Dan's Tarmac SL4 eTap an olympic bike update in an olympic year

The International Olympic Committee rules on sports equipment branding are pretty strict when it comes to the Games. Unlike when professionals race for their trade teams throughout the year and are festooned with sponsor logo after sponsor logo, during the Olympics they race for their home country and the IOC doesn't like a lot of commercialism overshadowing their event. So branding is limited to maybe a downtube decal and that's about it. But bike manufacturers want to stand out, so in 2012 Specialized hit upon the idea of painting all their Olympic athlete's bikes a color that would really stand out in the field. With this being an Olympic year (and Specialized having moved on to even better ways to showcase their bikes for 2016), we thought we'd revisit Dan's Tarmac as it has gotten some recent updates and is still a classy looking bike (despite it's aging patina).

This photo hints at what the aforementioned upgrades might entail. Where are the shift cables?

"The color is technically called "Olympic Red" but it's more of a fluorescent orange, truth be told" says Dan, "and it didn't take long for it to fade into some interesting shades of that color" he adds with a chuckle. "But that's okay...it's a striking bike no matter what and big departure from my usually color preferences of black, black, and more black."

But maybe we should walk this story back a bit.

In 2012, the Men's Olympic road race came down to a two-up sprint between Columbia's Rigoberto Uran and perennial bad-boy Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan. When "Vino" won, the cycling world was fairly nonplussed. Having been thrown out of the Tour de France for blood doping in 2007, Vinokourov was in the last year of his professional career and was not a popular winner of the Olympic Gold. Other than in Kazakhstan, where he was regarded as a hero.

That didn't stop Specialized from releasing a limited-edition frameset to commemorate the occasion, but the frames weren't exactly flying out the door. So when Dan broke his black-on-black colored Tarmac a couple of years later, the Olympic Red Vino bike was still available. Dan snagged #186 out of 260 framesets produced and moved his SRAM Red 20-speed drivetrain over to the gaudy frame.

"The Tarmac is the lightest and stiffest road bike I've ever owned, but it's still all-day comfortable" Dan said, "I've ridden it all over Kansas and from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas on one occasion...it's a great bike even if it is a little loud color-wise."

Fast forward to 2016 and the Olympic torch has been lit in Rio and Specialized has released a new round of remarkable bikes (with heat-changing paint even!) and Dan decided it was time to breathe some new life into his Tarmac.

For awhile now, Shimano's electronic system (Di2) has been the gold standard bearer of high-tech gear manipulation. Industry rivals SRAM and Campagnolo have striven to catch up but with Shimano's patents in the way, SRAM decided to take a different tack...eliminate the wires. eTap uses a coded protocol to communicate from the shifters to the derailleurs and back again over the airwaves. The result is a clean shifting experience, free from unsightly wires. Pushing the right paddle moves the derailleur outboard to a harder gear in the back, while pushing the left paddle moves the chain up the cogset to easier gears, and pushing them both together moves the chain across the chainrings.

Specialized's Power Saddle is a go-to favorite amongst many local riders and in this case allows Dan to bolt up the "Bandit" tool roll that carries a spare tube, CO2 canister and inflator head, and a tire lever. It's part of Specialized's SWAT system (Storage, Water, Air, Tools).

The Garmin Edge 520 GPS head unit tracks speed, distance, etc., but in this case it also pairs wirelessly to the eTap shifters and displays current chainring and cog info.

The Quarq power meter is a little greasy from use, but having it means that training efforts can be closely monitored and no time wasted in pursuit of going faster. Also visible is the SWAT multi-tool attached to the bottom of the bottle cage...another way of integrating carrying capacity.

As of this writing, the Olympic road events in Rio have come and gone and once again the Tarmac played a role in the closing kilometers of the event. Interestingly, both the tarmac (with a little "t") and the Tarmac (with a big "T") were instrumental in the finale as three riders broke away with the finish line almost in sight (two of them aboard Tarmacs but racing for different countries) only to have one of the pro peloton's best descenders, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, hit the pavement on the final downhill destroying the break's chance and Nibali's collarbone in the process.

So while Dan might find inspiration in the next generation of Specialized super bikes, there are definitely some things he's not looking to emulate...no more collarbone breaks! And while the winning bike at Rio wasn't a Specialized this year, we're betting it won't be long before they release the flashy paint they used this go-round.

If you're out on a ride and see Dan or see his bike in the shop, be sure to ask for a test ride!

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