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Used bike buyers guide: Specialized Tarmac

By Micah Ling

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Used Specialized Tarmac bikes
What Tarmac is right for you?

First launched in 2004, the Specialized Tarmac was created to be a pure road racing bike, at home on epic climbs. It’s light, it’s stiff, and it’s responsive. And pros have ridden the Tarmac to overall and stage victories in all of the grand tours.

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History of the Tarmac

The original Tarmac stood out because of its arched top tube. Originally, Specialized made this tube half aluminum and half carbon fiber, to combine the stiffness of aluminum with the light weight of carbon. But it switched to full carbon after just one year. Specialized also fully integrated the bike and added size-specific chain stays.

Cycling legend Tom Boonen helped develop early versions of the bike for the highest levels of racing.

Specialized started by creating its Rider-First Engineered™ technology, which ensures that all sizes perform the same. Engineers then designed wishbone seat stays that were customized for each size. They also added silicone mandrels — flexible inserts that strengthened and lightened the frame.

In 2015 Specialized introduced disc brakes to bring the Tarmac into the modern era of road bike technology. That generation also got a new fork and aerodynamic features. In 2019, Specialized introduced a new women’s version of the Tarmac.

Today, the latest Tarmac SL7 still is stiff, responsive, and lightweight, but also comfortable enough for all-day riding. Plus, it is now exceptionally aerodynamic, essentially replacing the outgoing Venge aero bike, making it the ultimate all-rounder.

Tarmac timeline:

2004-2007: Specialized introduces its half-aluminum/half-carbon road racing bike, with an arched top tube that would remain virtually the same until 2015. It switched to an all carbon frame in 2005 and created size-specific frame geometry and construction.

2008-2014: Specialized created new seat stays and debuted a more modern construction method — namely, they implemented silicone mandrels. These flexible inserts allow lighter and stronger frame sections. They also tweaked the aerodynamics.

2015-2018: The Tarmac was offered with disc brakes for the first time in 2015, and came with size-specific forks in order to perfect the steering. It redesigned the down tube, made the top tube flat, and added more aerodynamic features.

2019-2021: The Tarmac SL6 launched in 2019. In 2021 the Tarmac SL7 replaced the SL6 as well as the aero Specialized Venge to become the brand’s primary road racing bike. The name of the game with the most recent iteration is aerodynamics.

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Different builds

No matter which iteration of this bike you choose, you’ll be getting a light, fast, responsive ride. Here are some of our favorites that have come through TPC’s inventory.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4 Road Bike - 2014

Specialized Tarmac SL4
This version shaved weight but managed to boost stiffness. It features internal cable routing, FACT full monocoque carbon fork with tapered steerer and Shimano Dura-Ace components.

Specialized Tarmac Pro Ultegra D12 - 2017

This high-end frame with hydraulic disc brakes also comes with Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting. The FACT 10r carbon frame and S-Works FACT full carbon fork with tapered construction provides stiffness and responsive steering. This Tarmac also got some aerodynamic tweaks, such as the dropped seat stays.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac Sagan Superstar Road Bike - 2018

Sagan Superstar edition Specialized Tarmac
Made with new FACT 12r carbon, the Sagan Superstar allowed Specialized to shed 200 grams. It also has dropped seat stays and a new seat tube shape. The Superstar has a tire clearance of up to 30mm.

Specialized Tarmac SL6 - 2019

The SL6 adapted the latest aero innovations to a lightweight disc-brake road racing bike. In fact, it is more aero than the first iteration of the Venge — Specialized’s all-out performance race bike. But it is also comfortable enough to take on tough, cobbled roads.

Specialized Tarmac SL7 - 2021

Specialized Tarmac SL7
The newest Tarmac is the ultimate racing machine. It weighs less than 6.8kg and is so aerodynamic that it’s claimed to be 45 seconds faster than SL6 over a distance of 40km. It’s more comfortable than previous models, comes in seven different frame sizes, and has clearance for 32mm tires.

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Conclusion

If you want the classic arched top tube, opt for the models before 2015. If you’re set on disc brakes, those were introduced in 2015. If you’re interested in race-ready aerodynamics incorporated into the lightest weight climbing machine, check out the 2020 and 2021 Tarmac models. With so many iterations of this bike, from brakes to components to aerodynamic features, you can practically pick your own perfect version.

Our Ride Guides love helping people find the right bike and gear. If you have any questions, give us a call at 1-866-401-9636 and we'll help you out!Shop used road bikes


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