The Roubaix has been around for 15 years, and in that time has made a name for itself as a comfortable bike for big days out. Now, it’s been updated to include Specialized’s new Future Shock technology: a spring damper system under the stem which reacts to road surfaces, designed to smooth the ride with no ill effect on the bike’s geometry whatsoever.
This being the first time this tester had ridden the Future Shock system, we did wonder if the front end of the bike was going to bounce up and down noticeably in a way which might detract from all that we love about the Roubaix. Thankfully, whilst easing ourselves into the ride in the saddle, there was no discernible bobbing. There’s definite mechanical movement, though, so you’ll need to reassure yourself that your headset bearings haven’t disintegrated.
On the road
We’re big fans of the comfort afforded by Specialized’s riser handlebars, and the amount of lift they supply, in combination with a very comfortable 375 mm reach means we’re well taken care of from the off. With what seems like a near-perfect weight distribution being supported admirably by the Phenom Comp seat at the rear contact area, the ride continues in perfect harmony.
The efficiency with which we’re able to put the power to the ground is simply remarkable; a taut rear end ensures minimal losses in the power train, while the front end’s continued flex in response to rippled tarmac keeps everything on an even keel. On approaching the first substantial climb of the day, we were a little reluctant to get out of the saddle, lest the Future Shock boinged around disconcertingly.
But these fears prove unfounded; although the front end bobs about in a more pronounced way than when seated, the ride never feels any less direct than a standard front end. This system has no obvious drawback. The relatively lightweight package is hauled up climbs easily, especially so given the smallest gear ratio of 34/34. Shimano’s hydraulic braking set-up behaves itself throughout, too, offering some of the best (and best value) disc-actuated speed arrestment on the market.
The Roubaix’s all-rounder wheelset and tires aren’t what you’d call ‘performance-oriented’, though that’s not to say that this bike can’t be made to hustle. A little confidence is all it takes to really take the Roubaix by the horns and have some fun through the twists and turns of our test route.
Rocketing down a fast sweeping left-hander requires hands to be placed on the drops of those compact-drop handlebars (the high riding position of the hoods feels a little too tall for truly committed riding), and once you’re hunkered down over the front of the bike, there is little to upset proceedings mid-corner.
From past experience, we know the road surface on this, one of our favorite ‘full commitment’ corners, isn’t the best, but the Roubaix’s Future Shock system positively smoothes the passage around the turn. Given that its spring is positioned in the headtube rather than the fork, you don’t experience any dive when braking hard downhill (such as you would with a motorcycle, where the damping is in the fork legs). In fact, the whole experience is one of seamless integration.
The one thing which may put off buyers is, like the BMC, this bike’s price tag. Although not off the scale for a carbon road bike, it does need to really impress to make up for ‘only’ coming with a 105 groupset. Our verdict: it’s worth it. And so are you.
Let’s deal here with the Future Shock. While even Specialized themselves will point out that ‘splay’ – the movement of the front and rear axles fore and aft key as a result of frame and/or fork movement – provides the most comfortable ride, their intention with Future Shock was to increase the smoothness of the ride.
They’ve done this by adding 20 mm of vertical compliance by way of the spring system beneath the stem in the headtube. This ‘axial’ approach also means the wheelbase remains constant, so handling is predictable at all times. The FACT 9r carbon frame itself is claimed to be stiffer and lighter than on previous Roubaix models, and it doubtless contributed to the silky smooth ride.
The rear frame triangle strikes a halfway house between that of the Domane and the Roadmachine, its seatstays exiting the seattube several inches below its junction with the toptube, the same point at which the seatpost height is adjusted. Thru-axles are used at either end, and cables are routed internally. The head angle of the Roubaix is the steepest of our three bikes, at a measured 72.7°, lending it the most direct steering input.
Although relying largely on Shimano’s 105 components, as per our other two bikes, the Roubaix does differ in that Specialized has used a 50/34 Praxis chainset, a common choice from the US manufacturer, and at 775 g is just 62 g heavier than an equivalent 50/34 R7000 Shimano 105 unit). It works in unison with a Shimano 105 11-34 cassette (the same ratios available as on the Trek Domane). Its shifters and hoods are identical to those of our other two bikes, as are the hydraulic disc brakes at either end of the bike.
Specialized’s own-brand Comp Hover alloy handlebars up front feature a pronounced rise at either side of center, offering a taller, more comfortable riding position, whilst facilitating a shorter headtube for a given size, for more direct response. The bars are gripped to the steerer with an unassuming alloy stem. The carbon seatpost is topped with a Body Geometry Phenom Comp saddle, one of our perennial favorites.
DT’s R470 Disc alloy wheelset features a 20 mm internal rim diameter, which accept tires ranging from the Roubaix’s 28c rubber all the way up to cyclocross-sized fitments. Clearly, there’s no clearance on this road bike for 36c tyres, nor really a need. That said, we reckon these workaday wheels could take a 30c within the confines of the Specialized’s frame clearance. The Turbo Pro tires fitted to our bike add to the smoothness of the ride when taken down to 90psi.
Frame: Specialized FACT 9r carbon frame, FACT carbon forks
Brakes: Shimano 105 hydraulic discs
Chainset: Praxis Alba M30,50/34
Cassette: Shimano 105, 11-34
Bars: Specialized Comp Hover Bar, alloy
Stem: Specialized, alloy
Saddle: Specialized Body Geometry Phenom Comp
Seatpost: Specialized, carbon
Wheels: DT R470 Disc
Tires: Specialized Turbo Pro, 700×28
|Size tested: 54||Chainstays (C): 415 mm|
|Weight: 8.82kg||Head angle (HA): 72.7°|
|Top tube (TT): 545 mm||Seat angle (SA): 74.1°|
|Seat tube (ST): 481 mm||Wheelbase (WB): 987 mm|
|Stacks (S): 585 mm||BB drop (BB): 76 mm|
|Reach (R): 375 mm|