A Bike Review, the 2018 Specialized Roubaix Expert, with SRAM Hydro eTap

It has been nearly 25 years since I purchased a new road bike, actually longer, as 25 years ago I only bought a new McMahon titanium frame, stripping all the necessary parts of my older Diamondback Master TG bike that I did buy as a complete bike a few years prior. That’s not to say that I haven’t owned a new bike or new frame since then, it’s just that those have been triathlon specific TT frames, optimized for riding in the aerobars. The history of those bikes will be in another story, to keep this one short.

But back to my new bike, a 2018 Specialized Roubaix Expert, with the SRAM Red Hydro eTap group set and power meter. Sharp eyed readers might note that the Roubaix Expert model does not come standard with the SRAM Red group set and they would be correct, I had to build this bike to get what I wanted, for four reasons, the four zeroes that followed the $1 in the price tag to buy a factory prepped S-Works Roubaix with SRAM Red eTap, $10,000, in US dollars.

For that amount of money you get the best of the best that Specialized and SRAM have to offer, including everything carbon that can be hung on a bicycle and a special paint job. Dropping down to the Roubaix Pro model, with basically the same frame and other parts, but with a Shimano Dura-Ace group set you can save $3,500. Dropping down one more level to the Expert model, you now get a slightly different modulus of carbon used in the frame, less carbon bits hung on the bike, specifically standard aluminum wheels, and you’re finally in the $4,000-$5,000 price range, depending on the Shimano group set. Weight wise the Expert model probably weighs 1-1.5 pounds more than the S-Works model, that’s what all those Zero’s behind the $1 get you!

Of course this is still no chump change, a pricey bike for most, but age does come with a few benefits, like slightly deeper pockets, but still not $10,000 deep! My dilemma was that I have been riding a Shimano Ui2 tri bike since early 2012 and I did not want to go back to a mechanical shifting system to save more money, feeling slightly spoiled by the ease of shifting. I will acknowledge that the electronic system did have a few bugs over the years, needing at least one wire to be replaced, a junction box that shorted out that cost me a couple of batteries, but when it’s all sorted out and working like it’s supposed to I prefer the electronic wizardry over the cable shifters of the past.

And then there’s SRAM, who came out with a wireless and novel shifting system a few years back. The right side shifter moves the rear derailleur to a bigger/harder gear, while the left side moves it the opposite direction, to a smaller/easier gear. Press them both and the front derailleur shifts to whichever chain ring it is not currently in, just like magic. Did I mention it was wireless? This is what really got my attention, no wires, no clutter, no junction box, simple. The derailleurs talk to each other which are then wirelessly connected to the shift levers. Additional buttons can be wired into the shifters and placed anywhere along the handlebar where you’d like better access, like while riding in the tops when you’re climbing, which I have not opted to add as of yet.

I had hoped that SRAM would move this functionality down to their next lower/less expensive group set, Force, but when I talked to a SRAM rep last year he said there were no immediate plans for this in 2018. Which meant if I really wanted this group set then I would have to pay for the top of the line Red group, either through Specialized with a bike already equipped with it, or build it myself, the route I took. That’s all good, but how does it ride?

First off, this is not Specialized’s top of the line road bike, that would be the Tarmac, and if I were a lot younger or an aspiring road racer that would be the model I would probably buy. But I don’t road race and therefore whatever minimal extra amount of effort or energy it takes to maneuver a Roubaix around twisty roads or up hills, greatly makes up for the lack of vibration and pounding that my body is subjected to. Friends of mine that ride the Tarmac can attest that this is a very stiff frame and on less than ideal roads, when you’re out for a long ride, it can be fatiguing. Which is why you see bikes like the Roubaix derisively referred to by the young guys and racers as comfort bikes or old-man’s bikes.

Well then fine, I’m older and want more comfort on the really long rides, so I’m okay with that. And when I’m passing guys on their Tarmacs riding uphill or on the longer rides, I won’t feel bad that being more comfortable means you can ride stronger and longer, but don’t tell them that! Continue to let them think that my old man’s bike doesn’t transfer the power to the pedals as efficiently as their bikes do or that the extra 1-2 pounds will really slow you down riding uphill. Guess what fellas, it really isn’t about the bike, it’s about the person pushing the pedals!

But again, I digress. All Roubaix models came with the following new and unique features in 2017: Specialized CG-R seat post, Future Shock “suspension” system, 700×28 tires, and hydraulic disc brakes, while I have upgraded my Expert model with the SRAM Red Hydro eTap group set and also added a SRAM Quarq power meter. As for color, I have managed to avoid the 10-20 year trend that featured red bikes or bikes with red accents, so I continued along those lines picking the Gloss Carbon/Chameleon Purple/Metallic White Silver model. It’s blueish from the front, purpleish from the back and all together pretty clean looking, IOMHO. Without wires or cables strung about to control the shifting, and with the disc brakes built into the wheels, the upper part of the bike is clean, very clean. Specialized even took it one step further by creating a storage device, called SWAT (Storage Water Air and Tools), tucked into the crotch of the main triangle so you don’t need to hang a bag behind your seat to carry your spare tire and accessories, cleaner still!

All together these pieces, along with the remodeled frame, minus the too tall looking head tube, that used to contain the famous Zertz inserts in the fork and seat stays, which have been replaced by the Future shock and CG-R seat post, work as designed and I have been putting them to good use.

I also want to add that Specialized makes a woman’s specific version of the Roubaix, it’s called the Ruby, and other than having a different geometry more suited to a woman’s build, it has all the same features. My wife owns one of the previous versions of this bike, with the Zertz inserts, and has loved it. Of course I took her into the bike shop and somehow she saw a new Ruby, in pearl white (quite pretty actually!), and wondered aloud if she too didn’t deserve a new bike? I just pretended not to listen and moved on…

I live in Santa Barbara and we have had several major disasters hit the area these past few months that have greatly affected and reshaped not only people’s lives but also the landscape in the surrounding foothills and mountains. I’ll spare you the details, but while everyone is mourning the loss of life, homes, and changes to our lifestyles, and while we all tried to regain some sense of normalcy in our lives, we’ve had to reroute our rides as all roads heading south out of Santa Barbara that we normally train on were closed for multiple weeks.

As such I have encountered some of the worst paved roads left in the county, as well as the highest climb available, up Gibraltar Road to La Cumbre Peak, the perfect test roads for my new “comfort” bike. The ascent and descent on each of these roads have in the past left me with tired hands and tight shoulders while bouncing over the old and new patches in the roads, while slaloming around the remaining potholes. The Roubaix’s shock absorbing seat post and stem have taken the hard edges off most of the bumps in the road, while the disc brakes require much less effort to control the braking on the long descent down the mountain top, nearly 10 miles, from 4000’ to sea level. By the time I reached the bottom I was not shaking out my wrists or shrugging my shoulders as I would be doing on my older bikes.

So for anyone that is maybe “slightly” older, who doesn’t need the absolute fastest and sharpest handling bike out there, or who generally finds themselves riding on less than smooth roads, the Specialized Roubaix should be on your short list of bikes to consider. The level of frame and group set that you desire will as usual be dictated on your tolerance for how deep a hole you can dig into your bank accounts. Regardless of the group set you wind up with, every model will offer you a sweet ride, more comfortable than any bike without their unique features, and leave you feeling stronger and less stressed at the ends of your rides. Anything that helps me ride longer and feel stronger is a good thing, as Father Time is not helping me out in that way, so thanks Specialized, I wholly approve!

P.S. As far as a review of the SRAM eTap group set, what I’ve read online seems to ring true, the shifting is not as quick as Shimano’s electronic group sets (which as I have already stated I have on my tri bike and can attest to first hand), but it’s not so slow to be an issue. It’s more akin to the speed of a mechanically shifting group set, but with the added benefit that it’s self-truing and once  you’ve ridden it a few times the changes to how you shift, each side controlling the rear shifting and selecting both to shift the front chain ring, becomes pretty much second nature. Actually riding this bike back to back for a few weeks before I returned to my old road bike I tried to shift it like my new bike and chuckled that 20+ years of STI shifting muscle memory could be undone so quickly. Damn, I hope it’s not an age related thing; maybe I need to add a sticker to the handlebar as a reminder! 😉

I also just wanted to give a special shout out to my local bike shop that built this bike for me, Hazard’s Cyclesport here in downtown Santa Barbara, with longtime owner Bruce Davis, built by super techie Rian. Thanks a lot!

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