It’s through no fault of
its own that the Tarmac has been overshadowed in Specialized’s race-ready road range
by the Venge – the bike that was ridden to green jersey success by Mark
and made headlines with its McClaren F1 connections

We think
overlooking the Tarmac is a mistake; in our opinion it’s still Specialized’s
most successful road bike design. While their Roubaix majors on comfort and
mile eating potential, it doesn’t quite set the pulse racing. The Venge, on the
other hand, is a brutally aggressive ride and so isn’t right for everyone. But
the Tarmac hits the ideal balance between the two.

The ride position is
aggressive enough, and the handling is wonderfully positive. We’ve loved
pushing the Elite hard, attacking descents as quickly as we dare and pushing it
at every opportunity. It responds exactly as we want it to, with no surprises,
and that’s testament to the wonderful chassis. Up front the tapered head tube
holds what is, by current standards, a slim fork and its considerable
resistance to side-to-side flex proves that it’s been constructed well.

Aside from the handling
it’s the comfort that’s impressed us. Over broken surfaces and rougher roads,
the Tarmac has a smooth cosseting nature, with no road buzz through the hands
and a level of comfort through the seat of the pants that’s spot-on – helped,
no doubt, by the slim ovalised seatstays and carbon seatpost.

While we’re obviously
impressed with the Tarmac’s core, where it is found a little wanting is in the
kit that completes the bike. The Elite comes with Shimano 105
gearing and brakes, plus an FSA Gossamer BB30 crankset – all good, but we think the chassis deserves better to reduce the overall weight. 

Where Specialized do
score well is with their own equipment. The Romin saddle is comfortable even
with its slim dimensions, and the neat adjustable stem, which works through
rotating an insert at the steerer clamp, is brilliant, enabling you to get the
bar set up just right. 

The Tarmac rolls on Fulcrum Racing 6 wheels, shod
with Specialized’s own excellent Turbo Elite tyres. Racing 6s are only
available as original equipment; they’re essentially an entry-level Racing 7
with an upgraded hub set. These were built well, stayed true and rolled smooth.

In all we’d highly
recommend the Tarmac as a platform. At this price we’d hope for better
equipment levels but if you see an Elite discounted anywhere then that could
make it one hell of a buy.

This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2012 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 260, on sale Friday 2 March.