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Specialized Tarmac road bike reviewed for triathlon

We put this road bike from Specialized through its paces and ask 'when a bike’s this fast and capable, why pay more?'

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5
Credit: Russell Burton

This review was first published on our sister site Bike Radar


Always prominent in ITU races, Specialized’s Tarmac and Venge bikes both offer the likes of world-beating triathletes Flora Duffy and Javier Gomez all-round, aero-focused road performance. It’s a case of trying to match the most suitable bike to the upcoming race. Faced with Yorkshire’s challenging landscape, the Tarmac makes the most sense in this test.

This Tarmac Disc Expert’s frame is built with FACT 10r carbon fibre, which is only two ‘r’s less than the top-level S-Works FACT 12r model. But just how much performance does this give away? For a start, this complete bike retails for around £1,000 more than the S-Works frameset, and for that you get a complete Ultegra disc groupset and Roval C38 carbon wheels and carbon seatpost, leaving only the alloy handlebar (again not clip-on friendly) and stem looking cheaper.The finish on this model has a hint of WWII ‘Dazzle’ camouflage, topped with fluoro orange graphics.

From the first pedal strokes, the Tarmac is obviously built for speed. The features that brought the Tarmac range bang up to date less than two years ago still prove their worth on every ride. Most obvious is the response from the rear end, with a seat tube cutout keeping the wheelbase tight and an unmoving bottom bracket area providing instant drive with a little shove in the back when pressing on the pedals. Press harder and that shove becomes a tidal wave of acceleration. Keeping the rear in check, and providing a solid foundation to push, pull and lean against, is the torsionally stiff front end and sizeable down tube. Spesh’s alloy bar and stem feel rock solid, and pitting all you have against the Tarmac channels your energy with great efficiency.


Shimano’s latest Ultegra components feel closer in performance and tactility to Dura-Ace than ever, from the slim, comfy hoods, to its positive, slick shifts and fine brake control. It’s so good, upgrading isn’t necessary. Specced with 52/36 rings and 11-30 cassette here, it suits racers and weekend warriors equally. The Tarmac rides uneven lanes like a surfer, dismissing incessant bumps, holes and adverse cambers with nonchalance.

Helped in no small way by the 26mm S-Works Turbo tyres, the ride feels supple, with great surface feedback, and they have great bite in technical corners, holding on tenaciously. Inflated to 75psi, there was no bounce when sprinting, just impressive speed and reassuring grip. Through rolling, constantly varying terrain, the Tarmac’s ability to change direction, unleash sudden accelerations, stomp over hills and brake accurately into tricky turns makes it superbly capable, and a seriously fast way to get from A to B. The relatively wide Roval carbon rims give the Tarmac great agility and tyre stability, while their low profile ensures no nasty surprises in gusty winds.

Hours aboard the Toupe Expert Gel saddle, the Tarmac’s seated comfort is ably matched by its vibration-damped front end, which maintains great precision and sharpness. Whether you’re looking for your first, second or umpteenth fast road bike, the Tarmac Expert Disc could be the only one you’ll need. When a bike’s this fast and capable, why pay more?

Verdict: The comparatively bargain-priced Tarmac has endlessly accessible performance, amazing grip and compliance that allows you to safely exploit its extensive limits. With its excellent Roval wheelset and great choice of tyres, the Tarmac is accelerative, agile and stable 92%

More to spend?

This Tarmac SL6 frameset of the Tarmac Pro Disc (£6K) is identical to the Expert, but comes with a SRAM Force eTap AXS 12-speed wireless drivetrain and Roval CL50 Disc wheelset.

Less to spend?

The Tarmac Disc Comp (£2,900) knocks over a grand off the Expert price and you get a FACT 9r carbon frame and a mechanical Ultegra groupset


Buy from www.specialized.com