Product:head to head: Specialized Sirrus Elite £550
24th January 2011 Words: Matt Lamy
For a story last year I phoned a number of UK bike retailers asking what their best-selling and most desirable commuting machines were. For many, Specialized’s Sirrus range was top of the list.
The Sirrus Elite is the third model up in the six-bike Sirrus selection. All are hybrids — that is to say they combine the road-going ability of sports bikes with the more comfortable and welcoming approach of flat handlebar machines. It is not a mountain bike; although we are planning to head off-road, Specialized classes the Sirrus as very definitely a road bike.
In photos there is a strange elegance about the Sirrus’s geometry — indulge me in a flight of fancy here — I found it reminiscent of a pedal-powered swan. In the metal, though, it’s a little bit freakish with an extraordinarily high front end. Whatever our reservations about the shape, there’s no arguing over the frame’s quality. The tubes are beautifully manipulated to be thick where strength is needed and svelte in less stressed areas. There are even some neat little extras, like through-frame cable routing for the rear brake.
The Sirrus also benefits from Specialized’s proprietary technology. You can’t help but notice the Zertz inserts on the carbon fork — there to help damping — and there is a choice selection of the firm’s highly regarded Body Geometry finishing kit. The drivetrain comes courtesy of Shimano, while unbranded V-brakes handle anchoring duties.
King of the road
So on paper it looks a perfectly fine machine, but how does it ride? First impressions are very good. On flat, well-surfaced roads the Sirrus is quickly up to speed and very, very smooth. In fact, even on bumpy tarmac the ride is supremely cosseting. The frame shape certainly leaves you sitting at altitude but you never feel removed from the action, just slightly above it.
Everything works well. The Shimano STI controls allied with a Deore derailleur at the back make gear changes hassle-free, while the triple chainset provides ample ratios even for nasty climbs. The V-brakes have a tendency to ‘bite’ rather than progressively slow the wheels, but at least they have ample power — far more preferable to being undercooked. And all the Body Geometry stuff feels great: the plush saddle has enough cushioning to keep new riders happy, while the batwing-style rubber bar grips and bar-ends offer more hand-hold options than you’d think possible with flat bars.
But this test isn’t just about the road, we also want to do a bit of extreme commuting. As luck would have it there were still a few outcrops of ice on the North Downs roads when we went testing (see, this job isn’t all glamour) so it didn’t take long before the Sirrus was tackling some tricky conditions. Its notable composure on good and damp roads goes missing in action when things turn ultra-slippy. The Specialized rubber might be titled ‘All Condition’, but there’s only so much that relatively thin 28c tyres can cope with.
Back to black
Heading on to very muddy tracks also pushes the Sirrus to its limits. While it copes admirably with reasonable off-road conditions, anything too hardcore has it wanting to go home. The back end in particular seems light, bucking wildly on rocky fire roads and spinning inefficiently on sodden, leaf-strewn climbs. Incidentally, those V-brakes squeal like little piggies when they get muddy. To the Sirrus’s great credit, though, even in situations for which it was obviously never designed, the front end never lost control.
In truth, I actually felt a little guilty putting this fine creature through such an ordeal. Emerging from the undergrowth the Sirrus regained its dignity, acting as if those fumbles in the foliage had never happened. In the words of the late great Ron Pickering, once back on the asphalt the Sirrus opened its legs and showed its class. The fact is, for any reasonable urban commuter, this is really a very refined machine indeed.
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A French fancy: B’Twin Fitness 3 £549.99
Vitus don’t make hybrids, so we can’t compare company with company, but for the same price as the Sirrus Elite another French firm — B’Twin — produces the Fitness 3. Like the Specialized it’s designed as a fast commuter, with very thin 25c tyres. The Fitness 3 has a carbon fork, with seatstays made of the black stuff too. Completed with a Shimano Sora drivetrain and clipless pedals, on paper this looks a very able urban speedster.
This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of Cycling Active magazine.