Specialized Venge ViAS Disc
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been putting the new Specialized Venge ViAS Disc through its paces around town, in the hills and along the long flat, quiet rural roads of Victoria. This is the first road disc bike that we have had to test, and we’re just as curious as many of the people we ride with, as to why there is now such a hard push by bike manufacturers with their disc versions for the road. The reality is that disc brakes are much better in terms of stopping power than rim brakes, but do we really need them on our road and even time trial bikes? Interestingly, most of the push was started a while ago when disc brakes were getting the tick of approval from the UCI (pro cycling’s governing body).
Over the summer, and throughout the start of the new bike season, there has been a much less welcoming tone in bike racing circles with respect to disc brakes, coming from the riders and teams questioning their safety. This safety question relates to the open rotor blades potential to cut if they come into contact with a rider in a crash. As a result, the UCI are looking into some requests from the riders to make them safer, including rounded edge rotors, safety guards and that all riders in the peloton should use them, so everyone has equal stopping potential. Now the bike manufacturers will have to wait to see whether they will be allowed to be used in the pro racing.
The implication for us is that those race organisers under the UCI, such as the ITU (International Triathlon Union – triathlon’s governing body) and therefore all of the events run under Triathlon Australia’s banner should be restricted from using bikes with disc brakes until that rule is changed. This means your local bike and triathlon race organiser may not allow you to race a triathlon if you have these brakes fitted, although the restriction may only apply to races that allow drafting. It should be noted that the WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) and Challenge events, such as iron distance events and their shorter like, are not governed under this banner.
This all sounds like doom and gloom for the bike companies, but the reality is there seems to be little evidence to suggest that the injuries incurred from bike crashes involving disc bikes have actually been caused by the rotors. We don’t see the use of these bikes being restricted once the UCI have investigated the matter fully and therefore can envision no issues with their use for everyone from the road and tri markets. It should also be noted that Specialized do have a rim brake version of this exact bike, so if you are concerned about the potential for exclusion from participation based on brake mechanism for either bike racing or triathlon, you have nothing at all to worry about. The rim brake version is said to ride exactly the same, albeit for the reduced stopping power provided by the disc brakes.
The Venge ViAS (originally only a rim brake version) when first introduced was clearly designed to be the fastest road bike ever made. The marketing coming from the company spoke of around three to four percent time savings from the frame alone over its other road bikes, namely the lighter Tarmac. Likewise, the disc brake version was built to be just as fast if not more aerodynamic than its rimmed counterpart and was actually designed around the braking system. Given the UCI’s current feelings on the matter, you may think Specialized have jumped the gun, but the benefits to the bike’s aerodynamics can be made even greater when the design of the wheels can also be improved, as there is no brake track to deal with.
Putting the ViAS through its paces: The ViAS disc is spec’ed nicely with disc specific Roval 64 CL wheels and the super aero front end, with the -17 degree ViAS stem and Aerofly 25mm rise bar.
The ViAS disc is spec’ed really nicely with our favourite value for money group set – Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 11 speed but with Specialized own carbon crank; the brilliant disc specific Roval 64 CL wheels; Specialized’s sleek yet still comfy Power saddle; and the jewel in its crown, the super aero front end, with the -17 degree ViAS stem and Aerofly 25mm rise bar. The real beauty of the bar and stem can be noted with the distinct lack of any cabling – there is nothing to see! Everything is routed through the bar and stem, then hidden all the way to the outlet holes for brakes and derailleurs. The result of having a -17-degree stem (most stems are -8 degrees) means the hoods would likely be too low for many racers so the Aerofly bars get you back up to what a standard stem angle would give. A ‘flat’ bar is also available to those who want to get even lower, which in our opinion is a better look and probably preferred for us. Adding to the stylish bike Specialized has also included their Venge ViAS stem specific aerobar for TT and tri. These are specific to the bike due to the ViAS specific mount for 85mm and longer stems. The FACT carbon bars are very lightweight and comfortable option for you to reduce your aero profile. The one piece is really nicely designed to keep the similar look to the rest of the bike, letting you to either run a fully-fledged road rocket or the Shiv rivalling time trial/triathlon machine. The adjustability of the bar isn’t great with only fore and aft movement, but for us it worked beautifully. Obviously, if you’re thinking of racing in draft legal events, such as elite sprint races or the newly advertised age group draft legal sprints titles at the next World Championships for triathlon and duathlon, you’ll need the ITU version of the bar which is a little shorter to ensure it remains in line with or behind the brakes hoods.
Our test bike from our friends at Specialized was their 54cm test rig, which was a little small for one of us lengthwise but necessary for the stack height to be low enough given the test bikes generally run with one to two centimetres of spacers. If we were building this up from scratch for ourselves we would ideally have gone with the 56cm frame with zero spacers and the flat bars, but this was still a very doable option. Configuring the fit was a pretty easy task as we could only really adjust the saddle position and its height. One downside to this set up was that the jewel in the crown, the ViAS stem and bars, is unfortunately not easily adjusted and by that we mean that you need to be a mechanic or just make sure you’re dialled in when you first get set up. This is due to all that cabling and wiring going through the stem. You can’t simply swap out the stem or remove spacers as you would with an externally cabled ride. Like anything that has big advantages over the commonly seen alternatives, we only see this as an issue if you would need to change your position greatly from a road set up to triathlon or TT.
The feel of the bike in road mode is brilliant from pedal stroke one. It’s stiff through the bottom bracket and front end, which is further bolstered by the rock solid Roval 64 wheels. Teamed with 25mm tyres the ride is comfortable over all road surfaces. We found the brake hoods of the Ultegra shifters a bit fatter than we’ve used previously due to the beefed up design for the discs. After a ride we forgot about the difference but have heard latter versions of the Dura-Ace hoods will be a bit leaner.
Climbing on the bike feels very smooth with power transfer being directed into going straight ahead. The bike isn’t as light as some other road bikes, such as Specialized’s Tarmac but this wasn’t built to be a pure climbing bike. Going downhill, on the other hand, this bike is a weapon given its aerodynamic properties and greater ability to brake. Pouring rain can’t dampen this bike’s stopping power, and this is what makes disc brakes for road bikes nearly a necessity.
On the flats and gentle rollers the bike comes into its element. At this point I can start to understand why the guys at Specialized equate this to their tried and true triathlon bike the Shiv Tri. Take the front end off and replace it with integrated base bars and an extension system, and we’d agree with their claims. At this point the TT/tri bars are begging to be used to get you into that position where the wind sees as little of you a possible. The bars as we mentioned earlier are a perfect match to the bike. The whole idea of these bars is to turn an amazing road bike into a great TT bike, but this can only be done if you can firstly get into the ideal time trial position. For most people that may mean coming further forward on the seat towards the bottom bracket and having a lower front end, when compared to their road set up. If your road and TT set-ups are similar then you will find this the only bike you’ll ever need on the hardtop. One major benefits of a cockpit with bar-end shifters is having your gear levers at your fingertips, literally, but this isn’t an option for users of mechanical gearing. There are options on the bars to mount remote sprint shifters for users of electronic gear, such as the Di2 options offer.
So, as far as triathlon is concerned, where does the Venge ViAS disc fit in? As we briefly mentioned before both the World Sprint Championships in triathlon and duathlon are now draft legal for age groupers. This means if you wish to compete in these events you will need a road bike with tri bars that do not extend past your hoods. However, at this stage you also cannot use disc breaks. So, in reality you would probably be prevented from using this disc brake bike in any qualifying event you may compete in as well, but the rim brake option would be perfectly suited to the task. Having done many efforts from five up to 30km while we had the Venge, we would say it is really well suited to sprint and Olympic distance races. Although, if you were to look for one bike that you could use across all distances then the Venge ViAS would be as close to the best option as you could find. As the distances get longer, however, we would think that a dedicated TT or tri bike would be a better option. Even with the best aerodynamics going around, if you can’t get into your best position then you won’t be as fast over 90 to 180km.
The thing is, while Ironman may be the ‘pinnacle’ of our sport, the majority of athletes in triathlon compete in sprint and Olympic distances and will probably never step up to the half and full distance events. So, who wouldn’t want to have a versatile, powerful, aerodynamic, nimble and seriously fast rig to do their racing on? The only thing to consider if you’re looking for an all round, do-it-all race bike is whether to go with the disc or rim brake Venge ViAS. This is seriously the best road bike we’ve ridden and if we could only have one bike, there is no better choice than the Specialized Venge ViAS.