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Specialized Road Bike Buyer's Guide: From The Aethos To The Sequoia Compared

Whether you need a Tarmac for tough races or a Diverge to discover fresh gravel, Specialized has a drop-bar bike for everyone. Here's how to pick the right road bike.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

Meet a group ride or watch a pro race and you're bound to see lots of riders aboard Specialized bikes. Specialized is one of the biggest bike producers in the world. The California company has produced groundbreaking bikes, won countless races, and developed a large fanbase. It should come as no surprise that it is currently the most popular brand we sell at The Pro’s Closet.

Specialized has everything from entry-level bikes to exorbitant dream bikes. Its catalog is expansive and covers all types of bikes from aero road to downhill mountain bikes. With so many Specialized models to choose from, how do you decide which bike is right for you? Start by thinking about what type of riding you're planning to do on your new bike. Where will you go? Do you want to race? Will you venture off the pavement?

This overview focuses primarily on Specialized road bikes, while covering some road-adjacent categories like gravel and cyclocross, as well as time trial and triathlon. Hopefully, we can help you make an informed decision when choosing your next ride.

[button]Shop all Specialized road bikes[/button]

Specialized road racing bikes

Road racing bikes will appeal most to competitive riders who want a bike that will maximize their efficiency and speed on pavement. Road racing bikes generally have a low riding position, aggressive geometry, greater stiffness, and responsive handling.

Specialized Tarmac


Tarmac SL6


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Frame material: Carbon
Who it's for: Road racers, and dedicated enthusiasts who put in big miles and need a high-end tool for riding hard.

The Specialized Tarmac is the classic road racing bike. It has an impressive history of success at the highest level of the sport, with victories in all three Grand Tours. The Tarmac is designed to do everything exceptionally well: sprinting, cornering, climbing, and descending. The Tarmac appeals to serious riders looking to hammer, whether it's in races, groups ride, or when chasing Strava times. 

2020 saw the release of the next generation Tarmac SL7. This new tarmac is now the flagship road bike in the Specialized range, replacing both the previous Tarmac SL6 and the Venge. The new Tarmac SL7 has become significantly more aerodynamic, allowing it to offer the best of both worlds, being both aero and light weight.  

Related bikes: Amira

The Amira was the women’s specific version of the Tarmac. It has been discontinued since 2018.

Specialized Venge (discontinued)

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Frame material: Carbon
Who it's for: Sprinters, breakaway artists, and riders looking to maximize their aerodynamic advantage for all-out speed on flat and rolling terrain.

The Specialized Venge is an aero road bike that reduces aerodynamic drag above all else. It was designed and refined in a wind tunnel and Specialized even collaborated with Formula 1 team McLaren to optimize the aerodynamics. Air resistance is one of the major elements riders have to work against on flat and rolling terrain, so the Venge improves a rider's aerodynamic efficiency to increase average and top speed. Due to its heavier weight, a Venge may not climb as well as a Tarmac, but the aerodynamics will have a huge effect on speed when riding on flat and rolling terrain.

The Venge has been discontinued since 2020 with the introduction of the aerodynamic Tarmac SL7

Related bikes: Venge ViAS

The second generation Venge was named the Venge ViAS. This differentiated it from the first generation Venge. The Venge ViAS was designed to be even more aerodynamic than the original Vange. For 2019, the ViAS name was discontinued and the newest version is simply called Venge.

Specialized Aethos

Frame material: Carbon
Who it's for: Climbers, weight weenies, and traditionalists

The Aethos is Specialized's lightest road bike and (for now) the lightest production road disc frame ever made. Specialized wanted to produce a classic bike without the aero shaping found on many modern road bikes. Its round-ish tubes, joined into a traditional diamond-shaped frame, are tuned to create an ultra-light frame with excellent stiffness and handling. The Aethos will accelerate and climb quickly, and it provides a natural, sporty ride quality that cycling purists appreciate. It shares the Tarmac’s geometry, so if you get along with the Specialized fit, there won't be any surprises. If you want to build the lightest road bike possible, conquer the steepest mountains, or just like how road bikes of the past looked, this is the Specialized to get. 


Specialized Allez

Frame material: Aluminum
Who it's for: Budget-minded riders and racers who want a competitive, fast, and well-rounded road bike.

The Specialized Allez is one of the most popular aluminum road bikes. It is the aluminum version of the Tarmac, giving you that great all-around performance at a lower overall cost. The main trade-off is increased weight. With Specialized’s recent improvements in aluminum hydroforming technology, the Allez has a ride quality that is almost as good as its carbon counterparts.

Specialized Allez Sprint

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Frame material: Aluminum
Who it's for: Racers who want a budget-friendly but aerodynamic frame that is incredibly stiff and responsive.

Criterium racers love the Specialized Allez Sprint. If the Allez is an alloy Tarmac, the Allez Sprint is an alloy Venge. The aluminum tubing is hydroformed into an aerodynamic shape and because of the D'Aluisio Smartweld (DSW) technology used in its construction, it is significantly stiffer than any other road racing bike Specialized offers. While the Allez Sprint may be harsh on rough roads and long rides, the exceptional stiffness means it has great power transfer and responsive handling. The Allez Sprint is an all-out race machine, and there have been instances of pros choosing the Allez Sprint to race criteriums.

Specialized endurance road bikes

Endurance road bikes are designed to improve comfort and speed on rough road surfaces over long distances. The riding position will generally be more upright. The frame geometry will be more relaxed for a more comfortable and stable ride.

Specialized Roubaix

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Frame material: Carbon
Who it's for: Riders looking for a fast bike that’s still comfortable for long distances, rough roads, and some unpaved surfaces.

The Specialized Roubaix is named for the legendary Paris-Roubaix, a brutally hard race that takes riders through the rough cobbled farm roads of northern France. The Roubaix is an endurance bike designed to have extra frame compliance to help absorb bumps. The Roubaix is a favorite for riders seeking comfort on long rides, or those who venture onto rarely traveled, rarely maintained roads. The newest version of the Roubaix has Future Shock technology, which provides a small amount of suspension at the cockpit to improve comfort and control.

Related bikes: Women's endurance bikes have been discontinued since 2019 and the Roubaix is now a gender neutral platform. Previously, the Specialized Ruby was the women’s equivalent of the Specialized Roubaix. The Specialized Dolce was an affordable aluminum version of the Ruby. 

Specialized gravel bikes

Gravel bikes are drop-bar bikes designed to handle all-terrain riding, splitting the difference between the speed and efficiency of road bikes and the off-road capabilities of mountain bikes. For more information on gravel and cyclocross bikes see our Gravel/Cyclocross Bike Buyer’s Guide.

Specialized Diverge

Specialized Diverge

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Frame material: Carbon or Aluminum
Who it's for: Gravel racers and riders who need a versatile gravel bike that’s still fast and efficient on paved road sections.

The Specialized Diverge is capable and fun on dirt, gravel, and flowy singletrack. The Diverge's geometry is slightly more relaxed than a road bike for stability when riding off-road. Thanks to its light weight and balanced handling, the Diverge is a good option for riders who want to tackle gravel roads with the same sort of speed and performance a dedicated road bike has on paved roads. Clearance for 38mm tires and additional compliance built into the frame improve traction and bump absorption. Future Shock technology also provides a small amount of suspension at the cockpit to further improve comfort and control.

If you're looking for a gravel bike that edges closer to mountain bike capability, the the Diverge Evo might be up your alley. It ditches the drop handlebars for flat bars that give you more control in technical terrain. It also has clearance for big 700c 47mm tires or 650b 2.1" tires. It is only available in the robust E5 aluminum frame. 

Specialized cyclocross bikes

Cyclocross bikes are built for cyclocross racing and have clearance for knobby tires, cantilever or disc brakes, and are designed to be easily shouldered while running.

Specialized CruX

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Frame material: Carbon or Aluminum
Who it's for: Cyclocross racers looking for a light, responsive, and versatile off-road capable bike.

The Specialized CruX has been developed over the years to handle sand, mud, grass, and obstacles that require riders to dismount and run while carrying their bikes. The CruX is light and stiff to accelerate quickly and easily out of corners. It has more aggressive geometry than a gravel bike. This helps it navigate technical ‘cross courses and react quickly when racing in tight quarters. The CruX does not have as much tire clearance or compliance as the gravel-oriented Diverge, but many riders will still use cyclocross bike like the CruX for gravel and off-road riding because of their lighter weight, and sporty handling. A true cyclocross bike will also be faster for the specific demands of cyclocross racing.

Specialized touring bikes

Touring bikes are designed to help riders comfortably and efficiently travel extreme distances, often over multiple days. 

AWOL (discontinued)


Specialized Awol


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Frame material: Steel
Who it's for: Bikepackers and long-distance tourers

The Specialized AWOL is a steel touring bike that is compliant and comfortable for multi-day adventures. It has plenty of mounts for racks and fenders. The clearance to fit larger 45mm tires also makes the AWOL a good option for touring on gravel and singletrack. The long, upright geometry makes the bike comfortable and stable, even when loaded with bags and gear. AWOL means “absent without leave,” and it’s a bike built to take riders far away, over mountain passes, down endless gravel roads, and even through twisting singletrack with everything a rider needs to be self-sufficient.

The AWOL has been discontinued as of 2018 and has been replaced by the Sequoia. 

Specialized adventure bikes

Adventure gravel bikes push the boundaries of geometry, wheel, and tires. They excel at rougher gravel roads and light singletrack trails.

Specialized Sequoia (discontinued)


Specialized Sequoia


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Frame material: Steel
Who it's for: All-around gravel riders who might do a little light touring 

The Specialized Sequoia is a steel adventure gravel bike designed to maximize comfort for long-distance dirt and gravel epics. The Sequoia isn’t as light and sporty as the Specialized Diverge, but it is rugged, dependable, and, most importantly, comfortable. For many, the supple ride of steel is unmatched, and the Sequoia utilizes premium cro-moly tubing with ultra-thin seat stays to maximize compliance. You can fit massive 45mm tires, which also enhance comfort and traction. It has stable, relaxed geometry for long stints in the saddle and the frame has mounts for bags and fenders, making the Sequoia a good option for light off-road touring.

As of 2020 the Sequoia has been discontinued in favor of the Diverge gravel bike. 

Specialized time trial & triathlon bikes

Time trials and the bike leg of triathlons are all about a single rider racing against the clock. TT/Tri bikes are designed to be as aerodynamically efficient as possible and are very specific tools that generally aren’t as good for casual riding or group rides.

Specialized Shiv


S-Works Shiv


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Frame material: Carbon
Who it's for: Time trial and triathlon racers

The Specialized Shiv has been extensively tested and shaped in the wind tunnel to ensure that it reduces drag as much as possible. That shows in its popularity and impressive pro race results. The Shiv comes in a standard version and a TT version. The TT version has some small differences, including a different fork, to make it UCI-legal. This allows it to be used in pro cycling. Most triathlons don’t require UCI-legal bikes, so the standard Shiv is preferable as it's the slightly faster option. 

[button]Shop all Specialized road bikes[/button]

Have questions about which Specialized bike is right for you? Hit up a TPC Ride Guide at (866) 401-9636 to discuss our current selection and find the ride that suits your cycling needs. Do you already have one of these bikes? Let us (and other cyclists) know in the comments what you love about your Specialized.