2012 Superbike Shootout
article & images by Nick Salazar
Dec 24, 2011
(For my full in-depth review of the Shiv, click here, or to see all the details from the Kona launch, click here.)
Of all the bikes in this review, the Shiv is the only one for which the designers came to the drawing board with a clear intent to ignore the UCI rules for bike construction. No 3:1 limitations, no tube depth limitations. This was going to be a machine just for triathletes, and it was going to be as fast as possible for them. Moreover, this wasn't just going to be a show bike built for ultra-flexible riders like Fabian Cancellara. The new Shiv was truly built to be used and ridden by real-world triathletes, and yet still aggressive enough for a pro. It was a tall order, to be sure. But Specialized delivered. Just days after being announced, it won the Ironman World Championships beneath Craig Alexander.
What you'll notice at once about the bike is just how deep the airfoils are. The 11cm-deep downtube blows the UCI rulebook right out of the water. Nearly every shape on the bike exceeds a 3:1 aspect ratio, including the headtube, downtube, seatpost, fork blades, and aerobar. There's a fairing built into the frame, to keep airflow clean behind the stem. And the Shiv cleans up the hydration picture by putting a Camelbak-esque bladder right inside the frame. The bladder is refillable while riding, and the only visible evidence it's there is the straw that tucks between the arms.
But despite looking for aerodynamic advantages wherever they could find them, the engineers at Specialized had a design mandate to keep the bike as easy to use as possible. For example, the fork uses a standard steer tube rather than the bayonet style of the original "nosecone" Shiv. Yet because the tube shapes are so deep, the new Shiv has the exact same aerodynamic chord at the head tube as the nosecone version. That head tube is about 18cm deep! Continuing the trend of usability, both brakes are exposed for easy maintenance - there's no need to mess around with fairings to access them. At the same time, these decisions make the bike look a little more messy than integrated solutions - the brake and shifter cables are exposed, though because they are routed through the top tube, they may not contribute significant drag.
If the design has an Achilles heel, it may be that Specialized optimized the geometry for riders with a significantly high-stack position. The head tube on a size Medium Shiv is 139mm long - nearly 4cm taller than the Shiv TT, and the tallest head tube of any bike in this review. As a consequence, many riders are sizing down just to get low enough on this bike. For example, the 5' 10" Craig Alexander had to ride a size Small Shiv when he won Kona this year, yet still had to resort to tricks like removing his headset's top cap in order to get his Missile EVO bars low enough to accommodate his position. The 6'2" Rasmus Henning rode a size Medium, with the stock bar in its lowest position. I personally had to ride a size Small (usually I'm a Medium), and stock the very low-stack Felt Devox to hit my position. However, Specialized did a lot of field research before building the bike, and is confident that its high-stack build suits the vast majority of riders out there. And of course, if you have a really aggressive position, Specialized still makes the ultra-low Shiv TT.
My only other real gripe with the bike is that the fully-exposed brakes, while easy to wrench, don't have the cleanest-looking routing. Specialized used to use centerpull brakes up front, but have switched to a side-pull design that just looks uglier in my opinion, and introduces unnecessary drag.