We review the Specialized Shiv Tri Module Ironman triathlon bike

Specialized Shiv Tri Module Review

Specialized Shiv Tri Module

Specialized Shiv Tri Module
£4,199 (frame and fork)

Specialized took some big risks with its radical Shiv triathlon bike, not least naming it after the American prison slang for homemade knives. The murderous speed its looks suggest is only part of the arsenal of this outstanding aero machine though.

The frame we’re testing here is the triathlon module, rather than the £4,800 time trial version. Ironically, the main difference is that the tri bike is more aerodynamic and faster. However the front of fork, brake-carrying block that Specialized euphemistically calls a ‘stem’ doesn’t pass stricter UCI regulations on non-structural fairings.

Luckily for us multi-sport athletes we get all the cable-tidy, smoothed airflow benefits of this original, more radical design. The top of the ‘stem’ also includes the flat, flush-mounted base bars, which, unlike most cockpits, are fixed height. Instead, the aero bars and curved arm rests – where Specialized expects you to spend most of your time – sit on adjustable pontoons, which allow 115mm of vertical height change to suit your chosen depth of tuck. Ski bend or straight extensions are also available.

From the bars back, the top tube stays dead straight right back to the wheel-wrapping bladed seat tube. The top tube and down tube are also joined to create a very long airflow-smoothing box behind the hidden tapered head tube. The bottom bracket is an oversized piece designed around Specialized’s S-Works carbon crank and running on ceramic bearings. Out back, the bladed seat stays and tapering curving chainstays with rear-facing alloy dropouts are surprisingly conventional, but they do their job fine.

Unfortunately the rarity of the Shivs mean we only had short stints with two different test bikes, so we concentrated on riding them rather than the cripplingly complex process of dismantling them to get a bare frame and fork weight. It’s certainly not a heavy chassis though.

Specialized has gone for an unprecedented level of integration with the Shiv. Front brake, ‘stem’ base bar extensions and even the brake levers themselves are all Shiv-specific items. While you could run other cranks in the bottom bracket, Specialized also supplies its own carbon-armed crankset as part of the package.

So you just choose gears, wheels and saddle. The lack of brake block spread due to their being mounted inside the fork legs mean that clearance is extremely tight, with the latest generation fatter rims. You also need to stop the frame flicking round to full lock, as this could snap off a large section of the stem fairing.

Even with a rear disc wheel, the sudden surge of speed when you press the pedals is awe-inspiring. Like the Cervélo, the Shiv locks you firmly into place on the face of a massive time-swamping tsunami. By supporting your weight through well-aligned bones it leaves every possible bit of muscle-fibre free for propulsion. It doesn’t squander that propulsion either, with a reassuringly rock-solid feel between sole and road surface.

Low weight means it’ll gain speed greedily on climbs or out of slow corners with an equally ravenous responsiveness. The sharp clacks of the stiff SRAM R2C shifters echo like whip-cracks as you match ratios to the building momentum, and the whole ride reaction is just inspirationally rapid.

From relatively low speeds, the aerodynamics of the Shiv are clearly doing something quite special too. Specialized has deliberately designed the frame to minimise drag in a wide range of wind angles rather than simple head-on speed. This is noticeable in a quiet, momentum-nurturing ride when tacking across the wind, and while it can twitch in crosswinds, there’s no sense that you’re spilling speed in anything less than a head-on headwind situation.

What sets the Shiv apart from many cutting-edge aero bikes though is the impeccable, confidence-boosting handling. While the brakes are soft compared to conventional anchors, tracking accuracy and traction communication are outstanding. It’s stable when you need it to be, but it never tramlines, turning in smoothly, and with real authority, even on treacherous, tightening-radius turns. As long as you stay calm, it never frets or flutters, even when you scream into corners at higher speeds than you should. A good job considering how much faster you’ll arrive at them than normal.

As threatening as the hatchet-head end, minimalist cockpit and deep tubes look, and as firm as it feels through the pedals, clever fibre work means a forgiving ride. The forks suck up a lot of Tarmac trauma without transmitting it to hands and shoulders, and fatigue levels are impressively low, even after long bike legs.

+ Cutting-edge aerodynamics give tangible speed increase
+ Excellent power transfer and class-leading handling

– Top-drawer performance means a top-dollar price
– Tight fat-rim clearance and potential jack-knife damage