Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 Specialized Roubaix SL3 Review

For 2011 Specialized has redesigned their Roubaix using the same SL3 design as has been on the Tarmac for over a season. Blah, blah, blah. Yeah, you can get that on any review site. I'll get to the bike in just a minute, but I think it is more important to identify the potential audience for this bike. Fabian Cancellara rode this very frame to victory in Roubaix last year, but the bike does not seem to be classified as a "race bike" by many. In fact, Specialized lists it as an "endurance" bike on their site. So which is it?

Why did I choose the Roubaix as a race bike?

I buy frames based on what I intend to do with them. I race several times a season so that is important, but I train many more miles during the year. In the past I kept two bikes and my training bike would be the more comfortable of the two. Last year, I got tired of keeping up with so many bikes and decided to go to one. I had a Scott Addict for most of the season. It is a really nice bike, but there were some things that did not work for me. I felt the ride was a little harsh for my 40 year old bones, but the thing I really struggled with was the responsiveness of the bike. It was TOO responsive for me. I never got used to how quickly it would change direction. As a result, I began to question my lines in crits and descended much slower than on my BMC Pro Machine that was that bike's predecessor.

So when I began looking at bikes for the 2011 season, I knew that I wanted something with a longer wheelbase, and a touch slacker angles while bringing me up just a little in front. My concern was that most bikes in this arena were marketed as endurance/comfort bikes and I knew the stiffness would be a problem for me. At 6'4 190, I am pretty big compared to the average racer and riding a larger frame tends to make bikes even more flexy...if that is a word.

So when I saw the first reports of the Project Black bike from Specialized I was intrigued. I have been riding for a dozen years now and have lost count of the bikes I have owned, but for some reason I have never owned a Specialized. I have never been a big fan of the large brands, but I could not find anything out there that would fit the bill so based only on early reviews, I ordered a frameset. I did this because of a few things. I wanted something with a tapered headset, something I thought would be beefy enough in the BB, longer chainstays, a bike that could eat up some of the road noise,  internal cable routing that supports nice Di2 routing, and something that looks nice (yeah, that does matter).

Sizing the Roubaix

Roubaix SL3 was very difficult to size. While I wanted to bring the front end up, the head tube length on these bikes borders on silly in my opinion. I typically ride a bike with a 60cm top tube, but the headtube is so long on this bike that I had to size down to a 58. This is where I will add another complaint about the SL3, the cone spacer that comes with the headset adds another 2cm that push the front-end into beach cruiser geometry.

I went to countless bike shops trying to find something that is shorter, but the cap compresses the ring against the fork and I never found anything that would allow me to run a shorter spacer. So, I ride this bike about .75cm higher than I am used to. Also, the smaller frame means a longer stem, but nothing ridiculous, I was able to make a 130mm stem get me to the correct reach. Finally, I have an average to slightly short inseam for someone my height. I have 3-4cm of usable seatpost that is left so fitting this to someone 6'5 is probably realistic if the reach could be made to work.

The Build

 When I unboxed the frame I was really impressed with the looks of the bike. It has a matte-black finish that pictures do not do justice - think stealth fighter finish.
The frameset came in at 1080 grams versus a claimed "under 1000" from Specialized. The frame came with guides in place to help with the internal cable routing. The frame is also designed to be ready for internal Di2 cable routing which apparently takes the cabling over the BB and through the inside of the chainstay.

For the most part the build was pretty straight forward. I went with Campy SR11, my SRAM Quarq powermeter, Planet X brakes, a Shimano Pro integrated bar and stem and Gore cables. The internal cable routing did take a little extra time with the Gore cables. The two problems I ran into were that the stops that Gore wants you to use don't work very well with the guide covers that Specialized sends with the frame. I ended up cutting parts of the Gore guides to make it work. The hardest part was working with the cable through the chain stay going to the rear derailleur. Even with these small challenges, the build was quick and the shifting of the Gore cables and Super Record have been the best I have ever experienced with any bike I have owned. The final build weight with racing tubulars is right at 15lbs with pedals and cages for a size 58 frame, a crank based power meter, and 50mm wheels. Not bad at all.

The Ride

This is where we enter Subjectiville. I can listen to people talk about compliance, and tracking and turn-in and all of these terms and still have no idea how the bike rides so I try to keep it really simple. If I set the front derailleur trip so that the chain is almost touching the cage and I get out of the saddle and there is rub, I consider that flex. If I set my brakes really close to the rim on my training wheels and it rubs under power, that is flex.  Finally, if I can feel the front end giving when sprinting that is flex to me.

So is the bike stiff. Yeah, stiff enough for me. The front end actually seems stiffer than my Addict (R3) which had a straight steerer. Around the BB it seems to flex slightly more than the Addict - which is the stiffest I have ridden. That being said it is quite a bit stiffer than the BMC Pro Machine which is what I considered the best all-around bike I have owned. In other words, the bike is on the stiff side of the last few bikes I have owned.

The longer wheelbase and higher front end certainly make the bike feel a lot different. The bike feels slower when cornering. For me this is actually a good thing. I say that because I now go into turns faster than I used to because I perceive the speed to be lower. The bike is very planted and the line I see in my mind is exactly where the bike tracks as opposed to the Addict which almost always went inside of where I wanted to go. I know that I am cornering faster because I have years worth of data from these same turns that I ride through year after year and I see the speeds in the turns higher than in the past. So would this be a good crit bike? I think it depends on the rider. For me, yes. But I am not diving up the inside or trying to change lines on a dime. If that is you, this is probably not the best bike.

Now, to the real benefit of the Roubaix, comfort. The S-Works model does not come with a seat post which is simply idiotic. If you get any other level of the bike it comes with a post with Zerts inserts.....but not their top of the line model. Do they make a special Fact Gazillion post intended only for this bike? Yes. So explain why it is not shipped with the frame. However, even though it is an extra expense, it is worth it. The bike is very compliant. It does not just take the edge off of the road, it really does soak up some of the medium size imperfections in the tarmac. Even with Campy Boras or Fulcrum Racing Zeros - which are somewhat harsh wheels, the ride is nice. If you put on Hed Ardennes with 25c tires, it feels like a beach cruiser soaking up the bumps. This matters. It makes a huge difference in how long I, as a masters racer can stay on the bike. With the Addict, I was good for 2.5 hours. Now I can handle 4. Is this all bike related? I can't definitively say that, but I am certain that it helps and not just a little..


With about 150 hours on the S-Works Roubax SL3 to this point I feel ready to declare it the best all-around bike I have ever owned. It corners exactly the way I want it to, it is plenty light, plenty stiff, climbs well, and most importantly it helps me to ride longer and harder. I have only raced the bike four times this year, but I am certain that it has in no-way hindered me and has probably helped me in each event..... OK, maybe not the time trial, but certainly in the road races. I would recommend this bike to any racer except those looking for incredibly responsive bikes. As a bigger rider, I also think this is a good option as you can possibly get into a smaller frame because of the geometry. My only complaints are that the head-tube is a touch too high and the headset spacer is ridiculously large and also the fact that the seat post does not come with the frame. This bike is as close to perfect as it gets for me and I would imagine it would fit the needs a the vast majority of the racing and recreational riding communities.



  1. I am to a great extent impressed with the article I have just read interesting very good.I read the Blog Nice site I found and I bookmarked the site.
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  2. Tony, I'm a 62 year old 6'4" 200+ semi competitive rider out her in red rock country. I've been riding for 40 years and for twenty have been settled in to nice custom steel frames. I have never owned a CF bike, (bit of a curmudgeonly Luddite in that regard), but am thinking that the technology has reached a point where a decent frame might last longer than two years without snapping under a Clydesdales fat arse, and CF (IMO) is an area of manufacturing where the big boys with their R&D money, labs, etc. really have it one up on the smaller folks. So, with that in mind I have been slowly talking myself into getting one of the new S-Works Roubaix framesets to build up into my new climb hills, go fast bike. I enjoyed your review. I wonder, could I prevail upon you to do a follow up on your initial review, say in another 500 miles?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hello Tony,

    I recently found your blog reviewing your Roubaix S-Works SL3, in case you still own it, i like to ask your help regarding a disturbing finding i notice on my same frame set,
    I am looking for some days all over the web to find pics of this frame but with little success.
    so i'll appreciate your kind help,
    - I found a dissimilarity on my left side BB vs the right side, in the left side (non drive side) there seem to be "missing" the silver metal (alu.) ring around the BB shell (the BB cup should close against it)

    can you please check your bike for me ?

    Sincerely yours,

    1. Moti,

      I have not noticed this on my bike. However, my version is NOT the OS version as I do not run BB 30 cranks on it.

  5. Hello Tony,
    Thank you for your response,
    like you, i also got the normal BB thread BSA shell NOT the OS version ....
    (my crank is the Shimano Ultegra 6750 Hollowtech II)
    how can i send you a couple of pics of my SL3 frame ??


    1. e-mail address is listed under my profile on the left side of the main blog page.


  6. Hi Tony, nice review. Have linked here from mine (