June 29, 2009

    (Photo: Carson Blume)
With the overwhelming success of the Quick Step and Saxo Bank teams it would seem the last thing Specialized would do is mess with success and redesign their top of the line Tarmac SL2. However, despite the bikes many victories, Specialized felt that there was room for improvement and went back to the drawing board to create the completely new 2010 Tarmac SL3.

The Design

The 2010 Tarmac SL3 uses Specialized’s FACT IS (integrated Structure) carbon manufacturing process. The frame is composed of four main parts: The front triangle, seat tube, seatstays and bottom bracket/chainstays assembly. To increase the stiffness of the rear triangle the oversized bottom bracket and chainstays are now one piece, On the SL2 the bottom bracket and seatpost were one piece while the chainstays were separate. The SL3’s bottom bracket shell does away with metal bearing cups to save weight and features internal carbon ribs that stiffen the juncture between the bottom bracket bearings and the frame. Specialized also stiffened the rear triangle with the addition of hollow box section alloy dropouts that are lighter and stiffer than the carbon versions they replace. The chainstays on the SL3 are also new and feature an improved elliptical shape and revised carbon lay-up for increase stiffness.

The Tarmac SL3 is available with either SRAM Red, Shimano Di2 electric or Dura Ace. The Red equipped model features Zipp 202 wheels, TRP brakes, S-Works SL crankset and weighs a scant 13.1-pounds

The Tarmac SL3 features alloy box section dropouts that are lighter than the carbon versions of the SL2

The S-Works FACT SL Carbon crank features a carbon spider and redesigned lighter weight chainrings

While a lot of work was done the rear the bike, the front has also been reworked with several key improvements. Like the SL2, the SL3 uses a carbon fiber steerer tube that tapers from 1.125-inch diameter at the top to 1.5-inch at the fork crown. New for 2010, the new SL3 features internal carbon ribs near the head tube and down tube junctions. These ribs help the frame tubes better hold their shape when under loads and increases torsional stiffness in the front triangle. To finish off the front end Specialized replaced the alloy internal headset bearing cups with carbon fiber versions to further reduce weight. All of this work has created a bike that is 18-percent torsionally stiffer than the SL2 and has a frame weight of just 875-grams for a 56-centimeter bike.

The head tube and down tube feature internal carbon ribs to increase torsional stiffness. On production models the TRP brakes will replaced with magnesium versions that will be exclusive to Specialized

The Ride
For the official release of the Tarmac SL3, Specialized chose the Snowbird resort outside of the Salt Lake City, Utah. The area around Snowbird features some incredible riding, including the 8-mile, 5000-foot climb that leads up to the resort. The Tarmac SL3 that I rode was the S-Works Saxo Bank edition with Shimano Di2 electronic shifting and Dura Ace carbon tubeless wheels. The cockpit is outfitted with a Specialized S-Works Carbon seatpost, Body Geometry Toupe saddle, Specialized S-Works aluminum stem, and Specialized's new 175-gram S-Works classic bend bars. Ride weight for my 56-centimeter with pedals came in at under 15-pounds.

A Specialized mechanic puts the final touches on the Di2 equipped test bike

The ride started with the 5000-foot descent down to Salt Lake City. Immediately the Tarmac SL3 felt comfortable and stable enough that I was comfortable letting go of the brakes and start taking corners at full speed. Through the corners the SL3 is smooth and predictable. One thing that quickly became apparent was that work that Specialized has done to stiffen the rear triangle has produced an incredibly balanced handling bike. The SL3 carves well through corners, holding its line without a fight, while still allowing the rider to make quick line changes if needed.  We noticed the SL3 felt just a bit more refined at high speed and through corners than the SL2. At top speed the SL3 is stable and smooth, inspiring confidence over broken pavement and encouraging one to tuck down and push a little harder.

Even on a sub 15-pound bike the climb to Snowbird was difficult
(Photo: Carson Blume)

Once off the climb we rolled through the foothills east of Salt Lake City. On flat roads the Tarmac SL3 remained smooth and comfortable without a hint of flex. Out of the saddle sprints were meet with an instance response, and the bike surges forward with every pedal stroke. After twenty miles of rolling hills it was time to tackle the climb back to the Snowbird resort. Climbing on the SL3 was excellent. The stiff bottom bracket and rear triangle provided solid power transfer during both in saddle and out of the saddle efforts. The low weight makes the Tarmac SL3 ideal for the staying seated and spinning a low gear at a high cadence. When the gradient increased and out of the saddle efforts were required the Tarmac SL3 responded well with no flex coming from either the front or the rear of the bike.

All The Bells And Whistles
Aside from the frame, the component setup was first rate and added a lot to the overall ride quality of the bike. The Shimano Di2 electronic shifting worked flawlessly and without question has raised the performance bar for the rest of the industry. In addition to Di2, the Shimano Dura Ace carbon tubeless wheels and Specialized tubeless Turbo tires added to the top-flight performance of the Tarmac SL3. While not the most aerodynamic wheelset, I welcomed their lightweight on the long climb. All of the Specialized S-Works components worked perfectly as we have to come to expect from Specialized components. The only the change that I would make would be a handlebar with a deeper drop for powering across the flats.

First impression of the 2010 Tarmac SL3 is that it is no-comprise race machine designed to win the biggest races in the world. The bike makes no apologizes and doesn’t need to – it's that good.


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