Machines For Freedom’s Custom S-Works Tarmac Disc Lands in Los Angeles – Jennifer Kriske

Machines For Freedom’s custom S-Works Tarmac Disc lands in Los Angeles
Words by Jennifer Kriske, photos by Warren Kommers

I have been riding for close to a decade and have never been able to wrap my head around the connection between frame geometry and gender. A bike seat, of course. But the frame? A frame is related to body proportions, leg length, arm reach, and the like; not our reproductive organs. Anecdotally, swap out my bike seat and my brother and I could comfortably ride the same bike. So what is the industry telling us? That I am built like a man? That my brother is built like a woman? The conversation quickly spirals into uncomfortable territory.

But with the launch of the new S-Works Tarmac by Specialized, tides appear to be changing in a very positive way. This year, Specialized’s product teams have poured into fit data to design and manufacture non-gendered frame geometry. In an industry where attaching patronizing qualifiers, like “specific”, to women’s gear has become commonplace, this new approach marks big progress for all the women cyclists out there who desire best-in-class gear alongside their male counterparts. It’s a giant step towards no longer treating women as if their gender is an impediment that needs to be designed around.

I have had strong feelings about this subject for some time now, so when I met Stephanie Kaplan of Specialized, a woman who has tenacity and passion in spades, and found out she spearheaded research for a non-gendered Tarmac design, I thought my brain might explode. We met at an industry event and it didn’t take long, one dinner and two glasses of wine to be exact before we decided a collaboration was in order.

Enter Kayla Clarot, the most sought-after painter at Specialized, along with the latest Machines For Freedom “Fruits” print, and the result is a bike that leaves me breathless. The subtle layers of iridescent blue have a sophistication and depth that I have never seen executed on a bike before. Hits of gold flake on the seat tube inscribed with the words, “Spread Good Vibes”, add a playful punch to an otherwise sleek, and dare I say sexy, vibe.

The S-Works logos are done in reflective black making them virtually unnoticed until they are hit with light; a level of modesty and grace that I strive for in both design and in life. And then there’s a surprise, the original “Fruits” print hand-painted under the seat as a reminder of where this incredible design began. When I first laid eyes on this bike I was mesmerized by the chameleon-like paint as it changed from shades of blue found in the deepest depths of the ocean, to the vivid turquoise ombré found in the Caribbean Sea. The effect was magical.

Then there are the guts of the bike, which exceeds all expectations. The ride is light and responsive. SRAM Red eTap shifting. Hydraulic disc brakes. Every interaction filled with the same smoothness that the aesthetics represent. And finally, a “women’s” bike from a major brand that is every bit equal to the men’s. A much-needed shift in perspective that I hope is here to stay.


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  • Patrick Murphy

    Stunning! That under-saddle graphic is next level!

  • This bike is fucking gangster

  • Jen Kyle Whalen

    YAAAASSSSS I love this bike. It’s such a nice ride. Props to Specialized on this. Just say no to “shrink it and pink it!”

    • OMG Jen. OMG.

    • Rider_X

      … and cheaper components! Too many “women specific” builds are a step down.

      Gender != shred potential

    • Brett

      I think it’s time the industry started supporting men trying to ride bikes. We have a tough go too. You might say no to “shrink it and pink it”, but we have to fight “stack it and black it”. Not once have I ever seen a Men’s Specific Bike.

      • trololo

        kind of bummed I wasted my time trying to read that article

  • Chris Valente

    Incredible paint job and love the logo treatments. Nice work!

  • Ian Guignet-Simpson

    drool fest

  • Superpilot

    I wouldn’t ever find a gender as “an impediment that needs to be designed around”. I would just want the best geometry for my body. Think that’s a bit glass half empty. You could also see it as “a beautiful biological machine that needs to be designed specifically for”.
    Aaanyway, the bike is RAD

  • Superpilot

    This bike is RAD
    I’m confused though, perhaps you are lucky as I have read much about women complaining the status quo prior to specific frames, mens frames were just not available in the right fit for them? I recall some female pros having to have bikes specifically built for 650b wheels because they had massive toe overlap issues on 700. Now, I get that this type of frame would also fit men of the same stature.
    Stylistically, ‘pink it and shrink it’ definitely doesn’t work for some, but I guess the cycling family has various tastes, so it may appeal to others? But that is a fashion tastes issue, and is different for everyone. Actually I see more men riding in pink these days also (thanks to POC and Rapha).
    As far as geometries are concerned, you are spot on I reckon, a human of any gender of a similar stature should be able to ride the same kind of frame geo. As above, I think that the market was previously limited in what it saw as a standard range of sizes, pushed for female specifics as a market growth initiative (everyone agrees was a huge market gap, and generally smaller sizes that weren’t available), and have obviously rebounded to include all the range of sizes in one type of androgynous frame.
    I think this frame appeals to anyone. Nice!

  • Thomas Bonamy-Cossard

    the paintjob is amazing !! but it’s funny how specialized now say that this bike is women specific geometry. As the Women’s tarmac and Men’s tarmac have the exact same geometry…

    • Simon Bryant

      From the arcticle
      “…Specialized’s product teams have poured into fit data to design and manufacture non-gendered frame geometry…”

      • Thomas Bonamy-Cossard

        thank for the precision, my bad then. I noticed the new tarmac is like an in between of the geometry of the older one and the amira, so yes it fits very well either men or women (I already fitted a few dozen of them).

        it’s also clever that you now only need 1 mold instead of 2 ahah

    • Yeah, these are non-gendered geos – but S kept the “mens” and “womens” categories.

    • Tarmac BIKE geometry is women specific, Tarmac FRAME geometry isn’t. There’s more to the bike geometry than the frame as in saddle width, bar width and stem length.

      • Thomas Bonamy-Cossard

        ahahahahahahahah c’mon man. The Stem length is also exactly the same. The only difference is the saddle and the handlebar width. So don’t bullshit me by saying the tarmac Bike is women specific.

        • You don’t get the message right. Thousands of fit sessions, non arguable data, has proven that men and women can ride the same bike and only small individual tweaks are needed since we’re all different. Jennifer from Machines for Freedom and I have very similar dimensions but different genders and after a fit session, we would ride the same frame. In a perfect world – non-gender specific or unisex would be the deal but it’s a hard sell that so Women’s and Men’s it is even though they’re the same frame.

          • Thomas Bonamy-Cossard

            I fully get the message. As a specialized BGfit bike fitter I fully understand what they are doing and I never said it was wrong. Of course men and women can ride the same frame, but not every man and every woman. Sometimes you need some small tweaks, but sometimes, some women cannot ride the same size even if they are the same height in example (vice versa for men). As for the tarmac SL6 specifically, specialized as managed to make a bike that fits both. But for the older generations, it was much harder to fit both gender on the same size and this is because they’re is significant differences in men and women morphology (in general). But saying than this thing applies to everyone is a false statement, because they’re to much variable.

            *don’t forget that at first I misread the articles and I thought that they said the new tarmac Women and Men had different geometry*

  • Flavio San

    Can we have more details on the paints used?
    Thanks, stunning bike.

  • Johan Brox

    Cool bike, but keep your eyes straight through the marketing.

    This is still a road bike made for 700c wheels in all sizes, which means that the small frames get the same wonky 71° head tube and 76° seat tube like all the competitors. This means that weight distribution and handling for size 44 and 48 (relevant for all genders) is compromised. This is like designing a small city car for massive 19” wheels – absolute crazyness in the car industry, but evidently a sound idea in the bike biz.

    The problem could easily be solved with scaling the wheels down to 650c or 650b – good tires and forks are available, and a 48cm frame would look and ride like a scaled down 56cm.

    • DBordewisch

      Johan, Wow! i’m impressed, right on. Everything you said is so right. Everything just goes wonky when top tubes get down to around 52cm. , you nailed it!

    • Superpilot

      Was it Emma Pooley got frames made for 650 wheels while riding pro? She was sick of the toe overlap or something. Granted that’s racing though, where neutral support only carry 700..

      • Bil Thorne

        She also hates how vertical she is on 700c wheels. Even with stems slammed she can’t get low enough on the front.

    • Long term, we’ll get there, no doubt, but when 90% of “the industry” is men and money and men do all the talking, investing in what really makes sense for these riders makes less sense…makes sense?

      • Johan Brox

        That means a lot, coming from you. I understand that the market (both supply and demand) makes it hard for one company to plonk down the cash for small-rider solutions. As it stands a Specialized 650c road bike would have to use an off-brand fork and off-brand wheels, and we all know how that looks.

        However, this model and Giant’s Liv brand shows that demand for small-stature frames is rising and that the big players are starting to respond. It is only a question of time before one company forges ahead with a fully-realized solution – taking a loss the first years, but establishing itself as the go-to brand for women.

        How cool wouldn’t it be if Specialized in the next 3 years could present fully scalable frames designed around 2 corresponding wheel sizes? You could make a slick landing page explaining all the benefits, making all orher bikes seem obsolete. I mean, you’re already halfway there with actual 36cm handlebars :)

  • nothingfuture

    This is a cool bike- the paint, obviously, is super impressive, and the build is top notch. No arguments there, I think,
    I’m a teeny bit confused though- I was under the impression that most women benefitted from a shorter top tube at a given size than a man riding the same frame size. That is to say, two people (one male, one female) both riding 54cm frames might (on average) benefit from two different length top tubes. My understanding had been that women (on average) had proportionately longer legs and shorter torsos than men at a given height. (Also, I had understood that men and women, given different proportions in upper/lower legs benefitted from different seat tube angles…)
    I’d be very happy to be wrong- having my understanding update/corrected would be excellent. But if my understanding is still accurate, would a gender neutral frame simply split the difference between those two top tube lengths?
    Somebody set me straight.

      • nothingfuture

        Thanks, John! That’s a super helpful article.
        My understanding is now (more) up-to-date!

        • Superpilot

          Wow I’d never thought about weight distribution! Perhaps riding a shorter top tube made the torso more upright and shifted more weight off the shoulders, and it wasn’t a different body length proportion issue at all!

      • Rider_X

        Shouldn’t women’s specific geometries be using a longer front center (i.e., more rake/less trail) to optimize handling for differences in center of gravity? I don’t think anyone does that.

      • Nick Erickson

        The center of gravity (from the article) makes allot of sense. Women tend to have less upper body strength, combined with the different center of gravity would lead to a shorter top tube. I’ve also noticed female pros climb in the saddle more than their male counterparts. Not sure if that last fact is accurate. I could see these bikes being a great ride for a broad audience.

  • beautiful

    das ding is so brutal geil

  • Ryanisinallofus

    Apparently nobody needs to #SaveTheRoadBike .

    • Ryanisinallofus

      Seriously this might be the best looking road bike I’ve ever seen.