The “ooh ahh” moment came during the end of a two-hour discussion about aerodynamics and weight.
Engineers from Specialized gathered with media to discuss the company’s new S-Works Venge, the third iteration of the company’s flagship aero racing bike. Douglas Russell, a design engineer, unveiled a frameset (with fork, stem, and handlebars) of the new Venge alongside one from the company’s previous model, the Venge Vias. Russell proceeded to unwrap Velcro straps on the Venge Vias that secured the bike’s tubes together. He removed a sizable portion of handlebar, then a section of top tube, and nearly the entire rear triangle.
Russell pointed to the dismembered Venge Vias, and said that the new Venge weighed the same as the skeletonized version of its predecessor.
“We have shaved over one pound of weight from the Vias,” he said.
Righting the perceived wrongs of the Venge Vias is the focal point of the new third-generation Venge, which made its racing debut at the 2018 Tour de France. After just five stages the new aero bike already counts four victories; two apiece from Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
When Specialized debuted the new bike at a quiet launch in May, engineers repeatedly referenced the Venge Vias when touting the new model. The new Venge looks drastically different from its predecessor. Gone are those wing-shaped riser handlebars that gave the Venge Vias its radical appearance. And the tubes for the new Venge look much smaller than the airfoil tubes for the old bike—yet Specialized’s engineers claim the new bike is more aerodynamic than its predecessor.
With its ultralight “Satin Black/Holographic Foil” paint scheme, a 56cm frame of the new Venge weighs just 960 grams, a 244-gram savings over the Venge Vias. The bike’s bar/stem also got lighter, dropping 107 grams. The new Venge handles better and buffs out more road chatter than its predecessor, which was built like a time trial bicycle. Unlike the Venge Vias, which featured wing-shaped rim brakes, the new Venge is only compatible with hydraulic disc brakes. It’s also built specifically for electronic shifting groups and works with Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, and Campagnolo EPS systems (with an internal battery).
And, perhaps more importantly, the new Venge is comparatively simple to service. In an effort to reduce drag, today’s aero bicycles have integrated everything, which poses major hurdles to the everyman mechanic. The new Venge, by contrast, features an aero stem and the Aerofly II handlebar, both of which are easy to swap out, and function similar to a traditional bar and stem. There are 6-degree stems available in seven lengths (80mm-140mm), 12-degree stems in four lengths, and handlebars in four widths. New innovative headset spacers that include a locking hinge allow for easy adjustments to stack height. One doesn’t need an advanced degree in mechanical engineering simply to adjust one’s position on the bike.
“We wanted to create a new bike that was not only faster than the Vias, but could be used in more places than the Vias too,” said Chris Yu, the company’s director of integrated technologies.
We took the Venge 3.0 on a 35-mile loop that included flats, rolling terrain, and a few punchy climbs through the foothills just east of Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. Unsurprisingly, the Venge felt extremely fast on the flat opening miles of the ride; stomping on the pedals brought quick bursts of acceleration.
I was most impressed with the bike’s performance in the hills. We approached a series of punchy stair-step climbs and the pace quickly accelerated, and much to my surprise, the Venge zipped up the first punchy hill when I stomped on the pedals. The next ascent was longer and more steady, so I climbed in the saddle, with an even pace. Again, the Venge felt perfectly at home on the steady, grinding ascent. Credit this fact to the bike’s geometry, which is built around straightforward race-bike angles.
On the ensuing descent, the Venge also defied the stigma attached to aero bikes. As you have likely read, those wing-shaped tubes and slack angles are great for straight-line speed; they also transform an aero bike into a tractor-trailer on the descents. That’s not the case with the new Venge. It descended like a WorldTour-level road bike should. A quick flick of the handlebars sent the bike through a corner and around potholes. The bike held speed through corners so well, in fact, that I had to squeeze the brakes a few times to slow myself down.
The new S-Works Venge is a worthy racing machine that strikes a sweet spot between aerodynamics and weight. And Specialized has largely succeeded in its mission to overcome the problems associated with its predecessor, the Venge Vias. At the very least, those wing-shaped handlebars are long gone. Is the bike worth its $12,500 price tag ($5,500 frame/fork)? That’s for you to decide.
Of course, therein lies the conundrum that greets all cyclists in this age of lighter, stiffer, and faster bicycles. How long until Specialized unveils a new Venge model alongside this third-generation Venge? Will an engineer someday remove tubes from this bicycle to prove a point about the company’s newer, lighter bike?
Perhaps. If that day does come, Specialized’s engineers believe it will be due to some revolution in frame material or carbon construction, and not due to tube shaping.
Toward the midpoint of the Venge presentation, Ingmar Jungnickel, the company’s aerodynamics lead, unveiled the secret sauce that gives the new Venge its advantages. Jungnickel and his team wrote a computer program to determine the most aerodynamic tube shapes. Engineers then tested those shapes in the company’s wind tunnel (yes, it’s called the “Win Tunnel”) and compiled a library of these shapes, called the free-foil library. Each shape was then optimized for stiffness, structural efficiency, aerodynamics, and weight, to find the right balance between the two.
The Venge’s tube shapes are the product of this process.
“If the bike would have ended up more aero but heavy, we could adjust,” Jungnickel said. “The goal was to have it optimized.”