Review: 2010 Specialized Tarmac Expert SL

What: 2010 Specialized Tarmac Expert SL
MSRP: $3300
The Skinny: A Pro-level performer at an enthusiast level price.

If you’re anything like me (and I hope your not for your own sakes) then you spend copious amounts of time on the internet trying to decide how you want to upgrade your bike. I’m the type who researches everything from what the manufacturer says to what other websites and message boards say because I want to make a good purchase. I don’t want my enthusiasm for a product to turn to sadness because it tends to break. That said, I recently bought a 2010 Specialized Tarmac Expert SL and know there’s some of you out there who are considering the same. This also gave me a chance to try out the new Shimano Ultegra 6700 which has been getting a lot of attention. I switched the saddle, bars and stem to my liking (look for a future review) and then gave the bike a thorough workout over the course of the next two weeks. So far, it has surprised me in several ways, including the Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheelset, which although is quite heavy at almost 1800 grams, has silky smooth bearings when adjusted properly. The wheels pendulum until gravity finally centers the valve stem at the bottom. They make a great training wheelset. Enough about that though, on to the good stuff.

The Tarmac Expert SL is 17.5 lbs as you see it here

The Tarmac Expert SL is 17.5 lbs as you see it here

The Frameset

The 2010 Specialized Tarmac Expert SL is one of the best bicycles per dollar available. The frame is the same FACT 10r carbon layup as the Pro frame. The differences are the colors and component spec. Personally I was very happy to have the expert because I was eager to try the new 6700 Ultegra and I liked the white paint scheme. The frame is exceptional. It’s incredibly stiff, yet even without any Zertz fittings like previous iterations of the Tarmac frame, it’s also compliant enough for a double century. Not once has it ever felt harsh to me. As an example of how comfortable the bike is compared to my old Lemond, I’m running 120 psi right now and would never run more than 100 on my old bike. The best part is, at 120, the Tarmac is still 10 times more comfortable. So far I’ve put around 300 miles on it and I still feel like I’m nowhere near discovering the limits of its stiffness. Its stability is also incredible. Lean it over hard on a descent and it’ll reward you with crisp turn in and seemingly endless amounts of grip thanks to the huge down tube and stiff fork. The whole lower half of the frame is massive from the 1-1/4 lower bearing down to the gigantic BB area. The rear stays also continue this trend and add to the rigidity of the frame. I couldn’t be happier with the performance characteristics of this frameset.

Notice the Fact 10r Carbon Frame

Notice the Fact 10r Carbon Frame

The Gruppo

There was a lot of hype about the new 6700 Ultegra and I was eager to see if it lived up to it. So far so good. The new system shifts crisply albeit with more necessary force than the old system. Blame it on the new routing of the shift cables along the bar. Thus it requires more force than before and a slight amount of vagueness is introduced into the system thanks to all the new cable bends. However, shift force is still much less than Sram. Compared to my Dad’s 6600 though, it’s not quite as silky. I went with Nokon shift cables to maximize the crisp shift feel and haven’t regretted it. The Nokon cables do a great job of eliminating the vagueness that some people have complained of. Every shift is crisp and smooth and very fast. Slightly faster than previous Ultegras. For the most direct lever and shift feel, you can’t beat a Nokon cable system. I thought I wouldn’t like the hood shape, but in fact I love it. Yes it’s a little big, but I have large hands and the flat top section makes for a very comfortable perch. The brakes are classic Shimano, and the lever shape fits comfortably under my fingers. The brakes are powerful and benefit from Dura Ace’s new pad compound. These stoppers slow you down in a hurry, though not so much that it feels like they’ll lock up. Modulation is superb. The new cranks are as stiff as anything I’ve ridden, though I was expecting something amazing in the up-shift to the big ring. I think the new chain ring design is great, and upshifts are quick, but in my opinion they’re not amazingly so over the 7800 Dura Ace chainrings. That’s not to say it doesn’t shift good! It shifts amazingly well, but I think half of that is because of the compression-less Nokon housing. The other half we’ll credit to the new chainring design. Overall, no one will be disappointed with the new Ultegra. It may not be perfect, but it’s a leap better than the last generation.

The Verdict

The 2010 Tarmac is a world class frame for an affordable price. When combined with Shimano’s 6700 Ultegra groupset, an almost race-ready bike becomes available to those without deep pockets. It’s more bike than anyone non-pro can handle. It’s super comfortable, yet incredibly stiff. The more aggressive geometry and absence of Zertz fittings keep the frame from feeling dead, which are the two reasons I didn’t get a Roubaix. Currently ridden by three Art’s employees including myself, the Tarmac is everything a race bike should be. At 17.5 lbs with cages, computer, and pedals, I couldn’t be happier with my purchase.

Hammer On