Well, here's a surprise. Every year, there are a few bikes that don't quite make it into the hard copy of the Specialized catalog. Usually, it's nothing too crazy - a pro team color variant or a slightly different componentry option, something as immaterial as that. And, you know, I suppose you could herd this one into the latter camp there, but calling this bike a mere "component variant" seems diminutive of how huge this is. This one's a pretty big deal. So, you know about 11 speed drivetrains. New, sure, but not something I haven't thrown on the blog before. Same could be said for road hydraulic braking or electronic shifting. All of these things are on the pointy end of innovation for sure, but this is a FAAAAAST industry and there is maybe a two week window (and I'm being generous here) where a mechanic could legitimately expect to surprise another mechanic by showing off new tech. After that, we've all read up about it or seen it or maybe even worked on it, so it almost starts to feel like the new vanguard. I've worked on bikes with electronic shifting many times over. I had within a week of it becoming available back in 2009. I was pretty excited this past summer when one of our local pros brought in the first road hydro bike I had a chance to work on. And technically, we've seen 11spd drivetrains for years now with some weird word that us American mechanics don't see very frequently ("Campagnolo") written on them, but that didn't really seem fully a THING until there were 11 cogs that said "Shimano" and "SRAM". But we've been building those groups up for maybe the past year now. This, though - this is different. This one is EVERYTHING AT ONCE!!!! So, what I keep coming back to about this bike - mentally, I mean - is that I have now built a bike that doesn't have cables. No shift cables, no brake cables - The very idea of that seems completely preposterous at first thought. If you had told me even as recently as six, seven years ago that a road bike would be able to function without brake or shift cables, I'd have filed you in my mental rolodex with the myriad other would-be inventors pitching far-flung ideas and unorthodox theories about the future of cycling technology. Let's not forget, after all, that I used to helm a ship afloat in MIT's waters. You'd be in some pretty strange company. Believe me on that one. But, you know, time is a weird thing and so is our industry, and in those seven years a whole hell of a lot has changed. Here's where I'll mention that the general nature of the bicycle mechanic is to approach any radical innovation with a healthy amount of skepticism (or, maybe that's just the nature of the native New Englander?) -- I'd be remiss to not admit that upon announcement of a lot of these new technologies, I was against it. Hesitant to embrace change, maybe a little stubborn, it wasn't until I had my hands on it (seeing is, after all, believing) that I softened my stance. Put quite frankly, this bike is absolute concrete proof that these things are good ideas. All of them. Shimano has set the bar so ludicrously high with how great the braking and shifting feels. Di2, the moniker of their electronic shifting line, has proven itself over the past five years to be as reliable as can be, virtually eliminating the idea of a mis-shift (so long as you keep that battery charged!) I don't think I could do the braking any justice at all with words alone. You have to feel their smooth action to believe it. That last photo shows two things that I want to highlight: Firstly, Shimano shaved off a lot of mass from the Ultegra Di2 rear derailleur, almost to the point of being indistinguishable from the cable-actuated version. This is a big step forward because of how bulbous and overbuilt the past few generations of Dura-Ace and then Ultegra Di2 had seemed. Never the lightest group, this trimer rear mech certainly shaves off a gram here and there. Secondly, this is a bike that comes stock with a 32-tooth cassette. Crazy, right? The sort of thing that we had to try to MAKE work now just works, no fuss. Talk about versatile: Paired with the 50/34 crankset, this thing has about the widest range off-the-rack of any road bike I've seen. And you get to sit on this: Remember what I said about mechanics and change (or New Englanders and change)? I bet you can imagine my reaction when I first saw this post. Again, though, instinct wasn't fully correct: It's by Specialized, called the "Cobl Gobl-r", and more than makes up for it's jarring look with a super compliant feel. The Romin on top of it is a perfect compliment for the sort of person who wants to spend all daylight hours exploring, say, the rolling dirt roads on the Jacksonville VT loop. It's not gonna beat you up. So that's the Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert Ultegra Di2 Disc. Product name's a mouthful, and the product itself is an eyeful. I mean, come on: Jeez. You know what to do if you are curious about this sort of thing. We'd love to tell you even more about it.
Posted by Stephen on