2022 Specialized Allez Sprint review
The return of the alloy race machine.
The return of the alloy race machine.
There’s a new Allez Sprint on the block. And the unapologetically race focussed aluminium platform has arrived at a time when criterium racing is once again bursting with interest.
First introduced in 2015, the original Allez Sprint quickly became a bike with a cult-like following amongst Red Hook racers with its combination of aero tube profiles, a stiff structure, aggressive geometry, and an attainable price point. Specialized certainly went after a chunk of the pie that Cannondale then owned with its CAAD series, and like those older CAADs, the old Allez Sprints still collect a surprisingly high dollar in the used market.
The new 2022 Allez Sprint doesn’t stray too far from that original recipe, but it’s a wholly revised machine, and now an effective replica of the company’s flagship Tarmac SL7 race bike. And what comes without surprise, it’s disc-only.
I’ve been riding and wrenching on the new Allez Sprint over the past fortnight, just enough time to get a good understanding of what the new alloy race bike excels at and where it doesn’t. This review covers what’s new, the technical details to know, and how it performs.
And if you’re after the shorter version then certainly follow the link to my video review of the new Specialized Allez Sprint.
As has come to be expected of the company, Specialized hasn’t been shy with making some bold claims related to this new bike. The Californian company states the new Allez Sprint is the fastest alloy road bike ever created.
In wind tunnel testing, its aero shaping and hidden cabling supposedly puts it far closer in efficiency to the Tarmac SL7 than to its less speedy predecessor. The front of the bike is said to showcase the most complicated and advanced alloy head tube ever produced. And you’ll save hours of laundry time because you’ll barely be breaking into a sweat to ride at the speed of lesser bikes. Ok, I made that last one up.
At the center of these claims is some pretty wild physical manipulation of the aluminum material. Aluminium bike frames have gone through a few major innovations over the years and hydroforming is one of the more prominent examples, where hydraulic pressure is used to create impressively complex shapes that mimic those of carbon frames. Today, it’s rare to find high-end aluminium bike frames on the market from mainstream brands without such moulded tube shapes.
Specialized takes hydroforming to another level with its patented D’Aluisio SmartWeld technology, something that was first introduced to the Allez range back in 2013. SmartWeld takes greater advantage of hydroforming by creating unique tube shapes that move the weld areas away from the highest load points. SmartWeld also rolls the edges of the tubes, which not only creates a valley for the weld, but also creates more weld surface area versus traditional methods.
According to Specialized, the new Allez Sprint sees another progression of SmartWeld. With the main welds at the front end of the bike now positioned further along on the down tube and top tube, the Allez Sprint’s head tube provides an obvious visual example of SmartWeld and how it has progressed from the last Allez Sprint. This new head tube – with elongated top tube and down tube extensions – starts off as a stamped piece of aluminium that is then mechanically formed into shape, and that is then internally welded together into the head tube junction you can see on the front of the bike. The result isn’t just something that looks different, but is said to create a stiffer, stronger, more durable, and lighter structure, all the while providing room for the internal cable routing. In Specialized’s words, they couldn’t have created the new Allez Sprint without it.
It’s an impressive investment when you consider that each of the six frame sizes gets its own unique stamped, formed, and welded head tube with material thickness varied in each to suit.
The previous Allez Sprint used a similar SmartWeld concept at the bottom bracket, but the successor model takes another new path. Let your eyes follow that wide and shapely down tube in the hunt for the first weld junction, and soon enough, you’ll be at the opposite side of the bottom bracket. And this is because the bottom bracket is now hydroformed as one piece with the down tube.
“[This method] helps to remove some of the additional welds and materials required of the first-generation Allez Sprint, but at the same time utilizes the same material wall thickness across the entire tube versus butting two tubes together,” explained Specialized road product manager Cameron Piper. “This balances the ride feel of the bike.”
The regular old 68 mm English threaded bottom bracket sleeve is then bridged, welded, and machined within this one-piece hydroformed shell. The design also leaves enough room around that sleeve for the rear brake hose and gear cables to stay hidden within the frame, while also physically separating them from the crankset spindle.
The SmartWeld concept of creating a valley for the weld is employed at most other junction points of the frame, too. And equally, there’s not a single round tube to be found. Instead, all the tube shapes closely mimic those of the Tarmac SL7 – so much so that the Allez Sprint shares the same carbon aero seatpost as its carbon big sibling.
Specialized hasn’t shared any exact stiffness figures, but says the new Allez Sprint matches the company’s stiffness goals of the Tarmac SL7 and offers better power transfer than the previous Allez Sprint.
There are a number of other elements that make the Allez Sprint the alloy sibling of the Tarmac SL7. And notably, the full carbon fibre front fork is borrowed straight from the Tarmac SL7 Pro. I weighed my test fork at 418 g with an uncut 250 mm-long steerer and the thru-axle, but without the compression plug.
The new Allez Sprint also borrows the internal routing system from the Tarmac SL7, with a special headset assembly that feeds all of the brake hoses and gear cables (if applicable) through the oversized upper headset bearing.
Each brake hose and gear housing gets its own dedicated slot within the headset top cover and matching split ring, which then feeds each line into the frame. However, while the Tarmac SL7 features a stem cover that keeps these lines completely hidden from view, the Allez Sprint takes a simpler approach with the cables and brake hoses free to roam outside of the unique headset top cap.
The Allez Sprint is ready for use with any regular 1 1/8 in stem and matching handlebar, with no special cable routing needed. And changing out those components or adjusting stem height is no different to a bike with wholly exposed cables. The only tricky thing to know is that if the need arises to replace headset bearings, you’ll have to undo all the cables and hoses on the bike – a pain but nowhere near as problematic as bikes with completely integrated cockpits where everything is run internally. Similarly, you can expect that changing mechanical gear housing will be a more involved process, but with full length housings through the frame, changing just an inner cable will be simple.
Of course, I can’t ignore the fact that the Tarmac SL7 recently went through a rather public recall related to its headset and fork steerer. The issue was that the unique headset split ring was fairly sharp, and could cut into the carbon steerer in certain situations. Specialized’s solution, as also used on the Allez Sprint, involves two new parts. First, the new split compression ring now sits around a small stainless steel ring that protects the carbon steerer. Second, the compression plug that sits inside the steerer has been lengthened to run from the top of the steerer to well below the top headset bearing. There has been endless discussion over this, but from my point of view, this revised split ring fits together super snugly and holds tight, and the new, longer compression plug seems to provide safety redundancy that many other designs lack.
Some will scoff at the fact that the 56 gram, ultra-long compression plug shouldn’t be needed to make the bike safe. And to that I say it’s arguably no more needed than countless other bikes that people are riding today. Carbon steerer failure is one of those things that keeps tech editors awake at night, and while Specialized’s solution to provide a fail-safe may not be perfect, I truly believe it’s a step in the right direction. Ok, let’s move on.
The dropped and extremely pinched chainstays mean tyre clearance is also matched to the SL7. We’re talking easy room for 700×32 mm tyres front and back. And in reality, those figures are pretty conservative, so depending on your rim width, you could certainly go wider again.
Like the SL7, or really any other road race bike, there’s no need to worry about clearance for fenders because there are no mounts for them.
Normally, geometry gets its own dedicated section as it’s the most important part of any bike. However, there’s not much to say here – it’s yet another area that now matches the low and quick-steering Tarmac SL7. Geometry chart geeks will note some differences due to the Allez Sprint’s shorter head tube, but once you include the proprietary headset top cap (which must be used) all the important fit and handling metrics equal out. So the pros reading this don’t need to fret; your Allez Sprint will be an exact match in fit and steering geometry to your SL7. I’ll return to this geometry later.
As mentioned earlier, the seatpost is identical, and all models of the Allez Sprint are supplied with the same S-Works version as found on the carbon bikes. It’s impressively light at 173 g, is said to be one of the reasons why the new Allez Sprint is more comfortable than the old, and has a port for a Shimano Di2 junction box (which isn’t needed with 12-speed). A 20 mm setback version is provided as stock, but there’s a zero-offset version, too.
Obviously, the new Allez Sprint has a heap in common with the Tarmac SL7, but there are differences beyond the material.
As already mentioned, the headset internals are the same, but the headset cover is not. And while Specialized has a few different covers available for the SL7, they are currently only producing a single universal cover for the Allez Sprint. This cover has four guiding ports – two for mechanical gear housings, and two for hydraulic brake hoses. In the case of my test bike, wireless gearing means I was left to fill two blank holes with some rubber plugs. That said, it is possible to fit the concealed cockpit and matching headset top cap from an SL7 onto this frame. Still, it would be nice to see Specialized offer a dedicated top cap for use with electronic drivetrains.
Not unlike the SL7, you can run pretty much any groupset of your choosing on this frame, regardless of whether it has batteries or steel cables. However, the removable front derailleur tab is new for Specialized and provides the option for a cleaner 1x setup.
The aero seatpost is secured with an external clamp. It holds the carbon post with an iron grip and is arguably easier to adjust than an internal wedge clamp, but it’s worth noting, that like the post itself, it’s still a proprietary shape.
Other tech details include flat-mount disc-brake mounts that can take 140 or 160 mm rotors, and countersunk bolt-up thru-axles. They don’t have integrated handles so you’ll need a separate tool, but they have brass washers at the frame contact points, and they’re simply superb.
The new Allez Sprint may be within a claimed 12-16 seconds of the Tarmac SL7 over 40 km in a wind tunnel, but those calculations don’t consider the extra half kilogram of extra mass in the frame. Granted, that weight won’t make much of a difference to the clock outside of steep inclines, but it’s worth mentioning regardless.
My sample 52 cm Allez Sprint weighed 1,510 g (including paint, the rear thru-axle, derailleur hanger, press-fit headset cups, seatpost collar and bidon cage bolts). By comparison, the original rim-brake Allez Sprint frame tipped the scales less at just under 1,200 grams. My complete bike is 7.65 kg (without pedals or cages).
A healthy choice of vibrant and wildly painted frameset options helped give the original Allez Sprint its cult following, and the new Allez Sprint looks ready to continue this with six different paint schemes in the frameset alone.
As tested, the framesets are priced at US$1,700 / AU$2,400 / £1,599, including the fork, headset, and seatpost. No handlebar or stem is included.
This is a fair increase over the US$1,200 the original Allez Sprint frameset sold for, but such an increase shouldn’t come as a surprise given the way all bike prices have been trending. Meanwhile, the fact that Specialized includes the same fork and seatpost as its US$3,300 Tarmac SL7 frameset gives a good indication of the price difference at play here.
Specialized will also be offering the Allez Sprint Comp with a Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brake / mechanical shifting groupset plus decent alloy wheels for US$3,000 / AU$4,200 / £2,650. That is a US$700 premium over a similarly equipped Cannondale CAAD13.
Lastly, select markets will get the Allez Sprint LTD, a far higher-end and race-ready US$6,800 / AU$N/A / £N/A offering with a 1x SRAM Force AXS groupset and Roval Rapide CL carbon wheels. It’s a build that’s only subtly different to how my test bike was built up.
I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more complete bike options, but it’s likely the result of continuing component shortages throughout the industry. I speculate that we’ll see more spec options added as industry supply levels out in future.
As you can tell from the pricing, the new Allez Sprint isn’t really intended to be an entry-level road bike. Consider it more of a premium almost price-no-object aluminium racer. And that does raise the question of whether Specialized has something new coming for the regular Allez that has served the entry-level market for years. Specialized was coy about this, but the smirks in the Zoom room suggested such a thing is only inevitable. My fingers are crossed for a technological step back to round tubes with fuss-free and more easily serviced fittings throughout. The Allezthos, if you will (Specialized, you have my email to discuss licensing).
Stiffness. It’s perhaps the most cliched word commonly thrown around when talking about a new performance road bike, component, or pair of cycling shoes. And while the jury is out over whether it actually makes you any faster, it’s hard to argue that a stiffer bike just feels better when you smash the pedals in anger, or push the tyres to the very edge on freshly surfaced tarmac. And simply put, the Allez Sprint has such a feeling.
Some have complained that the recent Cannondale CAAD13 has traded off too much stiffness in search of comfort, and quite evidently, Specialized is aiming to appeal to those strain-gauge-straining powerhouses. There is an obvious connection between the handlebars and front tyre, or the bottom bracket and rear axle. And when you combine that undeniably quick handling that the Tarmac is known for, this is a bike that just feels like it wants to be ridden on the limit.
The new Allez Sprint is smoother than the last and far from a boneshaker of aluminium’s distant past, but it still produces more feedback than what Specialized will lead you to believe. There are many bikes on the market that offer an ultra smooth and comfortable ride quality that almost dulls the road, but the Allez Sprint isn’t one of them.
Such feedback through the frame can have benefits. It lets you sense the cracks in the pavement, the small bits of loose gravel over the top, and the bliss that is freshly surfaced tarmac. Now don’t try this at home, but upon closing my eyes, I could feel the wheels following the contours of the road, where the energy sapping cracks lay, and how the bike was rolling with it. Under an experienced rider, it’s this feedback that lets you feel when the rear tyre is braking traction, when your weight distribution is off in a sprint, or when the road camber is well suited to dropping a knee and letting it rail.
Maxing out the generous tyre clearance will no doubt help to add a huge dose of comfort and calm the steering, but you’ll only shift the needle from its firm ride and quick handling baseline.
From a geometry sense, Specialized’s performance road bikes are true race bikes and often feature more aggressive stack and reach figures compared to much of the competition. And like the Tarmac SL7, you can expect to have a lot of saddle-to-handlebar drop on the Allez Sprint. Although you could obviously run with an upturned stem, keep in mind the Allez Sprint really wasn’t intended to run a relaxed endurance-style riding position.
That said, there may be a few limitations for the rare few who are able to ride with an ultra-aggressive fit and often fit bikes with -17° stems and no spacers. The plastic upper headset cover must be used, and ultra-low bar positions may complicate the cable routing path.
Meanwhile, the edgy handling means that toe overlap is a given on smaller sizes. This is totally normal with most race bikes and has perhaps become more noticeable as tyre volumes have grown. And while I love the planted handling that the lower bottom bracket drop provides, it is something worthy of note for those who often try pedal through corners on tight and technical criterium courses.
There’s no denying this bike is a hoot to ride and it feels super fast. But does such stiffness actually make you faster? Without the data, I can’t say for certain, but I will say that what often feels faster can be slower, and the feeling of speed can often be the bike in a dispute with the surface beneath.
This analogy may only work for those who have ridden mountain bikes, but stick with me. Consider the choice of a hardtail versus dual suspension in mountain biking. The hardtail (only the front wheel is suspended) feels faster because it’s communicating more of the surface to you, while the dual suspension (both wheels are suspended) feels slower because it’s dulling that surface.
The Allez Sprint is the hardtail, a bike that rewards the rider with an immediate gratification to power input and a ride quality that’s akin to being behind the wheel of a stiffly sprung track car. On smooth and fast roads it’ll have you feeling like you’re on a boss level of bike handling and ready to tear the legs off your competitors as if they’re cast in a zombie film.
However, under a less experienced rider or someone suffering with deep fatigue from a big day on the bike, the combination of a firmer ride and quick steering geometry simply requires more attention, and such attention takes energy.
From a pure speed point of view, there may in fact be better bikes, but that’s not what made the previous Allez Sprint such a success. Rather, it was the combination of tangible performance with a bike that was fairly affordable, and in the event of a crash, would show you the scars you should be concerned about. The fact it had flair and looked fast didn’t hurt one bit, either. It’s this recipe that made the CAADs such a success, and the formula that the original Allez Sprints arguably took over in more recent years. The higher pricing likely puts the new Allez Sprint out of the grasp of the boot-strapped collegiate racers, but otherwise, it sure seems that Specialized has served up a familiar dish that many will love.
Justin Williams and the L39ION of Los Angeles crew.
Okay, okay, okay, you don’t need to be a professional-level criterium-specialist to enjoy the Allez Sprint. Although it is just about perfect for such an application.
What you do need to be super mindful of is that this is a race bike with fast handling and an aggressive fit. There are certainly countless better road bike choices out there for those who are nervous descenders or are often doing long days in the saddle where vibration fatigue is real. And so while the pricing may be slightly more accessible than many of Specialized’s carbon bikes, the Allez Sprint remains a bike that best belongs under a more experienced rider who enjoys fighting for town sign sprints or club criterium glory.
Aluminium bikes may feel like a more sustainable choice than a carbon fibre frame, and while the material is often telling of damage and easily recycled, it’s not so easily repaired. All kinds of damage to steel, titanium, and carbon fibre frames can often be repaired. However you’re unlikely to find a frame builder willing to do structural repair on a lightweight aluminium frame – the material just simply doesn’t handle excessive heat cycles as well. Specialized makes no claims related to the Allez Sprint being a greener choice.
Overall, the new Allez Sprint has easy component compatibility which should ensure easy ownership. It uses industry standard wheel spacing, the most common bottom bracket standard, the headset uses press-fit cups in case those bearing seats ever become worn, and even the headset bearings within them aren’t too hard to source.
However, the headset top cap (although in theory you can probably fit something like an FSA SMR/ACR system to this bike), headset wedge assembly, seatpost, and seat clamp are proprietary to Specialized’s current generation of performance road bikes. Specialized officially keeps service and replacement parts available for seven years after the last production year of that model – which is a decent period of time. Still, long-term availability to specific parts is worth considering if you expect to own a bike for decades.