When Specialized decided to launch their 2012 Amira, they certainly did it with style. The location chosen was that of the longest running women’s stage race, held in the mountainous Northern region of Spain otherwise known as Basque country. The Eumakameen Birra (meaning women’s tour) is a four day event that is considered one of the most difficult races in Europe. When Specialized formed a partnership with HTC Highroad this year, it saw cycling legends like Judith Arndt, Ina Teutenberg, Evelyn Stevens, and Amber Neben racing on the 2011 Amira. So what better way to review the 2012 model, than ride it on the roads that these girls will be racing on.
Beginning in 1992 the Eumakameen Birra has grown from three stages to five. The four day event encompasses distances of 75km, 115km, a 7.6km TT which finished on top of a hill and was followed by 81km circuit race, then winding up on day four with 125.7km. Being able to ride the first two stages and also watch the girls in action was truly exciting, as was the chance to meet the racers.
On the night before the first stage, we shared a meal at a mountain top restaurant. With a small gathering of 25, which included only eight journalists, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The team was quite happy to share race stories and also comment on the upcoming event. When asked about the difficulty of the stages, Judith Arndt’s reply was “every race here is hard.”
After spending the morning riding the Luretta 75km first stage in glorious sun, we devoured a lunch of pizza and red wine, and headed to the start line in Durango to watch the girls. With an untimely change in the weather and pending rain, the start line consisting of 18 teams gathered. I was surprised and a little disappointed to see such a small gathering of spectators at this event. This is something that can only be improved with more media coverage of women’s races. But the weather and minimal crowd support didn’t seem to affect the determination of the competitors. Within a sea of brightly coloured lycra the race faces were definitely on. Completing the course in less than two hours meant an impressive average speed of 48kph. Our ride took slightly longer. Ina Teutenberg (Ger) HTC Highroad Women camesecond on this stage.
Day two’s weather was not so kind. With the Luretta Lekeitio 115km ride ahead of us, it was arm warmers and wet weather gear all round. I don’t think I have ever been so keen to climb hills, if only for the pure purpose of keeping warm. And with one category two climb and three category three climbs, there were certainly peaks and troughs in body temperature. One of the teeth chattering descents led to a quaint little café about half way down. The coffee was great, but the enthusiasm to go back out in the rain was not. Once back on the bike, the spectacular Basque countryside was a welcome distraction from numb fingers and toes. The first 60km of this stage found us in the beautiful seaside town of Lekeito. The ride then continued along the coastal road with two 30km loops and a finish line back at Lekeito. After five of us decided to continue on the first of these loops, I found myself in awe of the fact that the racers would be taking it on twice, at break-neck pace. These girls are tough!
After lunch it was into the van to catch the girls in action climbing those hills. Unfortunately for us, we missed them and after driving alongside one of the riders who had been dropped we found out why. When we asked her what the pace was like she exclaimed “fast race…….much too fast”. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC Highroad Women came in third that day.
On day three, still feeling the sting in our legs from the day before, we had a leisurely ride to Bilbao to watch the 7.6km TT. With a profile resembling a ski jump, this section is infamously hard. Finishing at the top of the hill, Judith Arndt from HTC –Highroad, camethird. Unfortunately our itinerary didn’t include the rest of the race, so the results are listed below.
So apart from the breathtaking scenery and awesome company, what’s the 2012 Specialized Amira like? Fairly soon after arrival, I had my first taste of the Spanish hills. My initial impression was less a surprise than you might think. With the knowledge that this was a super light bike, it was fairly obvious that it would climb well. But given that I had altitude adjusting lungs and jetlag, it climbed seriously well. And the riding on days that followed only reinforced this. Limited only by ability, this bike has the potential to literally fly up the hills. Descending was also impressive. There’s a certain amount of confidence you get when riding the Amira. The long descents were fast and cornering was direct. Not forgetting that this is a bike designed for pro-racers, you quickly get the feeling that this bike has no limits. It wants to be pushed to the extreme. Most descents at some point require a certain amount of braking and with the need to pull up quickly on a particular descent, I was once again reminded how good SRAM Red brakes are. With the opportunity to open up at the end of a ride the Amira was truly responsive in a sprint, again limited only by the power in your legs. This bike is definitely going to be a weapon for those HTC girls. I will be following their race results with renewed interest.
History of the Amira
True appreciation for the 2012 Specialized Amira requires a step back in time to where it all started. There have been a number of significant milestones in women’s products from Specialized, starting in 2003 with the introduction of female specific geometry and components.
In, 2004 ‘Designs for Women’ was launched and in 2005 the first women’s team ‘Victory Brewing Women’s Cycling’ was sponsored. The following year saw the introduction of the Ruby and in 2007 an S-Works Ruby was included in the line up. In that same year the ‘Quasar’ logo was put onto all women’s products as an immediately recognizable women’s logo. In 2008 the women’s pro team ‘Aarons Pro Cycling’ raced on the S-Works Ruby and in 2009 it won its first world cup race under Emma Pooley. With an increasing demand for that extra effort to be put into women’s bikes and a definite need for a higher-end performance model, Specialized realised that although they had an exceptional product in the Ruby, it was unable to be pushed to a true race platform and was performing best as an endurance road bike.
With an increasing demand for stiffer and lighter bikes it was at this point that Specialized engineer Kyle Chubbuck started work on the Amira. Knowing that not just one women’s road bike was going to appeal to everybody, and it wasn’t just about the bike being a good fit, but that it also had to perform well, the Amira was launched in 2010, and in the first year of racing achieved over 30 podium finishes. This leads us to now – 2011 and the HTC Highroad Women’s Team sponsorship.
So with an already impressive bike in the 2011 Amira, the 2012 Amira design wasn’t driven by the demands for lighter and stiffer alone, but more so by the ability of the engineers to innovate and create something new, exciting and better, even though it wasn’t being asked for. Not wanting to rest on their laurels with an already amazing product in the 2011 Amira, they set to work to create something that combined the perfect balance between lightweight, stiffness and efficiency. They had some clear and specific ideas about how the bike could be improved and elevated to a pro-race platform.
Enter the 2012 Amira
New in the design is the flared top tube, nicknamed the ‘Cobra, which is wider at the head tube and narrows down towards the seat tube for knee clearance. Combined with the bulbous head tube, it’s one of the most noticeable features. One of the key components is that there are no flat surfaces. The reason for that is to prevent local deflection and it’s a way of adding a lot of stiffness into the frame without increasing weight. So the head tube design not only looks cool it also serves a purpose. In fact, the whole frame had a 25% increase in stiffness to weight ratio than the previous Amira design. The tapered head tube has 1-1/8 inch upper and 1-3/8 in lower bearings and full carbon headset cups top and bottom, and as in the previous Amira and the Ruby, has a raised crown race. This means that the bearing sits up in line with the bottom of the down tube. So the forces are transferred into the frame as opposed to when the crown race is sitting lower where the forces are transferred straight into the head-tube. Another thing it does is give a better fork carbon lay-up. The straighter the lay-up lines the stronger the carbon. So, when the crown race is raised you don’t need the same sharp edge, you get more strength and stiffness and also save weight by reducing the amount of carbon you need.
Post and Stays
The Specialized Amira uses a 27.2 seatpost. The seat tube tapers down from a round top section near the saddle, to add compliance, into an asymmetric square shape nearing the bottom bracket, adding stiffness and strength at this point.
The seat stays have quite a unique shape. They are necked down at one end, again for compliance and beefed up at the other end. After getting feedback from the teams that there was slight brake chatter in the rear end, the design was tweaked and the stays were thickened at the rear brake bridge and then tapered back down to full carbon moulded, hollow drop-outs, a nice weight saving feature, that also has the added benefit of allowing for internal cable routing. This is especially good for electronic shifting, which therefore makes the frame fully Di2 capable. So you have one super-light frame that you can upgrade as your budget allows.
The Amira uses a press fit BB30 bottom bracket with an all carbon shell. Being 35g lighter than this year’s alloy bottom bracket, it’s a huge weight saving and is said to minimise flex under load, allowing for better power transfer. It also has hollow Delron press-in cups designed specifically to prevent wear. So if something bad happens to your crank, you’re not damaging your frame. You can just replace the small, inexpensive cup.
Another cool feature that most bike mechanics will appreciate is the three piece bottom bracket cable guide. Having a removable cover, it allows you to change your front or rear derailleur cable, independently.
A further benefit of the internal routing being underneath is that the down tube can be lowered to get straighter cable lines and better shifting. This in turn opens up the front triangle, which is especially important for smaller frames, to allow the proper fit of an electronic shifting battery or an extra water bottle cage.
The tested Specialized Amira was ridden with slightly different spec as not all the parts were available at the time of the media launch.
The wheels on the test bike were Roval SL 45 (the Amira will come with RovalFusee SLX wheels).
Shallower drop bars have been introduced with a 123mm drop and a 75mm reach. There will be full carbon and aluminium SL women’s bars across the models.
The saddle ridden was a BG Gel Ruby. The 2012 Specialized Amira will come with the Oura Pro Gel women’s saddle. A shapely saddle with a nice curved middle section, much like a hammock. This initially was intended to be a men’s saddle but after rider feedback using the BG fit system, it was redesigned with a narrower nose width and adjusted cutout section.
At the time, SRAM Red cranks were fitted to the bike I rode. One of the most consistent requests for 2012 models has been for more SRAM. So the new Amira sees SRAM Red used in conjunction with the very lightweight, integrated Specialized cranks. With a request for electronic shifting, there is also a Shimano Di2 option available.
With the knowledge that every woman has different taste, a concerted effort was made by Specialized to offer a selection of colours throughout their range of women’s bikes. They state “You will never find a pink bike from us that doesn’t have a second colour option available that is less feminine”. The bike I rode was project black and quite different to the completed model as shown. There will be five levels available: Base, Elite, Comp, Pro and S-Works.
When Specialized design a women’s bike, they don’t just start with a men’s bike and tweak the geometry. It’s much more than the so often mentioned shorter top tube. Using BG-fit data from their pro-teams and feedback from an alliance of women from seven countries, they set design targets. They also meet biannually with Specialized concept-store owners from Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States, Germany and Switzerland to keep a reality check on the market. They consider women’s cycling as the most important emerging market and definitely have their fingers on the pulse.
When designing a women’s bike it’s not just one thing that determines the outcome. The shape and size of the tube set is definitely one of the elements. Every frame has a different mould cut and every tube diameter adheres to a stiffness target. This is achieved by implementing a series of tests done at Specialized, the main ones being the torsion and BB tests.
Torsion stiffness relates to how much the frame twists, which translates to its handling characteristics. The BB test is carried out using strain gauges to measure the forces going into the tube. This translates to pedalling stiffness.
The tube diameters are unique to each frame size, ie the tube diameter on a 44cm is smaller than that used on a 56cm frame which in turn reduces weight. Also the shorter tube length on the smaller bikes adds built-in stiffness immediately. Meeting these targets ensures that each bike, no matter what frame size, will have the same ride feel.
So with a better way to approach the design of a women’s bike, the outcome is:
Women’s Performance Geometry: (longer and lower – more aggressive positioning)– The Amira – Competitive Road Bike.
Women’s Endurance Geometry : (taller head tube and more relaxed position)–The Ruby and the Dolce _ Endurance Road Bikes.
Women’s Fitness Geometry: (on the flat bar road bike) – Vita – Fitness and Commute.
The team responsible for the fantastic Amira media launch has to be commended. It requires a special skill to be able to combine such a high level of professionalism with the right mix of lighthearted fun, and these guys nailed it. To be given the exclusive opportunity to ride one of the best women’s road bikes available, hot off the production line, is enough in itself. Add to that a spectacular location and the honour of meeting some of the best women riders in the world. The passion the Specialized team have for women’s cycling is intoxicating and surely what makes them the leaders in this ever increasing market. On a more personal level, I had the opportunity to meet some terrific people, who I will never forget. It is very rare that a group of people thrown together, get along so well. Maybe that’s the magic of cycling…