and now, for something completely different.

New Ride – 2011 Specialized Tarmac Expert

Well, the time has come.  After a lot of years riding my excellent and faithful Trek 2200, it’s time for a bit of a technology leap.  I went out looking with only a couple of requirements in mind:  I wanted carbon to improve my ride quality/comfort (not just to have carbon), and I wanted Shimano Ultegra.  Well, it’s landed, and I ended up with a 2011 Specialized Tarmac Expert X2, in American Flyer Red:

The New Hotness, 2011 Specialized Tarmac Expert

I had expected when I started poking around last year that I would end up in the Trek camp again after I shopped around for a while.  The Trek Madone 5.2 was right around the requirements spec, and at the time the 2011 models were being blown out.  By the time I got to it, they were sold out everywhere, otherwise I would likely be riding one now.  I was offered a blow-out deal on a 2012 , but I didn’t pull the trigger as the two bikes I wanted to sell to help fund this project didn’t sell in the fall.  I test rode the 2012 Madone and I liked it, so I sat back to wait until spring.  Now, even the regular price on the 5.2 is good (it’s one of the better mid-high-end values out there), but when the blow-out offer was rescinded when I started to look a few weeks ago, I began to explore a bit more.  Boy, am I glad I did.

I had guessed on Trek again because after riding 13 bikes in 2003, the Trek was the clear winner for me at the time, no contest.  Bow Cycle got a bunch of these Tarmacs for their annual Blue Light Special day, but didn’t end up selling them.  I also didn’t end up buying one as I had never liked a Specialized Road Bike I’d ridden.  When my 5.2 offer evaporated, I went to my favourite people at Bow and asked them to recommend me some different bikes.  I rode some Cervelos a couple years ago that I really liked (but Canadian or not, I think their bikes are ugly), we looked at Roubaix, we looked at Super Six, and we even looked at some Wilier Italian blood, but based on my requirements and aspirations, I was really steered towards the extra 2011 Tarmac Experts they had left over (just my luck they still had my size!).

A mean red machine, it cruises so smooth.

The deal was fantastic as compared to both the original price of this bike (better than my Madone offer) and to other comparable newer models, so we slapped it on a trainer and put me up there.  The 54cm frame actually fit me at just over 5’9″ almost perfectly right out of the box, once we got the saddle height right.  Then I made the mistake of taking it on one test ride from Bow Cycle to my house and back, up and down Nose Hill Dr. in Calgary (it’s about 90m of elevation over 1.5km or something like that, average grade of 6% or so, with kicks up to 9%).  I was a bit concerned that it was a double and not a compact crankset because I am a sissy climber, but boy was I wrong.  With the new gruppos being 10-speed in the rear, you get a bit more flexibility with an extra cog back there.  Maybe that was it, or maybe this bike just climbs that well; but either way, I absolutely shot from the river up to the Twin Arenas, it felt as effortless as a hill like that can feel.  BB30 is supposed to make an improvement in lateral stiffness (this bike has external bearings), but I don’t know how much better it can get because the Tarmac lets you just hammer the pavement full force and doesn’t give an inch.

On the way back down, I probably hit 80km/h or so, judging by no cars catching or passing me and having an easy time of it turning left at 87th to get back into Bowness.  The thing was absolutely rock solid down the hill and around the corner, incredibly stable at speed.  A combination of excellent performance out of the Fulcrum 4 wheelset, the race geometry of that SL3 Tarmac frame, and the tapered headset inspired unbelievable confidence.  Also, I still had torque at that high speed, I wasn’t out of gears; I am completely sold on a standard double chainset… so fast!  For me, the direct competition in the Trek Madone 5.2 does not compete with this bike.  I rode’em both, and the Specialized is a gong show compared to a Madone tea party – positively savage!!

Ignore all that tech mumbo jumbo and ride quality nonsense, just look at the colour; it’s just a gorgeous thing to look at.  Plus, that white bar tape is so pro.

The only angle most people will see will be the rear end because I’m too fast now.

By the time I got back to Bow Cycle, I was grinning from ear to ear, and my contact just shook his head and said “I knew I’d get ya.”  He did, and I bought the bike, and took it for its maiden voyage on the official Calgary Ride to Work day.  65km later, and I’m still grinnin’.  It’s so easy to let this thing cruise at 30km/h or more, and it’s so smooth on the road that I don’t feel the kilometers the way I did on my aluminum frame.  Here’s to the thousands of km I’ll be putting on this bike before I make my next upgrade to a Di2 equipped bike in maybe three years from now!


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