It took just 23 miles for me to figure out exactly what kind of bike the new Venge is. As the pace ramped up 1k from the top of the main climb on our Tuesday night club ride I found the elastic stretching as the riders that weighed 30lbs less than me began to dance on the pedals. A few seconds later, the elastic snapped and I began to loose time, heaps of it. I dont care how stiff the frame, or how light the wheels, I get dropped from the front group, give or take a few hundred meters, every week. I am no climber.
With 45 seconds to close and a short descent followed by 4k of flat roads to do it, I got down to business. Descending full gas and turning a big gear, the Venge had me rolling up on the lead group sooner than ever before. It was then that it hit me.
This bike is a sledgehammer.
Let me explain. Some bikes are scalpels. They are designed for probing, testing attacks on steep mountain grades. They are devices to find your rivals weakness and pounce on it like a house cat on a mouse. These are the bikes for the 130lb surgeons of the slopes, the grand tour contenders that take their rivals apart piece by piece over three weeks. The Tarmac is such a bike.
The Venge is a blunt force weapon. Its designed for the rider more concerned with total wattage output than watts per kilo. The Venge says, Im going to front, try to get around me Like a sledgehammer, it will beat the peloton into submission with brute force.
Its a nod to the increasing specialization of the pro peloton. With riders now making a career out of being able to ride 100k at 45kph to chase breakaways, or 55kph for 4k to deliver a sprinter to the line, the tool they need is very different than the Schlecks and Contadors of the world. The Venge is that tool.
Launched at Milan San Remo it garnered considerably more press than a typical bike launch thanks to two factors, it won Milan San Remo under Matt Goss on its first outing, and it was created in partnership with McLaren, one of the worlds most successful Formula 1 teams.
Airflow Regimes, Blunt Edges and Churning Legs
While S-Works has always represented the pinnacle of what Specialized can do, in this case its actually the second tier bike in the range. So what do you get with the McLaren version? Surprisingly, despite the fact that McLaren is so renowned for aerodynamics, they didnt have anything to do with the aero shapes of the Venge. What McLaren did was use their carbon expertise to create an incredibly detailed lay up schedule that shaves significant weight, ramping up the stiffness-to-weight ratio.
Specialized is quick to point out the S-Works Venge is not in anyway less bike than the traditional S-Works designation, the McLaren is just a step beyond anything Specialized has done before. Of course, you will pay for it. Available in incredibly limited numbers this fall with a price tag in the $18,000 range, the best way to get the bike may be to get signed to one of their pro teams. In fact, the bike itself may be in more limited supply than the quarter million dollar McLaren MP4-12C road car.
Starting up front, where the Venge makes that first and lasting aero impression, the 1.5 lower bearing the Tarmac SL3 uses has been replaced with a 1 3/8 bearing. The resulting tapered head tube was robust enough to deliver stiffness while remaining narrow enough to truly minimize drag. The new fork maxes out the 3:1 UCI airfoil shape and tapers dramatically at the crown to perfectly interface with the new bearing size. While still 3:1, the rear of the head tube, in fact the rear of every tube, is quite blunt to provide better performance in shifting real-world wind conditions. This is a lesson learned from the development of the Transition and Shiv.
With the Venge, the details are just as important. The top cap is sculpted to clean up dirty air from the bars, cables and stem before it hits the top tube and your churning legs. The down tube is bulged behind the head tube to do the same thing to the air coming off the front brake and wheel. The seat stays are airfoils, but cambered slightly to optimize crosswind performance. This is something they experimented with on the fork blades as well, but found ineffective unless it was working behind the riders legs. All these details are examples of how Specialized looked at the different airflow regimes each and every tube encounters. Another 3:1 shape, the seat post is fully reversible, allowing a range of 20mm to 0mm of set back. Of course, the cables are fully internal, even for electronic drive trains.
How effective was all of this? The bike saves 22 watts at 40kph. During sprints it will create a three meter gap after 200 meters at 70kph. Even sitting in the peloton, it saves a handful off watts and over a 200k day or three week tour, it adds up. These numbers are versus a Tarmac SL3. Against other aero road bikes Specialized was very forthright in admitting, that while faster than most, its drag signature is essentially identical to the Cervelo S3. Specializeds goal wasnt to make the lowest drag aero bike, it was to make the fastest aero bike, and those are very different things.
Aero tube shapes are notoriously heavy, and typically lack lateral stiffness. Specialized tackled these challenges as aggressively as the aerodynamics. The foundation of the bike is a one-piece BB/Chain stay unit that utilizes the internal ribbing debuted on the Tarmac. The blunt trailing edges of the tube shapes also help create stiffness.
The Fact IS 11r carbon utilized on the Venge is the same stuff they use on the Tarmac SL3. The outcome is impressive, 2180 grams for a production 56cm S-Works Venge module (frame, fork, crank, seatpost) makes it lighter than any other aero road bike currently on the market. Incredibly, the McLaren version shaves more than 100 grams off of this weight. According to Specializeds numbers this puts both the S-Works and McLaren Venge in a class of their own when it comes to stiffness-to-weight.
Intuition, Headtubes and Dropping it in the 11
Our test bike, a RED equipped S-Works with Roval Rapide SL 45s, gave us no reason to doubt these claims. Putting a 61 cm bike on the scale is rarely inspiring, add 45mm aero clinchers and the result can be quite discouraging. Our 61cm test bike weighed 15lb 12ozs with pedals and cages. Stunning.
While the light weigh is displayed on the scale, the stiffness portion of this equation is immediately clear on the road. Torsionally, from the front skewer to the top of the seat post there cant be more than a millimeter or two of deflection. Every input to the bars is felt instantly through the entire frame resulting in an incredibly connected, powerful feel as you stamp on the pedals. Of course, this ride quality will be described by some as harsh. Like we said, its a blunt force weapon. If you want subtlety and finesse get a Tarmac.
What was slightly surprising was a lack of liveliness at low speeds. The Venge doesnt have the same sparkle or spry feeling that leads to the incredible acceleration from slow speeds we associate with a bike that thrives in the mountains. As stated earlier, it is not a scalpel. We would speculate the McLaren, with its higher stiffness to weight ratio, offers a more lively feel than the S-Works which is a bit numb at low speeds.
Where the bike earns its superlative is at high speed. The 53×12 spins more easily than any road bike weve ever tested, and the Venge still has plenty to give when you drop it in the 11 and jump out of the saddle. It is so stable and confident under power it truly lets you get the most out of its slippery shapes, the stiffness and aerodynamics play off of each other in perfect harmony.
All of this performance is easily harnessed due to the Venges geometry. Almost a carbon copy of the Tarmac, and that is a very good thing. They are angles that provide intuitive, precise handling at the very limit, nimble without nerves, high-spirited, not high-strung. As stiff as the bike is, it is still well balanced, front to back. Specialized has always designed bikes with tall head tubes, not a great fit for an aero road bike as the rider is always creating the most drag. Happily the one major change versus the Tarmac is a shorter head tube, not extreme, but enough to keep the back flat and out of the wind.
The S-Works Venge is of little use in the hands of a 140lb rider not planning on seeing the front until the grade pitches up past 9%. Powerful riders that revel in stretching the group out into a single file sliver of pain before jumping away to deliver ego crushing beat downs at the city limit sign will find a willing play mate in the Venge.
S-Works Venge SRAM RED As Tested: $8,800.00 ($3,800.00 frameset only)
Weight: 15lbs 12oz 61cm with SRAM RED, Roval Rapide SL 45 wheels, S-Works bar and stem, Romin Evo saddle.