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The 1st Generation Specialized Venge; The Perfect Balance Between Aero and Weight

The first generation Specialized Venge is no more. Up until two years ago (2018) you could buy the first gen. Venge as an entry-level “Elite” that went for $2,500. I paid $3,100 for my Specialized Venge “Comp” back at the end of 2013 and that was Specialized’s end-of-season sale price – the full MSRP was a whopping $3,700 and the “Comp” (changed to the “Elite” in ’15) was the lowest class of Venge. It came with Shimano 105 ten speed components and brakes with a cheap chain and a Tiagra 10 speed cassette. The Axis 2.0 wheels that came on the bike were spectacularly heavy for a $4,000 bike and they rolled like ass. A $300 set of Vuelta Corsa SLR wheels later and I saved a full pound. The upgrade was worth about about 1-1/2-mph in improved roll, too.

On the other hand, the paint job was stunning.


My 2013 Venge Comp with the Vuelta Corsa SLR wheel upgrade
There was a reason the Venge commanded such a premium early on. New in 2012, the Specialized Venge was one of the very first “aero” road bikes to hit the market. Rather than simply tapering off the fork and easing some leading edges, the Venge reinvented the game in leading edges. Even the seat stays were turned into blades to better cut through the wind along with the down tube, the seat tube and seat post, even the head and top tubes were modified to channel or better cut through the air. Specialized consulted with McLaren (the hyper-car manufacturer) to come up with the carbon lay-up innovations needed to manipulate the frame shapes.

The Venge exploded in popularity. All of a sudden it was in the top of the heap in tour wins (or just behind the perennial first place Specialized Tarmac) and they began popping up in everything from local crits and road races to club rides. We have six regular 1st Gen. Venge riders on our Tuesday night club ride (and one 2nd Gen. Venge ViAS), no other make/model comes close.

In 2016, Venge ViAS came out taking aero to the next level, times two. Two things happened when the ViAS came out: 1. The price went up. Big time. 2. The weight went up by four pounds over the 1st Gen. Venge. Nowadays, you’ll have to part with a cool $8,000 to sit atop a new Venge. And the new rigs come with a stiff penalty. Just a couple of years ago, a top-of-the-line ViAS would run you more than $12,000 and weighed in at a bulky 18-1/2 pounds. Today, it’s my understanding that the T-o-L ViAS has been slimmed down to the 16 pound neighborhood (possibly as low as 15.8 pounds).

Where this gets interesting is in the 1st Gen comparison. My $3,000 Venge comp was 18-1/2 pounds out of the box. I upgraded the wheels, stem, handlebar (S-Works), crankset (S-Works), brakes, and drivetrain (from mechanical 105 to mechanical Ultegra) and dropped three pounds.


…And that’s where the 1st Gen Venge buries new bikes; weight. If you look at newer aero bikes, they’re generally heavy. The Madone SLR 9 with all of the bells and whistles comes in at 17.3 pounds ($12,300). If memory serves, the ViAS is 16-ish ($12,500). The Scott Foil (top end $9,000) is comes in at 16.6 pounds. The Giant Advanced SL 1 is 16.4 pounds ($12,200). You can see where this is going, I hope. I’ve got decent components on my 1st Gen. Venge, but I’m a far cry from Dura Ace and I come in a pound under the $12,000 monsters. Throw Dura Ace components on my bike and one more upgrade in wheels, with better brakes and I know for a fact I can get my bike down to a slender 14-1/2 pounds. I’ve seen one on the scale.

The point is, at a svelte 14-1/2 to 15-1/2 pounds, the 1st Gen Venge is aero and light by today’s standards. We 1st Gen owners get the best of both worlds, an aero bike that’s light enough for extended climbing. In my case, I’ve got $3,100 into the purchase of the bike, new, and another $3,000 into upgrades. For $6,000 I’ve got a legit aero race bike I can climb with.

They say aero trumps weight everywhere but in the mountains… but First Gen. Venge owners can have their cake and climb a mountain pass, too.

The Five Road Bike Upgrades You’re not Supposed to Need (One of Which, You Do. Real Bad)

I read a neat little article on Bike Radar that itemized five big road bike upgrades that the author suggests you don’t need.  Folks, I’ve never met an upgrade I didn’t like, but let’s dig into this with a little gusto, eh?

I’ll be frank, Frank.  I agreed with two. A couple were half “needs”.  One, the author is bat-shit crazy.  You need the upgrade, straight up.

First, let’s define “need”, because if you’re talking about needing a $4,000 high-end road bike, nobody “needs” one, but I’ve got $6,000 into mine, and I’d argue, if I didn’t need everything, I’d have put the money in the bank and let it sit there earning… oh… s#!+… what, $0.42 a year?

Look, it’s all “depth” of “need”.  Do I need a top-of-the-line road bike?  Of course I don’t!  To even suggest such a thing is ridiculous.  On the other hand, hey, I worked hard for the money to be able to afford a nice bike (or four err, five… six) – my only vice.  Also, as a recovering alcoholic who was once a scourge on society, having turned my life around and become a productive member of society, I’m perfectly at peace with allowing someone else the burden of guilt over a bicycle (or six).  Finally, if you’re going to ride with the crowd I do, at my age, every little bit of mechanical advantage you can buy will help.

With the cow pucky (guilt) out of the way, let’s look at what Bike Radar says are unnecessary upgrades in their article:

  • Electronic shifting – I know, everyone who has electronic shifting is jumping up and down, going, “But dude, it’s the bees knees, man!”  I know, I’ve got three friends who have it and they all say they’ll never go back to mechanical.  I’ve got another two who ride eTap and they can’t say enough good about it.  One guy has eTap on three of his bikes (one Pinarello F10, a Colnago C60, and… oh, does it matter?).  Point is, I know how great it is.  We’re talking about need, though.  E-shifting comes close, but not quite.
  • Tubular tires.  What you need, if you ride tubs is a crew to feed you new wheels when you flat one of those tubs.  I’m all on board with not needing tubular tires.  Still, I have a couple of friends who ride them…  They are light, I’ll give ’em that.
  • Next up is Disc Brakes, and this is my “half”.  Look, bro, or sis, as the case may be…  Disc brakes are the cat’s pajamas.  Having ridden them on my gravel bike (cable) and my mountain bike (hydraulic), they are almost marvelous enough to be a need.  Need or not, I won’t be buying a new bike without them (I think).  They’re that good.
  • The next ‘half-a-need” is an Aero Frame.  Yeah, you really don’t need one… but the real question is, “would you want to live without one?”  No I would not.  Once you’ve ridden a standard frame enough, you can feel the difference drafting in a pace line, between a standard frame and an aero frame.  It’s a small difference, but there is an unmistakable advantage.  Unmistakable.  Now, to be fair, most cyclists aren’t going to bother training to ride fast enough to get full use out of an aero bike frame.  For those who are willing to ride at a 20+ mph average (34 km/h), that aerodynamic frame moves precariously close to a need.

Now I’m going to break with my protocol, where I try to find common ground with the original author and I’m going to call BS on the last one.

Carbon fiber wheels.

Before and After

A buddy of mine, six or seven years ago, having just bought his first carbon fiber wheelset, called me up to let me know I needed a set of my own.  I didn’t heed his suggestion.  He was right.  Having gone from riding alloy wheels for years, to carbon fiber in the last couple of months, I can state fairly, they’re as close to a need as you get in cycling.  Carbon fiber wheels make a bike better.  If you’ve got a great bike on alloy wheels, carbon fiber wheels will make your bike spectacular.  If you’ve got a good bike, they’ll make it great… etcetera  on down the line.  Now, because my readership is generally exceptionally bike-savvy, you noticed I skipped “top-notch”.  If you’ve got a spectacular bike, you’ll already have carbon fiber wheels on it.

I want to go to what the article says, though, to add a little clarity:

Carbon wheels are AWESOME. Everyone thinks so. They look cool, they sound cool and they’re more aero so you’ll go faster, right?

Well, maybe, but full carbon wheels are incredibly expensive and if your bike has rim brakes, the braking is almost invariably worse than with cheap alloy rims, especially if it’s raining.

If you’re a lighter rider, deep section wheels will make your bike harder to handle because they catch more wind. You could swap back to your regular wheels when the weather’s bad, but don’t forget you’ll have to change brake pads as well because carbon requires special pads.

Does it still seem worth the effort?

Okay, first, everyone “thinking so” about the awesomeness of carbon fiber wheels is useless.  Discard that.  “They look cool” and “sound cool” are equally useless.  Discard that.  “You’ll go faster, right?”  Bingo.  Yes you will.

The braking does suck, though it’s not all that bad.  I don’t ride the good bike with the carbon wheels in the rain, so that doesn’t matter – if I get caught out with them, I’ll have to be a little more mindful of the stopping distance.  Simple as that.  If you’re a lighter rider, you will get blown around a little more – so you don’t buy 80’s, you go with 38-40mm for the depth of your wheels (not exactly rocket science there).

Now that last point, about swapping brake pads for the alloy and carbon fiber wheels, that gets interesting and the point probably deserves its own post…  If you’re frugal, like me, you just say, “Hey, I’ll just ride the carbon wheels in the nice weather and put the alloy wheels on there if there’s a chance of rain.  I’ll bet I can get away with using the carbon fiber brake pads on my alloy wheels…  Yeah, I’m brilliant.”

You’re a smart cookie.  That’s what I thought, but I know some of my harebrained schemes can be a little… well… harebrained, so I looked it up on the interwebz:

Can you use carbon brake pads on alloy rims?
Yes, it works but alloy pads perform much better on alloy rims and the change from alloy to carbon rims can be dangerous for carbon rims. Any alloy bubble in the carbon pad can destroy a carbon rim in only a few braking intervals.

I didn’t think of that but it makes a hell of a lot of sense.  You may or may not know that it’s common maintenance to clean out your brake pads a time or two every season to make sure you don’t have any small bits of rim-metal stuck in the pads.  Well, if I switch my wheels to use the alloy rims in the rain and I get a bit stuck in the carbon-friendly pads… well, you get the idea.  That’s a fair amount of work to get around – and one missed piece of aluminum in a pad could spell curtains for one of your rims (assuming, of course, you could get another rim).

In that case, no, swapping the wheels is not worth the effort… so you get a rain bike to ride in the rain.  Bingo!  Bob’s your uncle.

Look, we’re going to upgrade our bikes.  It’s what we do.  So the first place I’m going to go will be the wheels.  Nothing will make an instant difference in riding speed and the weight of a bike like a decent set of wheels – and if you’re able to go from alloy to carbon fiber, you’ll get the added benefit of exponentially improved ride quality to boot.

Do I need carbon fiber wheels like I need food?  No, of course not.  But now that I’ve got them, I needed them.  Know what I mean?

Of course you do.