Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4 Red
We're all guilty of entertaining the occasional pro cycling fantasy, no matter how recreational our riding. We clip in, coast down the street, and suddenly Phil Liggett is narrating the blow-by-blow of our suburban spin. Sure, it's childish, but so is riding a bike. It's also harmless, and as the old adage goes, fantasies are fine as long as you don't act upon them.
Then again, your marriage counselor probably hasn't laid eyes on the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4 Red. Short of moving to Monaco and putting an Italian doctor with a dubious doping history on speed dial, there are few things that'll make you feel more pro than this race-ready rig. Specialized has always practiced the trickle-down effect, first testing its products in the pro peloton before unleashing them on John Q. Public, and the SL4 comes with an impeccable pedigree, winning 2012 races like the Tour of Flanders, the Olympics, and the three-week Vuelta a Espana.
Naturally, the 2013 version – now available to order – comes fully loaded with all the trappings you'd expect from a Pro Tour ride: carbon deep dish Roval rims, SRAM Red components, and a wafer-thin Toupé saddle that's somehow still capable of keeping your keester comfortable no matter how punishing the ride. You can even order the frame in Team Saxo Bank colors to feel like two-time Tour de France champ Alberto Contador…if that's your thing (hey, man, we're not here to judge). But what really makes the SL4 stand out is its construction. Specialized approached the design with two typically opposing objectives: decreased weight and increased stiffness. Miraculously, it succeeded at both. By tapering its beefy head tube and molding the bottom bracket and chain stays – the highest stress point on a bike – into one carbon fiber unit, Specialized's engineers were able to achieve a 19-percent increase in stiffness-to-weight ratio over its previous Tour de France–winning rides.
So what, exactly, does that feel like? Fast. But we could have told you that without even riding it. One of the defining characteristics of a Specialized road bike is its curved top tube, a design flair that creates smaller triangles in both the front and rear of the frame; meaning even a gargantuan 61 cm (the largest size in its stable) looks nimble. And it feels even nimbler. Whether we were weaving in and out of Manhattan traffic, climbing and then descending the highest four-season road in Vermont, or powering out of corners on our local criterium course, the SL4 felt explosively quick and responsive. So quick and responsive, in fact, that the only bobble we experienced was when the tail whipped out from underneath us during a sprint, the result of sharp, increased force being transferred directly from our pedal stroke to the road. In the bike-designing game, stiffness equals speed, and Specialized has taken that to heart. So remember, no matter how pro the SL4 makes you feel, it's important that you're the one controlling the bike, not vice versa. [$8,500; specialized.com]