Specialized Tarmac Elite SL4 – Bike Review

Specialized Tarmac Elite SL4 – Bike

Thanks to its Rider-First Engineered design, Specialized has been able to give the Specialized Tarmac Elite SL4 frame the same ride feel and responsiveness as the S-Works Tarmac. This is done by changing the carbon layup and design at every frame size rather than simply taking a size 56 and scaling it up or down to fit bigger or smaller riders.

While it has the supposed same ride feel, the frame is not made of the same carbon. The Tarmac here uses Specialized’s FACT 9r carbon and doesn’t have the same design as the top-end SL6 either, forgoing the dropped seatstays and following the same design as the previous model year’s S-Works Tarmac models instead.

Specification

Ultegra R8000 is of course the star of the spec show, but Specialized keeps cost down with a Praxis chainset, which is fine by us. The DT Swiss R460 wheelset doesn’t cost the earth, yet still performs admirably. They’re not the performance orientated wheels you’d want to pair with an exceptional frame like this, but they’re light (for the price), which is the most important thing, and they don’t feel sluggish or slow.

For summer riding you’d probably want to upgrade to a pair of carbon wheels. The tyres are Specialized’s own brand Espoir Elite in size 25mm — they felt nice and supple and we’ve had no punctures or sudden losses of traction. Ideally the bike would have the original Shimano Ultegra cassette rather than a 105 downgrade.

The Ride

The SL4 is a very comfortable frame that retains stiffness, and is beautifully easy to accelerate. It’s a frame that’s a joy to sit on all day long, yet a thrill to ride when you really want to go hard. Its performance characteristics shouldn’t be underestimated: the Tarmac will happily handle anything you want to do.

On a favorite 100km loop in the Surrey Hills that has a bit of everything, with long sustained drags as well as climbs and descents, the bike handled the uphill sections admirably when the group got trigger-happy and was then very encouraging later on the descents. The short 987mm wheelbase allows the bike to feel agile and the 160mm head tube is aggressive enough to let you hug the corners.

Conclusion

Superbly comfortable yet fast, the Specialized Tarmac SL4 Elite is easily a match for anything you’ll want to do. In its standard form here it’s a brilliant week-in, week-out ride. Throw some carbon wheels on and it’ll be a bona-fide Alpine climber, and its geometry means it can handle the descents too. In places it’s let down by its spec, but overall the ride quality is excellent.

  • Weight: 8.11kg
  • Frame: Specialized Tarmac SL4 FACT 9r carbon
  • Fork: FACT full carbon
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000
  • Brakes: Shimano Ultegra R8000
  • Bars: Specialized Shallow Drop, 6061 Stem Specialized, 3D forged alloy
  • Stem: Specialized, 3D forged alloy
  • Seatpost: Specialized Comp carbon
  • Saddle: Specialized BG Toupé Sport
  • Wheels: DT R460
  • Tyres: Specialized Espoir Elite

Rating 9.1/10

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