We test the new Specialized Tarmac SL8: back to a forgotten lightness and agility
We were able to test one of the very first units of the S-Works Tarmac SL8. A real rocket destined to become another super-success of the brand and that gives an answer to those who longed for lightweight bikes that accelerated with just a little extra boost from our legs.
Specialized Tarmac SL8, the most complete bike
After all the expectation that the Specialized Tarmac SL8 has generated since its presentation a few days ago, we have had the chance to ride with it, putting it to the test on the roads of the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Already in the presentation that the brand made to the press we were able to weigh the bike that you can see in the photos accompanying these lines. An event in which we could know the details of how this Tarmac SL8 has been created and check the noticeable lightness of the bike in one of its two setups, specifically the SRAM Red AXS, top of the range S-Works with the Fact12r frame, the highest quality available in Morgan Hill's brand.
Before we started pedaling we took the opportunity to take a closer look at the details and check more closely how the prominence of its head tube is not at all showy but follows very subtle lines. We were also surprised, especially bearing in mind the previous SL7 that prioritized more aerodynamics, how the section of its tubes has been ostensibly reduced, in fact, only the area of the head tube and the diagonal tube convey a clear feeling of aerodynamic bike.
Another detail that caught our attention was its wheels and tyres. The brand has chosen to equip this Tarmac SL8 with 700x26c tyres as standard. However, its Roval Rapide CLX II wheels, which, by the way, are great wheels that do not flinch in wind changes despite their generous profile. The wheels have an external width of 35 mm and a 21 mm groove, which means that they practically take up the minimum ball of tyre that can be used on these rims. It is something merely aesthetic but that draws attention.
The place chosen to test the bike is the well-known Canencia pass, one of the classics of the Madrid side of the Sierra de Guadarrama, which on its north side offers a perfect testing ground to draw conclusions in the few hours we have been able to enjoy this machine.
We started descending after the pertinent photo session. A session where we had to do a lot of sprints and where we started to realize how easy it is to launch the Tarmac SL8. It's amazing that, with so little material in the bottom bracket block, down tube and tiny seat tube and chainstays, the Tarmac SL8 felt so solid, especially considering that in these situations you start with everything, big chainring included, practically from a standstill to pass as quickly as possible in front of the camera.
But, we were going to talk about the downhill. For us, when it comes to testing bikes, it's the place where you really see what these machines are made of. A bike can be super light, tremendously stiff, but if it doesn't give you confidence when you launch yourself at full speed down a mountain pass, bounces and pulls you off the line as soon as the asphalt is not perfect or forces you to constantly correct the line, it's of little use. Especially if we are talking about a racing bike in which you have to go as fast as possible in every braking and every corner.
As it could not be otherwise on a racing bike in general and throughout all generations of the Tarmac, the position on the bike is aggressive. Despite mounting several spacers under the spectacular Rapide cockpit, the position is aggressive when gripping the curve of the handlebars. Pure attack position with the back almost horizontal and the center of gravity very low.
The Canencia pass is a delight to ride down since it has practically all types of curves that can be found in a pass. Fast curves to trace with just a hint, long and fast curves with a lot of support or very tight bends of maximum inclination in addition to some small change of slope in which to accelerate out.
To say that the feeling is as if we had been riding this bike for weeks and not a few hours makes clear the benefits of this Tarmac SL8. We would highlight above all the precision it shows when choosing the line, where you point there you direct the bike without having to correct the line at any time. Something remarkable especially in a curve of those that never seems to end at the beginning of the descent in which the bike is held perfectly or in a double curve to cross a bridge that with this bike we can do in a single line with tremendous ease.
Compared to previous generations, it is difficult to perceive, but we would dare to say that at the front it has gained in stiffness, something that allows us to feel it with more poise. In any case, as with all generations of Tarmac that have passed through our hands, we remind you that we are talking about a pure competition bike. It is not a bike that is permissive on descents, but a machine that seeks maximum agility. It requires some skill to ride it fast. In any case, it should be noted that the improvement in weight has also resulted in the improvement of that agility, something to thank especially when linking curves where it is very easy to change inclination.
Downhills are also an easy way to appreciate the aerodynamic qualities of a bike. Have you ever been on a parallel descent with a partner and suddenly one of you would go off the front and the other would have to pedal or get on the wheel to avoid it? Although it is something that affects multiple factors, even the quality of the wheel bearings, it is mainly a question of aerodynamics. Well, this Tarmac SL8 gains speed in an astonishing way.
Natural born climber
Once in the valley, it's time to squeeze the other facet of this Tarmac, its climbing capabilities. The first part of the climb allows us to get into a rhythm and we surprise ourselves by holding the big chainring more than necessary. As we mentioned before, the bike feels very solid, both at the front and in the bottom bracket area, so we don't feel lazy to stretch the chainring further and maintain inertia by standing up.
Gradually the slope increases and our limited form forces us to look for a more conservative attitude. Small chainring and looking for cadence where we continue to perceive that the bike moves easily. It asks us to accelerate but we have to keep a cool head to assume that our physique is not able to reach the requirements of the bike. A pity because we can glimpse that you can climb very very fast with it.
We liked the fact that it allowed us to recover some sensations that perhaps had been partially lost with the SL7 model. We are referring to that perception of pure climbing bikes. In the previous model, as we said before, aerodynamics had been prioritized when it was unified with the Venge and had many features of the Venge. This SL8 is back on track and really, if we had to classify it in a range we would never define it as an aerodynamic bike even though the numbers indicate that it has been improved in this aspect.
In fact, among the things that were going through our heads while we were hyperventilating on the toughest ramps of the pass, which do not exceed 9% except in specific places, we tried to imagine how this bike would be with low-profile wheels, without leaving the brand, with the brand's own Roval Alpinist CLX. In fact, we'd bet that a rider or two will be using this combination in the upcoming Vuelta a España during the mountain stages.
There is no doubt that Specialized has done it again, they've produced a real big bike and it allows us to remember the sensations of lightness and agility that we thought we had forgotten with the machines of recent years, all above 7 kg, which, although it is not something that has a great influence on performance, it does detract from the feeling of agility of the bikes. This Tarmac drops below that psychological figure and does so without giving up those improvements that modern bikes have been incorporating in recent years: aerodynamics, disc brakes, internal cables, wide tyres, tubeless, high profile rims...
As on other occasions, we would not be surprised if this were the trend to be followed by the models that will be launched from now on, even though, let's not deny it, pure aerodynamic bikes still have a type of user and a terrain where they are really appealing.