Specialized Tarmac SL7 vs Specialized Aethos
It's a common question we get asked in the store. Which one should I get? The Tarmac or the Aethos? We'd ask you...What type of rider are you? It'll help with your final decision. Let's jump in to the details below!
Written by Atharva K. | Published: February 20, 2023
Let me tell you this. If you have narrowed down to these two bikes out of all the bikes available in the market, you are already ahead of most of the people that are looking for a new road bike. The Aethos and the Tarmac are two of the best bikes that are available and we certainly don’t blame you if you are not sure which bike to go for!
Let’s start with the Tarmac SL7
After countless hours of testing out different frame shapes, carbon lay-ups to maximize stiffness and comfort at the labs at the Specialized Headquarters, the Tarmac SL7 was born. Specialized has advertised this bike as "one bike to do it all". We won’t bore you with the wind tunnel data and all the other numbers, but we will just answer your main question, "How much faster am I going to be on the bike?" Specialized claims that you will be faster by 45 seconds on a 40 km course on the SL7 compared to the SL6. "But how does that translate to real life conditions? What about group rides?" Let us put it this way. We can bet you that you will be the first to reach the town sign in a sprint on your weekly ride on Warden Avenue, first person to reach Red Bulb Espresso Bar (or any other café that you go to). It is possible that you might be done with your first cup of coffee by the time your friends roll up to the café. Jokes aside, the Tarmac is a really fast bike which accelerates really well (Mark Cavendish can promise you that), carries speed very well (Remco Evenepoel will promise you that) and climbs better than most bikes (Jay Hindley will promise you that) available out there. This bike has victories at every type of stage and terrain that you can imagine.
"Is the bike suitable for a cyclist like me that does not ride at the speeds that the professional riders ride at?" The answer to that question is an astounding, yes, as the bike is designed with a rider-first approach which means that the bike is going to make you faster than ever.
Closer look at the Specialized Aethos
Don’t let the pictures of the riders wearing Rapha and Pas Normal Studios kits at the local cafés with the Aethos in the background fool you into believing that the Specialized Aethos is a bike for café riders. I am not going to lie but when I saw the cylindrical tubes on the bike with a traditional two-piece handlebar, and the very simplistic design, I was fooled into believing that the Aethos might not be as fast as I had thought the bike to be. In a world full of bikes with integrated cockpits, bulky tubes and deep section wheels, the Aethos stands out with cylindrical tubes, shallow Roval Alpinist wheels and a two-piece stem and handlebar combo. I hate to admit it, but I was so wrong about the bike. The bike is incredibly lightweight and the geometry, although not as aggressive as the tarmac, is quite aggressive. It is not aggressive enough to put you in an uncomfortable position but aggressive enough to put you in a very efficient position which will ultimately make you faster.
The Aethos was designed to provide unmatched ride quality, quick accelerations, and most importantly, incredible handling. While doing this, Specialized managed to design a bike that was around 700 grams lighter than 6.8 kgs which is the UCI weight limit for the road bikes. If you compare a Tarmac and Aethos of the same size, you will notice that stack is lower and the reach is higher on the Tarmac. In simple words, it means that the Tarmac is more aggressive and aerodynamic because the drop from the saddle to the handlebar is going to be higher and you will be a stretched-out on a tarmac when compared to the Aethos. This is the reason why the Aethos has a geometry that is more suitable for endurance and long rides where comfort is your main priority. This is the main reason why Kasper Asgreen rode an Aethos in a 2020 Tour de France stage.
Similarities between the two bikes
Before we try to help you help you in selecting one bike over the other, let us try to show you how similar both the bikes are because these are almost at par with one another. Both the bikes are compatible with disc brakes and electronic group-sets only. Both the frames use the same carbon (Fact 10R for the Comp, Expert and Pro model and Fact 12R for the S-Works version). Both the bikes feature components (seat-post, stem, handlebar and wheels) from Roval while you have the choice of either SRAM or Shimano for the group-set on the bike depending on the model.
With both the bikes coming at a hefty price tag (even after the price-drop by Specialized recently), it can be tough to choose between the two bikes, especially because they are so similar yet so different in so many ways. Here is a list of questions that we want you to ask yourselves which can simplify the decision process for you.
Considerations for narrowing down your decision
Aero or lightweight? Are you willing to compromise on aerodynamics to save weight of your bike? This might make sense if you live in a particularly hilly area. If you do, Aethos will be your best option as it is lighter by about 600 grams than the Tarmac. If you live in a place that has rolling terrain, the Tarmac is your best choice.
Speed or comfort? If you want to be faster overall, the Tarmac has an edge over the Aethos because the frame is more aerodynamic when compared to the Aethos. You will be in a more upright position on the Aethos because of the higher stack and shorter reach which can make you a bit slower but definitely more comfortable than the Tarmac.
Aesthetics: This might be a very personal thing but the Aethos with its subtle branding and simplistic design steals the show. Call me old-school but the Aethos definitely stands out among all the other bikes I have seen in the recent times.
Type of racing: If you are planning to race competitively, the Tarmac is the best choice. Period. The bike boasts of 3 consecutive world championship victories and let know one tell you that there is a bike that is better than the Tarmac for racing. On the other hand, if you are planning to take part in ultra-endurance races, the Aethos will be a better choice as it is more comfortable and it will put you in a more upright position. If you are planning to take part in climbing races (that follow UCI rules), I would recommend the Tarmac because it is possible to bring the weight of the Tarmac down to 6.8 kgs with a few upgrades but if you are on an aethos, you will have to increase the weight. If the weight of both the bikes is 6.8 or close to 6.8, the aerodynamic advantage that the Tarmac has over the Aethos outweighs (no pun intended) the benefits of using a lighter bike.
Flexibility: I cannot stress the importance of getting a bike fit done before you decide to spend your hard-earned money of a premium bike. There is no point in riding a very expensive aerodynamic bike with top-of-the-line components if you are not flexible enough. It is a hard pill to swallow but the comfort on the bike can either make it or break it. When it comes to the geometry of both the bikes, the Aethos has a comparatively relaxed geometry. Over a considerable duration of time, being comfortable on the bike will result in higher average speeds. So, listen to your body and your bike-fitter if flexibility is your concern.
Visiting a Bike Depot store to help you decide
The aim of this article is to help you to decide which bike to buy if you had only one choice. There is no wrong choice but it is all about what works best for you and which bike will fit better with your list of preferences. Since both the bikes are at par with each other, it can still be difficult to decide. This is where we, the friendly faces at your local bike store, step in. Give us a call, send us an email or even better, visit one of our locations (Toronto, Pickering or Thornhill) and test-ride both the bikes out!