Editor’s Note: Distance rider extraordinaire Ken Bonner had a chance recently to test ride the new shock-absorbing Specialized Roubaix Expert Di2. During his long and very distinguished randonneuring career, Ken has ridden bikes of all frame materials and was anxious to compare the ride feel and performance characteristics of the Roubaix to some of his other bikes. Following is his “narrative review” of the Roubaix. Thanks to Susan Dennings and Jon Taylor of Oak Bay Bicycles in Victoria, B.C., for the photos.
By Ken Bonner
I ride a lot of long rides, averaging 17,286 miles/27,819 km per year for the last 15 years, with a focus on 1200+ km/750+ mile events. I want a bike that is light and comfortable over the long-haul, even loaded with minimal baggage.
To date, I have used bikes with all types of frames: a steel Apollo Imperial (racer); an aluminum Klein Performance (tourer); a titanium LiteSpeed Natchez by Lynskey (racer); and a titanium, hand-crafted Berg by Berg Bikes (racer).
I love riding each of these machines.
Recently, though, I got the chance to try a bike unlike any I’ve ridden.
Oak Bay Bicycles, a local shop in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in conjunction with their Specialized representative, provided me with the opportunity to test ride the new suspended Specialized Roubaix Expert Di2 (click to see the full product page and specs). The MSRP on the bike is $4,600. The bike I tested was the Neon Yellow/Monster Green color. It also comes in Tarmac Black/Charcoal.
I rode a total of 750 km/466 miles on this wonderful bike, including one 300-km/187-mile and one 200-km/125-mile rides in wet, miserable weather, plus several shorter rides. These rides included some very Roubaix-like broken pavement on fast curvy descents.
In order to have a realistic comparison to my other long-distance riding bicycles, I transferred all my baggage, seat and pedals to the Roubaix. I know, this is sacrilege, given that the Roubaix is a light, responsive performance bike.
- The bright yellow color will be seen by motorists
- The headset dampening system works like a dream
- Responsive, even when carrying baggage and other essential items
- Climbing (sitting or standing) is better than my other bikes
- Dramatically improved handling over broken pavement on fast, curvy descents
- Hydraulic disc braking system is marvelous, particularly in the rain on the aforementioned descents
- Fast and comfortable Specialized tires
- Newly engineered dampening seat post-seat tube provides a modicum of extra riding comfort
- All roads, smooth or rough, suddenly become much nicer to ride on
- Fabricated with light carbon fiber that dampens road vibration
- Comes with Ultegra Di2 11-speed drivetrain
- Although offering three different headset dampening strengths, these cannot be adjusted on the road
- The Specialized tires were fast and comfortable, but flatted several times on dry roads (rear wheel, of course)
- Wheels come with disc brakes, but with a non-traditional mechanism for removing and attaching the wheels to the front forks or rear stays … best to ask for a demonstration from your LBS
- As a person used to a one-bolt seat post tightening system, the innovative dampening seat post – seat tube two-bolt system takes a little getting used to, in order to create equal clamping pressure on both sides of the seat tube
My initial reaction: I have died and gone to bicycle heaven!
And this was my reaction with only having the measurements of my Berg transferred to the Roubaix. If I had obtained a professional fitting, it would have been an even more extraordinarily positive cycling experience.
I discovered that even smooth pavement can feel smoother and faster with the Roubaix, and somehow, climbing on, or out of, the seat also seemed easier.
The head set dampening effect is not noticeable in terms of any lost power from bobbing up and down (there is no bobbing feel, by the way). After riding a 200-km/125-mile ride on rough road, it was not until the next day when I rode off a sidewalk onto the road that I realized there was a significant amount of “travel” in the dampening system. I thought my front tire had gone soft, but it was just the dampening effect.
One experience that really stood out in comparison with my other “vintage” bikes is that on fast, curvy descents on rough pavement, I was not being bounced around on the bike, fighting to control it. Going back to riding my usual bikes, I instantly noticed the “bone-jarring experience” that did not exist while riding the Roubaix.
The Roubaix tracked nicely in the curves with its tires (and the bike) firmly riding through the bad pavement. This, combined with the hydraulic disc brakes, allowed me to descend faster and longer into tight corners, knowing I could slow down quickly and safely much closer to the apex of the curves. This phenomenon helped me avoid vehicles coming the opposite direction on these narrow back roads.
While most readers would be extremely happy riding the Roubaix on their normal rides, I am curious about how I would feel about the Roubaix after riding it on a 1200-km/750-mile randonnee. I suspect that the Roubaix would reduce my end-of-ride muscle fatigue and provide a faster finishing time and recovery time.
Ken Bonner is a former marathon runner and renowned ultracyclist who holds the course record for the British Columbia Rocky Mountain 1200k and several UltraMarathon Cycling Association point-to-point records. Retired and living in Victoria, British Columbia, he rides about 18,000 miles a year.