Two days of riding 150 kilometers through Spain’s Basque country on Specialized’s 2012 S-Works Amira high-performance racing bike has convinced me that when a company invests almost ten years of R&D into developing a line of women’s-specific bikes, women might want to pay attention.
The most common misconception about the design of women's road bikes is that a company starts with a men’s frame, shortens the top tube, makes a few other minor adjustments and passes off their new creation as “women’s specific.” That’s not the case with Specialized.
Using a database of statistical and anecdotal information from hundreds of women—at least 100 of whom are pro cyclists—Specialized builds women’s frames starting with women’s physical attributes and riding preferences—not men’s. They start with the average female height, which is 5’4”, then build frames in both incrementally smaller and larger sizes to fit women who range in height from 4’10” to 5’11”.Each of Specialized’s four road bikes are engineered as an entirely separate product, meaning they all use unique molds and tubing to accommodate different riding styles: For fitness riding and commuting there’s the Vita; for comfort endurance riding there’s the Dolce; for high-performance endurance riding there’s the Ruby; and for podium-topping racing there’s the Amira, ridden by top pros like Ina Teutenberg, Judith Arndt, Evelyn Stevens, and Amber Neben.
I have never been a pro racer and never will be, but there are few bikes (the titanium Moots Vamoots RSL being one of them) that I’ve had as much fun riding as the new S-Works Amira.
“It’s easy to make a stiff frame and it’s easy to make a light frame,” says Kyle Chubbuck, the engineer behind all of Specialized’s women’s road bikes. “But it’s hard to do both.”
With the new S-Works Amira he set out to do exactly that. Chubbuck designed a massive head tube with special shaping that eliminates flat surfaces. This prevents local deflection in the frame and significantly improves torsional stiffness without adding weight. He also added hollow carbon dropouts, beefed up the S-S in the brake bridge area to prevent brake chatter, and added internal cable routing that is compatible with electronic shifting systems. The end result is a sleek, functional piece of art that's 55 grams lighter and 20 percent stiffer in torsion than the 2011 S-W Amira.
I noticed the changes the most on the climbs. Rather than the usual grind, I felt like I was floating—and that couldn’t just be due to the rolling hills and picturesque Basque scenery. Even on the subsequent rainy downhill the bike was so smooth and solid underneath that it felt more like an appendage than a separate entity. My only trouble spot was getting used to the Sram Red components, but that was rider error. Plus, components can be swapped out. The aspect I appreciated most about the new S-Works was post ride: Even after a 15-hour flight and 150k of riding, my body felt no worse for the wear.
Unless you’re a pro cyclist, chances are you won’t need as much bike as the 2012 Amira S-Works. Be forewarned, however, that if you ride it, you’ll want it. And you’ll be happy to know that it comes in four other models—the Base, Elite, Comp, and Pro. Prices range from $2,000 to $8,000. All will be available in stores starting August.
Photo: Courtesy of Specialized