“How did you get the new Shiv,” the guy yelled across the subway tracks to me.
I was trying to get what was one of the only 2012 Specialized Shiv bicycles home and was taking the subway from the office with the bike. Even from about 30 m away he managed to pick the bike out – this new super-aerodynamic frame certainly stands out.
It didn’t take long for siting number two. As I was going through the door to the parking lot someone else ran ahead to get the door for me.
“Thanks,” I said. “I work in a bike store,” he replied and then grinned: “I know how much that bike costs.” Since I was wheeling the top-of-the-line S-Works Shiv with it’s FACT IS 11r carbon frame, Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels and, in this case SRAM Red components (the bike is supposed to come with Di2, but our demo model came with Red), I shouldn’t have been surprised. With a price tag of over 10 grand, I would be doing my best to make sure the thing didn’t get scratched, too.
After the highly publicized launch of the new Shiv at the Ironman World Championship this year the bike was aptly christened by Craig Alexander, who rode 13-minutes faster than he ever had before on his way to winning his third Kona title. In fact, it was his superior bike split that won him the race – countryman Pete Jacobs ran a faster marathon split, but had lost too much time on the bike to catch up.
The day after his big win I saw Alexander out on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway doing a photo shoot with the new bike. We had a brief chat as he was packing up the bike to head off to his next appointment.
“If I’d told you two years ago that you would win Kona on the bike, what would you have said to me?” I asked.
“I would have told you that you were out of you mind,” he laughed.
There is no-doubt that Alexander’s new bike didn’t make all the difference for that bike leg this year – his aggressive ride on a non-decaled Cervelo P4 at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Henderson, Nevada was every bit as impressive – but the Shiv certainly didn’t hurt. Specialized ignored UCI rules and built this new bike to be triathlon specific. The result is a monstrous downtube that cuts through the wind like a knife. Somehow, though, that sail-like tube doesn’t get caught up in crosswinds, though – it’s hard to imagine a bike that is better suited to fast riding in Kona. That’s most apparent when you encounter the typically gusty crosswinds that can make riding in Hawaii so hard. The Shiv is hands down the most stable triathlon bike I’ve ever ridden. During a ride where we experienced Kona-like winds I was shocked at how much the bike stayed upright. Sure, you feel the wind, but at no point do you feel like you’re about to be blown off the bike, nor do you feel a need to get up off the aero bars. In designing the Shiv, Specialized set out to optimize the frame and fork for crosswinds and, from what I can tell, they nailed it.
Which is, when it comes to aerodynamics and fast riding, a huge determining factor. As aerodynamic as any bike is, the rider position on the bike makes much more of a difference to your overall performance. Being able to stay down on your aerobarsis the best way to go fast. You’ll find that quite easy to do on the new Shiv.
Your ability to stay in the aero position isn’t just because of the bike’s stability, though. This is where the designers at Specialized were really innovative. The aerobar on the new Shiv is semi-integrated into the stem, which allows for lots of adjustment in addition to providing great aerodynamics. That means you can truly set yourself up into the most comfortable position to ensure that you can stay down on the aerobars as much as possible.
That adjustability stretches back to the seat post, too. The bike comes with two, reversible seat posts so you can get yourself in the optimal position on top of the pedals, too.
Strong and Light
Even in the perfect position, though, if your bike is radiating lots of road shock up to your body, you’re going to struggle to maintain that aero position. Chalk up another success for those Specialized engineers – the carbon fibre used in the S-Works Shiv provides a super-smooth ride. That ride doesn’t lose any performance, though – the super-stiff bottom bracket is a wonder at transferring your energy into forward movement. It’s not the lightest frame I’ve ridden, but it’s not far off. And, in the end, we all know that in most triathlon races, aerodynamics trumps weight every time.
Components and Hydration
While our test rig came with SRAM Red (which is no slouch of a gruppo), the bike is designed to completely integrate Di2. On a bike this aero it will come as no surprise that both brakes are hidden from the wind, too. Added to the aero features are one of my favourite wheel sets, the ZippFirecrest 404 clinchers, which provide outstanding aerodynamics, comfort and road feel.
Finally, the piece of engineering that seems to be defining this bike is the integrated hydration system. A bladder (think Camelback, but not on your back, in your frame) sits down inside that huge down tube and has a flexible straw that can be set up on your aerobars. This is, in my mind, a great set up for a couple of reasons. First off, you don’t have to move from your aero position to get a drink.
As good a reason as that is, what I like most about the hydration system is that you can get a sip of liquid very easily, but you’re also getting that sip without adding weight to your handlebars, which is my biggest complaint about handlebar mounted systems. Typically, when you add weight in that position, you sacrifice some handling ability. That’s not a concern with the Shiv, though, although we did find the bladder cover to be a bit tricky to open, especially on the move.
The Shiv lived up to the hype it generated in Kona thanks to the impressive aerodynamics, but, also because of the attention to detail that makes this one very fast bike. We loved it with regular mechanical shifting, too – adding Di2 would make this possibly even more fun.