Consumers will be pleasantly surprised by the affordable cost for the Tarmac Elite SL2. This bike is tailor-made for both racers and endurance athletes on a budget with a base price around $1,800. Cycling Weekly review columnist Kenny Pryde humorously speculates that “trickle-down economics—whereby the rich getting richer is meant to help all of us—is obviously nonsense, but it looks like trickle-down technology holds, er, water” (Pryde). Thanks to that trickle-down technology, cyclists of all skills are now able to experience the same ride quality the professionals had in previous years, at a mere fraction of the cost. With the Tarmac’s closest rival priced at $3,950 for the Giant TCR Advanced 4, buyers can expect to pay more than twice the price for a product that offers lower quality engineering. The more expensive options do not always win the race, so careful consideration must be made for such a sizable investment. With the Tarmac, buyers are assured the best investment for such a versatile machine.
When it comes to the quality of the frame and most of the components offered, the Tarmac does not disappoint. According to the manufacturer’s website, the Tarmac Elite SL2 uses “FACT IS 8r” carbon for the construction of the frame, which in conjunction “with [a] tapered head tube and elliptical seatstays” provides a stiff, yet balanced ride that is capable of performing at any level the athlete demands (Specialized). While the Tarmac does weigh more than other bikes competing in the same price range, the quality of the material on the Tarmac outweighs—no pun intended—the best of its rivals. Furthermore, the SRAM Apex groupset adds measurable value to the Tarmac, providing smooth shifting and a wide range of gears that riders will appreciate for both mountainous terrains and the windy flat lands. However, the Tarmac did fall short in a couple of areas, most notably with the wheel set made by the French company Mavic. During testing, the wheels delivered a harsh ride that compromised the character of the Tarmac. Additionally, Bike Radar columnist Guy Kesteven said the tires “[felt] scarily slippery”, but simply changing to better rubber dramatically improved the performance (Kesteven). Indeed, the Specialized Turbo Comp tires lacked significant grip, especially when cornering at or above twenty miles per hour. Despite the lackluster wheels and tires that come with the Tarmac, the handling confidence and ride quality add tremendous value to this extraordinary road bike.
The comfort level the Tarmac offered surpassed all expectations for both long distance rides and short, high intensity efforts. With new Continental Grand Prix tires and a set of Zipp wheels, manufactured by SRAM, test rides revealed the Tarmac cruised over the roughest of roads like a graceful bird soaring through the heavens, yet it maintained the quick responsiveness necessary for navigating the tight hairpin turns on San Diego’s infamous Palomar mountain. Since the Tarmac’s design is traditionally focused on performance, ride comfort has always taken a back seat. However, the Tarmac Elite SL2 breaks from tradition with its design offering both performance and comfort. Kenny Pryde also endorsed the Tarmac’s comfort in his Cycling Weekly review saying, “given the Tarmac’s reputation for rigidity and lightweight race focus, I was expecting to be bounced into the middle of next weekend, but found myself surprised by the bike’s comfort” (Pryde). His colorful description accurately portrays the comfort a buyer can expect; however, it is also worth noting the Specialized Riva saddle that comes on the Tarmac has a spongy feel that provides too much padding for some riders. Because the saddle is the most personal component, the Riva does not warrant much criticism given the majority of riders will replace it regardless of the bike purchased. Overall, the rider’s confidence in the Tarmac’s ability to perform on demand inspires a level of comfort that is necessary in order to take risks when racing at high speeds; thus, the Tarmac’s comfort is multifaceted.
The harsh reality is that bicycles today are a considerable investment, but the Tarmac Elite SL2 offers the best all-around value—very affordable cost, quality frame and construction that deliver a professional level of performance, and comfort that is tremendously appreciated when riding the roughest of roads. Although the Tarmac is not the lightest option, the weight difference is minuscule, especially when considering the options this bike offers in its price range. Pure and simple, the Tarmac Elite SL2 stands on top of the podium, making it a wise investment that any cyclist will be proud to own.
Kesteven, Guy. “Specialized Tarmac Elite: Not bad, but it feels outclassed.” Bike Radar.
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Pryde, Kenny. “Specialized Tarmac SL2.” Cycling Weekly. Time Inc. (UK), 2012.
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Specialized. “Tarmac Elite Apex.” Specialized.com. Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc.,
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