The bike constantly surprises and has an astonishingly light 585g frame – the build comes in a full 2kg lighter than some of the author’s other bikes.
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S-Works Aethos Road Tested 

Way back in 2021, Specialized released a rule breaking, UCI illegal (but still UCI approved!), revolutionary instrument of meme rebellion to be known as the Aethos (‘Ay Thoss’, not ‘E Thoss’ which is the way anyone other than an American would correctly pronounce it). 

Apparently, the target audience would be a climbing obsessive, non-racing, ‘just for the pleasure of it’ cyclist intent on weeding out everything other than the pure essence of cycling for their n+1. In other words, a cyclist who is steadfast in ignoring the machinations of the bicycle industry marketing machine and the lemming inclinations of ‘fashion’. 

It seems the target Aethos rider is a rider seeking the ‘pure cycling experience’, whatever that means. 

I kind of got the impression that the target Aethos rider would be a hipster kind of rider: bearded barista-centric, purposeful influencer of curated counter-trend anti-establishment establishment culture. Something like a conspicuous consuming, virtue signalling purveyor of inconspicuous consumption… The whole show smelt a touch contrived. 

But the seed set. I liked the bit about it being a pure climbing bike and UCI illegal. I loved the bit about non-integrated cable routing and aero nothing! A bike for non-pro cyclists! Maybe the bike a pro would choose once retired. 

With its classic stance, the Aethos certainly breaks the Specialized mould and has become one of their most respected and desired models.

Somehow I managed to find an enlightening video from Aethos head engineer, Peter Denk. Posted on their ‘Specialized University’ (!!) YouTube channel I was intrigued by the sheer undisguised engineering enthusiasm he was showing while watching one of the 100 plus iterations of the prototype Aethos frame being tortured on a bending, stretching, pulling machine.

Kind of like a torture rack for bikes … the deformations of this frame were declared to be ‘beautiful’ and stunning. And instrumental to the rather radical design that was happening through these endless tests. The results are not subtle. The Aethos frame is very, very different from just about every other frame out there. Maybe the Aethos is not just a puff of marketing smoke after all.  

The most obvious feature of this frame is its extraordinarily tiny, 1980s era bottom bracket junction. And a huge head tube, with all tubes tapering out to to that headline head tube. It’s all very off-trend for sure. And then we notice that all the tubes here are round! Just like in the old ‘steel is real’ days. There is nothing aero going on here. Nothing. And then, gasp! – even on the very top of the line S-Works edition, the bars and stem are not integrated!

There are exposed brake cables and a separate bar and stem! And check those seat stays out. They are not dropped. They are not bent. They are good old fashioned twigs that bend. And, yes, there is more! The seat post is round and, wow, the clamp is just a good old fashioned external collar.  

The Aethos breaks the mould and oozes class, style and sentimentality – it’s the classic bike that includes 2020s touches.

There really is a genuine revolution going on here. The carbon layup is unlike anything we have seen before. The S-Works edition frame has no, as in zero, carbon stiffening layers. Which means that when you ride the bike, nearly 100 per cent of the carbon is loaded, as opposed to around 60 per cent of the carbon in a more usual frame layup. And this fully loaded carbon layup is hugely instrumental to the way this bike rides. Really. No marketing spin here. This bike rides unlike anything I have ever ridden before. And, spoiler alert, it’s all good.

Peter Denk claims that the extraordinary lightness of the S-Works Aethos frame (585g) was a side-benefit of the design. Not the intent. The main intent was to realise climbing magic. To realise a bike that could be both extraordinary in the hills and utterly controlled everywhere else. Fast everywhere, but very, very compliant (comfortable) to ride. Impossible? Hard to believe, yes. And believe I did not until I got to ride the bike. But believe I now do. You have to ride this bike; you really do. It is a revelation. 

Notice that it’s only now in this piece that I am about to reveal that this entire bike weighs in at 6.08kg for my size 56. Yes, it is a disc brake bike. Yes, that does include the full Dura Ace 12 speed Di2 ensemble with a 4iiii power meter. And those wheels. They were created with the Aethos, for the Aethos.

The frame and fork will easily take 28mm rubber.

They are the Specialized Alpinist CLX II hoops, now tubeless ready and hooked as they should be – 21mm internal, 33mm deep, 1.265kg. And soooooo compliant. But stiff. An utterly perfect match to the Aethos. The hubs are DT Swiss EXP with SINC ceramic bearings, and the spokes are DT Swiss Aerolites.

But do yourself a favour. Don’t go down the tubeless path. Ditch the monstrously heavy tubeless nastiness for tube type tyres and swap in a set of Tubolito TPU tubes at 24g a piece and you will unleash the potential of the wheels and the bike. Never was a bike more tuned to Tubolitos than this. This set up is lighter than going tubeless (with sealant) and way easier to live with. Go tubed! That’s consistent with the aethos of this Aethos. 

So, how does theory meet practice on the road? You know the big selling point for eBikes? It’s the  electronic kick you get from a motor in the hills. Guess what? You get that very kick from this ‘analogue’ Aethos by virtue of its extraordinary frame and wheels.

This thing launches you up a hill and insists on pulling you all the way to the top. And then tries to emulate a Colnago C68 or Dogma F going down! Who knew this bike could descend as well as it climbs?! No it is not quite as fast as the latest aero super bikes on the flats. But if you are not a pro, should you really care? You are hardly going to notice the lack of aero given how utterly engaging is its ride. 

The Aethos frame uses a threaded BSA 68mm bottom bracket.

My final surprise is the ride quality. I did not expect a ride like I get from my Cervelo Caledonia 5 (the bike Lotto Jumbo rides for Paris-Roubaix), but that’s what this bike provides. Ride quality is the core quality of this bike. It’s an attribute that makes you want to ride and ride for ever more; surely that’s the essence of pure cycling.

I rather think that the S-Works Aethos has totally blurred the one-time distinction between endurance and pure racing designs. For me, the Aethos combines my Dogma F with my Caledonia 5 while being 2kg lighter than either.  

What’s not to like? The monstrous 2BR S-Works Turbo rubber the bike came with. Burn those tyres lest you get a puncture out on the road. You will not be able to get them off the rims without dynamite.

Yes, the Aethos is expensive, but it’s still around $7,000 cheaper than a Dogma F or Colnago C68. Bargain! And, yes, technically, you can’t race it at any UCI sanctioned race without filling the downtube with lead or, if you are evil, slow melt ballast ice. unknown.gif

And the bottom line? The bike, with Shimano Dura Ace Di2, is currently priced at $18,400 on the Specialized website.

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