More aero, lighter and new Future Shock - First ride review of Specialized’s new Roubaix SL8

The new Roubaix sees plenty of upgrades to align with a changing market

The Specialized Roubaix is a bike that can be described as iconic. First created in 2004 and since ridden to seven victories at Paris-Roubaix as well as uncountable top-10 finishes, the Specialized Roubaix has blazed a trail through repeated innovation. In 2017, when the Roubaix was reimagined with Future Shock (front suspension), it was ridden to victory by Peter Sagan in the Hell of the North, with the Slovakian rider saying: “Now with Future Shock, you don’t even know that you ride on the cobblestones.”

In 2019 came Future Shock 2.0, which was ridden to Roubaix victory by Philippe Gilbert, but since then there has been a marked decrease in the number of Specialized sponsored riders we see aboard the Roubaix as the race rolls round each year. As all-round bikes like the Specialized Tarmac are developed to be more compliant and comfortable to ride, particularly with increased tyre clearance, as well as extremely aerodynamic, we’re seeing less and less of the Roubaix in its namesake race. For Specialized, however, this doesn’t mean the end of the bike altogether but rather the opposite: it means developing it for the changing needs of riders, professional and amateur alike.

The newly-released Specialized Roubaix SL8 is said to be lighter, faster and smoother than “any road bike ever made” with the addition of an improved, refined Future Shock 3.0. Similarly to the Specialized Diverge STR gravel bike, Future Shock 3.0 offers increased tunability so every rider can get 20mm of smooth travel at the front of the bike. This means that Future Shock will absorb the impact by moving upwards and reducing the deceleration of a deflecting fork. The result, Specialized claims, is a force reduction of 53% versus the competition across impacts typically experienced by road riders.Image: Specialized

The new Future Shock comes in three versions depending on the specification of the Roubaix. Future Shock 3.3 comes with the S-Works and Pro versions of the Roubaix and the compression of the Future Shock can be adjusted while on the go, meaning riders can pick between six different levels of squish to fine tune things to perfection. Future Shock 3.2 comes with Expert and Comp and is hydraulically damped to control the movement of the Future Shock. Riders can adjust pre-load to their desired firmness for their unique position or the terrain they are riding – it can’t be adjusted on the move. Finally, Future Shock 3.1 is an undamped Future Shock which comes with the Sport 105, Sport Apex and Base versions of the Roubaix.

Each Roubaix model comes with three different springs – firm, medium and soft – which can be easily switched over at home, Future Shock 3.3 is the only version with in-the-saddle adjustability available. Specialized also says it has hardened the durability of Future Shock with the 3.0 version too, increasing thickness and adding seals to keep water out.Image: Specialized

While Future Shock looks after the front of the bike, AfterShock looks after the rear and aims to ensure that the Roubaix is balanced. Similarly to the previous iteration Roubaix, the bike features Specialized’s Pavé seatpost with a specific carbon layup that reduces vibrations in the saddle, while also keeping the bike stiff to ensure optimum power transfer. The Dropped Clamp design on the Roubaix sits 65mm lower than the traditional seatpost clamp which Specialized says creates a longer lever and a smoother, more efficient ride.

Aside from the Future Shock improvements, the new Roubaix also sees gains when it comes to aerodynamics. While the non-integrated cables at the front of the bike due to the Future Shock limit the bike’s aero qualities, Specialized says it has still been able to make inroads in this area. The Roubaix sees a new fork shape and a reimagined downtube shape, and has lower seat stays to hide them from the wind at the rear of the bike (a similar design to that seen on the newly-released Tarmac SL8.) According to Specialized, these frame changes have shaved four watts of drag meaning that “nothing in its class is faster than the Roubaix SL8.” 

The new Roubaix also is lighter than the previous iteration, with Specialized getting rid of 50 grams from the frame weight by shaving fat at the seat cluster and around the bottom bracket, as well as upgrading the Roubaix SL8 to the brand’s premium 12r carbon. Specialized claims that a complete 56cm S-Works Roubaix SL8 out of the box weighs in at 7.3kg.

Image: Specialized

As with the Roubaix SL7, the SL8 features the same endurance geometry which Specialized says allows riders to ride “in the bike, not on the bike” by relieving pressure on hands, arms and shoulders. The only change in geometry on the new model is that the front centre has been moved by approximately 10mm to ensure toe clearance when using bigger tyres.

As mentioned, with fewer riders opting to use the Roubaix in races, it seems as if Specialized have taken a different aim with the Roubaix SL8, making it appeal more to ultra-distance and all-road riders. The new version will now have tyre clearance up to 38c/40mm meaning that “it isn’t afraid of a little gravel.” The bike also features additional storage mounts, with a third bottle mount, top tube mount and provisions for full mudguards on the fork and rear triangle.

First ride impressions

I rode the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL8 for a couple of hours from Specialized’s HQ in Dorking. From a purely visual standpoint, the bike looks slick and racy and I’m a fan of the black and grey colourway of the S-Works version which seems both practical and easy to keep clean. Once I hopped on the bike, the endurance geometry felt comfortable straight away – the Hover handlebars that feature a rise along the top ensuring that the fit isn’t too low or aggressive on a first ride. As someone who is used to a lower position, however, I would likely switch these over if I was creating the perfect fit for my personal preference.

The new Roubaix SL8 features Future Shock with on-the-fly adjustability with seven Shock levels 

I was most excited to try out the updated Future Shock and it’s certainly interesting to play around with on the move, especially due to the multiple points of adjustment on the dial. When it was closer open, the effect it had on my comfort was noticeable – it absorbed sizeable impacts when going over rough potholes and importantly meant I could relax on the rough British roads. If I had it closed on smooth sections, it felt stiff and responsive. Being able to pick between seven different steps of squish meant that I could really fine tune the suspension to my desires – though I would say it became difficult at times to keep track of which level I had it on without looking down at the stem, something that isn’t ideal when on open roads.Aerodynamics at the front of the bike are limited as the Future Shock system forces external cabling

While normally I find myself looking ahead for every rut to try and avoid it, the Future Shock helped me feel relaxed that if a big hole did pop up, the bike could take it and I wouldn’t be uncomfortably jolted out of position. It’s worth noting that on-the-go adjustment only comes with the S-Works and Pro versions of the Roubaix, but Specialized does note that the Future Shock 3.3 and 3.2 is available as an aftermarket item, if riders want to upgrade.

At the rear of the bike, the Pavé aero seat post takes care of the comfort. Specialized has done an impressive job ensuring that the bike feels balanced to ride. The post provides enough comfort as well as helping with the claimed aerodynamic gains of the new Roubaix. I found that I felt completely in control of the bike as I wasn’t being as jolted on rougher surfaces, but at the same time the feedback was impressive, ensuring that I felt comfortable in terms of grip.

The Pavé seat post does a good job at smoothing vibrations at the rear of the bike

There were certainly some smooth sections of tarmac where I felt like the Future Shock became slightly redundant, but the Roubaix SL8 excels here too even without the suspension in mind. I tried some sprints to see how it responded when putting power through the bike and found that it reacted instantly, capable of delivering a punchy feel and not giving the soft and comforting response that some endurance bikes do. While I can’t verify Specialzied’s claims of the bike being more aero, I have no reason to disbelieve them given how fast the bike felt when riding it.

When compared to the Specialized Tarmac SL8, there is no denying that while the Roubaix is fast, it has a notably different feel to it. There isn’t the ‘free speed’ effect that the Tarmac seems to give and it isn’t quite as zippy as soon as you ask it to move, but it also feels more comfortable than the Tarmac. Clearly the Roubaix still wouldn’t be an option for the die-hard racer looking for every gain and it doesn’t look as clean as the Tarmac with the cables at the front of the bike, but it seems like the Roubaix is the better option for the everyday rider. It’s far more comfortable and feels more sturdy and reliable too. I’d trust the Roubaix on some really rough surfaces, especially when paired with wider tyres, yet I’d be concerned about ragging the Tarmac over gravel.The Roubaix SL8 features a top tube mount and third bottle storage, as well as mudguard mounting options, making it a bike that is for the long-haul rather than just a pure race machine

Overall, from the ride I did on the Roubaix SL8, it definitely comes across as a bike that can do it all. When needed, it’s fast and responsive, yet when the damper is dialled round the feel of the Future Shock comes through and it becomes versatile and comfortable enough to tackle any terrain that is thrown at it. Now with the option of mudguards and additional storage, the Roubaix is pretty much the ultimate ‘real world’ bike. The Roubaix follows the same pricing structure as the Tarmac which means the S-Works version retails for £12,000 (the Pro model is £8,000, Expert is £6,000 Comp is £5,000, Sport Apex is £3,250, Sport 105 is £3,000, the Base £2,500 and the S-Works Frameset is £4,750.)

The S-Works version of the bike that I rode does come at a price, but if you are looking to spend a sizeable amount of money on a bike, it seems that the Roubaix would give the everyday rider more bang for their buck in terms of year-round usability.

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