Specialized Tarmac SL6 Expert review

Reviewed by Robin Wilmott

Infinitely capable, satisfying and extremely rapid: an impressive bike

Pros: Well-rounded package, excellent performance

Cons: The graphics won’t be to all tastes

 

This Tarmac Disc Expert’s frame is built with FACT 10r carbon fibre, which is only two ‘r’s less than the top-level S-Works FACT 12r model. But just how much performance does this give away, and would you really notice?

For a start, this complete bike retails for around RM18,000, RM2000 more than the S-Works frameset, and for that you get a complete Ultegra disc groupset, plus Roval C38 carbon wheels.

 

The carbon seatpost is shared with the S-Works machine and it rolls on S-Works tyres, leaving only the alloy handlebar and stem looking a little less expensive.

Previously used on the S-Works, the camo finish on this model has a hint of ‘Dazzle’ camouflage, topped with fluoro orange graphics.

It’s a great package at a good price, and from the first pedal strokes, it’s obviously built for speed and weighs in at 7.63kg.

The features that brought the Tarmac range bang up to date less than two years ago still prove their worth on every ride. Most obvious is the response from the rear end.

The compact rear triangle with asymmetric chainstays, a seat-tube cutout to keep the wheelbase tight and an unmoving bottom bracket area, provide instant drive, with a little shove in the back when pressing on the pedals. Press harder and that shove becomes a tidal wave of acceleration.

Keeping the rear in check, and providing a solid foundation to push, pull and lean against, is the torsionally stiff front end and sizeable down tube.

Specialized’s alloy bar and stem feel rock solid, and pitting all you have against the Tarmac channels your energy rearwards with great efficiency.

Shimano’s latest Ultegra components feel closer in performance and tactility to Dura-Ace than ever, from the slim, comfortable hoods, to its positive, slick shifts and fine brake control. It’s so good, upgrading isn’t necessary.

Specced with 52/36 rings and 11-30 cassette here, it suits racers and weekend warriors equally.

The Tarmac rides uneven lanes like a surfer, dismissing incessant bumps, holes and adverse cambers with nonchalance, all while remaining in perfect contact with the ground, ready for the next steering or seat-of-the-pants movement.

Helped in no small way by the 26mm S-Works Turbo tyres (which measure 28.5mm here), the ride feels supple, with great surface feedback, and they have great bite in technical corners, holding on tenaciously.

Inflated to 75psi, there was no bounce when sprinting, just impressive speed and reassuring grip. There’s clearance for rubber that measures 30mm wide though, or the 28mm version of these tyres on these rims.

Through rolling, constantly varying terrain, the Tarmac’s ability to change direction, unleash sudden accelerations, stomp over hills and brake accurately into tricky turns makes it superbly capable and a seriously fast way to get from A to B.

The 38mm tall, usefully wide Roval carbon rims give the Tarmac great agility and tyre stability, while their relatively low profile ensures no nasty surprises in gusty winds. Their DT Swiss hubs spin with notable freedom, too.

The frame’s semi-compact, dropped seatstays design exposes plenty of the S-Works carbon seatpost, with its flattened rear face to flex freely.

Hours aboard the Toupe Expert Gel saddle only served to prove how comfortable and supportive it is. The Tarmac’s seated comfort is ably matched by its vibration-damped front end, which maintains great precision and sharpness.

Whether you’re looking for your first, second or umpteenth fast road bike, the Tarmac Expert Disc could be the only one you’ll need. When a bike’s this fast and capable, why pay more?

   
Weight 7.63kg (56cm)
   

Features

Available sizes 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Headset Integrated
Tyres Specialized S-Works Turbo 26mm
Stem Specialized Pro SL alloy
Shifter Shimano Ultegra
Seatpost S-Works FACT carbon Tarmac, 20mm offset
Saddle Specialized Toupe Expert Gel
Rear derailleur Shimano Ultegra
Handlebar Specialized Expert Shallow Drop alloy
Bottom bracket Praxis Works BB30 for Shimano
Frame Specialized Tarmac SL6, FACT 10r carbon
Fork FACT 10r carbon
Cranks Shimano Ultegra 52/36
Chain Shimano Ultegra
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 11-30
Brakes Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, 160mm/140mm rotors
Wheels Roval C38 Disc