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Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL3

Everything about the Roubaix SL3 screams performance

So how fast was Fabian Cancellara at last year’s Paris Roubaix cycling race, the event considered the world’s toughest one-day cycling event? After his 50 km solo breakaway he was actually accused of having a motor in his bike.

Turns out that the bike might have had something to do with the Swiss pro’s victory, but not because there was a motor hidden inside. When it comes to cruising over tough terrain at high speeds, or climbing Alp-like ascents, it would be hard to ask for much more in a road bike.

But I’m sure you are asking yourself two questions: why on earth was a self-respecting triathlon magazine editor riding a road bike, in Kona, during the world championship? And why would we, as triathletes, care about a bike designed for road racing, not triathlon?

Those are good questions, and I have semi-reasonable answers. While covering this year’s Ford Ironman World Championship, I promised some of the folks from Zipp that I would take them for a ride up one of my favourite climbs on the Big Island. Problem was, I needed a bike. Easy solution: they walked me over to the Specialized booth, who set me up with the Roubaix SL3 and a set of the new Zipp 404 clinchers (you can read the review of those wheels on p.28).

To answer the second question, it’s been interesting to see how many triathletes are using road bikes for some of their training, especially if they tend to ride in groups. I figured I had better start trying some road bikes to become more familiar with that world.

I must admit that I’m not an avid road bike aficionado, so I wasn’t anticipating that I’d love the Roubaix SL3. Ever since the folks at Gardin Bicycles, my bike sponsor for the last six years of my racing career, built me my first 78-degree seat-tube-angled bike (they actually built me four with varying seat tubes the first year – 78, 80, 82 and 84, but that’s another story), I’ve been riding steep-tubed frames. I haven’t owned a road bike since … well, scarily enough, Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States. I’m quite happy to take my tri bike up virtually any climb (Alpe d’Huez … check.), and even happier to be able to lay down flat on my aero bars and cheat the wind on a long, flat stretch of road.

Looking back, I can’t understand what I was thinking. Other than the wacky position – compared to my extreme low-front-end tri position, sitting on virtually any road bike feels like I’m laying back in an easy chair –  everything about the Roubaix SL3 screams performance. The fact is 11r carbon frame weighs less than 1,000 g. There’s a full-carbon monocoque fork, a compact carbon crankset with ceramic bearings and even S-Works SL ergonomic handlebars that all provide ultimate performance while trimming even more weight.

Then, just to completely win me over, the folks from Specialized equipped the S-Works Roubaix SL3 with Shimano’s super-gruppo, Di2, with its incredibly precise and easy electronic shifting. Put it all together and you have a bike that’s specced to the hilt, and draws an inevitable “wow” whenever someone grabs it and does the standard quick lift to check the weight.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t have the chance to test the Roubaix over any cobblestones. Based on Cancellara’s experience on the bike, though, I’m quite confident that it will deal with extremely rough conditions as well as just about any other bike. Thanks to the vibration-dampening Zertz seatstay and fork inserts, the Roubaix offers about the smoothest ride you can get cruising down the Queen K.

Smooth is one thing. Performance is another. Here’s where the folks from Specialized have nailed the design of this bike. In addition to the comfortable ride, the Roubaix provides amazing sprinting and climbing performance. The designers have managed to combine a silky-smooth ride with the stiffness required for a high-performance climbing and sprinting machine. All of which I know because of the ride I took the folks on that day. After a half-hour jaunt along the highway, I took us all up the mountain that overlooks Kailua-Kona. As the climb got steeper, more and more of the group started to drop away. Suddenly I wasn’t even remotely unhappy that I wasn’t on a tri bike – now I realized just how much fun you can have on a top-of-the-line road bike that’s built for just such a climb. (There’s a reason Lance Armstrong went to Kona for some of his early-season training over the last couple of years.)

The only thing that was more fun? The descent back down the climb, where you really get to appreciate the handling and braking capabilities a well-balanced road bike offers.

So if you’re looking for a road bike to use for group rides and long tours filled with rough roads, steep climbs and fast descents, and you can afford to look for something very much top-of-the-line, you’ll  want to have a good look at Specialized’s S-Works Roubaix SL3.

Kevin Mackinnon is the editor of Triathlon Magazine Canada.