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Sometimes the whole ‘aero’ road bike thing still feels like a new phenomenon, some cutting edge product designed for those who race for a paycheck. It’s not. The aero road bike is now a very mature product, with well established – if not understood – benefits, and no bike exemplifies this better than the new Specialized Venge, now in its third generation.
As riders we tend to focus on weight, it’s easily felt and elicits ‘oohs and aahs’ when picked up at the bike shop, but the reality is an aero advantage will get most of us to the finish line of the majority of grand fondos faster than a weight advantage, simply because most of us don’t have the aerobic engine or the BMI to really take advantage of the weight savings. Aero works big time, all day, even at a pedestrian 17mph.
But, wouldn’t it be easier to sell aero road bikes if they felt like a ‘regular’ road bike? What if they were just as comfy, just as light, just as lively at the pedals? This has been Specialized’s goal since the first Venge. Reduce compromises, make it ride like a jack of all trades, not a bike with a singular, aero focus. But of course, it still has to be the fastest aero bike on the road. By the way, make the bike easier to live with by eliminating crazy internal cabling and one-off integrated cockpits.
The previous two Venges, for all their race wins and our appreciation of their pure, breathtaking speed, never came close to these goals. They were specific tools, used by specific racers in specific races. They could never be described as ‘lively’ in the hills, they walloped their way across rough pavement and they were just plain heavy. Could this third generation Venge actually be a bike a rider could enjoy every day, on every parcours and still be blazingly fast?
Check out the new Venge in PELOTON 360.
We’ll stop burying the lead, we’ll quit stalling. The new Venge is smooth and lively, magic in the hills, alive at the pedals for quick jumps as well as all out sprints, an absurdly confident bike at the bars, it sticks in corners with grace and precision, even at the limit of your tire’s compound. It feels like a Tarmac – high praise indeed – just in a package that is faster than the otherworldly Venge VIAS. And just for good measure, it features a super quick, but super traditional bar and stem combo. Want a longer stem, wider bars? Easy. Want to run a typical round stem? No worries.
The obvious question is, ‘How the hell did they do that?’ It began with a young guy named Ingmar Jungnickel. He’s helped pioneer software that virtually designs and tests millions of tube shapes for aerodynamics, weight, surface area and ride quality. It’s similar to the ACE system BMC has been using for a few years, but instead of a complete frame, Specialized’s system delivers tube shapes that go well beyond simple truncated airfoils, creating what Specialized calls its FreeFoil Shape Library. It’s this family of tube shapes that makes the new Venge marginally faster than its more overtly ‘aero’ predecessors and marginally stiffer.
It also makes it lighter, way lighter. The old Venge VIAS had a 1200gram frame, the new Venge has a 960gram frame. When the fork and rest of the small parts are added, it weighs a whopping 460grams less. That’s more than a pound. So, while the bike is marginally more aero than the VIAS and slightly stiffer, it’s this weight saving that drastically improves its stiffness-to-weight ratio, which is what makes it feel more alive at the pedals.
First impressions are what matters in aerodynamics, so all the fancy tube shapes would mean nothing if the cockpit wasn’t quick and it is, which is incredible because it’s not truly integrated. Stems can be swapped, spacers added or removed, without having to re-cable the bike, unlike most of the competition’s integrated aero cockpits which complicate both fitting and building. Specilaized pulled this off by running the cables under the stem, not through it. The stem is also stiffer than the Zipp SL Sprint stem Sagan has been running all these years with the logos blacked out. This Venge stem comes in two angles, 6degree or 12degree, and lengths from 80 to 140mm. That is an aero advantage we can live with. The new Venge even has optional clip on aero bars, since it’s basically as fast as a Shiv TT bike. With clearance for 30mm tires, it’s also a legitimate threat at hard pack gravel events like Gravel Worlds, where those aero bars could come in very handy. With the right rim, a 32mm might fit.
The bike has plenty of other convenience built in. The Di2 junction box lives at top of the seat post, just under the saddle. We didn’t really see this as a convenience at first since to charge the bike or check battery level, you have to pull your saddle bag off. It’s also impossible to check lights from in the saddle. But it wasn’t our convenience Specilaized was interested in, the placement was actually requested by World Tour mechanics so they could easily check a rider’s Di2 without touching their bars while hanging out the team car window. Of course, it also gives mechanics another excuse to ‘help’ a rider up climb as they worry about ‘broken’ shifting. So, while a cool and stealthy spot, we’d prefer bar end or down tube placement.
Speaking of shifting, the Venge is electronic only, compatible with SRAM Red eTap, Shimano Di2 and Campy EPS. It’s also only available as a disc brake bike. That means cycling’s flat earth society – electronic bad, rim brake good – will be out of luck. Of course this is the same group that usually rails against aerodynamics as a nonsense fad, so no love lost.
As the Venge has gotten more livable in terms of fit and maintenance, more like a traditional bike, its geometry has done the same. It is now essentially identical to the Tarmac Disc. 410mm chain stays, same BB drop, very similar angles, effective stack and reach is identical, same wheel base, the similarities go on. After losing a pound of frame set weight and matching the Tarmac’s fit and angles so closely, it’s no surprise the bike feels so much like a Tarmac, just faster. In fact, the bike looks almost identical to a Tarmac. In broad strokes it shares the same lines, perhaps a bit chunkier, thanks to the deeper tubes, but other than that and a few angular lines around the head tube added by the industrial design team it is strikingly similar. They share dropped seat stays, rear wheel cut outs, direct tube lines, very little aesthetic flourish, making both, in our eyes, absolutely gorgeous as elegant tools designed for purpose with restraint.
The similarities are really no surprise when each bike’s development is looked at. Specialized wanted the Venge to be lighter and handle better, while the light and lively Tarmac has gotten more aerodynamic. If form follows function, and that is not always the case in bike design, the two bikes will eventually merge into the same platform, and the latest Venge and Tarmac are almost there. In fact, it’s amazing how similar most aero bikes look these days. The newly minted Cannondale SystemSix is a dead ringer for this Venge. Of course, this creates a problem for Specialized. Why two bikes? If the Venge is now so light, UCI minimum is easily achievable in smaller sizes, why would any of its pro riders choose the Tarmac? Why would you or I? Perhaps this is why the new Venge is disc and electronic only. Rim braking and mechanical shifting are now the Tarmac’s main differentiator.
We’re fans of disc brakes and electronic shifting, so if cost is no object, we buy a Venge and can’t really understand why anyone would choose a disc braking, electronic shifting Tarmac over it. It hurts us a bit to write that since we have been Tarmac fans for so long, but it feels redundant now. Of course cost is an object, a big one. This new S-Works Venge is $12500. The comparable Tarmac is $11000. See, the Tarmac is now a budget bike! But in all seriousness, with Tarmac versions under $4000 that are true barnburners on the road, it certainly has a place, but at the halo electronic, disc brake level, we don’t see it. There is a new king of the Specialized ring. It’s called the Venge.
2018 Specialized S-Works Venge
$12500 (frameset: $5500)
7.4kg/16.3lbs Size 58cm w/o pedals and cages
Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, S-Works Power cranks, Roval CLX 64 wheels, S-Works Aerofly II Bars with Venge Integrated Stem, S-Works Power saddle, Turbo Cotton 26mm tires
Here’s a look at many of the resources Specialized provided to illustrate where the new bike improves. The real improvement in our minds is the incremental gains in stiffness combined with the huge reduction in weight, which delivers the Tarmac-like ride and explosiveness. Keep in mind these are all Specialized numbers and have not been validated by a third party lab, although you can certainly feel them at the pedals.