For the company that claimed “aero is everything,” it’s very out of character to build a bike with traditional round tubes. But Specialized decided to break its own rules with the Aethos. It was never intended to be a top-tier road racing bike (that spot is occupied by the Tarmac SL7). Instead, there were three main design goals for the Aethos: create the lightest road disc frame ever, give it sublime stiffness and handling, and make it look amazing.
Clearly, something about that struck a chord with Josh Spokes (yup, that’s his real name, and it’s perfect), a sales associate here at The Pro’s Closet. He decided to buy a 2021 Specialized Aethos Pro this spring. I caught up with him to find out why.
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The anatomy of the perfect road bike
“I was vice president and then president of the University of Maryland cycling team,” Spokes said. “My life has been very road-focused for eight or nine years.” After school, his passion for road riding eventually took him across the Atlantic, where he taught English in Spain and explored the amazing roads around the Basque Country and Gandia. When he returned to the U.S. in 2020, he needed a new bike. But after his travels, it had to meet a few specific qualifications.
I know you want to comment on those clip-on aerobars, but there's a good reason for them. Read on the find out.
“I had a bit of frustration with proprietary components,” he explained. “I broke some of the proprietary Giant spokes on my TCR, and it took a month to get them from the central distributor in Europe. I couldn’t get a replacement OverDrive 2 headset either. I was traveling a lot and the proprietary components started to bug me.
“I tried a Trek Checkpoint, but the geometry just wasn't snappy enough for me. I really needed a pure road bike. So I ended up buying a Ventum NS1, but the cables route through the headset and it was just really frustrating because I use an Orucase to travel and you have to pull the fork to pack it.”
To satisfy Spokes, his new road bike needed three things:
- No proprietary parts
- External cable routing at the headset
- Snappy handling
It turns out, that the Aethos was exactly what he was looking for.
“I’d actually been thinking about the Aethos for a while,” Spokes said. “Then I had the opportunity to snag one from The Pro’s Closet. And I went and did it. So now I have something that doesn't have any proprietary parts, so anybody in the world can order stuff for it. Plus, it's got a threaded BB,” he said. “And the convenience of not having cables routed through the headset is worth the two-watt penalty or whatever. Then on top of that, it's just a super sexy bike!”
What got upgraded?
The Aethos Pro already comes with a baller build. It has a fully wireless electronic SRAM Force eTap AXS group with Roval Alpinist CL carbon wheels. Currently, Spokes’ bike comes in at 16.8 pounds with pedals, bottle cages, and a computer. But he explained that weight wasn’t his primary concern.
“I talk about this a lot with my team,” he said. “Pretty much every good road racing bike is between 16 and 19 pounds. As long as you’re somewhere around there, I don't think it makes a difference. I guess you’d call me a rouleur. I'm bigger, and I weigh about 220 right now. I've never really had the body of a climber. But I can put out a lot of power on the flats. Weight wasn't a selling point for me.”
Spokes does appreciate the lightweight build when it’s time to climb, but for a bruiser like him, the feathery Roval wheels just didn’t cut it. He needed something stiffer.
“The wheels I got are the AR55 Disc from Light Bicycle,” he said. “I don't want to call them China carbons, but they are. I was blown away by the custom options and the quality. I was a little bit worried that it would be too deep for crosswinds, but for people my size, it's actually kind of perfect. They spin super fast, and in my opinion, they're just as good as any top wheel brand.”
Sitting pretty on a recent trip to Spain. Note how the wheel decals change color depending on the light.
Spokes even plans to order more Light Bicycle wheels in the future.
“Officially, the Aethos can clear 32mm tires, but unofficially, it can clear 35mm,” he said. “I'm thinking about getting another set of wheels that are 25mm internal, so I can run wider tires and use the Aethos as a sort-of lightweight gravel bike too. That's probably something I’ll save for the end of the year though.”
Other than wheels and tires, Spokes swapped the Force crankset for a Red crankset with a Quarq power meter. And then there’s the matter of the aero bar extensions. Don’t worry, they’re temporary. Unfortunately, in his first race on his new bike, Spokes got tangled up in a crash.
“The crash just happened right in front of me,” he explained. “I was taking a drink with my left hand so I couldn't get to the front brake and I went straight over the bars.” The Aethos was okay, but Spokes came away with a broken wrist and got put in a cast. I didn’t stop him from riding his new bike though.
“Right now I'm riding on these Zipp Vuka TT extensions with blips because I’m not really supposed to put a lot of pressure on my hand. That’s part of why having eTap AXS is so nice. I can just slap my TT bars on there, and with the blips, you can still shift.”
“I’m surprised at how much I like the Aethos,” Spokes said. “I've ridden a lot of carbon road bikes and I didn’t think I could feel the distinctions that other people feel. But the Aethos is really the first, I guess we’ll call it a ‘superbike,’ that I've ridden. I feel like I can actually tell that it’s different. Compared to other bikes I’ve spent a lot of time on — the Ventum NS1, the Trek Emonda, the Cannondale SuperSix Evo — nothing really touches the experience of riding this bike. I'm shocked to hear myself say that. It's really as compliant and smooth and fast and agile as everybody says it is. And it climbs amazingly well. It's honestly pretty stunning.
“I think ultimately, I knew that the Aethos was my ‘end-stage bike.’ You know, the bike I’d end up with a couple of years down the line. But I had the opportunity to snag one now. And it works really well for my life. It just works well for everything!”
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Got any questions about Josh’s setup? Need help picking your next bike? Keep scrolling and leave a comment!