Specialized Contador Tarmac S-Works SL3 – Shimano 2012 Ultegra Di2

Specialized Conatador Tarmac

When Auguste Rodin first cast "The Thinker" in 1902 he precisely described in bronze the name of the game for a global industry that was to emerge one hundred years later - manufacturing carbon racing bikes. Specialized are at the head of the class when it comes to working in the technical domain of producing carbon racing bicycles, converting class leading ideas from the Specialized "Thinkorama" into exciting racing bicycles, bicycles which exude character and at the same time perform.

El Pistolero's - Contador special SL3 versions for 2010 and 2011 received a couple of enhancements worthy of particular consideration.

In 2010 legendary mechanic Faustino Munoz exerted influence over Alberto Contador's unique race bike, custom enhancements and parts included specially routed Gore Ride-On Cables, saddle, seat mast and a noteworthy SRAM Red derailleur. Complete with a Berner carbon fiber cage with over sized pulleys. Noteworthy because of it's claimed effective 5.85 watt performance gain over a stock derailleur!

THE Berner DERAILLEUR: Wolfgang Berner's company Das BERNER-Schaltwerk has been customising derailleur's in Breuberg near Frankfurt for a few years now, gaining a large following in the land of manufacture Germany. Berner's derailleurs are also popular with Pro riders seeking every measurable performance gain, their clients have included Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Frank Schleck, Alexander Vinokurov, Andreas Klöden, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Kim Kirchen und Thomas Lövquist amongst others.

Das BERNER-Schaltwerk has customised Campagnolo Super Record, Shimano Dura Ace and Sram derailleurs plus other units over the years. Berner custom pulley cages come with 13T upper and 15T lower pulleys. Lance Armstrong notably had a custom aero version fashioned by Das BERNER-Schaltwerk in 2010 for a time trial bike. At times Berner's carbon cages have been fabricated by German designer - "architect" and triathlete, Rafael Hoffleit who's bike building career began with a recumbent when he was aged nine. Now Hoffleit's producing an array of carbon bikes marketed under the name of Rafael - also manufacturing carbon parts for Mercedes, Audi and an undisclosed F1 team. Das BERNER-Schaltwerk's claimed performance gain of 5.85 watts using their modified derailleurs adds a significant advantage gained by swapping out one component. Das BERNER-Schaltwerk supply no further test results beyond their statement. The custom derailleur weighs approximately 19g more than the stock version. The Berner SRAM Red version is available for online order via their website for 429 EURO. An alternative is GS Carbon Parts another specialised German lightweight parts manufacturer, fashioning similar 13T - 15T derailleur systems.

CONTADOR'S SPECIAL PAINT: First conceived by Specialized and finished off with Contador's personal symbol "The Shot". Featured custom colours represent the three tours - Tour de France, Giro d' Italia and Vuelta Espania - Yellow, Pink and Red. Contador said "Well I asked Specialized if they could create a bike to commemorate the "Triple Crown", I mean the victory in the Tour, the Giro and Spanish Vuelta, something they were delighted with. We have based the design of the bike on the corresponding colour of each competition and also on "the shot", which is my personal symbol where these three colours will also be present, yellow, pink and in this case also the red one. Even though until now the Vuelta jersey has been gold, from now on it will be red, therefore we have decided to directly include this colour."

Ashley's Contador S Works Specialized differentiate their high end bikes from the rest by calling them S WORKS. In this case a Contador Tarmac SL3 with F.A.C.T carbon. Functional Advanced Composite Technology, describes how Specialized leverage their own unique high end carbon layup process.  Take the Specialized concept a step further and the uniqueness imparted in their highly acclaimed S Works mbikes is revealed - first in their attention to detail in research and testing. For S Works bikes during the laying up process special F.A.C.T carbon is inserted in strategic places creating that "just right" balance between compliance and stiffness.

During the last couple of years I'd heard just about every cliche imaginable about S Works Tarmac bikes. Lightning fast acceleration, will steer / handle through corners with previously unknown precision, they are so fast and on and on and on. When I took Ashley Hutchinson's Contador S Works for a few days, I was surprised and convinced that all the hype might have had some merits after all.

Ash's bike had a set of Mavic Cosmics with the new 2012 Ultegra Di2 groupset. Sure the Cosmic's might be a bit heavier, but you wouldn't know it in this machine - acceleration up hills, out of corners - anywhere is just astounding - FACT works. Steering is super responsive leaving you in control of every micro decision about where you point the bike - it's almost telepathic, look through the turn and you are there with millimetre precision. Compliance is near perfect, yet how can it be "perfect" when every year the bar is raised even higher, it's exciting to think how future machines will feel to ride. Riding the Contador through a corner is akin to riding a relentless wave of precision - let it glide over surface imperfections anywhere in a corner and it will stick, inspiring confidence all the way.

SECOND OPINION - Ashley Hutchinson says he'd choose the Contador first, "acceleration is the standout feature, just one of those SL3 bikes ..... I got on and immediately there was the wow factor, climbing descending, it does it all."

Specialized use FACT IS 11R Carbon in the S Works SL3 Tarmac - The result a super stiff, ultra light bike, Specialized claim that their bike incorporates "industry leading stiffness to weight". Optimisation achieved by dividing the frame into four monocoque sections, each section is linked continuously with carbon fibres from tube to tube. Front end stiffness incorporates a head tube taper from top to bottom with 1 1/8" at the top and 1 1/2" at the bottom, incorporated into a fat cross section of over stiff down tube and top tube junctions where stiffness is further boosted internally with raised ribs, a reminder of the old Columbus helical coils. Add to this carbon cups and the front end is rock solid. The Chainstay Bottom Bracket combo becomes an ultra stiff one piece unit - diverting all athletic power to where it's required, through the drive train. If your S-Works is fitted with the S-Works FACT Carbon Crank Set complete with ceramic bearing set - you're in for another efficiency boost.

Latest on the list of Specialized innovations is their new S-Works CLP Multi Stem. Optimise your bike fit for peak human power with one of these fully adjustable stems with a ten position angle range, adjustable in 2 degree increments. Choose from a minus 17 degree or minus 12 degree version.

That's all the Specialized gear, how about Di2 Ultegra - you can't beat the speed and ease of shifting. Shimano now have an electronic group set with all the functionality of Dura Ace Di2 yet is priced at almost the same price point as 2012 Sram Red. Sram Red is a standout on countless performance features, ergonomics and light weight plus value for money - enough left over for a custom Berner derailleur and those claimed 5.85 watts you'll gain. If you're not concerned about a little extra weight and want access to gear shifting in an instant - then Di2 Ultegra will work for you.

Access all of the technology discussed here, format it into your own custom bike and you'll end up with a very special pro spec machine. When you take a close look at the innovations different pro riders are putting into their bikes.

Now I have thoughts of building out a custom machine with the power boost Berner derailleur, 2012 SRAM Red, a set of 202's with some old fashioned hand made tires - A. Dugast perhaps, some other trick bits and off into the sunset grinning all the way.

A special thanks to Ashley Hutchinson and the team at Planet Cycles - Woolloongabba for the test bike.