Road cycling. That’s a hard game, right? Gruelling roads, painful climbs, complete exhaustion — it’s not a place where people should expect comfort. Stereotypical road cycling culture has often given the impression that suffering is virtuous.
However, the reality is that an uncompromisingly fast and stiff bike will overreact to less-than-perfect roads, causing fatigue, discomfort, loss of traction and therefore loss of power and speed. And for all those romanticised notions of road cycling, it’s ultimately, speed — rather than suffering — that is the actual aim of the game. But with Specialized’s Future Shock technology, the idea that smoothness equals speed has been elevated to a new level.
Even in the modern world, most road bikes still employ a fairly traditional ‘two triangle’ frame and fork design. There are very good reasons for this, not least that it is the most effective way to create a strong, efficient but suitably light machine. However, there are some downsides. By shunning the extra weight, complication and relative inefficiency of mountain bike-style suspension, the options for positively affecting ride comfort or ‘smoothness’ are pretty much restricted to tyre pressures and — to a lesser extent — fork construction. But there’s always a trade-off, and the extra comfort and control you might gain from a flexing fork design tends to be paid for in a loss of speed.
Bike designers have always hoped that in the future we might find a method of bump insulation that didn’t just maintain speed but actually promoted it. Now, Specialized says the future’s here.
While major bike brands like Specialized spend a fortune on research and development — and consequently have an understanding of bicycle manufacturing that would have blown minds just a decade or two ago — bicycle technology still rarely reaches the same level as, say, the multi-billion pound world of motor racing. Which is why, in their search for the holy grail of comfort, smoothness and speed, Specialized partnered with Formula 1 innovators, McLaren Applied Technologies.
Together, Specialized and McLaren used a range of laboratory tests to quantify smoothness and understand how riders and road surfaces interact. With the data gleaned, they then set about transferring the conditions needed for smoothness into real-world solutions.
Typically, road bikes have created an element of suspension — or ‘compliance’ — by integrating ‘splay compliance’ within their design. In simple terms, splay compliance is where the frame or fork bends and moves the wheel axle forward or backward in reaction to a bump. This, however, isn’t an ideal solution, as the varying wheelbase creates unpredictable handling and performance inefficiencies. Far better, Specialized and McLaren felt, was to create a system that instead utilised axial or ‘vertical compliance’, which alters the axle to handlebar distance to effectively react to road bumps.
The result is Future Shock: a lightweight, 20mm spring-based suspension technology housed inside the head tube and designed to move in a vertical path. Because Future Shock is positioned above the fork, it is the rider who is suspended not the bike, so they can enjoy all the benefits of a compliant ride without any effect on control or efficiency. In fact, both those elements are improved because Future Shock enables the front tyre to stay in contact with the road for longer and the bike’s wheels are held together rigidly by the frame, meaning the wheelbase doesn’t change, which provides extremely predictable handling.
When the front wheel does encounter rough terrain, the bike moves up towards the rider’s hands without slowing the rider down, thereby preserving or even promoting forward momentum. And Future Shock even comes with a choice of three different springs with varying degrees of softness, meaning riders can fine-tune their set-up to the type of terrain they expect to encounter.
So forget all those ideas that in road cycling, harder and tougher equals faster. Future Shock is here to show that in reality, it’s actually smoother that equals faster.
Let’s look at some bikes that already benefit from Future Shock technology.
Future Shock ranges and models
The entry point into Future Shock technology, the Diverge E5 Comp features an equally smooth Shimano 105 gearset. Designed to be an adventure road bike, as well as a fine all-round commuting and leisure cycle, the E5 Comp’s Future Shock system has been fitted with a progressive spring to cope with off-road situations.
Specialized respected Roubaix and Ruby endurance road bikes have always offered a veritable armchair ride quality but with Future Shock technology, their lightweight carbon frames have been taken to the next level of smoothness. This version features Shimano Tiagra gears, Tektro Spyre mechanical disc brakes and, in the Ruby, Specialized’s fantastic women-specific geometry.
Taking Future Shock technology to the very zenith of modern bike manufacturing, the S-Works Roubaix Di2 has an ultra-lightweight carbon frame informed by endurance geometry and Specialized’s ‘Rider First Engineering’, and a full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic gearset with matching hydraulic disc brakeset.
Who says all this good bump-isolation technology has to be given just to drop-bar bikes? Specialized’s Sirrus hybrid might have flat bars but it’s always been designed for speed, so the benefits of Future Shock are just as welcome on this ultra-plush carbon-framed Sirrus Pro model. A Sirrus Expert Carbon model with Future Shock is also available.