After four years of work and an unprecedented collaboration with one of the most technologically advanced car racing companies, Specialized today revealed what it says is the lightest, fastest, stiffest, most aerodynamic road bike ever made. The company claims the Venge is a whopping 8% faster. And while the new McLaren version of the Venge (there are two models) is designed to win professional races, you can of course own it, too — for about $15,000.
The partnership between Specialized and McLaren began after UCI, the governing body that oversees racing, rejected Specialized’s original design for its Venge in 2009. Specialized went back to the wind tunnel to rethink aerodynamics and also tapped into McLaren’s three decades of expertise in carbon fiber construction.
In the wind tunnel, Specialized happened to turn the bike slightly perpendicular to the wind to see what occurred and stumbled into an “aha!” moment: Although bike companies focus on making the front of their bikes aerodynamic, most of the time the wind isn’t directly ahead. Side winds cause a ton of resistance and rob the rider of power. So Specialized made its seat stays (the upper part of the rear triangle) smoother and flatter, allowing the air to deflect more cleanly, rather than slowing the bike like a big sail. While that alone didn’t make the bike 8% faster, Specialized thinks they may have gained 4 of those 8 percent points right there — and they’re patenting the process.
Specialized announced two Venges — an S-Works version that costs around $9,100 and the aforementioned McLaren. Both are 8% “faster.” Or, put another way, the same rider has to work a heck of lot harder to make the S-Works Tarmac SL3 go 25mph, than to make the S-Works Venge go that speed. The reason is that the new bike is far more aerodynamic, especially in a cross-wind, thanks to those reshaped seat-stays and also a lower, hourglass-shaped head tube.
The new Venge is aerodynamic, but is it stiff enough? This isn’t an idle question. Pros like Alberto Contador are deeply concerned about getting power transfer from their legs through the rear wheel and only a stiff bike can do this. But by going more aero you often rob the bike of stiffness, because aero tubes are inherently wing-like — these non-round shapes are never as stout. So Specialized focused on making the bottom half of the bike, the part that’s largely out of the wind, “rounder” and as stiff as possible. The Big S claims that both Venges have a higher stiffness-to-weight ratio than competitors like the Ridley Noah (a very stiff bike) and the Cervelo S3.
The S-Works Venge and the McLaren Venge look identical in shape, but the latter was deeply reworked in the computer lab. McLaren’s goal was to get the same stiffness of the S-Works Venge and aerodynamic benefits, but at a lower weight. To shave grams, McLaren told Specialized that every ply of carbon had to be cut via computer, not by hand, so that fiber plies would barely overlap. In the same way that narrower seam tape has made waterproof/breathable garments lighter, this helps trim a significant amount of weight: The less of an overlap, the less fiber and also resin. The McLaren is 108 grams lighter than the S-Works bike, which amounts to a rather significant 5%. (Frame+fork+seatpost+crankset for the S-Works is 2,179g; McLaren is 2,071g.)
The bottom bracket, chainstays, and seatmast are one piece, made of continuous filament fiber, which ramps up stiffness. Because a built-in seatmast makes shipping a bike a chore and because you can’t easily make large changes in seat position, not to mention, height, Specialized is building the Venge with an adjustable-height, aero post. When the head of the post angles rearward, the setback is 20 degrees. Flip it around and the setback is zero-degrees.
The S-Works Venge with electronic Dura-Ace Di2 is $9,100; $8,700 with SRAM Red. Or $4,000, frame only. The bikes will be available in late April.
The McLaren bike is expected to sell for $8,000, frame-only, and probably for at least $15,000 complete, when it goes on sale in September.
RACING RIGHT NOW
Three riders each on SaxoBank, HTC-Highroad and Astana will be racing the present version of the McLaren Venge at at Milan-San Remo today, and riders like Alberto Contador (SaxoBank) and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) will be using the bikes throughout the race season.
For more, see the Venge microsite.