Specialized’s history is wrapped in innovation. While that line also fuels a lot of the company’s marketing, it also holds up. But before the innovation, there was a bike trailer. The company started in 1974 when Mike Sinyard sold his Volkswagen Microbus for $1,500 and used most of that money to buy Italian bike parts coveted by roadies in California. He stashed them in a bike trailer and pedaled around from store to store.
Soon after, came the first original Specialized product, a road tire, released in 1976, because Sinyard thought the tire was the single piece of equipment your ride depended on the most, and he was dissatisfied with the options on the market. Then, after he and frame builder Tim Neenan spent a couple of years making road frames, Specialized turned its attention to the fledgling niche of mountain biking in 1981 and produced the first Stumpjumper. It wasn’t the first mountain bike on the market, but it was the first to be mass-produced, which helped introduce the new sport to thousands of cyclists.
“From the very beginning, Specialized has been about building bikes and gear that solve a problem and fill a need,” says Mark Cote, the brand’s global marketing manager. “That’s what still drives us today.”
Decades of Innovation
The 44-year history of Specialized has seen a lot of innovation that has solved plenty of problems for cyclists, even if cyclists didn’t know they had a problem. In 1993, it debuted the FSR four-bar suspension system—designed with help from Horst Leitner of AMP Research—which is still used on all the brand's suspension bikes today. Seven years later it introduced full suspension to the cross country crowd with the S-Works FSR XC. In 1999, it got into “Body Geometry” to try to figure out how to make a comfortable saddle. It introduced the Brain, an intelligent shock technology, in 2003 with the S-Works Epic. And five years ago, it unveiled its “Win” tunnel with the help of NASA engineers to try and perfect the aerodynamics of its bikes.
The Latest From the Brand
Today, Specialized has a hand in every aspect of the two-wheeled world, from commuter e-bikes to aerodynamic road bikes, and there’s no sign that the company’s devotion to innovation is slowing down. Its recently updated headtube shock, the FutureShock, is being placed on more road and adventure models. Meanwhile, it purchased fit system Retül that uses infrared mapping to help its retailers put you on the perfect saddle and frame. On some bikes, the integrated SWAT storage system lets you store ride essentials without wearing a backpack or filling pockets. And its road bikes continue to be lighter, stronger, and more aerodynamic.
The brand’s size, domination of some specialty retailer's floor space, and its aggressive defense of patents (sometimes at the cost of smaller, revered brands) has cost it some fans. But it’s hard to argue with the quality and performance of its top bikes.
Specialized isn't resting on its laurels and continues to crank out new and/or updated bikes and gear. Among the mountain bike highlights are the race-ready Epic Hardtail and budget-friendly (and more playful) Fuse Hardtail. They’ve also pushed headlong into the eBike market, launching the Turbo Vado city bike and Turbo Creo e-road bike. Also revamped is its wildly popular Enduro all-mountain MTB and road-smoothing Roubaix. Specialized also introduced a new custom Stumpjumper program, where you can pick your limited-edition frame color, wheel size, and suspension kit, and then get it delivered in three weeks or less.
Other notable changes at the company include its Beyond Gender program, which essentially is a move away from women’s specific bikes. “We’ve learned that there’s likely more difference between two male cyclists than between a male and female,” noted Specialized. “This means that gender alone doesn’t provide nearly enough data to specialize. And that means separating bikes by male or female is arbitrary and outdated.”
They’ve also moved some of their mountain bikes away from the tradition sizing model (either small, medium, large or inch based) and adopted a new reach-based sizing system (denoted as S2, S3, S4, and S5). The idea is to encourage riders to pick a shorter bike for a quicker and more playful feel, or go with a longer bike for a more stable and planted ride.
Keep reading to learn more about all those new Specialized bikes and more.
Tarmac Disc Pro
The Tarmac Disc Pro delivers the same highly refined ride characteristics of the $11,000 S-Works Tarmac, but at a much more affordable price ($6,700 is still 6.7 times what I payed for my first car, but that rust bucket bore no resemblance whatsoever to anything that could be mistaken for a high-performance vehicle). The Tarmac Disc Pro, however, is every bit a high-performance bike. It’s stiff but not overly harsh, tracks beautifully through hard turns without feeling twitchy, aero enough for Peter Sagan to win Grand Tour stages, and light enough to take into the mountains. It doesn’t have the same level of vertical compliance that some high-end carbon bikes offer, but it has just enough to take the edge off. Instead of a silky-smooth ride, you experience enough of the road that you feel very in tune to what’s happening below your wheels. The Tarmac Disc Pro offers up one of the most refined riding experiences you’ll find anywhere—stiff but not harsh, agile but not twitchy, and aero without being heavy.
Epic Expert EVO
If you’ve ever wanted your XC bike to go just a little bigger, Specialized’s Epic Expert EVO can do that. This bike ups the ante on the S-Works Epic by adding a 120mm Fox Step Cast 34 fork to the already beloved Epic frame, with 100mm of travel controlled by Specialized’s Brain suspension. Sitting somewhere between a cross-country bike and a trail bike, the Epic Expert EVO takes the quicker handling of a cross-country bike and melds it with a trail bike’s longer travel. The end result is a bike built for fast, long-haul rides on technical terrain. Looking at you, BC Bike Week. Whereas a more typical trail bike would be overkill in most XC races, the Epic Expert EVO can hold its own. It doesn’t like hard, tight cornering at high speed like a pure-bread XC bike, and it’s a little heftier than some of those flyweight bikes, but it can really rip when you let it loose on gnarly terrain, made even better by the addition of an X-Fusion Manic dropper post with 120mm of travel. It’s for riders who want a little more out of their XC bike but don’t want to go all the way to a trail bike.
The Epic Pro is a less expensive version of Specialized’s much-vaunted S-Works Epic full-suspension XC bike, which has won multiple Editors’ Choice awards for its exceptional performance. That bike is on virtually every list of the five best cross country bikes money can buy. The Epic Pro, however, is $3,500 cheaper, giving what feels like a world class XC bike for 60 percent of the price of the S-Works. It’s not cheap, but is a real value if you’re looking for an elite race weapon. The Brain 2.0 suspension system makes this bike feel tight, nimble, and fast when you really want to step on it at race speed. On smoother terrain the suspension tightens up so you don’t feel excessive bounce, while becoming more active when you encounter rougher terrain. It has a unique ability to climb like an XC tuned short travel bike yet descend like a long travel trail bike. Lively yet smooth, the Epic Pro is one of the most well balanced XC bikes we’ve tested.
Allez Sprint Comp Disc
Proof that an aluminum alloy bike can deliver as fast and punchy of a ride as carbon, the Allez Sprint Comp Disc delivers a standout ride experience befitting a far higher price tag. Much of the bike has been designed from the ground up with strength and stiffness in mind: The frame was built using a proprietary tube-forming and joining process designed to preserve stiffness at the joint; the bottom bracket was brazed to mimic the strong and stiff shape of bottom brackets used in carbon bikes. A full carbon fork and seatpost and Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes round out the package.
CruX E5 Sport
The CruX E5 Sport may look lonely sitting at the bottom of Specialized’s line of cyclocross bikes, but don’t be fooled by its position on the page. This is a very race-capable bike that’s dressed down with budget-friendly components to appear more casual than it really is. Peel back the layers that you’re accustomed to seeing on entry-level bikes—a SRAM Apex 1x drivetrain, quick release hubs, and cheap aluminum wheels—and you’ll see the bones of a purebred cyclocross race steed. The CruX E5 Sport shares most of its geometry with the top-tier S-Works CruX, and that’s readily apparent when you hit the course. The tires, however, leave something to be desired on anything other than bone-dry conditions. That aside, if you were to close your eyes while riding this bike (hypothetically speaking), you’d be hard-pressed to definitively say that you were riding a $2,000 bike and not one that costs more than twice that. The CruX E5 Sport is a great entry-level race bike, a killer gravel bike, and can do double (or triple?) duty as an all-weather commuter. Plus, the gray paint has subtle, reflective graphics that really pop in the sun. That’s the long way of saying there is a lot to love about this bike.
Fuse Comp 29
With its slack 66.5-degree head angle, 130mm of plush front suspension, and traction-enhancing 29x2.6 tires, the Fuse Comp 29 is not your traditional XC race’centric hardtail. Nope, this bike is built to shred. The higher-end M4 aluminum frame helps keep weight in check, while adjustable dropouts allow you to tweak geometry or even run it as a singlespeed. Component spec also trends to the rowdier side of the trail, featuring powerful SRAM Level disc brakes, a stubby 45mm stem, wide 780mm handlebars, and even an 150mm travel TranzX dropper post.
S-Works Turbo Creo SL
The rider seeking a spare-no-expense carbon e-road bike that weighs well under 30 poundsThis could be the bike that changes everything for the e-segment. The carbon S-Works Turbo Creo SL weighs a relatively wispy 27 pounds, and has a magnesium-cased SL 1.1 mid-motor that cranks out up to 240 watts of assistance. It cuts out at 28mph and the 320Wh internal battery offers up to 80 miles of range. That's enough power and range for spirited group rides with the fast riders. Spec highlights of the S-Works SL version include Shimano Dura Ace Di2 hydraulic disc brakes and shift/brake levers with XTR rear derailleur shifting across a 11-42 cassette. Up front is a Praxis carbon crankset with 46-tooth ring. Other parts include a carbon handlebar and seatpost, 50mm-deep tubeless ready carbon clincher wheels with ceramic bearings, a carbon-railed saddle, and 28mm tires. And the 160Wh Range Extender—included with S-Works models, or as a $399 upgrade for Expert models—fits into the seat tube bottle cage and adds for up to 40 more miles of range. E-century ride anyone?
The newest iteration of this popular trail smasher comes in 29er wheels only and has 170mm of plush suspension front and rear. Suspension design is borrowed from the recently launched Demo Race 29 downhill bike, which is fitting since this bike is meant to climb okay, but descend like a runaway freight train. It features a more rearward axle path to allow it to flow through successive square-edge impacts without “hanging,” allowing the rider to carry more speed. Specialized engineers also pushed the main pivot forward and increased the length of Enduro’s chainstays (from 433 to 442mm), which helps generate a more rearward axle path in the first part of the travel, which, Specialized claims, lets the rear wheel move up and over bumps more easily than an axle path that doesn’t move rearward as much. That results in what they call “momentum carry,” which is basically the feeling that the bike is picking up speed through bumpy sections instead of the sensation that it’s getting dragged backward with every impact. Translation: This bike is fast.
Turbo Vado 3.0
This battery-powered city bike is one of the most useful, lively, and exciting bikes you can ride. It’s a Class 3 e-bike—the fastest class—meaning it will assist up to 28 miles per hour. And it accelerates so rapidly that you’ll find yourself racing cars at stoplights and giggling at the looks on drivers’ faces. It makes uphills fun, powering you through swoops and swerves up S-turns at 15 or 20 mph—just like you would going down. Despite the bike’s extra weight, it handles quickly so you can zip around traffic and squeeze through small spaces where cars can’t go. Throw on a good set of panniers and you have the ultimate two-wheeled commuter or grocery getter.
Thanks to this new frame’s Future Shock 2.0, which suspends the rider on a hydraulic damper with 20mm of travel, the newest Roubaix disguises choppy terrain to an uncanny degree while still feeling fast. No, it’s not as immediate or sharp as a traditional road bike of its caliber, but its aerodynamics make it feel just as fast once you’re up to speed. And the Future Shock 2.0 has knob on the stem’s top cap that allows you to adjust between one of five damper settings. Fully damped, it feels like a normal endurance road bike. But open it up, and you’ll notice the immediate ride smoothing affect, meaning you’ll feel fresher longer.
You want versatility when you’re buying a road bike, and the Allez Elite has versatility in spades, which makes sense when you consider that it’s Specialized’s original road bike. It has eyelets for racks for when you want to tour (or carry groceries), an aluminum frame to keep the cost down and durability up, Shimano 105 drivetrain with a wide range of gears, and room for 28mm tires. It has a geometry inspired by the speedy Tarmac, but with a slightly more upright positioning for longer rides. It’s stiff and snappy, smooth and comfy, and it earned an Editor’s Choice award because of the “performance per dollar” package it offers.
A 2018 Editor’s Choice, award winner, the S-Works Tarmac continues to get better with every iteration. The Tarmac already has a lot of hardware to its name (many World Tour race wins), but the latest version is 45 seconds faster and about 200 grams lighter than the older Tarmac SL5. It also features updated geometry based on Specialized’s Retül data, and for added compliance the seatpost has flex built into the upper 120mm where clamping does not happen. Plus they dropped the seatstays and altered the seat tube shape, which helped up max tire clearance to 30mm.
Turbo Levo Comp
The Turbo Levo is built around the Stumpjumper platform, but comes with a motor, battery, and integrated control system. The frame’s Sidearm design increases stiffness-to-weight ratio, and its lower-slung orientation makes it more capable on rowdy descents and easier to maneuver in technical terrain, which also can extend battery life. It’s built out with burly 29-inch wheels and toothy 2.6-inch tires, as well as 150mm of travel front and rear so it can tackle the toughest trails.
Epic Comp Carbon
One of Specialized's longest-running mountain bikes, the Epic has been a leading full-suspension XC race bike for decades. The build on the Epic Comp is packed with value, including SRAM NX 12-speed drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, and a Roval Control alloy wheelset. Front suspension is handled by a RockShox Reba RL fork that features both compression and rebound adjustments. Frame geometry threads the needle between sharp handling and capable descending thanks to a 69.5-degree head angle, 456mm reach size large, and 438mm chainstays. It’s also 525 grams lighter than the previous version.
Diverge Expert X1
Two years ago, the Diverge Expert won an Editor’s Choice award in the road bike category, and this model has only gotten better since. Thanks to the Future Shock that adds a touch of ride-smoothing suspension to the headtube, and a frame that can handle up to 700 x 42mm or 650b x 47mm wide tires, this is an adventure bike if there ever was an adventure bike. It also comes with three water bottle mounts, mounts for racks and fenders, and Specialized’s Road Swat kit that carries a spare tube, CO2, CO2 head, valve extender, and even a money clip. Spec highlights include a wispy set of Roval C38 Disc carbon wheels and wide-range SRAM Force 1x11 drivetrain. We’ve ridden it on smooth pavement and singletrack, and it performs well on each.
This fun, fast bike might be affordable but it’s not watered-down beginner’s model. The Chisel can satisfy a range of riders, from the new to the race-savvy. It features an aluminum frame that’s stiff and snappy, borrowing geometry from Specialized’s racy cross-country pedigree but with a longer reach and slack head tube so it’s better suited for rough terrains. The Chisel is less expensive than many other Specialized offerings, which may make it a popular option among beginners. But this is a bike that’ll likely be enjoyable well after you’ve mastered your local trails.
The Crux Elite is 400 grams lighter than the previous version, and incorporates Specialized’s “Rider-First Engineered” tech that allows it to use size-specific tubes on the frame. It’s light and stiff, but built to take a beating with DT Swiss R470 disc wheels, tubeless-ready tires, and an American-style cross geometry that lowers the center of gravity. It’s a moderately-priced race bike that comes in under 19 pounds (which is appreciated when you’re shouldering it over barriers).
Turbo Como 5.0 650b
A powerful e-bike with graceful good looks, the Turbo Como 5.0 650b takes a beach cruiser aesthetic and revs it up with an integrated motor for smooth and silent pedal assist that puts the “cruise” back in cruiser. The ride is cushy thanks to stock 2.3-inch tires, while rack and fender mounts make it an errand-running beast.
The key to making faster road bikes: aerodynamics, aerodynamics, aerodynamics. That’s why Specialized built its Win[d] Tunnel and that’s why it completely overhauled its most successful aero bike, the Venge. Now lighter and more responsive than ever, it features a streamlined profile that’s easier to work on and faster to ride. This version comes with Shimano’s electronic Dura Ace Di2 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, so you get precise shifting and powerful braking to match every bit of the frame’s performance.
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