Specialized Tarmac SL3 Expert Review

The Specialized Tarmac SL3 Expert is back with a vengeance in 2012, in as much as any inanimate object can have such emotions. This is the kind of road bike that can make the difference between winning a race and just about sticking with the pack. So if you have aspirations to one day take part in the Tour de France or if you simply want to get the competitive edge in local events then you could do much worse than choosing this model.

Specialized has not messed with the basic composition of the FACT 10r carbon frame for this new model, because it was not broken and so did not need fixing. The SL3, weighing just 7.4kg, is effortlessly light and seminally stiff, so you can transfer power smoothly to accelerate at a pace or power along comfortably mile after mile as you look for your opening to make a break for the finish line.

The carbon frame is backed up by a FACT carbon fork, continuing the themes of stiffness and light construction which are vital for this kind of bike to succeed. Shimano Ultegra components fight for your attention on the drivetrain and brakes, ensuring that shifting is handled without incident and braking is always under your control. The Ultegra kit on the SL3 compares to Ultegra Di2 on the Tarmac SL4 and Dura-Ace on the S-Works SL4. However, compare the £6,200 and £4,500 price tags for those bikes with £3,000 for the SL3 and you’ll realise that this is good value for money, or so we think.

The Specialized Tarmac SL3 Expert handlebars are the only major alloy feature of the bike, but have been redesigned in order to improve the ergonomic aspects and make it easier to find a comfortable position for your hands as you ride.

Supporting the Tarmac SL3 Expert is the Fulcrum Racing 4 wheelset along with Turbo Elite tyres that are protected with BlackBelt technology to prevent wear and tear having a premature affect on the way the bike operates. The seatpost is from the Specialized Comp carbon range and so sustains the stiffness throughout the bike. This works well in tandem with the Body Geometry Romin Comp saddle and its Cr-Mo hollow rails which manage to be both lighter and more durable than alloy-railed alternatives.

Specialized has decided to give the Tarmac SL3 Expert a business-like look in 2012, even doing away with the bright detailing on the tyre walls in favour of a simple black frame with white branding throughout, white grips and a white saddle covering. The result is definitely pleasing to the eye, with the smoothness of the carbon construction allowing the disparate elements to blend into one another.

The Tarmac SL3 is essentially a scaled-down version of the kind of tour-winning road bikes which could cost two or three times as much for professional riders to purchase, were they not sponsored by many of these companies. The handling is amongst the best in the business and the composure of the stiff frame should mingle with the rider to encourage confidence and kinship. Ultegra components are not to be sniffed at and the same goes for the light, fast-rolling wheels. The only thing you could really ask for is internal cable routing, which is unfortunately missing in this price bracket, thus the 4.5 score rather than the full five stars.