Even standing still the SL3 has an aggressive lean to it. The muscular head tube, massive down tube, and arching top tube strung taught like a bow hint at a potential for speed we all dream of. Looking every bit like an air force skunk work's stealth fighter, the Superlight version of the Tarmac SL3 is a blackbird designed to fly. It dispenses with cosmetic carbon, paint... even clear coat to make it better, stronger and faster. This could be the Six Million Dollar Man's bike.
I won't pretend I'm qualified to discuss superbike performance in terms of vertical compliance and lateral stiffness, but the bike is responsively stiff. I described the sensation previously as "ruthlessly efficient". There's no apparent flex under power, no kick or bounce as you sling the bike left and right when out the saddle. My sprint tops out around 32mph which wouldn't keep up with a PRO cruising on his TT bike but at 176 lbs, I'm heavier than those greyhounds. When it comes to stressing bikes like the Tarmac what I give up in watts I make up for in sheer body mass ;-)
In any event, the Tarmac was unfazed by anything I did during our three weeks together, deliberately or accidentally, including falling off. By all accounts it was a spectacular ejection.
For a thoroughbred race bike the SL3 is remarkably comfortable. Handling is quick and precise but never skittish. Two years of design, prototyping and testing produced new shapes for the seat stays and chain stays. The former to improve ride quality and forgiveness over less than smooth pavement, the latter to improve power transfer. Clearly this works. Those of you riding Tarmac SL2s should notice a difference; the SL3 is 10% lighter and 18% torsionally stiffer than your Tarmac.
Weighing less than the UCI limit the Superlight featured Zipp 202s shod with S-Works tubulars; SRAM Red running S-Works 53/39 chainrings and an 11-25 Red Cassette; a rear derailleur tricked out with ceramic bearings; TRP 960 calipers front and rear; S-Works carbon bars; S-Works alloy stem; Toupe Team saddle and a very secure pair of Specialized carbon cages.
Road bikes, and particularly carbon road bikes are in the habit of making the odd disconcerting noise. The SL3 was absolutely silent except for the smooth whir of the drive train and the positive click of the Red shifting. I have no doubt Specialized mechanics deserve credit for a bulletproof build, but the FACT IS S-Works 11r frame quality has a lot to do with it. You can find the full technical specs here.
During it's three week stay with Velodramatic the latest Tarmac got several comments from riders stopped at traffic lights and one surprised pickup driver.
I'm riding the SL3 home from work, waiting for the long light at Lawrence Ave to change, when I notice the driver of the pickup beside me pointing at the bike. He's fifteen feet away and its tough to hear over the roar of traffic.
He rolls down the passenger window and shouts "Nice bike". I nod and grin.
I pause to consider an answer then holding up both hands, fingers splayed... respond "ten!"
Puzzled, he mouths the words "ten what?"
Another pause... "Ten thousand" I reply and his eyebrows nearly shoot right off his forehead, so to make him feel better I add...
"It's not mine, it's a demo"
that appears to help, his eyebrows return to his head which he's shaking side to side "wow"
I sense the light has changed, give him a friendly wave and roll away, smiling to myself.
In actual fact the msrp on the Specialized Superlight I was riding is $9200... leaving him a full $800 for his first bibs, shoes, jersey and helmet. Now that's how to spend a perfect "ten".
Having gotten a taste for flying the "blackbird" it sure was tough to come back to earth and give it back. This is great race bike in the unlimited performance category. I wish I had the legs to truly test its limits but that wouldn't stop me from buying one. In the meantime I'm hatching a plan to test the SL3 with Di2.