Specialized Shiv – First Ride

Specialized launched its radically different triathlon-specific (and very UCI-illegal) Shiv frame at the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Kona—debuting under Craig Alexander while setting a new course record. Specialized promised a bike designed specifically for the needs of triathletes. It was to be more aero than the UCI allowed, provide a greater range of fit than ever before, and offered a patented integrated hydration system called the Fuelselage. Specialized described these game-changing qualities in its tagline: Aero, Fuel, Fit.


Enter AG’s newest test bike: The Specialized Shiv Expert

Considering Specialized’s brag-worthy track record for building race-winning bikes at Kona, it seemed natural for the AG team to add a Specialized Shiv Expert to our stable of test bikes. After all, the company’s innovation has consistently kept them on the podium. They’ve racked up an impressive four wins at Kona just in the past decade.


The 2014 Shiv is available in four builds and two framesets. Our 2013 Shiv Expert features Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra 11-speed, a Specialized Body Geometry Sitero Expert saddle, as well as DT Axis 2.0 wheels. If we’re going to be honest, the Axis wheels leave much to be desired and will be swapped out for an upgrade in the very near future. However, considering the Shiv Expert will only set you back about $4000, upgrading the wheelset is within reach (depending on your budget).


In keeping with the Specialized tagline, let’s take a look at each of the Shiv’s three qualities—Aero, Fuel, Fit.


According to Specialized, the Shiv is more aero in a wider range of conditions. When you first set eyes on the bike, you can’t help but take notice of the Shiv’s extra-deep downtube. It’s about 5” wide, which is a full 2” more than the downtube of a Cervelo P3. While you’d think that such a massive downtube would act as sail and wreak havoc in the wind, this feature actually plays a big role the bike’s ability to effectively deal with high crosswinds. But why should that work?


The key lies in the Shiv’s FACT (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) carbon frame technology. Specialized studied airflow patterns in each area of the frame—especially crosswinds since that’s typically a triathlete’s worst enemy on course. They then optimized the frame design to account for each specific airflow pattern separately, rather than relying on uniform airfoils throughout. And since the Shiv is not bending to UCI rules, Specialized was free to take advantage of ultra-deep airfoil tubing. Together, the Shiv’s tubing and fork blades create much higher aspect ratios than the standard UCI-legal 3:1. In laymen’s terms, this bike is fast—really fast. And regardless of the science behind it, we’re greatly enjoying the Shiv’s wind-cheating benefits on the road.


One surprising feature of the Shiv is the non-integrated front brake. Most modern super-bikes utilize an integrated front brake, which while we agree is more visually appealing (and more aero), can be a bit difficult to work with. For those among us performing our own maintenance, this may be a welcome deviation.


The Shiv’s integrated hydration system housed inside its massive downtube also eliminates the need for drag-inducing bottles. Let’s take a closer look at the Shiv’s Fuelselage next.


Any loyal AG reader will know that we are a bit obsessed with hydration setups (full confession: we have an entire storage area at AG headquarters completely dedicated to hydration solutions). We each have our favorites, but we all know that even our go-to solutions can cost us in aerodynamics. This is the reasoning behind the Specialized Fuelselage reservoir—hide your hydration neatly inside the downtube and eliminate the need for bottles on the frame. Specialized designed its own bladder similar to what you’d find in a Camelbak but engineered specifically to fit neatly inside the Shiv’s downtube. A straw snakes upward from the bladder and a bite valve is then secured to one of the bars by a magnet, which allows for easy access to the straw.


One of the benefits of Specialized design is similar to other BTA setups—safer and more convenient fueling while in the aero bars. However, Specialized also claims (through wind tunnel testing) that the Shiv is the most aerodynamic bike the company has ever made, and more aero than any other bike on the market with a bottle.


Of course all of this looks great on paper. Integrating your hydration right into the frame sounds like a perfect (and obvious) solution. But does it really perform just as well as other BTA solutions? We’ve been utilizing the Fuelselage for the past few weeks and have encountered a few challenges. We’ll be making some tweaks in an attempt to customize it to our needs and will report back in our Final Thoughts article in the coming months.


When it comes to fit, triathletes can’t afford to mess around. We can spend hours on end in the exact same position, so you better be sure that it’s a comfortable position. Fortunately Specialized offers the Shiv in such a wide of variety of size and fit options that riders of just about any size should be able to find the ideal frame. You can choose from a total of five different frame sizes from XS all the way to XL.


In addition to a wide range of frame sizes, the Shiv also features Specialized Control Tower fit system. This multi-adjustable system allows for a range of both vertical and horizontal adjustments, providing a highly adjustable cockpit for a more exact fit. The Shiv’s steerer tube can be cut to three different stack heights: 0mm, 25mm, or 50mm above the head tube. And the corresponding Control Tower composite fairing mounts in place behind the steerer tube, which according to Specialized, improves the aerodynamics of the stem/steerer interface. As for the stem, simply switch out a spacer and the stem adjusts from 60mm to 90mm of reach.


At first glance, we weren’t overly excited by the Specialized Hydroformed Alloy Aerobars included on the Shiv. However, we have to say that we’ve never encountered aerobars that are quite this easy to adjust. The pads and extensions have been ridiculously easy to dial in for our needs. This is thanks to pads with adjustable reach and width, as well as extensions that offer adjustable stack height, length, tilt, and hand width. What’s more, extensive tick marks up and down the extensions make for easy measuring. While this isn’t our favorite cosmetic feature, it certainly does come in handy when making frequent fit adjustments.


Finally, Specialized equipped the Shiv with a 12.5mm FACT carbon flippable seatpost (S-Works and Pro bikes come with 12.5mm and 37.5mm setback seatposts), which can be oriented to face either direction—allowing for four possible positions. The seat tube also has up to 200mm of seat tube insertion. So while most of us cut the post, you don’t have to if you really don’t want to.

What’s Next?

The Shiv is here to stay in the AG garage, and we plan on treating it to some pretty significant upgrades over the next several months. Check back with us soon for all the details. If you have any specific questions about the bike, or if you’d like to suggest possible test scenarios, please feel free to contact us. Otherwise, stay tuned for more in the coming months!

4 responses to “Specialized Shiv – First Ride

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