Tested – Specialized Tarmac SL3 Mid Comp

In the grand scheme of things I am fairly new to the world of skinny tires and tight clothing. With far too many knocks to the head and an incident involving my leg, a tire track on Freight Train, 2 rods and four screws, it was time to move on and change it up a bit. If only for a while.

As part of my rehab for the injuries I was told by my physiotherapist that I should get on a road bike, attached to a trainer at first, to help me with the dexterity of my broken leg as it healed.  While sitting on a trainer watching television is as about as interesting as watching paint dry, it surprised me how much I enjoyed hitting the tarmac.

I spent the better part of 2011 on a Giant TCR Advance 2, which I really enjoyed.  But the time had come at the beginning of 2012 for an upgrade.  Enter the 2012 Specialized Tarmac SL3 Mid Comp.

The Bike

The frame shares the same ingredients list of the top of the line 2011 Tarmac SL3 frame. Basically they changed the colour for 2012.  It comes in a black and grey finish and the “Oh so close to the 2012 Specialized Venge McLaren minus the $18,000.00 price tag” red and black garb (the colour way that I picked).  The 2011 frame was great, so why change it if it ain’t broke?

The carbon frame is constructed utilizing Specialized’s Fact Carbon IS 10r carbon mix.  The IS stands for Internal Structure, which is a carbon webbing that links both sides of the particular frame piece together, enabling the frame to be lighter while maintaining structural stiffness. The 10r is Specialized’s Fact rating or stiffness rating.  The scale ranges from 11r (stiffiest) to 6r (least stiffest).  Add this carbon technology to a manufacturing process of which large parts of the frame are manufactured as one piece instead of a large number of smaller pieces and this frame has the DNA to perform.  In particular the one-piece bottom bracket shell and chain stay assembly with the hollow alloy drop outs which when an assembly of bits can lead to a weakness resulting in a lose of power to the rear wheel through flex in the frame.

As the sun sets on the honeymoon year of riding road bikes I can feel the difference between the frames.  In the depths of the internet I read once that someone described the performance of this road bike akin to riding a stabbed rat.  A claim that I can whole heartedly agree with!  Although, minus the mess!  Every turn of the crank feeds the wheels and the bike wants to vault forward, jumping out from under you.  When spinning on the trainer and watching the chain stays (What else am I going to watch?), it is amazing to see how little flex there is as compared to the TCR.  When on the road it holds a line better than a Cat 1 Pro and there is no fear when sitting up that the bike will wander.  The faster you go, the better the bike feels.

With all the talk of rigidity and the stiffness of the frame one would expect that I would be missing a few fillings, but after 2600 plus kilometers and more than a 100 hours on the bike I am happy to report that I still have all my teeth.  Additionally with all the kilometers and hours on the pavement there is no noticeable arm fatigue.  However at slow speeds the road feel is noticeable.

Dressed in full 2012 Shimano Ultegra 10 speed groupo except the 105 11-28 10 speed cassette and chain, the bits perform as one would expect.  Precise shifting, reliable braking and durability are all the hallmarks of he groupo from the past, and it doesn’t disappoint this year either.  The big change over 2011 is that Shimano has offered the kit in a sublime glossy gray over the silver of years past.  As an upgrade note, to get the new Di2 electronic shifting on the Tarmac, one has to shell out more cash for the SL4.  The cockpit is fastened to the frame with Specialized’s in-house stem incorporating shims, allowing the rider 4 positions of adjustment.

Turning the wheels is the FSA SL-K 36/52 mid comp carbon crankset.  What is mid comp you ask?  Instead of running a “regular” crankset, the mid comp allows chainrings that span from 52 in the large ring all the way to 34 for the little chainring.  Smaller the chainring, the “easier” it is to drop the chain and settle into the saddle and spin on a long climb.  One of the small drawbacks of a compact chainring could be felt as a reduction in stiffness in the cranks for riders pushing high watts in the big ring.  The shorter crank spiders make the distance from the end of the spiders to the teeth of the big ring longer.  But the majority of us aren’t Mark Cavendish, so noticing something like that is not likely.  The bottom bracket is a BB30 standard.  The BB30 is used by manufacturer’s to allow them to connect a larger diameter downtube the BB, increasing stiffness and reducing weight by removing the bearing cups and running a 30 mm aluminum spindle.

Connection to the road is provided by Fulcrum 4 wheels and Specialized rubber.  A quick check on the Fulcrum website and one would notice the absence of a Fulcrum 4 wheelset.  Specialized and Fulcrum inked a deal of some kind and produced the 4 exclusively for Specialized bikes.  Apparently the marriage is something along these lines, a Fulcrum 3 hub is laced with Fulcrum 5 spokes to a Fulcrum 5 rim giving birth to the Fulcrum 4 wheelset.  Get it?  I am guessing that the reasoning was to get a better performing and lighter hub with a stronger (read mildly heavier) rim and spokes.  The result is a wheel that gets the job done.  I can hop curbs, speed humps and small animals with the best of them.  As noted above, wrapping the metal rings are the Specialized 700x23c Turbo Elite with “Black Belt Puncture Protection”.  What can I say but they roll really well and stick decently to the blacktop, even in icy conditions.  As any cyclist knows commenting on flats is strictly forbidden, but I do think the little ninja guys on the sidewalls is a nice touch.

When it is all said and done I have enjoyed the time and km’s that I have put on this bike and look forward to many more.  I really enjoyed the time I had spent on the Giant, but after the last few months on the Tarmac, I would be hard pressed to swing a leg over the old bike.

Note:  The pictures show the bike with the new wheels, 2012 Dura-ace C35’s.  I have put a few km’s with them on, including my first road bike crash and will continue to use the Fulcrum’s when the weather sours.  But really to be honest, it hasn’t been all that great this year so far.