Specialized vs Trek Road Bike: Mont’s Comparison Guide

So you’re interested in comparing the road bike ranges of Trek and Specialized, huh?

Well, you’ve come to the right… oh wait, you’re not?

No matter. I’m going to write about it anyway.

I’m interested and that’s all that matters (and you may find it useful, entertaining, a useful sleep aid). Onward!

Why Specialized and Trek For This Special Comparison, Mont?

Well, I’ve ridden a Trek carbon road bike for these past (nearly) six years and I’ve been very happy with it. I’d certainly consider buying another one.

Trek Domane with Campagnolo Zonda C17 wheelset
My Trek Domane (looking relatively clean…)

We’ll get onto this, but one of the (less rational) reasons for buying my bike (the Domane) was that it was both an ‘endurance’ bike (built for the less fit who want a more comfortable ride) and cool* (it was the bike Fabian Cancellara would use to ride Paris-Roubaix).

(* I … M … H … O)

Things have moved on slightly (‘endurance’ and all out racing bikes have converged somewhat), but Specialized also had (still have) a cool ‘endurance’ bike (i.e. aimed at the less flexible gent) that evoked the spring classics: the Specialized Roubaix – the clue’s in the title.

So Specialized remains the bike manufacturer I almost went for (the one that got away).

Other Slightly Related Facts

I did end up buying a Specialized steed a year after the conclusion of my endurance bike purchasing quest.

Only it was a 20″ Specialized Hotrock hardtail mountain bike for my son. Whilst an excellent bike, less relevant for this post.

Finally, true fact, the colour scheme for this ‘ere blog, which I updated last year is based on my current favourite team jersey: the Trek-Segafredo women’s kit (circa 2019).

Trek-Segafredo kit Lizzie Deignan

So Let’s Start With The Basics

Both Trek and Specialized are US manufacturers.

Trek was founded in 1976 in Waterloo, Wisconsin by Richard Burke, owner of an appliance distribution business, and Bevil Hogg, a bike shop owner. As a lifelong fan of Lord Wellington and Abba (both of who loved distributing appliances), this appeals to me.

The company started life in a barn, a building which I recall from an episode of the Cycling Tips podcast, Trek still keeps as part of its current ‘campus’.

(Come on, that’s history, innit.)

The company (as far as I can tell) continues to be owned by the family of the original founders, and is run by John Burke, son of Richard.

Specialized was founded in 1974, two years earlier than Trek, by Mike Sinyard. Initially Sinyard imported Italian bike parts that he’d discovered on his bike travels, but by 1981, Specialized had started making its own bikes, with one of the first being the Allez road bike*.

(* Wait! They still make the Allez, all these years later. Amazing…).

The company is 49%-owned by Merida, a Taiwanese firm that also make bikes. I think I probably knew this (prior to undertaking the ‘sort-of-research’ for this post) but was more surprised to discover that it made the acquisition in 2001. Anyway, Sinyard remains CEO.

Where Do Trek and Specialized Make Their Bikes?

Both companies undertake a large amount of their manufacturing overseas. It’s difficult (or impossible) to get precise figures as both are privately owned.

I can see why companies keep this information to themselves. When she was standing for political office a few years ago, the opponents of Mary Burke (of the Trek family) focused heavily on the fact that Trek bikes were made overseas and not supporting American jobs…

Whatevs.

Trek sells in the millions of bikes per year (not all road bikes), of which maybe 10,000 of the really high end ones are manufactured in the US. Whilst much of the overseas production is (I think) in China, it also manufactures in Holland and Germany.

According to this article (which sounds legit but don’t believe everything you read on the internet, kids), all Specialized bikes are made in Asia, with key suppliers being Merida (makes sense), Giant and ‘Ideal’ (?!?)

Summary of the two ranges

I doubt you came here just for the history and some speculation over manufacturing facilities (though you should be aware that I do have actually have a history degree).

Wherez arez the bikez.

I thought I’d try to break down the road bike ranges of each company to help understand what compares with what. I could try to do that for their mountain bikes as well, but with my lack of knowledge on that front, I’d quickly be well over my skis. Look for that info elsewhere.

Similarly for their hybrid, e-bikes and other random ranges, well…

Trying to boil it down, here is a list of the road bike model ‘families’ made by each company, classified by the target sub-segment of the roadie market:

Trek’s Road Bike Range

  • Aluminium (beginner/budget) road bike: aluminium versions of the Domane and Emonda
  • Endurance (relaxed fit): Domane
  • Lightweight (racey climby): Emonda
  • Aero road (as opposed to pure aero): Madone
  • Gravel (adventure): Checkpoint, Boone and Crockett (not a 1960s group of protest musicians)
Trek Madone SL 6 Disc 2020
An example of a Trek bike (a Madone SL6 Disc, for those that like specifics)

Here’s a link to the Trek website, in case you can’t work out how to Google.

Specialized’s Road Bike Range

  • Aluminium (beginner/budget) road bike: Allez
  • Endurance (relaxed fit): Roubaix
  • Lightweight (racey climby): Tarmac
  • Aero road (as opposed to pure aero): Venge
  • Gravel (adventure): Diverge
Specialized S-Works Roubaix
And here’s an example of a Specialized road bike… (an S-Works Roubaix)

And here’s a cheeky link to the Specialized website, so you can see all the up-to-date variants.

How Do Trek And Specialized Denote Better Bikes (Model Naming Conventions)?

This is not always an exact science, as specifications can vary as models can be updated each year.

(Inexact science is my jam…)

Trek signal different levels of specification, higher quality (or lighter) frames, additional expensive features, through a combination of numbers (mainly) and letters (to a limited degree).

Higher numbers denote a higher specc’ed bike. The current Domane SL 5 has a Shimano 105 groupset. The SL 6 has Ultegra. Top of the range, the SLR 9 has full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic gears.

Trek bikes at the lower end of the price scale generally have the ‘SL’ designation (unless they’re aluminium frames, in which case they’re ‘AL’). I query if all the bikes in a range can be Super Light (or superleggara) but there you go.

At the upper end an R is added, to arrive at SLR (I’m guessing Super Light Race). The key difference between SL and SLR bikes is the frame.

Using the Domane as an example, the SLR frame has adjustable resistance settings on the Isospeed ‘suspension’ at the front and rear of the bike. The SL frame doesn’t (you’ll get the level of resistance you’re given).

Trek Domane 7 SLR
The Trek Domane (7) in all it’s SLR glory

The Emonda SL frame is made from 500 series OCLV* carbon and weighs 1.68kg. The SLR version is upgraded to 700 series OCLV and weighs 1.19kg.

(* Optimum Compaction Low Void, in case you’re wondering…)

Specialized (thankfully) adopt a slightly more straightforward forward approach to naming their bikes.

Generally speaking, the basic version is just called the, er, name. So the basic Specialized Roubaix is called the… Roubaix.

Then as you go up the spec tree (this monkey loves climbing the spec tree), you have the following suffixes:

  • Sport
  • Comp
  • Expert
  • Pro

Finally, at the top end, presumably in a nod to Lockheed’s advanced aircraft development arm (Skunk Works), Specialized does an ‘S-Works’ version of each bike (although ‘S-Works’ goes at the start, i.e. ‘S-Works Roubaix’ rather than ‘Specialized Roubaix S-Works’…).

Conclusion

Well there is no conclusion, is there?

Because I haven’t finished.

The first draft of this post (which wasn’t even finished) was knocking on 5,000 words. Too much for even the most patient blogfans to bear.

I’ve broken it down into what looks like four future posts, each one dealing with a different bike category. So I’ll compare the Trek Emonda with the Specialized Tarmac, the Madone with the Venge. You get the idea.

So look out for those.

In the meantime, quick show of hands.

Who here owns a Trek road bike or a Specialized? Which one? What are your thoughts and would recommend the one you’ve got?

Let me know in the comments section below.

Cheers
Monty

22 thoughts on “Specialized vs Trek Road Bike: Mont’s Comparison Guide”

  1. I have 2013 S Roubaix and love it. Not sure I would purchase the latest model, everything seems to be getting to ‘technical’ and awkward to fix out on the road. I like to keep things simple stupid.

  2. 2016 Roubaix with 105 was my first drop bar bike, loved it but over time it became clear I needed a size 58 rather than the 61. Replaced it with a 2018 Roubaix and got it pro fitted, it’s amazing now. Followed up with a 2018 Diverge E5 to have an aluminum bike without the future shock but with the same fitting for dog trailer pulling, winter, and trainer use (SUPER similar geometry to the Roubaix)

    I’ve been really happy with them, and never felt like it was holding me back compared to a Tarmac. They can be set up similar regardless, and the accumulated fatigue of chip seal around here makes the Roubaix a no brainer.

  3. 2018 Specialized Allez Sport. My first bike since I was a kid, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it seems fast enough (I have a couple KOMs locally) and is comfortable at a century so nothing to complain about. It could be a little lighter, I’ve been thinking of upgrading and keeping the Allez for commuting but it will be hard to convince the wife it is a worthwhile expense.

  4. I have a Trek Checkpoint 5.0 and a Specialized Diverge Sport. I like both bikes. As a general comment, the Trek is heavier than the Specialized. So when you are buying at the bottom price of each carbon model, Trek seems to go for durability and flexibility of use over lightweight. By the way, my Checkpoint was made by Giant in Taiwan (on the bike box).

  5. I finished 4 RAAM times on a Specialized S-Works Roubaix – loved it ; very comfortable to ride for hours, but slow and hard to ride fast.
    Just did RAW on my Trek Emonda – the best! Super light and fast.
    Actually, I love both of these bikes – there are just very different.

  6. Had a 2013 Roubaix for a couple of years, loved it, did some 100 milers and the Grand Depart 2019 for Prostate Cancer UK 130 miles including cobbles. Last ride on Doris (the Roubaix) was Revolve 24 at Brands Hatch, again she performed well. I now have a 2016 Tarmac SL3 Expert, early days but loving the sportier geometry and the ability to put the power down.

  7. I have a 2014 Trek Domane 4.5 which I purchased after a bike fit with my Boardman Team Carbon demonstrated that I needed a smaller bike. If this sounds familiar I went for the bike fit after reading your blog as I prepared for Ride London – just as you did a year before! I love this bike and have rode Ride London in 2014, Velothon Wales in 2015, Ride London 46 in 2016 and Velo Birmingham in 2017 numerous 100Km plus rides. I must have ridden well over 4000 miles.
    BUT – this year I was due to ride it on Ride London again. Following a gear cable break on a training ride I discovered play in the cranks and this was traced to a siezed BB bearing which was spinning in the frame and had worn the BB housing. This required a return of the frame to Trek for a repair which they would not do under the lifetime warranty- apparently this is wear and tear. The repair wasn’t cheap but wasn’t as bad as I first feared but couldn’t be done in time for this years Ride London. So I’d be interested to know what maintenance regime other Trek users have used to avoid this happening to them.
    With the Trek unavailable for RL this year used a smaller 2014 Boardman Team Carbon which I bought at the end of 2014 for £750 when it was end of line at Halfords, an absolute bargain and a third of the price of the Trek. Upgraded from 10-speed 105 to 11 speed Ultegra, and getting it set up properly for me it is just as good as the Trek and climbs better although is perhaps a little harsher on rough roads.
    I use Specialised Toupe saddles on all my bikes though!

  8. I have a 2017 Trek Domane SL7 (Ultegra Di2) for my normal road bike. I’ve updated it in a few places, Deda Zero 100 bars and Stem, Hunt wheels with Swalbe Pro one tubeless tires, Absolute Black Oval chainrings,Selle Italia Superflow SLR saddle. Weight saved was 0.8KG. Overall love my Domane, a much better ride on the welsh pothole riddled roads than previous bikes. Will use it on next years Ride London (assuming I get a place) rather than my Look Huez (great as a lightweight climbing bike for the welsh hills).

  9. I had a 2015 Specialized Roubaix expert. It was good. Made the mistake of test riding a 2018 Roubaix Comp with Future Shock. First ride not much difference. We changed the shock spring from the stiffest to lightest. Night and day better. This bike floats over bumps compared to my previous Roubaix. It’s quick and fast. The 28 tires are excellent too.

  10. Thanks for the great post.

    After laboring (or “labouring” if you are in Europe) – or really obsessing – about my “retirement” bike, I finally chose the 2019 Specialized Tarmac Pro frameset (my first full carbon bike was the first iteration of the carbon Tarmac – so many decades ago!) I chose this over the Trek Domane SLR, and the Cervelo S-3 for its slight weight advantage and because it seemed to have the best overall reviews in terms of speed, weight and comfort. As I still race in age-grouped triathlons and aquabikes, but am now at an age when a full-on tri frame is too jarring, the last attribute was important.

    Simply put, I love this bike. Though the others are amazing in their own right, the Tarmac has offered the speed and comfort that I longed for. I have raced it (including an aquabike with a 26-mile bike leg, and the one-person sprint tri that I did yesterday, (I came in first on that one, ) it has exceeded my expectations and wishes. It is built with Sram Etap, Reynolds Attack wheels (with 25mm tubeless tires,) a Zipp cockpit, and the stupidly expensive s-works saddle the name of which I have forgotten, but which is heaven to sit on.

  11. I choose the 2017 Specialized Roubaix sport w/105 . Added
    Zipp’s course 30 wheel set W/ S-Work 28mm tires.
    this year Absolute black oval chain ring sub compact 32/48 for lots of climbing and 34/11 in the rear. I love the ride and the feel of the bike wish I could afford the S Works Roubaix

  12. First road bike was an Allez and loved it several bikes and many years later I have a Roubaix Comp. This has to be the best bike I have ridden the perfect balance of comfort and pace, ok younger legs might get better speed out of a Tarmac, loving it.

  13. I have a 2017 Roubaix with Specialized’s future shock suspension and at 50 years old appreciate that little bit of comfort. The rest of the standard bike is pretty good too

  14. I’m not a top-end rider. I don’t race or compete at all, I’m just an average guy that likes to ride. I owned a Specialized hybrid and it was a very good bike. When I decided I wanted a road bike I found both Specialized and Trek lacking unless you were willing to spend a *lot* of money. My preference was a road bike with a Shimano 105 group set. While both Specialized and Trek advertized a 105 group set, both were only partially 105’s. Many of the components were not 105’s ( read “less expensive”). I wanted to by from an American manufacturer (I live in America), but I bought a bike from a German manufacturer (Bulls). The Bulls bike had 105 components across the board and cost about 1/2 (yes, a full half) of the closest equivalent Specialized or Trek. In my opinion, Specialized and Trek make some very good bikes, but they are more expensive.

  15. I have a Specialized Roubaix Sport 2017 model which I bought to do Ride London 100 in August this year. My first carbon bike. I bought it on recomendation from a work colleague and I love it. Such a good comfortable bike. I had a professional fit on your recomendation Monty. 105 groupset. I put a 34/11 cassette on the rear to help me up the hills in the peak district. Don’t believe Shimano. 105 can take a 34 rear cog without any adjustment. All in all very happy.

  16. Despite all the advice regarding Disk brakes I went for the Trek Emonda SL7 Disk, purchased at the end of May this year (2019) and not at all what I set out to buy.
    I use a Spa Audax Ti bike for winter and commuting so have only done 506 miles so far but have to say that the SL7 has exceeded my expectations in many areas including the Disk brakes.
    The bike was set up with data from a previous Retul bike fit in 2016 done on a Bianchi Infinito CV (loaned to me for a couple of years by my Son) and from the beginning has given me pain free cycling, I do intend to have another Retul fit done on the Trek when time and money allows.
    I would not hesitate to recommend both Trek as the manufacturer and the SL7 Disk as a fast, sporty climber that ticks many of the “Endurance” qualities along with a comfortable and smooth ride.

  17. Trek Emonda ALR 5, this is my first bike since my Schwinn Varsity when I was a kid a long time ago. So not much to compare to, it goes up hills really nice, around turns with confidence. If I want to reduce any weight, the best way would be to lighten the rider not the bike! I think it is lightweight, had several people have asked if it is carbon, the welds are great. I ride it on the road and rail trails.

  18. I’ve got a Trek Domane 5.2, 2014 vintage, replacing a Cannondale R2.8 that I really liked. But I was really amazed at the differences in the old Dale vs. the Trek. I had ridden several other bikes before selecting the Domane and all the others seemed to be just a newer version of the Dale, the trek felt like an actual upgrade beyond just newer.

    Finally, I’ll be expecting Mont to compile these comments and add these survey notes to one of the remaining 3 posts : )

  19. iI am a vintage weekend warrior (so to speak) ie +50 , i bought a Trek Emonda SL6 with upgraded Mavic wheel set about three years ago – best bike I have had ! especially on the hilly bits.
    Before this i was ( in recent times anyhow) a Specialized convert with an aluminium Allez followed by a carbon Roubaix – both great bikes

  20. Thanks for posting this blog.. I’m recently getting back into road biking after over 20 years away from it when i was in college riding my, then at the time, Bianchi race bike. I’m been riding pretty regularly recently and just did a recent sportive, and looking to upgrade my bike, originally was thinking ‘endurance’ but others in my ‘sportive team’ all ride the ‘race’ bikes. Been back and forth between Trek Emonda vs Cannondale Supersix / CAAD13, as well as carbon vs aluminium. Specialized keeps coming up in my research but not sold by my LBS. Just asking out of curiosity and because I’m really interested in learning more.. 1) why you didn’t include Cannondale in your blog.. I thought this would have been a natural comparison in the mix (is there a reason i should discount Cannondale) 2) are any bikes still manufactured in the US by Trek and Specialized?… and more specifically the models you listed above? This would be helpful as I continue my search for my next bike and value the opinion in the other comments above. Cheers!

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