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Throwback to the first Specialized Venge

From issue 4 | Words by Ben Atkins

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Five years in the making, Specialized has unveiled the Venge, its new aero road frame—a flagship model produced alongside British Formula1 team, McLaren. The tube profiles and shapes have been developed by Specialized’s own design team, but McLaren’s years of expertise at composite development has been utilized to produce a frame that Specialized says is lighter and stiffer than any other aeroframe.

According to the official story, the inspiration for a new aero frame came to Specialized’s R&D guru, Chris D’Alusio, during the development of the Transition time trial and triathlon frame. The problem generally faced by aero frames though, is that they are either too flexible or heavy—or both. This was something that Specialized was determined to overcome.

In 2009, the UCI rejected the original design, forcing Specialized back to the drawing board. It was at about this time that the company’s relationship with McLaren began. The British race car team was looking to apply the technology and experience it had developed over 45 years at the top of Formula1 to other sports, as part of its Applied Technologies division.

The aerodynamic profiles of the frame were developed using CAD and plenty of visits to the wind tunnel; this was all done with the collaboration of the composite and engineering departments though, to make sure the frame shapes didn’t interfere too much with the frame stiffness. The aim was to get the frame’s stiffness as close as possible to that of the Tarmac.

The frame features a tapered steerer with a lower diameter of 13/8, narrower than the 11/2 of the Tarmac, but it also has a one-piece bottom bracket and chain stay section to make that area as rigid as possible.

One feature that Specialized is particularly proud of is the cambered airfoil cross-section seat stays. These are flat on their outer surface and rounded on the inner, which reportedly stabilizes airflow in crosswinds, something that racing cyclists constantly have to deal with.

The straight-bladed aero fork carries a 3:1 cross section, while the ovalized seat post is reversible so that riders can choose between a 20-mm setback or none at all. All cables are internally routed to keep the lines as clean as possible, and an integrated headset top cap helps to create a seamless interface between the steerer and the top tube.

The S-Works model has been constructed using the same FACT IS 11R method as the Tarmac SL3, creating a frame, fork, seat post and crankset module that is lighter than its rival aero road frames. And Specialized’s numbers suggest that it’s also much stiffer.

The application of McLaren’s technology and experience has allowed Specialized to create the S-Works + McLaren version. With far better finite element analysis software, and its years of composite experience, McLaren has been able to “design carbon layup schedules and fabrication methods resulting in 15% better optimized tube sets.”

Layup patterns were designed by McLaren to eliminate overlap and shave grams with every carbon ply; the plies themselves were cut using computerised fabric cutters, which further minimizes excess material.

A McLaren advancement, which was borrowed from Formula1, allowed Specialized to eliminate an entire ply of non-structural laminate. This usually coats the inside of the frame to facilitate the removal of the mandrel after layup; without this layer, McLaren has saved an extra 40 grams.

In essence, McLaren was able to take a frame that Specialized was already proud of and make it much lighter, while improving the stiffness-to-weight ratio.

While the S-Works module weighs in at 2,179 grams for a 56-cm frame, the much stiffer McLaren comes in at 2,071 grams. While heavier than the lightest road frames, it’s almost half a kilogram lighter than many of its rival aero modules.

Straight into action and straight to the top of the podium
The S-Works + McLaren Venge was unveiled to the world this March at Milan-San Remo. Ten riders from Specialized-sponsored ProTour teams (Astana, HTC-Highroad and Saxo Bank-SunGard) were astride the new bike, including race favourite, Mark Cavendish.

It was Cavendish’s teammate, Matt Goss that gave the bike its maiden victory in its very first race. Just ten days later, Cavendish opened his own account on the Venge, taking his third victory in the Scheldeprijs.

Goss and the Venge
Matt Goss was one of ten riders Specialized sponsored to debut the new S-Works + McLaren Venge at Milan-San Remo, and he promptly handed the new bike a victory in its first ever race.

“It feels like a different bike to the SL3, that’s for sure,” said the Australian. “It’s a lot more direct, a lot more rigid. I think the stiffness is not much different; they said that the angles are the same as the SL3, but I really notice it. I feel like I’m more over the front of the bike, which for me really helps the handling of the bike, especially on the descents,” added Goss.

“When you turn in, it turns in with you,” he added. “I think it’s quicker-responding than the SL3, which is, for a sprinter, something you like, said Goss. “It certainly feels fast! I can’t complain; I’ve won my biggest race!”

As far as the connection to McLaren is concerned, Goss is as impressed as you might expect. “It interests me if I get a nice car out of it,” he laughed. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool I guess to see the launch with the Formula1 team. I guess we don’t have a lot to do with that kind of thing, but the paint job’s really nice!”

From issue 04.