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Specialized gave us a look at the road bikes of their 4 pro teams for the 2023 season, letting slip sneak peeks at several prototypes being tested as part of their Project Black development program. Official details remain thin, but we have a good look at a new S-Works Turbo road tire, a new 3D-printed Mirror saddle shape, and some sleekly aerodynamic TT aerobar extensions. Read on for a closer look…
Specialized Project Black prototype development
It’s no surprise that part of Specialized’s deal with sponsoring pro cyclists is their feedback & testing of next-gen prototypes. But beyond a boilerplate reply when asking for more details (below), they said they “cannot speak about any of our Project Black development product”.
“Specialized relies on feedback from professional athletes in both developing and testing advanced pre-production products in real-world applications. With this top-level feedback, some of these design elements and products eventually show up in future retail product offerings. We call this Project Black.”
S-Works Turbo prototype road tire
What’s most surprising here is that Specialized just launched a completely revamped Turbo tire line-up last fall, including a top-tier road racing version that they claimed to be faster & more durable, and have won multiple Tour de France stages. So what’s new?
This 28mm Specialized Project Black prototype tire spotted on the bikes of Soudal Quick-Step’s Yves Lampert & Kasper Asgreen continues the tiny directional cornering shoulder knobs into even smaller micro dot tread across the center of the tire vs. the completely slick center of the recent Turbo.
This micro-texture file tread center also appears to change direction relative to the cornering tread.
Construction-wise, it looks to be the same as the rest of the team’s top-tier lightweight S-Works Turbo RapidAir 2Bliss Ready dual-compound tires. And these even get the same molded-in label on their tan sidewall.
Perhaps the new tread will be introduced for the wet and changeable weather that set the spring classics apart.
S-Works Mirror prototype 3D-printed saddle
Specialized already has two different 3D-printed Mirror saddle shapes – the original short-fit Power (in two versions) and more conventional Romin Evo. Now it looks like a third S-Works Mirror saddle is in the works, after the Soudal Quick-Step team went in to dial in their on-the-bike fits with Retül.
It’s a bit difficult to place the saddle within the existing Specialized line-up, but this looks like a modified version of the off-road-ready Phenom shape? Front-to-back it is very similar in profile to the Romin, but this prototype S-Works Phenom with Mirror saddle feature more of a rounded rear, and the same narrow full-length cutout as the other Phenom variants.
The 3D-printed Mirror saddle prototype also has a much more closed-off, conventional-looking top and sides, that only reveals the 3D-printed honeycomb structure within its cutouts. That may even help alleviate the odd surface texture issue we saw in one of the original Mirror saddles, and will also likely mean a more conventional feeling between your shorts & saddle.
Custom Shiv TT prototype aerobars
While Specialized’s dramatically-shaped Shiv Disc triathlon bike evolved a double-crown fork and single-mast for its aerobar extensions, the Shiv TT Disc was quite a bit more constrained by UCI regulation. Even still, almost 3 1/2 years ago the TT bike shed substantial weight in its fully-adjustable, modular aerobar cockpit.
But pro teams can often do better in the free watts aerodynamics game.
Once they’ve dialed in each key rider’s ergonomic position on the bike where they can balance power output and low rider drag, there’s little need for further adjustability. And instead, they can further optimize airflow over the rider’s outstretched hands.
Specialized’s pro-custom Shiv TT aerobar solution has been molded to the individual rider’s arm and wrist angle, with thin padding under the rear part of the forearm and grip tape under the hands. Each rider also gets a neatly integrated cycling computer mount molded into one of the extensions (sometimes the right one, sometimes left). And they also retain some vertical adjustability through various riser stacks.
Will any of the currently pro-only Specialized Project Black prototypes make it to end consumers, too? And if so, when?
Well, we don’t know for sure. But the 3D-printed Mirror saddle tech started out as a Project Black product just a few years ago, and you can already pop down to your local Specialized bike shop and pick one up today.