Cobbled Classics: Tom Boonen’s Specialized Roubaix

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Tom Boonen raced his last Tour of Flanders last weekend, and team sponsor Specialized made sure he was properly fitted for the occasion — both literally and figuratively. An untimely drivetrain issue spoiled the fairy tale ending, but Boonen will get one last chance for glory on this same bike at Paris-Roubaix — the last race of his illustrious career.

Not a standard Roubaix

Specialized’s latest Roubaix has replaced its long-running Zertz elastomeric inserts with a proper suspension unit, dubbed Future Shock, that sits in between the standard stem and steerer tube. Inside is a simple steel coil spring that provides up to 20mm of movement; multiple spring rates can be used to adjust how sensitive the system is to bumps.

Boonen says that on a non-suspended bike, his technique for riding the cobbles was to lift and throw the front end where it wanted it to be — an impressive sight we witnessed in person when this latest Roubaix was launched this past June. But on this new machine, he says he can now sit down more when climbing the bergs, while also pushing more on the bars without the front end being thrown about and losing traction, which is not only faster but saves more energy.

While the consumer-spec Roubaix shares the same Future Shock mechanism, Boonen’s bike gets two critical changes: a longer and lower geometry (with a level top tube) that lets the tall Belgian more comfortably stretch out his back, and conventional rim brakes instead of the disc brakes used exclusively on standard versions.

Boonen openly prefers disc brakes from a performance standpoint, but the switch to rim brakes was nonetheless warranted by the chaotic nature of support at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix; the specific spare wheel or bike isn’t always available when you need it to be, and it’s oftentimes better to err on the side of caution to ensure the ability to carry on.

Despite those precautions, Boonen was caught out at the base of the Taaienberg with a drivetrain issue — not a tyre problem — and while the team car wasn’t far behind with his spare bike, that one had a drivetrain problem as well, and the Belgian’s fate was sealed.

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