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March 19, 2013
There’s a common misconception that aluminium frames are associated with “harshness”. I remember my first aluminium bike — a 1990 Cannondale R600. It had an aluminium fork and was stiff and harsh as could be, but it was the bees-knees at the time. Things have come a long way since then and riding this aluminium S-Works Allez showed me that you can’t judge a bike’s comfort just by looking at what it’s made of.
Aluminium has been discontinued in many brand’s high end models, but Cannondale has continue to use it in their CAAD10 which is a shining example of what can be achieved with aluminium. Specialized have always used aluminium in their Allez models, but have now built a limited edition S-Works Allez (i.e. top of the range) with only 110 made Worldwide. With their new way of manufacturing aluminium frames, they’ve mimicked the geometry and tube design of their Tarmac models which are made from carbon fiber.
You can read all about what Specialized has to say about their Allez S-Works here.
BEFORE THE RIDE
This limited edition Allez is Specialized’s way of showcasing their aluminium engineering capabilities. Specialized have used a method of butting, hydroforming and then “smart welding” the E5 aluminum alloy frame at its head tube connection where the top and down tubes meet. These new hydro-formed tube connections create a weld groove that’s filled with weld material, which is said to allow a stronger, but also lighter finished structure.
What is hydroforming? You can see a video on the hydroforming process here, and read more about it here.
The Allez S-Works is built up with SRAM Red, Roval Rapide CLX 40 carbon clinchers (1,400g), S-Works Tarmac oversized carbon lightweight handlebar, S-Works FACT carbon seatpost and fork. It’s essentially an aluminium version of the Tarmac SL4 S-Works. At $5,999, this is excellent value for money when put up against other bikes on the market.
The bike that benefits from the trickle-down framebuilding technology Specialized has employed is the Allez Race. It has the same E5 Aluminum frame with hydro-formed tube connections and is outfitted with SRAM Rival, but is half the price ($2,499 AUD). If you’re on a budget, this is a bike that’s worth looking into.
The geometry of the S-Works Allez is nearly identical to the Tarmac that I’m accustomed to riding. It’s available in sizes from 52cm to 61cm. There are a few minor differences in some of the sizes, but if you’re comfortable on a Tarmac, it’s a safe bet you’ll be comfortable on the Allez S-Works:
AFTER THE RIDE
The first thing I have to admit in this review is that I only took this bike for a 90km ride. I went through some varied terrain which gave me a good feel for the bike and how it rides, but it usually takes me two to three rides before I really start noticing the intricacies of a bike. This Allez was in high demand, so unfortunately I only had it for a couple days.
Other reviews I’ve read on the Allez S-Works say that the stiffness of the bottom bracket is lacking, but I can’t say that I noticed this. Specialized build the Allez with a BB30. What I usually do for a quick BB stiffness test is put the bike up against a wall (with the bars and saddle touching the wall) and simply press my foot against the BB to see the deflection. This is far from being a precise measurement and of course there’s some wheel flex in there, but this method usually gives me a good gauge and comparison.
The Allez S-Works has a slightly softer BB than my Tarmac (this is a simple trait of carbon versus alloy), but it wasn’t something I could feel in the ride quality when I got out of the saddle and put some power down.
When riding the bike there was a noticeably different “hum” which the aluminium frame produced versus any carbon frame. Carbon doesn’t transmit the high frequency”buzz” of the road like aluminium does. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s simply different. However, the Allez does a good job at dampening any bigger hits on the road such as road cracks and manhole covers.
The carbon fork and seatpost manage to soften the blow much more effectively than my memories of my first aluminium bike. Comfort-wise the Allez is certainly no aluminium tooth-rattler. Comfort is related to fit, not material. I’m very familiar with the Tarmac geometry so adjusting my fit to the Allez and making the transition was no problem at all.
I could really notice the characteristics of the Allez S-Works’ steering and handling when I was descending. It felt no different than my Tarmac, which I would consider “fast” (meaning that little input is needed). The bottom bracket drop combined with trail will determine how a bike steers. This Allez (and Tarmac) has a BB drop of 69mm and trail of 56mm, which, on paper, says that it will be a fast-steering bike. On the road, it translated to exactly what I expected. In short, the bike is nicely suited to criteriums and descending.
Click here to read more about the geometry of bike handling.
So, which do I prefer out of the Allez S-Works and the Tarmac? Well, that depends on what type of mood I’m in. I love the craftsmanship, detail, aesthetics and character of the S-Works Allez. Combined with the Roval carbon clinchers, I’d be a very happy man owning one of these bikes. However, for the overall “feel” on the road, I’d still choose a Tarmac. It’s an incredible bike and I reckon Specialized have nailed the ride quality in its design. That said, it’s also far more expensive (the Tarmac Pro, which has a lower spec, retails at $6,499).