Here I go again, reviewing things that have got nothing to do with photography, but I get excited about great technology and I’m certain you’ll enjoy this article if you're into cycling. The reason I’m doing this is because there’s no decent user reviews of this bike anywhere online and there bloody well should be. Although I’m hardly the person to come to for professional bicycle opinions, I want to give you my perspective as a returning cyclist and a newcomer to the world of fitness bikes.
To cut to the headline, this bike has changed everything for me. It’s the meanest, fastest, most exhilarating, inspiring, uplifting and above all the most connected bike I have ever ridden…. and I am utterly infatuated with it. It was love at first sight, it was love at first ride and the honeymoon period has far from ended, in fact it has begun to blossom into a giddy romance. I can’t walk past it without gazing at it longingly, in admiration of its minimal design, its stealthy FBI looks and I crave to get out riding every day. My fitness has skyrocketed from struggling up local hills, to clocking up a determined and successful 60-80miles a week, as I recover from a knee injury, a torn cruciate ligament.
What makes it so special? Well there are a number of incredible things about his bike that make it a wonder to behold. Again, I have never owned a hybrid, I haven’t tried any of the other models in the Specialized hybrid range (or any other manufacturer), just this bike. Perhaps that is a strength, so please excuse my naivety as I highlight what makes this such a special ride.
I am now realising that geometry is everything. When I wheeled my 1992 Orange Aluminium O retrobike for repair into The Bike Shed (in Exeter), a member of staff stopped me in my tracks at the door.
“That's way to small for you”, and he was right.
Those were the days of short frames, sky-high seat posts and craned necks, a position I also despise when riding road bikes, or ‘racers’ as they were called in the 80’s. I’ve been uncomfortably leaning over the handlebars for the last thirty years - now I know why I’ve never massively liked cycling and why I have been reluctantly forcing myself to go out riding.
At 6’3” I am an XL frame according to the Specialized Sirrus hybrid fitting chart. Just sitting on this carbon fibre bike in an upright position was total relief from what I know. The curved, oval top tube rises up to the elevated Future Shock suspension stem, giving an upright yet aggressive ride, without being too vertical. Gazing at its construction is a technical joy-to-behold, as literally all the tubing is compiled from different thicknesses and profiles, all with subtle bends and curves. The frame is Specialized FACT 9r Carbon (which is a good thing I assume).
The handlebars are wide and have a gentle 9º backsweep which I feel really helps with my ride positioning. The ‘cockpit’ (I do think that’s an amusing parallel) is a minimal arrangement of two brake levers and a single gear shifter (more on that in a moment), the cables disappearing into the frame, no brake callipers, no front derailleur, making it look a little like a circus bike. The height of the frame means that my saddle position stays lower to the top tube than ever been before and I don’t know whether this is the magic formula, but I have never experienced such a perfect ride position.
Now this has really interested me. I have always had a dislike for dual and triple chainsets, long before this modern single ring approach was an option. On my Orange, I mostly use the middle chain ring and forget the other two, otherwise I’m fiddling to find the right gear, or accidentally cross chaining (putting stress on the chain / cassette by choosing opposing chainring / cassette cog combo). The chain then starts rubbing the front derailleur, your eyes roll - you are always breaking your concentration fiddling with gears, struggling to get back into the pace. Well now it is long gone.
The Sirrus-X has a single chain ring crank and sports a ridiculous looking Sunrace 11-42t rear cassette, designed to simplify the ride to just one shifter - eleven down and up. First gear looks absurd, the size of a saucer. The SRAM NX rear derailleur keeps it all in line and because it doesn’t undergo a lot of tension changes, the chain doesn’t ‘slap’ when landing, like it can on dual or triple chainsets. Does a single 42t chainring work that well in practise? Yes - it’s glorious in use, responsive and accurate. The simplicity is such a relief and I will never go back. The range of gears available in the 11-42t configuration is perfect for street riding, paths, tracks or tackling demanding hills. First gear gives a 1:1 pedal / wheel ratio which is so welcome, perfect when gaining altitude up steep Devon lanes. The ratios are also perfectly balanced in the city, high gears accelerating you quickly on the flat at traffic light starts and climbing to a comfortable cruise at 20-25mph in seventh or eighth. The steps between gears are considerate spaced and in my opinion do not drop abruptly as I have read about in other SRAM reviews, although the change can deliver a loud bang if your peddling hard. Building speed downhill, it’s easy to get moving at immense pace and although some complain that eleventh gear is not enough, I found myself maxing out the gears and my pedals at around 36mph. That’s more than fast enough for me.
I am learning that there’s nothing better than knowing your bike intuitively and at just one month in, I am starting to gain that connection. At first the steering felt a little ‘twitchy’ but this was most definitely me and not the bike. I wasn’t used to the tires or confident of their grip, the handling or the responsiveness and I was far from confident when cornering at speed. Now I’m getting there, building my speed and it feels magic.
This Sirrus-X has something that no bike has ever given me - encouragement. It forever calls me onwards to be a better cyclist - to get fitter, to accelerate faster, to ride harder, to beat my meagre personal bests and above all to keep going. I literally fly on this bike; slicing, swerving and cutting my path through any environment like a precision blade. It’s so comfortable dodging in the city, it’s also well suited to a pleasurable ride in the countryside, whether on gravel, tarmac or cycle tracks, thanks to those 700C rims and fabulous Tracer Pro tires. They are so fast on smooth tarmac, positively gliding and cornering, yet just as connected off-road.
The Future Shock stem, a suspension stem that reduces impact on your arms and shoulders, doesn’t seem all the impressive. Although I know it’s there, I am uncertain as to whether it is doing much to smooth things out. Fissures and rough road patches feel marginally better on impact, but I have to say I still go sensing for the suspension effect rather than feeling it. The bike came with three different sets of springs, so maybe I will have a play with them and put the softer ones on next, a good option. I must point out this is the first carbon fibre bike I have owned and I have to say although others have told me it's a harder ride than I am used to, I am not sure I feel it. The improvement in agility and pace is better than anything I have ever experienced.
I chose a set of DMR V12 pedals on recommendation and these are a perfect match and a great upgrade from the stock pedals that ships with the bike. They are wide and flat, super grippy and I can tentatively say that I am yet to rip any skin off my shins. I was advised to by this model by the Bike Shed, as they can be dismantled and serviced (bearings etc) unlike the cheaper ones. I never got on with shoes / cleats and with pedals this grippy (and considering the constant changing environment) it’s hard to see the need for cleats on a hybrid bike.
This is my first bike to have disc brakes and I am loving them. I can stop on a penny and I am pleased to report I am yet to go over the handlebars. They are Shimano MT201’s on the front and back. My only gripe is maintenance - if you take a wheel off, you have to be careful to apply these supplied plastic shims, sticking them into the gaps where the pads are, or the brakes could lock on and require a service to get them apart. That aside, discs leave me feeling very much in control of my ride and I am able to take calculated risks with much higher speeds than before.
I forgot to mention my other bike purchase in the last 27 years - It was a Lemond Reno aluminium framed road bike that I bought in 2006. Despite trying desperately, we never got on. In the end, the road ride position, the crunched neck, aching shoulders and dropped hands became an irritating and arduous obligation that ruined my love for cycling. I lost my fitness thanks to this bike, despite acknowledging its compelling looks. I had recently begun to consider that perhaps I would prefer an electric bike, just to enjoy riding occasionally…. and then this bike hit me like a train. The potential, the direction - The Sirrus-X is an absolute demon.
Since I bought it I have retrospectively looked at quite a lot of other Specialized hybrid models and I am certain I bought their engineering masterpiece. In fact I am hard pushed to see any other hybrid that looks this intimidating. Wearing my luminous jacket, LED’s flashing, I have had stationery cars pull left in traffic jams, convinced I must be the police! The single chainset drive train, although apparently nothing new (SRAM started this approach eight years ago in 2011) is a match made in heaven on a hybrid bike. It leaves me disinterested in any of the dual chainset Sirrus range and any other makes to be honest. They all look a bit too ‘commuter’ to ignite my passion.
I seem to be the only review to give the weight - its 10.2kg by my luggage scales. That’s really impressive and the bike is easy to lift onto your shoulder when carrying up steps (the flatter top tube really helps).
All this technology, materials and design comes at a cost, but its not exorbitant considering where we are at now in 2019. We should never overlook the R&D that goes into bike technology and I for one, with my snail pace incremental upgrades, have felt the positive benefits of design advancements.
Like other design classics, its technology is transparent, elevating you beyond the measurements to an elite and unfathomably organic riding experience that is simplified, fast, precise and ludicrously exhilarating. Too me, perhaps naive but making a passionate return to the cycling world, the Sirrus-X Comp Carbon is a defining piece of modern engineering in 2019.