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What We Ride: Matthew’s incredibly predictable S-Works Aethos with Dura-Ace R9200

Matthew Loveridge
6 Apr 2022

Website editor Matthew's dream road bike combines the best of old and new tech

This Specialized S-Works Aethos with Dura-Ace R9200 is my most predictable bike. I’m the editor of a cycling website, so obviously I have one of the fanciest road bikes from one of the biggest brands with the latest, greatest groupset. Disgusting, isn't it? Allow me to justify my choice using words, pictures, and subliminal messaging.

Why the S-Works Aethos?

I’m not a Luddite, but I do appreciate simplicity and I like bikes that are easy to work on.

In a world of fully integrated one-piece cockpits, internal-everything, aero-everything superbikes, the Aethos is a wilful throwback to a simpler time, but one that benefits from all the good stuff we’ve gained since bikes like this were the norm.

Yes, it’s got disc brakes, healthy tyre clearances, thru-axles and a semi-wireless electronic groupset, but it also features fairly simple cable routing and a threaded bottom bracket, while every tube is basically round.



To my mind, the Aethos takes the best bits of a generation of bikes I loved including the Specialized Tarmac SL5, the original Focus Izalco Max Disc, the first iterations of the Scott Addict, the old Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Disc and the Ridley Helium SL.

 

It then adds in the good stuff we’ve come to expect from more modern designs including great brakes, and a touch more versatility.

At the same time, the S-Works Aethos sports the lightest production frame on the market at a claimed 585g for a 56cm – this varies with choice of paintjob, naturally – an absurdly small number.

Specialized said it designed the Aethos ‘for the love of riding’, emphasising the experience over objective measures of performance. With no competitive ambitions whatsoever, that’s exactly what I want from a road bike.

The other reason I chose the Aethos is that Specialized offered to lend me a frameset as a long-term test bed for the wonderful new Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset. How could I possibly refuse?

My S-Works Aethos build: Dura-Ace, baby

My Aethos is built up with a full Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset including the power meter version of the crank, a useful addition when I need data to back up any nagging feelings of inferiority.

At Cyclist we’ve already collectively decided that new Dura-Ace is pretty darned great.

It’s not the aesthetically daring Dura-Ace 9000-esque flagship I might have yearned for but, in addition to the obvious stuff like going semi-wireless and adding an extra cog, Shimano somehow upped the game with its shifting again, no mean feat given how good R9100 series Di2 already was.

I’d love to tell you how I used detailed performance data and fit analysis to choose my gearing and optimise my crank length, but with groupset samples still exceedingly thin on the ground, the choices were made for me. Luckily I’m very happy with the 52/36 and 11-34 combo supplied. Cool story bro.

Wheels? Yet more Dura-Ace

The wheels are Dura-Ace too, for now. Launched alongside the new R9200 and R8100 groupsets, Shimano has finally made some slightly more up-to-date rims, with a 21mm internal width that’s well suited to the 28mm tyres we all run now.

They’re very lovely wheels and their lowish profile feels in keeping with the bike’s ethos (!!!), but I think deeper rims might actually look even better, providing aesthetic balance for the disc rotors.. As it happens, there’s a set of the 50mm version of the same wheelset kicking around – rude not to?

Although the wheels are tubeless-ready, the Vittoria Corsa Control Graphene 2.0 tyres aren’t. Ordinarily this would offend me because I do really like tubeless for comfort and versatility, particularly as my road riding often strays off paved surfaces.

However, they're just so lovely, some of the nicest feeling road tyres I’ve ever ridden.

Specialized and Pro finishing kit for a generalist amateur

Specialized supplied the cockpit and seatpost, and I opted for 40cm bars having internalised the idea that narrow is better.

There’s no real handling penalty on a road bike (within reason) and it offers an aero benefit if you care about that sort of thing. Of course, if you really care about that sort of thing, you buy a Tarmac SL7, not an Aethos.

Inevitably, I now find myself wondering if I should go narrower still, but we’re talking marginal differences. It would take up less space in the garage.

Having been built by Shimano importer Madison, some Pro finishing kit was a given, and I’d been looking forward to trying the Stealth saddle for some time – a friend and former colleague swears it’s the best thing he’s ever sat on.

It’s too early to say if I’m as enamoured with it as he is, but I do like it very much and it weighs just 165g which is, again, really bloody light.

What it’s like riding a stupidly light bike

You’ve read the S-Works Aethos review. You’ve fantasised about your dream build. Can it live up to the hype?

In a way it’s like coming home for me. My slight build has meant I’ve always cleaved towards what marketers would call ‘climbers’ bikes’, but progress in tech has moved the focus away from such designs, and weights for what you might call normal bikes have crept upwards as wider tyres, disc brakes and integration have taken over.

I know that aero is what really matters most of the time in the real world, but it doesn’t change the fact that riding something truly lightweight feels special.

The Aethos is exactly that, but with none of the compromises you associate with classic weight weenie bikes.

It’s still incredibly stiff. It’s still got disc brakes, some of the very best on the market. And you can still put 32mm tyres on it and bounce along a fire road if that’s your jam.

It also looks phenomenal. The green paint sparkles in the sun while the groupset exudes sombre luxury.

I feel very privileged to be riding a bike like this. With summer looming, my only goal is to milk every possible moment of joy from it. Oh, and I might cut the steerer to make it look even more perfect.

Matthew’s Specialized S-Works Aethos spec

  • Frame: S-Works Aethos FACT 12r carbon, 54cm
  • Fork: S-Works FACT Carbon
  • Weight: 6.6kg without pedals, 6.9kg ready-to-ride
  • Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200, 52/36, 11-34
  • Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace C36
  • Tyres: Vittoria Corsa Control Graphene 2.0 700×28mm
  • Cockpit: 40cm S-Works shallow bend bar, 110mm S-Works stem, Pro bar tape
  • Seatpost: Roval Alpinist carbon 27.2mm
  • Saddle: Pro Stealth Superlight 142mm
  • Pedals: Speedplay Zero stainless
  • Accessories: Tacx Deva cages, Garmin Edge 530 w/out-front mount

More sensual details

Keen for more custom builds? Don't miss tech editor Sam's speedy Open UPPER gravel bike.

Photography: Matthew Loveridge