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Rumour mill: Is a Specialized Tarmac SL7 near?

The lead-up to the Tour de France often sees a flurry of new gear leaked online, and while there’s currently no racing to be had, that hasn’t stopped an eagle-eyed onlooker from snapping a few smartphone photos. This time, the phone was pointed directly toward what appears to be a next-generation Tarmac, the SL7.

The rumour mill has been spinning at a furious rate since a couple of photos hit the TrainerRoad forum, which then quickly moved over to an existing thread on Weight Weenies. Pictured, clear as day, is a new Tarmac. And while it looks awfully similar to the existing Tarmac SL6, there are a few tell-tale differences.

First and foremost, the cables are now hidden and fully integrated through the bar, stem and into the head tube. Those cables appear to be routed down the front of the head tube, and previously leaked photos from a race team’s bikes suggests that is the case. By contrast, the current Tarmac SL6 has the brake hoses (and gear cables) visible to the wind, before entering just past the head tube, or at the top of the fork crown for the front brake.

A cropped and brightened version of the original leaked photo gives a fairly clear view of the new bike.

After doing my best CSI impersonation while running the photos through an advanced “enhance” process (aka, Photoshop), the next most obvious difference is a bulge at the seatpost. This is most likely an integrated Di2 junction port, just as the Venge offers, but is more bulbous due to the skinnier post that seems to be used. A user on the Weight Weenies forum suggested it could be an integrated rear light, which would fit with Specialized’s increasing product commitment to road safety measures.

That new seatpost also looks to be more elongated and deeper in its profile compared to what the SL6 features. And the larger and more pointed rubber cover for the seatpost binder backs this up.

It could just be the angle, but the front fork appears to offer more daylight between the top of the tyre and the fork crown, too, pointing toward a further increase over the already generous 700×30 mm tyre clearance (wider also fits) of the current Tarmac.

Meanwhile, a careful look between the cranks shows a splined bottom bracket cup, strongly suggesting the new Tarmac has moved to a threaded bottom bracket. This one doesn’t come as a surprise, and it’s something Specialized has been doing to all of its models with each new release. It could, however, just be thread-together cups in an OSBB sleeve, which would retain compatibility with Specialized’s feathery S-Works cranks.

My guess is it’s the former, and that Specialized won’t be offering its own crank moving forward. Either way, the possible retirement of Specialized’s OSBB system (even though it hasn’t been much of an issue in recent years) is something I’ll toast to.

Threaded bottom bracket?

Otherwise, the two photos circling the web don’t reveal too many other changes compared to the existing Tarmac. And that’s a good thing. For both myself and CyclingTips’ global tech editor James Huang, the existing Tarmac SL6 remains one of our favourite road racing bikes to ride. It’s efficient, handles beautifully, and offers a surprising amount of all-day riding comfort. And at least from a visual inspection, Specialized looks to retain all of that in the new version.

While I’m happy to be proven wrong, I suspect we’ll see the new Tarmac as a disc-only platform. It’s what Specialized did with the Venge, and the company has been extremely public in its commitment to disc brakes for racing, with no further proof needed than the fact its two sponsored WorldTour teams were some of the first to make the dedicated move.

What is obvious is that the Tarmac SL7 looks to have taken many elements from the Venge, and the two now look close enough that they’re surely breaking safe social distancing requirements. These similarities have spurred a number of spin-off rumours related to Specialized merging the Venge and Tarmac platforms into a single bike offering.

With the likes of Peter Sagan often picking the Tarmac over the Venge, such a merger of the closely overlapping models isn’t a crazy thought. However, what would that mean for the future of the Venge? And does Specialized then have a gap in the market for a more traditional, aero-be-damned bike? Time will tell.

As for availability, I suspect the new Tarmac was initially intended for a Tour de France reveal, but the now-almost-certainly modified release date remains a mystery. Either way, the bike spotted casually leaning against a tree looks like it’s production-ready, while the sale prices on the existing (and brilliant, seriously) SL6 range are another tell-tale sign that we can’t be far off.

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