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The new Roubaix raises something of an existential question: Just how soft do we want our road bikes?
The spring-loaded steerer tube Specialized calls “Future Shock” isn’t suspension by the traditional definition, but it is unquestionably successful, offering 20mm of true vertical compliance. It is more effective than any other road system — yes, including the Trek Domane’s IsoSpeed Decoupler — at isolating the handlebars, and thus your entire upper body, from harsh road surfaces. If you want to ride actual Roubaix cobbles, or rutted dirt roads, or you can’t be bothered to pick your front wheel up over nasty road seams, no road bike is more comfortable than the Roubaix. Not one.
This ultra-forgiving front end is matched with a frame worthy of racing, one of Specialized’s lightest and stiffest ever. The primary concession to rear-end comfort is a CG-R seatpost, which wraps carbon fiber around an elastomer to help eat up bumps. It works quite well and surprisingly the bike feels balanced. Yet because few concessions have been made in the actual frame, it gets up and goes like few endurance bikes do. Comfort and speed, all in one. It’s the Holy Grail of endurance bike design, right?
Well, that’s the good stuff. But as any mountain biker can tell you, the addition of suspension components, regardless of where a company decides to put them, adds some bad somewhere. There is always a tradeoff.
The Future Shock is undamped, meaning nothing controls the rate at which is compresses or rebounds. The springs at its heart can be swapped, stiffer or softer, to tune the system to rider weight, but fundamentally Future Shock is less advanced than the Rockshox Roubaix SL fork Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle won Paris-Roubaix on in 1992. It’s a tiny pogo stick, quite literally.
The Future Shock is designed this way not because Specialized has forgotten how to design rebound and compression dampers (they haven’t), but because dampers are heavy, and within the use-scope of this Roubaix they are mostly unnecessary.
Mostly. Not entirely.
They are necessary, and sorely missed, every time you get out of the saddle. Without any sort of compression damping or lockout, the handlebar just bounces up and down. Bounce, pedal, bounce, pedal, bounce. Some way to control the springs would be nice, too, when you dive into a corner and the handlebar dives with you. That’s a sensation that takes some getting used to. Some testers loved it; I found it disconcerting.
For actual Paris-Roubaix cobbles, or anything even remotely similar, this new Roubaix is exceptional. Last time I rode the Paris-Roubaix sportive, on a different endurance bike, I was legitimately concerned about being able to type the following day. When I rode the same route on the Roubaix this year my hands were completely fine, pain free. The Roubaix is the most comfortable endurance road bike in the world, perhaps second only to Duclos-Lasalle’s, sitting in a museum somewhere. For casual riders who are primarily concerned with increased comfort, FutureShock will be revelatory. But anyone looking for a do-it-all endurance bike, something to ride fast that will take the edge off, this is not it. Roadies now have to carefully evaluate they way they ride, where they ride, and what they want their road bike to do, just as mountain bikers do. That’s what the addition of springs forces us to do.
Component highlights: We tested a Pro level frame with Shimano Dura-Ace 9070 components, which is not currently available as a stock build. The current Pro model features Ultegra Di2. The price listed reflects the Ultegra build.