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We Rode The $20,000 McLaren Tarmac

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Jan. 31, 2015 — On a picture-perfect January day in California we headed into the hills surrounding Santa Cruz to turn the screws on the new McLaren Specialized. That’s right, a McLaren Specialized Tarmac. If you weren’t already aware of the partnership between the super-car manufacturer and bicycle goliath, the marriage has produced some incredible offspring. First, there was the McLaren Venge, then the McLaren TT Helmet, and now the S-Works McLaren Tarmac, a bored-out version of the benchmark setting S-Works Tarmac.

By Ryan Yee

Only 250 of these McLaren Tarmacs were produced, and if you don’t like the colors, Papaya Sunset and Tarmac Black, then you’d better call your painter. Oh yeah, and they better be insane with a brush, because each one of the 250 are hand-painted to precision by McLaren in Surrey, England.

This Monday, 20 of the world’s one-percenters, who have been patiently waiting, will gather in Morgan Hill, California, at Specialized’s world headquarters to pick up their new S-Works McLaren Tarmacs. The price they paid — $20,000. From what we understand, McLaren will be on hand with one of their super cars to greet the lucky recipients. But before they get theirs, we got an exclusive chance to demo the S-Works McLaren Tarmac — No. 001/250.

We loved the new 2015 Tarmac when we got our hands on one halfway through last year. In many ways it set the benchmark for us in the race-bike category. So we’ll cut to the chase: The McLaren version didn’t disappoint us with the upgrades. It was everything the standard S-Works Tarmac was but lighter. At 13.8 pounds equipped with a Di2 build and tubulars, it goes uphill in and out of the saddle like a rocket, responding instantly to each watt driven into the oversize bottom-bracket shell. With the new frame not attempting to set any weight records, we imagine much of the improved climbing performance came courtesy of the new Roval CLX40R wheels, 90 grams lighter than the standard CLX40s. To be fair, it’s marginal gains over a standard S-Works Tarmac, but even small improvements over what we consider the best platform for road racing is an impressive feat.

As good as it is going up, the McLaren Tarmac goes down better. Sometimes when bike manufacturers get silly trying to eke out every last gram of carbon the performance goes too, but that was not the case with the McLaren Tarmac. One of our favorite assets of the standard S-Works Tarmac was its stability and ability on descents and the McLaren didn’t lose that control one bit, even after being bored out.

Just hopped off first ride of the $20k @iamspecialized McLaren Tarmac. First 20 to be delivered to their owners Monday at Specialized.

A photo posted by peloton magazine (@pelotonmagazine) on Jan 31, 2015 at 3:27pm PST

Whether these bikes will be going on display like pieces of art in private museums belonging to car and bike enthusiasts, or being fully ridden and raced like they were designed and built, we are sure these special bikes will be appreciated. There will undoubtedly be the haters, those bemoaning a $20,000 bike as a ridiculous frivolity, but they miss the point. For the tax bracket buying these bikes, spending $20,000 is likely less of a burden than your typical weekend racer shelling out $180 bucks for tubulars. Specialized makes these bikes for press, to be sure, but they also make these bikes to learn lessons they will then apply to future bikes, without the McLaren designation or the lofty price tag, and that is something any rider should be excited about.

Check out our review of the 2015 S-Works Tarmac >>

Check out the tech details behind the 2015 McLaren Tarmac >>