Specialized Shiv – Final Thoughts

It’s been just over a year since we shared our First Ride aboard our Specialized Shiv Expert test bike. In that time, the Shiv has been used to test new helmets, hydration, wheel sets, and even an aerobar. Amidst all that testing, we neglected our Final Thoughts on the Shiv. So it’s finally time we made that up to you. But before we get there, let’s recap why we chose to make the Shiv one of our test bikes in the first place.


The Specialized Shiv

At the Ironman World Championships in 2011, Craig Alexander showed up on a brand new steed that left the entire triathlon world buzzing.  What was it? And how could that frame shape have passed UCI muster? The answers were quick in coming – Specialized had launched its new Shiv, and that bike would no longer conform to UCI requirements. In doing so, the Shiv has helped reshape the triathlon landscape. Non-UCI-legal bikes are becoming the norm. Trek, Cannondale, Cervelo, and Felt all now offer non-UCI-legal frames or frame modifications.


The Shiv was designed under a simple design concept – ‘Aero. Fuel. Fit.’ Foremost the frame was optimized to be “drag-defying.” And considering Crowie set a Kona course record on it, there is evidence that they succeeded in that goal. Crosswinds were another major design consideration when creating the Shiv, especially considering how large the downtube would need to be to hold a hydration bladder. Specialized met the crosswinds challenge head-on by treating each airfoil on the bike separately instead of uniformly, allowing them to create multiple shapes that, together, handle winds from all directions. The downtube itself measures in at around 5” wide and has a much higher aspect ratio than the standard 3:1 UCI-legal downtubes we had seen previously.


One of the most notable aspects of the Shiv—especially considering its ‘Aero’ philosophy—was the choice of a standard front-mounted brake versus something more integrated or aero. The benefit of a standard front brake is that it is much easier to adjust and maintain. And for those who travel to races, its one less thing to worry about. Although the downside to a front-mounted break is that it can cost you time on the course. However, looking back to 2011, integrated front brakes were not quite as commonplace as they are today, so it’s tough to fully criticize. Plus, considering there are now options on the market like the TriRig Omega X that can be swapped to the Shiv, it’s not a huge deal. And speaking of the Omega X, we just happen to be installing a set on our Shiv next week.



The second piece of Specalized’s formula for the Shiv, Fuel, centers on what they call the Fuelselage – a hidden hydration bladder inside the downtube. By hiding it inside the downtube, Specialized eliminated any negative ramifications of holding hydration on the bike. The Fuelselage features a straw with bite valve. Specialized also provides you with a magnet to install on your aerobars to ensure the straw stays out of your way but at hand when you need it. It is also refillable on the fly via an easy-to-access port on the top tube.


About a year after the launch of the Shiv, Specialized introduced the Fuelcell. Intended to complement the Fuelselage, which holds your hydration, the Fuelcell holds your non-liquid nutrition and flat kit. The Fuelcell fills most of the gap found in the front triangle and is divided into an upper and lower half. Specialized designed it to hold a tube with 60mm valve, CO2 cartridge, CO2 head, and valve extender. We actually got all of that in there plus two tire levers and a very small multi tool. The top can hold eight gels or two bars and three gels. Specialized claims that the addition of the fuel cell also has benefits for drag reduction, though we didn’t have any data to corroborate this.



The final piece of the Shiv’s formula was Fit. More specifically, Specialized aimed to create a bike that fits you, not the other way around. And that’s a philosophy we can stand by. After all, we believe the best way to spend money on your bike always starts with obtaining a proper fit. The Shiv fame is offered in five sizes – XS to XL. With the XS offering a 481mm top tube length and the XL a 582mm.

Specialized Geometry

But what makes the Shiv especially easy to fit is its range of adjustability from both the saddle and cockpit. Specialized equipped the Shiv Expert with a 12.5mm 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.


The stem is what Specialized calls its semi-integrated Specialized Control Tower fit system. The 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.


While at first glance the cockpit doesn’t seem all that exciting, looks can be very deceiving. This was one of the easiest cockpits we’ve adjusted, especially for an integrated bar. The pads can be adjusted both inboard and outboard, as well as fore and aft. The bars themselves can be angled up or down and brought in and out. All of which makes getting the cockpit setup a breeze (our fitter loved it). The basebar can also accept standard aftermarket extensions as well.

Our Thoughts

Over the past year the Shiv has been the loyalist of companions. Whether being used to test out hydration products like Nathan Sports AP Pro or a whole new cockpit, the Shiv has been there. We also have used it for both Olympic and 70.3 events. During that time, our multisport editor has become quite attached to it. At this point, we’re pretty sure you’d need a crowbar to pry her hands off it. Her test log is full of comments such as “fast regardless of wind direction,” “steering is clear and concise, the Shiv provides a strong connection with the road,” and “even with the deep downtube, cross winds have never been a problem.” However, that being said, there have been a few items of note that we wanted to cover.

A Zipp Vuka Stealth was tested using our Specialized Shiv

A Zipp Vuka Stealth was tested using our Specialized Shiv

The Fuelselage

We mentioned the Fuelselage above and how it consists of a bladder that fits into the deep downtube. When we first received the Shiv, this was one of the most exciting elements of the bike. After all, the Fuelselage would allow us to fit an additional bottle of hydration on the bike with zero aerodynamic penalty. What’s more, it was refillable on the fly. So we could get away with no additional BTA or rear hydration mounts. Unfortunately, we never found the concept to work as well as we hoped.

The bladder is inserted into the downtube via an entry port on the top tube. The bladder itself is flexible, which should make it easier to thread through the entry port and into place. Instead, as we attempted to push the bladder into place, it routinely got caught on the cabling that also runs through the downtube, rarely seating correctly. Even when we were able to get it into place, the bladder rarely wanted to fill to its maximum capacity. The bag was often twisted in on itself, which resulted in a less than optimum fill.

As for the magnets intended to keep that straw neatly tucked in place against your bars, we found them to be a bit on the weak side.  This led to the long straw becoming unattached and out of reach. The good news here is that we simply installed stronger magnets, and that seemed to do the trick.

Now all of that being said, we think Specialized already has the technology to create a second generation Fuelselage to remedy these issues. Specialized recently introduced their new Stumpjumper (mountain bike) that includes their new SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, and Tools) box. What’s interesting is this SWAT box is a large cutout in the downtube of the frame and allows for access to a compartment built into the frame. We’d like to see something similar in the next generation SHIV. Rather than a flexible bag that fits inside via the top tube, we feel that a solid bladder inserted via the downtube would be a better option (solving the issue of bending and folding). We believe that if they can make a this type of frame structurally sound enough for mountain biking, they can do something similar for triathlon.

The Recall

We would also be remiss if we did not mention the recall on the Shiv. In March, Specialized recalled roughly 8,300 aerobars that were sold as aftermarket equipment and original equipment on all Model Year 2012 – 2015 Shiv Tri models and the Model Year 2013 Transition Apex model. The recall did not apply to Shiv TT models or the Shiv Low-Stack Aerobar Clamp Set. The concern is that the extension clamp bolt on the aerobars may break, which could result in the rider losing control and sustaining serious personal injuries. For us, this was not a huge factor as we had already swapped the cockpit out for a Vuka Stealth. But for those still riding the stock cockpits, an Authorized Specialized Retailer will replace the Aerobar Extension Riser Clamp, Pad Holder Clamp, Extension Riser Cap, Extension Riser Cap Nut, and Extension Clamp Bolt with a free new Aerobar Extension Clamp Kit.


Wrapping Up

Considering how much we love hydration products, it’s borderline ironic that the AeroGeeks have become so fond of a bike whose biggest fault was its hydration integration. However, one fault doesn’t define us. And one poor execution shouldn’t define the Shiv, either. The bike is a blast to ride and does almost everything we ask of it. We’ve had a strong year on it and expect to spend a few more seasons with it before we start thinking about its replacement. Then again, there is always the possibility that a second generation Shiv will arrive by then, one with a more practical Fuelselage. And that may finally be the leverage we need to get our multisport editor onto something new!

8 responses to “Specialized Shiv – Final Thoughts

  1. I think the Fuelcell needs rework more than the Fuelselage. It’s difficult to fit what you need in it. If it’s not in there exactly right the top rubber won’t stay on. I think they should get rid of the top rubber and make it a hard box like the SWAT. The Fuelselage is the reason I bought my SHIV. I agree it doesn’t fill to capacity but wouldn’t that depend on what size frame you have? Even still, my medium frame holds 21oz with out the hose filled another 2-3oz more can be put in after that. The breaks are bad. Bottom one failed due to water, dirt, etc and the front is not very aero. TriRig Omega was put on within 2 months.

  2. Very good review of the SHIV. Lots of great information.

    I’m an old USCF guy coming back to riding after many years. I’m currently coming off od a 2015 54cm Specialized Venge Elite which after 4 fits and my tweaking adjustments I just could not get comfortable on. Don’t get me wrong, the Venge is a great bike; it just doesn’t agree with me for fit. I also own a 2016 56cm Specialized Tarmac. Riding the Venge and the Tarmac on the same course, a 3.6 mile TT I have consistently been just shy of 2 minutes faster on the Tarmac.

    My concern is finding the right fit on the SHIV. Being 5’9″ tall with a 31″ inseam I fall right at the far side of small and right in the middle of the medium, and then on the low side of the large. Quite a range. I have ridden a small and it felt just like riding the Venge…small and tight, and riding the medium felt like the Tarmac…comfortable, stable and fast.

    I’d be very interested in your comments.


    Fred S.

    • Hi Fred – thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately here at AeroGeeks we make it a policy never to suggest specific fit options based on provided metrics. We fear that even if tables and graphs suggest one fit, the riders actual results may be far different. And the absolute last thing we want to do is steer a reader in the wrong direction. Since you were able to ride both bikes you may want to additionally consider aerodynamic impact. Also you should consider the race lengths you are trying to do – a small and tight fit may work for you if you are keeping your races to Olympics and shorter.

      Sorry that this is probably not what you are looking for. But let us know if there is anything we can help with.

  3. What size tires can comfortably fit on the frame? Or rather, what size tires was the frames designed around?

    Bike was released in late 2011 which meant design was probably a few years prior which was right in the range of when 23mm was considered large. Will the frame take 25mm tires with acceptable frame clearance?

    Thanks for the follow up review. Rarely seen these days.

  4. I have a specialized shiv the same shape as above and was wondering which tyres exactly you have been running?

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