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Specialized Debuts Project Black Shiv TT Bike

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Triathlete senior editor Jay Prasuhn gives a preview of Specialized’s 2010 products. Click here for photo gallery.

The Specialized 2010 Global Press Launch took place this past weekend at Snowbird Ski Resort in the Wasatch Mountain Range southeast of Salt Lake City. Sunday’s presentation concluded with three engineers seated in a row, faced with the task of addressing a room full of global media. Putting a bunch of protractor-wielding computer geeks on show is not typically the way a bike company puts its flashiest foot forward—it’s usually a slick marketing guy putting on the spin.
Before the engineers began their spiels, a very raw video began playing on the screen. In it, Team Saxo Bank directeur sportif Bjarne Riis moved into frame, and the video captured the look in Riis’ eyes as the “Project Black” (aka Shiv) bike is revealed. The camera then cut to time trial world champ and Olympian Fabian Cancellara at the team’s training camp in Majorca, Spain this past January. At the time, Specialized was courting Saxo Bank for sponsorship, and was intent on delivering the message that they were a forward-thinking bike brand.

Message received.

“That’s a bull,” Riis said flatly as his eyes pored over the bike. Cancellara grinned too as he circled the black mass in the middle of the room. Riis shook engineer Chris D’Alusio’s hand; “Good job.” For anyone not familiar with the stoic nature of Riis, something as simple as a handshake is a ringing endorsement.

A relationship was forged. As Riis left the room, the camera captured Riis muttering something unintelligible. D’Alusio, replied: “Yes, it will be fast.” Riis whirls around toward him and says, “I know—finish it fast.”

“It says something about Saxo Bank how giddy they were to get their hands on it,” Specialized engineer Mark Cote said with a smile.

While the weekend of presentations and riding the products that will be in Specialized dealers ran the gamut, our interest lay focused on the debut of this new Project Black TT bike, and the three engineers—Cote, D’Alusio and Luc Callahan, had lots to say.

Project Black, of course was an early moniker. After making its debut at the Tour of Romandie and subsequent final TT stage victory by Cancellara at the Tour de Suisse, the public lay in wait to hear any details about this new rig. Both Cancellara and Andy Schleck were the first guinea pigs before it’s public debut. Video captured his Cancellara’s first words after his maiden voyage: “It’s really, really stiff.”

Stiffness was his focus, but it was but one element that went into this beast. For the engineering team, it was about blending a balance of stiffness, aerodynamics and functionality.

To be clear, the Shiv is its own bike. While from afar is seems as though it shares queues with some other new offerings in the industry, the Shiv was a ground-up product that began more than a year ago with the engineering crew out of Specialized global headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif.

Specialized came into Project Black with pointed engineering targets: a bike with 550 grams of head-on aero drag at 30 miles per hour, and sub-500 grams of drag at yaw. The goals in the frame were to deliver torsional, bottom bracket and rear-triangle stiffness, as well as a 1,300-gram frame mass.

The fully integrated aerobar had its own targets as well: raceable ergonomics, and focus on aerobar stiffness because of the front end’s integrated system. In the end, the Shiv was the product of 13 trips to five wind tunnels—the majority at the A2 Wind Tunnel in North Carolina and the University of Washington Wind Tunnel—with more than 100 hours spent inside, as well as work in-house on computational fluid dynamic programs. The team brought in Chester Kyle, head of the U.S. Olympic Project ’96 squad.

Engineers used China clay (chalk and kerosene) to see what streaked flow attached as well as traditional yarn tuft tests. Kyle had a unique approach, using a stethoscope butted against a rod, which he held to the frame, analyzing the sound effect derived as wind passed over the frame.


Several engineers coming at the project with multiple areas of focus is what, Specialized says, makes it unique. Mark Cote was wholly focused on aerodynamics; Chris D’Alusio approached the project from a functionality standpoint. Luc Callahan battled to add stiffness and handling, which typically conflicts with aerodynamics goals. The only parts not developed by Specialized are the shifters, derailleur, brake levers and chain.


The Shiv aerobar is fully integrated with the frame and fork. The internal shift and brake cable exits cleanly out the back of the basebar and ports back into the frame at the front of the top tube. The aerobar was re-designed four times, twice per UCI’s new 3:1 basebar aspect regulations. “We said it’s absolutely gotta be one of the strongest bars out there,” Cote said.

The basebar is fixed to the nose cone, which is effectively the stem. The fork flares from a 1” to 1 1/8” headset bearings top to bottom, for increased frontal stiffness. We will get to fit later, as it relates more globally to frame fit.

The way the brakes are affixed is truly unique; the cyclo-cross style brake on the front extends down the stem, and is actually set at caliper level onto a “strap” that affixes to fork crown for greater stiffness. The bosses are reverse-facing, with two 6mm bolts that thread into an insert extending from the fork crown. Therefore, the brakes mount not to the fork, but rather the stem, in a backward-facing fashion. It’s fairly wide in order to house the brake setup, but the design effectively made for a longer airfoil section, resulting, Specialized says, in a smaller wake than the narrowest leading-edge headtubes.

“The stem is one structure, which bolts onto the bottom of the crown, but the strap really adds a greater benefit of stiffness,” Cote said.

D’Alusio had this to say about the bike; “Because you cannot access the front brake with microadjust ease, the quick release will be built into the brake lever. Our test bikes were set up with SRAM TT brake levers, jury-rigged with a barrel adjuster to allow for caliper width adjust, whether on the fly or opening to remove the front wheel.”

The brakes are also capable of receiving wheels with flat or bulged/wide rim widths.

While the test bikes were set up with level brake lever inlets on the aerobars, Specialized (more pointedly Team Saxo Bank) opted for a traditional upturned end. Cote said aero advantage to a level brake were minimal, but the greater issue was safety for their ProTour team riders. The bikes will come stock with an S-Bend extension, cut to fit from the extension end.

The stem smoothes straight back to the level toptube for a clean aero effect, while the level design helps enhance frame stiffness. “I’m a little obsessed about the parallel toptube concept,” Cote said. “We wanted to hit the head-on aerodynamics of the Transition, which we consider to be the best in the industry.

The downtube has a fairly wide upper reach for smooth air flow off the stem/nosecone—of course with the added benefit of increased stiffness. “We wanted to optimize the leading edge,” Cote said. “Everything there affects how it interacts with the downtube, with the water bottle, with the crankset.”

The Shiv borrows the same flared chainstays and seatstays that are seen on its predecessor, the Transition. “We found in the wind tunnel that moving the stays closer to the wheel works better when factoring in a rider’s legs as they turn in front of the stays,” Cote said.

Nylon cable guides promise easy cable runs. A rear-access, seat-binder bolt, horizontal alloy rear dropouts, alloy front-fork dropouts and use of the same rear brake and placement as found on the Transition finish the Shiv. The module as sold will come with the S-Works BB30 crankset.

Aerodynamically, Cote said the Shiv is optimized for 10 to 20 degree crosswinds, based on wind speed and direction averages (determined using aero sensors extending off a test bike) following outdoor track testing last year at Lowes Motor Speedway.

“The result of our tests at Lowes on the road with aero sensors was  a 10 percent drag drop at zero degrees compared to the Transition,” Cote said. But off angle, (especially at around 15 degrees on the bike’s drive side), the drag plummets, from 596g on the Transition to 386g on the Shiv,

“The width through the headtube section actually helps us to through crosswinds,” Cote added.

In the end, Cote would invite an open, independent test against any of its competitors, using agreed-upon protocol. “We’ll challenge anybody,” Cote said. “We may as well, with an agreed upon protocol. Varying degrees of drag up to 20 degrees, without rider. Pepsi Challenge, we’re up for it.”


Given the fixed front-end setup and the fact that the only change between frame sizes is reach, Specialized goes away from traditional centimeter sizing, as well as T-shirt sizing, in lieu of an easier-to-fit X and Y coordinate fit. The frame will be offered in four sizes, and operate on stack and reach measures. Every bike will have a stack from BB to the center of the aerobar pad of 543mm, with the frames differing in length.

Frame sizes will be the 456, the 471, the 486 and the 506—a measure from aerobar pad center back to the vertical intersect of the bottom bracket. The two largest sizes are fairly long, making the fit fairly exclusionary.

The aerobar pads and extensions can be run flush with the basebar, but they also have vertical fit capability, rising and falling in unison. The pads and extensions can come up with individual spacers up to 45mm above the basebar. After that, Specialized offers a carbon fiber riser with a crossbar for greater stiffness over a longer reach. This crossbar riser will move the pads and extensions from 45 to 75mm above the basebar.

The seat angle is an effective 76 degrees, with the stock carbon fiber seatpost wearing a zero-offset rail clamp, idealized for its ProTour teams. There is a 2cm forward rail clamp on offer, which is what we tested, and there are discussions for an even increased forward post, with greater application for triathlon.


The standard post will be a zero offset. But it’s my contention that once they offer a forward clamp post (as I rode today), there’s no reason this won’t be an attractive draw for triathletes. Granted, while the ProTour team is the focus with the creation of the Shiv, there’s enough fit option on the table that make this a ride that triathletes can get an appropriate fit aboard, and that forward post is key to that end. It was easy for me to get my saddle nose to my preferred place, 1.5cm behind the bottom bracket.

Our test bike was slammed at the front in a position appropriate for a guy like Fabian Cancellara doing a 15K prologue. While not an ideal setup (I’d have been interested in testing with a higher front end, perhaps their new crossbar), I had just enough flexibility to truly test the Shiv. The vertical aerobar rise capability makes this a no-problem fit for a triathlete. The only question is whether the toptube length is to your liking. According to Specialized, a fit tool for the Shiv is coming soon.

The greatest palpable feature in the Shiv is the frame stiffness from front to back, including a chainstay and bottom bracket existing as a one-piece for greater stiffness, but most noticeable in the front end. I’ve always held the Trek TTX and Kuota Kueen K as stiffness benchmarks, but the Shiv is, from an unscientific standpoint after just one ride, seemingly in that rare air. It’s not necessarily a high priority, as triathletes aren’t sprinting out of corners or up climbs, but in the saddle, its unyielding design will be a benefit when transferring power to the pedal. “The bike is nearly as stiff as the S-Works Tarmac SL2,” said Callahan. “That’s the key to cornering and pedaling out of saddle. That’s what Cancellara wanted, and that’s what he got.” Shiv owners will get it, too.

Any question as to the veracity of braking power was quickly quelled; I made every effort to load both front and rear brake on descents in an emergency braking simulation, and it had every bit of stopping power as, say, a SRAM Force stock brake caliper. Zero concerns regarding the ability to stop the Shiv once you get it rolling.


What about the Transition? Specialized still made the point that the bike Chris McCormack won the Hawaii Ironman aboard in 2007 is still has the greatest fit variability for the largest segment of triathletes. To that end, Specialized added three new frame models: a new 700c XS frame, and a XL and XXL frame, the latter two each getting taller with the same reach.

Will we see any of Specialized’s pro triathletes, including Chris McCormack, Desiree Ficker, T.J. Tollakson and Terenzo Bozzone, aboard the Shiv? “When it comes down to it, of course we will always want our athletes on the best bike they can be on.” Cote said. “For some it may be good, for some it may not. We’ll see. But I can tell you that as soon as Terenzo came to Morgan Hill and saw the bike I was testing, he said ‘man, if I don’t get to be on that bike ‘cuz you’re on it, I’ll have to kill you for it.’”

The Shiv will be available as a module only: frame, fork, aerobar, brake levers and seat post. Posts will spec as zero offset, and Specialized staffers are not certain about the availability of the +2cm post, as well as an even more forward post that they are considering for production. The module will be available in Spring of 2010, Specialized says, in very limited quantities, with four frame sizes.

For a complete photo gallery from the event click here.