||Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, 2 x 12||Roval Rapide CLX II||6.62 kg||€ 14,000|
|S-Works Tarmac SL8 eTAP||FACT 12r Carbon||SRAM Red eTAP AXS, 2 x 12||Roval Rapide CLX II||6.85 kg||€ 14,000|
|Tarmac SL8 Pro UDi2||FACT 10r Carbon||Shimano Ultegra Di2, 2 x 12||Roval Rapide CL II||7,16 kg||€ 9,000|
|Tarmac SL8 PRO eTAP||FACT 10r Carbon||SRAM Force eTAP AXS, 2 x 12||Roval Rapide CL II||7.44 kg||€ 9,000|
|Tarmac SL8 Expert||FACT 10r Carbon||SRAM Rival eTap AXS, 2 x 12||Roval C38||7.77 kg||€ 6,500|
|S-Works Tarmac SL8 frameset||FACT 12r Carbon||–||–||1.41 kg||€ 5,500|
|Tarmac SL8 frameset||FACT 10r Carbon||–||–||1.69 kg||€ 4,000|
Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024 first ride review
Our expectations are set quite high for the new Specialized Tarmac SL8, and the backdrop of the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, only heightens our anticipation further.
The Tarmac has a lot to live up to, not just against other bikes, but against the popularity of its own predecessors. The Venge has always been a strong contender too, but is it finally time for the ageing aero bike to enjoy a well-deserved retirement?
Aerodynamically, the Tarmac SL8 exudes speed, the deep Roval wheels and speedy Specialized Turbo tyres contributing to the fast rolling speed. However, the Tarmac lacks the feeling of overt speed that many aero bikes possess. Meanwhile, the compliant rear end isolates the rider from the road, allowing you to glide over potholes and bumps, making it one of the most comfortable bikes in the peloton.
Tuning Tip: retrofit the Roval Rapide cockpit on the cheaper models
The SL8 stays true to its Tarmac DNA – easy to handle without feeling nervous or unstable. At higher speeds, the bike’s straight-line stability is impressive, as is the incredibly low weight when accelerating.
If we are to take Specialized’s claims at face value, this could very well be the first road bike that truly embodies the all-round aero concept. With aerodynamics rivalling some aero racers and a weight close to the UCI weight limit of 6.8 kg, the SL8 not only rightly succeeds the SL7, but also effectively dethrones the swift Venge from Specialized’s speed throne.
Racers and dentists? Who should take a closer look at the Specialized Tarmac SL8?
A road bike or a “trophy bike” to show off outside the ice cream parlour? The Specialized Tarmac SL8 has it all. The handling is as precise and forgiving as its predecessor, which means it doesn’t necessarily require an experienced hand, making it a safe choice for beginners and less athletic riders. With improved compliance, the SL8 is also perfect for relaxed coffee rides, and with its bold S-Works lettering, it’s guaranteed to be the centre of attention. The Specialised Tarmac SL8 is going to be an object of desire for racers, and bikers with deep pockets.
Our conclusions about the Specialized Tarmac SL8
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: Calvin Zajac Photos: Calvin Zajac, Specialized
The new Specialized Tarmac SL8 2024 has finally arrived and looks a lot like its SL7 predecessor. In fact, it’s hard to tell the two bikes apart at first glance. The expected revolution may be more of an evolution, and a mix of two frames. But this is where the new Tarmac SL8 comes into its own: top aerodynamics and minimal weight make it not only the first true all-rounder, but probably the fastest bike in the peloton.
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: Calvin Zajac Photos: Calvin Zajac, Specialized