Ride the Rockies is done, but the summer is just beginning. I had the chance to try out some fun stuff while I was out on the ride. I had the chance to try out the mid-range Specialized Venge aero bike and the top Specialized S-Works Tarmac.
On day two of Ride the Rockies, I cajoled the nice people at the Specialized tent into letting me take out their Venge. Okay, it wasn’t hard. Specialized was there specifically to get new customers on their newest, coolest bikes. I gave them my ID and they let me ride the same frame on which the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, won the world road championship. Mine was a much less expensive version. Rather than top-of-the-line S-Works+McLaren carbon and Shimano electronic shifting with sprint shifters, a set up running close to $18,000, I got the Venge Pro mid compact, which retails at about $6,600. This is still a good chunk of change, but fantastic for an upper-mid-range bike.
The first things you notice are the curves. Not curves in the road, but in the aerodynamic frame. The seat tube forms a fairing around the rear wheel. The headtube, which is tapered for stiff and precise steering, forms a bit of a wing when looking from the side. It also comes with deep-profile carbon Specialized Roval Rapide EL 45 race wheels, and the in-house Specialized cranks. These things were certainly pretty, but how do they ride?
When you take the first pedal stroke you realize how stiff and light this bike is. The wide tubes create the stiffness in the frame. While not the lightest bike, it is not a heavyweight. It comes in at about 16 pounds. Everything about the bike says fast.
The bike lurches when just stomping down on the pedals. This indicates the stiffness. No energy seems to be wasted. A headwind seemed to have no effect on the bike. Crosswinds were noticeable, but not so much as to make the Venge hard to handle, even with the deep carbon wheels.
On the climbs, the light frame coupled with the mid-compact drive train made the bike a nimble steed. Mid range refers mostly to the chainrings in front. Standard for the pros is a 53-tooth big ring and 39-tooth inner ring with an 11-25 rear gear cluster. The compact set up is a 50-tooth big ring and 32-tooth inner ring. This is the serious climbing set up and usually comes with a 12-28 rear cluster. The mid-compact, as the name indicates, is somewhere in between. It comes with a 52-36 tooth setup in front and, for Shimano, 11-28 in the back. For McClure Pass, a category-two climb, this was plenty low.
At no time did I feel that I needed a break or that I needed a lower gear. In the little ring and 28-tooth cog, the bike floated along, even with my distinctly non-climber body on board. And even with the stiff front end in a race geometry, 73.5 degree head tube angle, it never felt twitchy as I bombed down the east side of the pass.
This is not a bike for everyone. It is stiff and the average rider might feel a bit beat up after long miles on it. You will notice the wind on this bike, as it is made to point into the wind. Crosswinds are interesting, but not scary. It is pricy, though there is on model at a lower price-point, the Expert Mid-Compact at $4,700. If you want something that is just plain fast, or need a bike for road-triathlon double-duty, the Venge would be a great choice.
Two days after riding the Venge, I got to take out the S-Works Tarmac SL4. This is a race bike, plain and simple. The Tarmac was developed for the Pro Peloton and riders like Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara. It is stiff, it is light. It can sprint and it can climb.
I had it on the RTR’s longest day. If ever there were a torture test ride for a bike, this would be it. Day four of Ride the Rockies was 94 miles from Leadville over milled pavement on Fremont Pass, down a long, straight descent to Copper, over to Silverthorn by way of the winding Summit County bike path, along the well-paved HWY 9 to Ute Pass, over the pass’ rough and sometimes steep roads, down to broken pavement, dirt and sand and finally a steep final quarter-mile climb to Middle Park High School in Granby. The Tarmac rode like a champ.
The bike handled all road conditions well. While the Specialized Armadillo tires took a beating over the milled pavement, the bike itself never faltered. While the S-Works came with standard gearing, it was low enough, and light enough to be better than just sufficient over the six-mile, four-percent cat-2 Ute Pass. The Tarmac did not beat me to death on the dirt roads, it was not scary on the fast descents. I just pointed it where I wanted to go and the Tarmac went that way, quickly. Finally, after 93 and three-fourths miles, I still had enough energy to put in one last standing sprint up the 12-percent 100 yard climb to the school. The bike never felt noodly, never felt soft, even with my big ol’ self standing and sprinting. For eight grand, it better be perfect. It was.
Like the Venge, the Tarmac comes in much more reasonable setups. The S-Works SL4 comes with the Shimano Dura-Ace shifters, cassette and derailleurs, the S-Works cranks and chainrings and Roval Fusee SLX wheels and weighs just over 15 pounds. The much less expensive Tarmac Apex Mid Compact comes with the entry-level SRAM Apex group. 52-36 front rings and alloy crank, 11-28 rear cassette and DT Axis 2.0 wheelset. At 17 pounds, it’s heavier, but at about a quarter the price, $2,200, who cares. If you don’t plan to mix up some sprints or take a flier on Flagstaff Mountain with the aspiring Boulder pros, the Apex Mid will be all the bike you need.
Go try one yourself. See how it fits you. Don’t just take my word for it.