The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7, Cervelo S5, Colnago V4RS and Pinarello Dogma F are some of the most successful road bikes of the 21st century, the top cyclists who ride them are likely to add to this winning tally during this year's Tour de France. UCI rules mean that these ostentatious machines are also available to mere mortals like you and me... so, which is best? Let's find out!
Value for money and the Tour de France aren’t exactly two things that go together, and today's test is no exception. That's because we’ve got our hands on some of the most expensive bikes that you can possibly buy.
If you’re in the market for the ultimate road bike, or just like looking at what the pros are riding, then here's how they compare and which we’d spend our money on.
You might have already seen from our previous videos that my personal pride and joy is an S-Works Tarmac SL7, the one shown above in fact! However, over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to ride some of its World Tour competitors. Let's find out if it’s made me regret my purchase…
Let’s start with the Pinarello Dogma F. After all, this is the bike that the Ineos Grenadiers have made famous - and although a Tour de France GC victory looks unlikely this year, Pinarello remains the brand with the most Tour de France wins by quite a margin.
The Dogma was also one of the first bikes to truly embrace the aero AND lightweight philosophy, combining aerodynamic tube shapes without going so mad that the bike weighs too much to smash it up a mountain.
Some people like to call this particular version the F14, but officially Pinarello ditched the numbering system when this bike was released in 2021, replacing the F12. There are plenty of nods back to Pinarello bikes of old: for example, the fork still has the 'Onda' curve which is said to reduce longitudinal and lateral shocks.
This latest generation also has fully integrated cables, is 9% lighter and is 4.8% less draggy than the F12 that won all those races according to Pinarello.
Our particular build is a very Italian affair, with Campagnolo Super Record EPS and these very swish Campagnolo Hyperon wheels. Like nearly all the Dogma F bikes out there, the finishing kit comes from the in-house componentry brand MOST.
Next up we have a bike which has a far greater chance of winning the Tour, the Colnago V4Rs. This will of course be piloted by the likes of Tadej Pogacar and Adam Yates. Like Ineos, UAE Team Emirates will have just one bike at their disposal for the 2023 Tour, which will be used by both sprinters and mountain goats alike.
The V4Rs isn’t exactly a brand new bike despite only being released last year. Pogacar was seen for what seemed like ages on the 'Prototipo', before we discovered that it would indeed be called the V4Rs.
Our particular build is a bit of a mashup between the UAE 2022 and 2023 setups, with a team colourway, a 12-speed Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9200 groupset as well as Dura-Ace C50 wheels and a Deda cockpit.
If we’re talking about winning bike races, then this is one bike that kind of has to make the cut. The Cervelo S5 is the Canadian brand's out-and-out aero race bike. At last year’s Tour it was the most victorious bike in the peloton, picking up three stage wins and plenty more podium finishes.
There’s plenty to look at on this bike, not just because of the garish green paint job commemorating Wout Van Aert’s green jersey at last year's Tour. With the radical head tube and wing-style stem, Cervelo designers have really ripped up convention in the name of cheating the wind.
Believe it or not, the bike we got our hands on is Wout van Aert's actual bike that he rode on to the Champs Elysse last year, so predictably I wasn't allowed to ride it, not even around the block! Happily, however, the local bike shop had one that I was able to ride in a very similar build with Shimano Di2 and Dura-Ace wheels.
At this year's Tour, there are a few major differences between the Jumbo–Visma bikes when compared to Van Aert's green machine, as the team has switched to SRAM groupsets in a lucrative offer that Shimano reportedly couldn’t match.
The wheels have also been switched out, with this year's bikes fitted with Reserve wheels, a sister company to Cervelo. My word the bike industry is incestuous!
Take a look around any pro peloton, Surrey club run or in the pages of a high-end bike magazine, and you’ll be hard-pressed to miss the Tarmac SL7. This bike has almost become too popular for its own good! The SL7 has a truly enviable reputation as THE lightweight 'and' aero bike to beat.
A year ago when looking for my own ultimate bike, the SL7 was my frameset of choice. It's a bike that showcases the potential and engineering prowess of the big S, rather than previous efforts such as the Venge ViAs. I also owned a rim brake Venge ViAs, and it was most definitely a bike to forget in my opinion.
With this SL7, the compromises in my mind are just right. The cables are semi-integrated and run under the stem, something that has now become far more popular than when the bike was released in 2021. The frame weight now rivals that of a pure climbing bike.
Unlike many brands, Specialized develops its top-end bikes in its own in-house wind tunnel (called the Win Tunnel of course), which means that simulation time is much less limited, and real-world performance is more likely when compared to bikes developed purely using CFD (Computational fluid dynamics).
Out of all the bikes here, you could argue that this one is the lowest spec with a now quite dated Shimano Ultegra 11-speed Di2 groupset and first-generation Roval Rapide wheels. If you want to check out the rest of my build, including Magura brake callipers and a shiny titanium top cap, then click the link above.
Let’s kick off our comparison with some prices shall we. Be warned they’re all pretty eye-watering!
It’s safe to say that if value for money is the aim of the game, then all four of these bikes are some way off even making the long list. The S-Works Tarmac SL7, despite now being £500 more than it was at launch in 2020, is actually the 'cheapest' frameset at £4,500. As with all the bikes here, you get a proprietary seatpost included.
The V4RS is next, costing £5,000 for the frameset. Unlike the SL7 you don’t get a stem included, so you’ll need to add that to your bill.
The S5 takes another jump up to £5,400, but does come with a set of bars and a stem. This means it likely works out similar to the V4RS if you’re building them up with equally premium components.
Finally, the most expensive of the four is the Dogma F which comes in at £5,500 with few additional extras, meaning your total build cost might be quite scary.
I thought I’d have a quick look and see what full bikes you can currently get for that kind of money, and the answer is most! You can buy bikes with carbon aero frames, electronic groupsets and carbon deep-section wheels for five grand or less, and that’s before even looking at the second-hand market. In fact, in our 2023 road bikes buyer's guide only two complete bikes will set you back more than these framesets. One thing is for sure, if you want the ultimate in the world of bikes then you need some very deep pockets!
Geometry plays a pretty key role in the way a bike rides. As you can imagine, with all the bikes being designed for racing, they’re aggressive, low-slung machines.
We’ve compared the bikes in a size 54cm (or medium) which is a 530 in the case of the V4Rs. The simple reason for this is that it's the size I ride, but the numbers are relative across the size range.
When it comes to reach, the Tarmac SL7 and the V4RS are the slightly longer bikes, but with only a 4mm difference between the longest and shortest - we’re not even talking about having to use a different stem length.
The stack of the bikes throws up some slightly larger differences. The SL7 and the S5 are the lower of the bikes, and it’s not surprising given the short headtube on the Cervelo.
That said, even the Colnago with the biggest stack and headtube is far from an endurance bike. So, if you’re not looking for that super aero position that can get uncomfortable, then an endurance -orientated bike might be the way to go. The extra comfort that they can provide can mean you will ride it quicker anyway.
The SL7, S5 and Dogma F all share a head angle in the region of 73 degrees, which is fairly typical of a modern race bike designed to combine fast steering with high-speed stability. The V4RS is the outlier here, with a slacker fork. This means, on paper, that the steering won't feel quite so quick in favour of descending stability.
The seat tube angles are all pretty similar and are designed to put you over the cranks for optimum power transfer - although you will notice that most pro riders switch to a 0-degree seatpost to put them even further forwards. This is most noticeable on the SL7 thanks to its seatpost shape.
So, out of all of them which feels the most aggressive? Well, the S5 certainly feels nimble with the shortest wheelbase and chainstays. The SL7 is pretty similar, followed by the Dogma F, and then the most relaxed of the four is the V4RS (but it’s far from an armchair).
If you’re tiny or very tall then the Pinarello might be your best bet, with 11 frame sizes ranging from 50cm to 62cm.
We’re being told more and more that weight isn’t the be-all and end-all, even on pretty hilly rides. If you’re shelling out this much on a bike though, we think it should at least be light enough to be able to impress anyone who picks it up at the cafe.
The SL7 and V4RS win in this regard, with frame weights of 800g and 798g respectively. The Dogma F is 865g unpainted, so not exactly a lot more, and it’s this bike that surprised me the most. With our setup it weighs 6.9kg, so just over the UCI weight limit. This i surprised me slightly given that it’s got discs and does look chunkier than the SL7 and V4RS.
As the out-and-out aero bike, it comes as little surprise that the S5 is the heaviest of the four, with a frame weight of 975g. The fork is also a bit heavier than its counterparts, and so most high-end builds end up weighing about 7.5kg.
For the vast majority of us, the minuscule differences in weights will have next to no effect on our performance, even on the hilliest of terrain. It’s probably best to ignore them unless you’re going full-weight weenie!
You’ve probably heard by now that tyres are getting wider. Most of the pros are on 28mm tyres, and riders like me now often like to train on 30mm tyres, with some even opting for 32mm. This means that tyre clearance is important for most of us when considering a new bike, but it’s unlikely to be a determining factor between these four.
Compared to previous generations, all four have boosted tyre clearance. The SL7 and V4RS offer a claimed capacity of 32mm, the S5 up to a whopping 34mm and the Dogma F still a perfectly respectable 28mm.
Realistically you can likely fit larger than those claimed sizes in each. Plenty of people have reported running 32mm tyres on the Pinarello with no rubbing, and so it’s highly unlikely that you’d ever need to max out any of these frames.
Call me vain, but looks matter! The SL7 frameset paint options get refreshed every year, and there are currently three options for 2023.
The V4RS is available in five colourways, including both the men's and women’s Team UAE and ADQ replicas. Personally I’d be most tempted by the white one...
With the S5 you’re certainly more limited with just two options. Cervelo has never been known for going loud with its paint - but to be fair, the two choices are pretty sweet in my opinion: a very stealthy black on black or sapphire/ice.
The colour options are an area where the Pinarello is the clear winner for me. Not only are there seven colourways to choose from, but the Myway section of the website allows you to customise your colour scheme with up to 5000 different combinations. You’re therefore unlikely to see two the same in any one place which to some riders will be invaluable. There are different graphic layouts, 27 different colours to choose from as well as gloss or matt finishes. Let us know what you think of my creation!
All that customisation does cost a pretty penny - £650, in fact. But if you’re dropping five and a half grand on a frameset alone, then suddenly it doesn't seem so bad to have it look like no one else's.
I’m guessing that you all want to know how they behave out on the road. Well, as you can imagine, they’re all very nice bikes to ride.
I reckon the S5 feels the stiffest. It’s a thoroughbred race bike that feels like a dying breed with the fastest handling, a less compliant rear end and slightly more weight (that is arguably negligible). It's everything an aero bike should be, and if I was contesting a Tour de France sprint then this is the bike I’d choose.
On UK roads I don't think the weight will hold you back at all. Most climbs last under 10 minutes, and therefore power and stiffness play a larger role than weight, unlike on the continual steep gradients of European mountain passes that can go on for over an hour.
However, the SL7 is the bike I’d choose to ride an entire Tour de France on if I did have to do the full three weeks on just one bike. Despite what manufacturers would have you believe, every bike is a compromise. It’s impossible to have a bike that is aero, light and compliant, yet super stiff - but the S-Works for me manages to compromise the least and deliver in each of those areas. It’s no wonder, then, that it’s racked up quite so many wins on sprint and mountain stages alike.
The V4RS is in essence a very similar bike to the Tarmac. It weighs pretty much the same, is supposed to be a do-it-all and it does indeed do it all well.
In our full review we gave it an 8/10, so it’s a very capable bike. We did pick up on the inherent stiffness, making it a less comfortable bike than some of its other World Tour all-around competitors, namely the SL7. That can be forgiven if it’s an out-and-out racer like the S5, but the slacker front end feels like an odd choice if that’s what Colnago was going for.
The Pinarello is a bike I’m torn on. The looks don’t necessarily do it for me, but I respect the decision to stick to the brand's heritage. In the press release, Pinarello talk about "balance". Until I rode the bike I dismissed this as meaningless PR talk, however on the road, I do get it. Like any good race bike, speed feels easy to come by both on the flats and climbs. The handling is just as suited to a twisty town centre crit as it is hooning down a fast descent.
Performance-wise, I think that the Dogma F is every bit as good as the SL7, but certainly doesn't exceed it. It also costs around a thousand pounds more.
In a world where road race bikes are looking more and more alike, the Pinarello has somehow looks managed to look like nothing else on the market. That does make it feel special.
The Colnago just doesn’t quite do it for me. It feels more 'ordinary' than the other bikes, and that means that I’d be far more tempted to get Colnago's C68 if I specifically wanted a Colnago to make me smile, because it's a bit more unique.
For me, the SL7 is still the bike to beat when it comes to road race bikes. It's this that the V4RS seemingly tries to emulate, but despite being nearly three years old, the SL7 still comes out on top.
The Cervelo S5 was the pleasant surprise of the bunch. It's just so bloody fast! Perhaps even the fastest bike I’ve ridden. But, would I choose it as a bike to ride every day of the week? No. It's a little too aggressive and not as compliant as the other bikes here.
In fact, all four bikes are hard to recommend to mere mortals like me and you. They’re phenomenal race machines, but in all honesty, you can get 99% of the performance from bikes half this price!
It's likely these four bikes are going to be responsible for a scary amount of Tour de France stage wins in 2023 - but would one of them be your first pick if money was no object? Let us know in the comments section below...
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...