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Questions remain regarding the delay in Specialized's Tarmac SL7 recall

Given that replacement parts were already with bike shops, some have questioned why Specialized didn’t issue a ‘stop ride’ notice far sooner.

Further concerns are being raised by owners of Specialized’s Tarmac SL7 bikes, due to what some feel is a delay in issuing warnings that strong impacts such as hitting a large pothole could cause a serious steerer tube failure, potentially resulting in a crash.

On Tuesday, Specialized told Tarmac SL7 owners to stop riding their bikes, but the news had already been leaked by the YouTuber durianrider. The recall notice stated that “harsh frontal impacts, e.g. impacting a deep pothole with significant force, may put extraordinary stress on headset components and may initiate a crack in the fork’s steerer tube. A damaged fork may break if continued to be used, posing fall and injury hazards.”

While some riders that use the SL7 will have tucked their bikes up for the winter, many - this writer included - have been continuing to use their Tarmac SL7s, and have therefore been risking a crash.

Specialized SL7 Recall

The recall itself concerns two component parts of the headset. First, the compression ring (figure 2), that allows the brake hoses and any shift cables to pass through, has been changed to a silver two-piece design with a thin sleeve that sits between it and the carbon steerer tube. This had already been shipping on bikes and framesets for a number of months, arriving on my SL7 in May.

The second, and perhaps more crucial part, is the expander plug (figure 1) which sits inside the steerer tube. It is the piece that the top cap pulls on when you’re setting the headset, and the new part has been dramatically lengthened so that, even with the maximum number of spacers sitting under the stem, the expander plug will extend to below the upper headset bearing. Having a longer expander plug helps to distribute pressure through a larger part of the steerer tube.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - stem and spacers.jpg

It could be argued that Specialized was simply trying to make the recall process as smooth as possible for users by having the correct replacement parts already in bike shops and ready to be fitted. But it may well have scored a massive own goal by trying to get everything set before warning customers of a potential issue, no matter how small the chance of failure might have been.

Specialized suggests that only two incidents of steerer failure have been reported and from this figure, Dave Rome of CyclingTips suggests that, when you consider that the number of SL7s sold in the US amounts to around 6,900 bikes (sold between July 2020 and August 2021), the rate of failure is tiny.

Specialized has been approached for comment.

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