“You could buy a car for that!” It’s a familiar refrain heard in the cycling world. Enthusiast riders groan every time a ‘non cyclist’ tells them they could buy a traditional petrol-powered vehicle for the amount they’ve spent on “just a bike”.
Yes, of course you could purchase a functioning second-hand car for £500, but a seasoned rider will always tell you it’s unlikely it’ll be as fun, as great for the planet or make you as fit as a great bike will.
This time however, for once, I’m in agreement. You actually could buy a car for the price of Specialized’s new two-wheeled model.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be working your way through a substantial bonus, £13k is a real outlay. The Dacia Duster, VW UP and Citroen C3 all sneak in under this budget – and you’ll get two extra wheels thrown in for the price. But I’m meant to be on the ‘bike side’ in this debate.
I’m no stranger to two-wheeled investment, either. My continually rotating arsenal features titanium, carbon fibre, aluminium and steel steeds (any frame material but bamboo right now), and, yes, I’m the guy who advises their colleagues to get the more expensive bike to commute on: ‘It’s an investment if you ride it everyday, right?’
Enter Specialized with arguably 2020’s most hyped road-bike release. The Aethos. Apparently it’s pronounced ‘Ethos’, as in ‘distinguishing character, sentiment or guiding beliefs’.The two-wheeled mega-brand has reportedly ‘broken the rules’ on this one (which happens quite often in bike design). The Aethos has apparently ‘reshaped the future of modern road bikes’ (I’m not sure how yet), ‘went lighter than the rules allow’ (breaking the UCI minimum weight limit on racing road bikes) and ‘gone rogue’ (dropping commercial-looking colour schemes and brash logos).
Specialized have also reconsidered the outdated ‘stiffer is better’ racing bike engineering mantra and aimed to build a ride that’s as technologically advanced as a race-bike, as light as a race-bike and as well specced as a race bike – but for every rider. The rationale being the vast majority of enthusiast riders looking for performance at this level will never trouble the peloton of a ‘crit’ race, or weekend ‘time-trial’ event… and that’s okay.
Those brutal, unforgiving race frames of the past just aren’t relevant for 99 per cent of riders (even the very quick ones). Modern enthusiasts are wisely turning to compliant, forgiving and more versatile rides. Quick, yes – but not at the expense of all-day comfort. After all, when fatigue sets in, no one can ride fast.
This manifested itself in engineering choices for the brand – right down to the lay-up of the carbon fibre of the frame. Out are over-built (and heavier) carbon ‘layups’ at tube junctions (like the headtube, seat tube / top tube and bottom bracket) more suited to pro-tour rider efforts. In are ‘longer, more continuous unbroken (carbon) plies’ and more ovalised tube profiles, adding to a more forgiving and crazy lightweight 585g – 56cm (medium) frame. Specialized maintains this is the first example of a new way of designing frames for the company.
Alright, lots of technical detail, but what does it actually ride like? And, more importantly, does £13,000 get me a rig that will make me ride faster than my already mind-bendingly expensive titanium bike (that cost a third of the price)?
The test route would be my quick morning loop – a rolling 60km northeast London route with around 500m of climbing. It’s a mix of traffic-choked city roads and quiet country lanes – with a couple of little punchy climbs thrown in for good measure.
Of course this is no wind-tunnel, Vo2 max, heart-rate monitored test, but, it is a ‘real world’ test, with a very regular ‘real world’ enthusiast rider – precisely the kind of rider Specialized is marketing the Aethos at. This would be a ‘blind’ test, too, the Garmin GPS is set to ‘Power Save Mode’ so there would be no speed or time data displayed as I’m riding.
First part of the test was my regular ride. On my own lightweight road bike I came home at 2hs 01min with an average speed of 30kmph. I was pretty happy with that on a windy Autumn day.
Now it was time for the Aethos. Lifting it out of the box I let out an involuntary “Woah!”. It’s the lightest bike I’ve ever laid a hand on (apparently the Aethos actually is the world’s lightest production road-bike).
Straight away from the kerb the lack of weight is noticeable, too. Every pedal stroke felt effective – and without that punishing stiff ‘race bike’ feeling either. The Aethos wanted to surge ahead, whether my legs liked it or not. The bike felt an eerie mix of both very quick, and surprisingly comfortable.
Two thirds of the way round the route and my legs were paying me back for my early ‘new bike’ enthusiasm. There was now a headwind and it was raining. It felt like the test could go either way. I rolled back up to my house and stopped the Garmin.
The result? One hour 55 minutes, with an average speed of 32kmph. Six minutes quicker than my regular lightweight bike on the same route – and quicker than my fastest time on a loop I’d ridden for years.
With the Aethos, Specialized have created something very clever and very modern. A lightweight ‘climbers’ bike for regular riders. A quick riding rig, with none of the anti-social characteristics of a pure race bike. Time-trial speed with all-day comfort.
And, yes, it turns out all that money does indeed buy you speed. But is it worth investing around £2,000 per minute gained on your local bike loop?
Publicly, I’d have to say no, but, that’s missing the point with the Aethos. You’re paying for a ‘pure’ riding experience. To return to the four-wheeled comparison, you’re probably not going to buy McLaren’s coming 2021 Sport Series hybrid just to be able to drive at blistering speed – you’re buying it for the craft, the ride, the design excellence, the driving experience and, yes, the innovation on display.
Regardless of the bottom line, the Aethos is a great example of fresh thinking from a big-brand, and perfectly illustrates the direction performance road bikes are going in the next five years.
And, no, I don’t want to give it back.
The Specialized S-Works Aethos Founders Edition is available now for £13,000 via Sigma Sports.The S-Works Aethos Dura Ace Di2 is £10,750 via Tredz and Rutland Cycling.
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