The Specialized Aethos Is the Most Exciting New Road Bike of 2020

From cycling
The Takeaway: The Aethos drives like an asphalt, but is simple and user-friendly in a way that modern racing bikes haven't been for years.
No proprietary components
Same geometry and strength-to-weight ratio as the Tarmac SL7
Insanely easy
Price: 12,500 USD
Weight: 58 cm
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Specialized's newest racing bike is just that: a racing bike. A traditional racing bike with no fancy tube shapes and handlebar configurations - and any other design element that doesn't significantly improve ride quality. At the heart of the Aethos is the sheer focus on a great bike experience, not going fast and winning races. There's obviously nothing aerobic about it, the internal brake hose routing is minimal, and the traditional stem and round handlebars look old-fashioned compared to the nifty integrated cockpits on many motorcycles. In other words, it's everything we're NOT used to on a modern road bike. At just over 14 pounds, it's one of the lightest we've tested, but that in itself isn't exceptional. What sets the Aethos apart is that it is a bike for discerning riders who enjoy and appreciate the performance of racing bikes, but who care more about a great ride than about first place across the finish line.
While having the aggressive fit, tight handling and incredible pedaling efficiency of a road bike, the Aethos is far more user-friendly than most road bikes available today. "Riding doesn't have to be defined by racing," says Stewart Thompson, project manager for Specialty Roads and Gravel. "The Aethos came from the desire to build a bike for us and our rides that is different from the racing goals." It's intended for riders who want that level of performance without the headaches that come from crazy integration and proprietary parts.
5 things we love about the specialized S-Works Aethos
Asphalt-inspired geometry
As beautifully simple as this bike is, it is just as high-tech as the other top bikes from Specialized. The frame building lessons learned during the Aethos project can be found in both the epic 2019 hardtail and the Tarmac SL7 that the company released earlier this summer.
The Aethos even matches the Tarmac SL7 in all of the brand's stiffness and weight measurements, and its race-inspired geometry is nearly identical. Our 58 cm test bike had a 591 mm stack (the SL7 is 581), a reach of 402 mm (405 on the SL7), and a head and seat angle of 73.5 degrees (like a 58 cm SL7). It also bears an eerie resemblance to the Tarmac SL5, the first model to be launched using Specialized's Rider-First Engineered approach to frame design, which optimizes tube size and carbon layup for performance optimize in all sizes.
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Specialized S-Works Aethos details
Style: street
Material: carbon
Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Cranks: 175 mm Shimano Dura-Ace with double-sided power meter
Chainring: 52/36
Cassette: 11-28
Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace hydraulic disc
Wheels: Roval Alpinist CLX
Tires: Specialized turbo cotton
Saddle: Specialized S-Works Body Geometry Power
Seat post: Roval Alpinist Carbon
Handlebar: Specialized S-Works Short & Shallow
Stem: Specialized Pro SL, alloy
Tire clearance: 32 mm
The result of extensive tests: Round tubes work
The biggest change here is the tube shape. Instead of relying on the carbon layup to get the desired ride characteristics, specialized engineers focused on the tube shape. This is in stark contrast to the design of aero racing bikes, where the aerodynamically optimized shape kicks in first and then engineers determine the right layer of carbon to improve performance. This often results in parts of the bike being built over to compensate for a tubular shape that works well in the wind tunnel but doesn't fare well on its own against the forces it has to deal with.
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Since the Aethos primary concern was ride quality, and Specialized's engineers weren't aiming to adhere to UCI rules (although the end result does), they began by figuring out the optimal tube shapes to create a bike with top-notch rigidity -Weight ratio and a ride quality that mimics the clean handling, incredible efficiency and all-day comfort of the asphalt. The head tube is round and slightly tapered with no visible aero styling. The down tube is round where it meets the head tube and tapers to a flattened oval shape at the bottom bracket. The seat stays and top tube also look very traditional: the former are thin and round, and the latter are slightly convex in shape. The slim seat tube fits on a 27.2 mm seat post and, like the down tube, is ovalized on the bottom bracket. The bottom bracket is also remarkable, not only because of the noticeable lack of material, but also because of the user-friendly BSA threaded bottom bracket shell.
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Technology aside, we can't ignore the fact that the most exciting thing about Aethos is that it's a throwback to the way motorcycles were before design went crazy for the aerodynamic Holy Grail. While this mindset may be new to specialized, independent frame builders around the world, they have always known this simple job, and you don't need a spaceship-like bike to have a great ride.
The Aethos family
There are two S-Works versions: the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 that we tested and one with SRAM RED eTap AXS. Both cost $ 12,500 and roll on Roval Alpinist CLX bikes. The bottom bracket and derailleur discs have CeramicSpeed ​​bearings, and Roval's one-piece cockpit adds some flair, but detracts from the simplicity that makes the Aethos such a wonderful bike.
There is also a $ 14,500 Founding Edition, only 300 of which are sold. It uses the same frame, drivetrain and wheels as the S-Works model, but has a one-piece handlebar / stem cockpit and CeramicSpeed ​​front derailleur pulley wheels built into the Roval Alpinist.
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
How the ethos rides
I was struck from the first stroke of the pedal. Aero bikes are cool, but the way an ultra-light road bike dances beneath you when you're on the pedals is deeply adorable. The Aethos is light, snappy, and lively on climbs - as you'd expect from a 14-pound bike - yet stiff and responsive when you get out of the saddle. Although I was confident the bike was strong and reliable, I was initially reluctant to give it a stick on a full throttle sprint. The bike is so damn light that I was sure it wouldn't respond well. Boy was I wrong? At 6-foot-2 and around 180 pounds, I can usually put enough force on the pedals to reveal any inherent weaknesses. What I found was an incredibly stiff bike that had just the right amount of compliance and created a spring-like feel with every pedal stroke as the bike moved under me at full power.
But the Aethos have more to offer than just good feelings when they blast up a hill or sprint towards the city limits. It's slick and comfortable when driving down the street, but not so slick that you feel off the sidewalk. You get just the right amount of feedback from the road that you can feel how grippy your tires are (or not) as you lean hard into a hairpin turn. According to Specialized, the bike's weight limit is 275 pounds, which means you don't have to be featherweight to enjoy it.
If you're wondering why this isn't a racing bike, you are not alone. Five years ago the Aethos would have been just asphalt. Without at least drawing attention to the cheating of the wind, it's difficult right now to sell a $ 12,500 road bike that ignores the free speed of an aero frame. Even climbing bikes have aero-touches.
The Aethos doesn't restrict your customization preferences, tie you into a proprietary ecosystem of parts, or complicate things where they're not needed. It's just a simple, no-nonsense, and powerful road bike that's worth racing too.
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
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