SPECIALIZED S-WORKS AETHOS VS. OPEN CYCLE MIN.D. BIKE TEST
Let’s be honest, no matter how much many of us like to see ourselves in the image of our favorite pro riders, it’s only an illusion. And yet, for far too long the bike industry has prioritized what the pros need as a means of designing and spec’ing bikes for the rest of us. Some of those things are good and have helped advance the road market, but the majority are to gain milliseconds at the sacrifice of everything else.
With that in mind, what we have here are two new bikes that launched simultaneously with you—and not the paid athlete—in mind. Sure, just as with many products, there will be plenty of riders who feel they don’t relate. We are not oblivious to the fact that we all want to emulate at some point the pro peloton, but at what point do we accept our position and use the tools that will amplify our level of riding?
Both Specialized and Open have hit the market with new bikes that step back a few generations in terms of style, but without giving up the performance gains found with contemporary designs. The level of knowledge, testing, composite technology and understanding of the entire bike as a system has led both back to the double-triangle-shaped frame, but one that still minimizes weight and complexity while maximizing the modern concepts of performance and technology.
When it comes to all things aero, Open’s main man, Gerard Vroomen, knows a thing or two about cutting through the air efficiently. As the engineer behind Cervelo for many years and now the mastermind behind 3T as well, he knows his way around a wind tunnel. With that in mind, he, too, thought that there was a market opening for bikes that lower the priority of aero and bring back simplicity.
In fact, so simple that on the MIN.D. (MINimal Design), he also got rid of the adjustable seatpost and decided that a tiny 25mm uninterrupted seat tube was the way to go. There is a custom-made clamp (that is a bit over-engineered) that uses Ritchey’s rail-clamp system and has 15mm of adjustment after cutting the tube to length.
Weight and simplicity were key factors in the Open’s design, but ride feel and characteristics were the top priority. The MIN.D. has a claimed weight of 870 grams (painted, uncut seatmast, without metal parts) and is matched with a 335-gram fork. The brakes use Open’s own Smartmount direct-mount design with thru-bolts and no caliper adapters. As much as 140mm rotors would be even more minimal, the bike is dedicated to 160mm rotors.
The frame uses internal routing, starting from the head tube leaving hoses and cables exposed from the bars. The overall design is simple with two large triangles that seamlessly connect the top tube to seat stays. The seat stays and chainstays are minimal, and the seat stays have a slight arching bow shape. The seat stays and chainstays meet at the thru-axle junction that is significantly larger than the intersecting tubes.
The diameters of the downtube and head tube are equally matched with a large bottom-bracket shell. The bottom bracket is a Press-Fit BB386EVO and allows for a wide range of adaptability. The frame fits up to 32mm tires. The frame is compatible with Di2, eTap, EPS and 1x mechanical drivetrains.
The Aethos is the newest addition to the Specialized line, and it prioritizes weight, aesthetics, ride quality and performance. What’s missing, you ask? Aero. And this is huge for Specialized, because aero has been their everything and it wasn’t on the priority list. Sure, the frame’s aero qualities were taken into account, but they didn’t dictate the design direction like the new SL7 Tarmac. Instead, the real priority was weight, which is obvious with our S-Works frame weighing in at 622 grams plus the fork at 311 grams.
The frame uses similar internal cable routing as the Tarmac SL6, with the entry point on the head tube leaving exposed hose and wire from the bars. The rest are run internally, and with the S-Works models, there is no option to build with a mechanical groupset. If mechanical is the route you want to go, then you will need to look at the Pro or Expert level that has added internal routing to accommodate cables.
The S-Works version is built with their top-level carbon 12r, but all models use the same molds. The real difference is in the number of small pieces of carbon that are strategically arranged on the S-Works versions to maximize the characteristics. This has always been the case between the pinnacle product and the trickle-down models, but in the Aethos, even the Pro and Expert levels seem to hit pretty remarkable weights.
“Weight and simplicity were key factors in the Open’s design, but ride feel and characteristics were the top priority.”
The fork is specifically mated to a 160mmm brake rotor design with a special brake adapter. Like the Tarmac SL7, the new Aethos also uses a 68mm threaded bottom bracket. This is great news because ultra-light bikes are usually the most susceptible to creaking when matched with Press-Fit systems. The frame and fork both come with room for up to 32mm tires. The 27.2mm seatpost is secured with a traditional round clamp. No matter if you choose a frameset or a complete bike, all Aethos’ come with the new Roval Alpinist Carbon seatpost.
Currently, the MIN.D. is only offered as a frameset, so the sky is the limit with spec, and every build will be unique. Open built our test bike with a wireless 12-speed SRAM Force drivetrain. Up front is a 46/33t crank paired with the 10-28t cassette for a near 1:1 ratio when things get steep. The cockpit was comprised of a carbon Enve stem and handlebar, but for us, the 90mm stem was way too short.
The MIN.D. seat mast is topped with the new Fizik Antares Versus Evo 00 Adaptive that uses a 3D-printed padding on the high-module, full-carbon shell. For wheels, a pair of 24mm-deep carbon DT Swiss CRC 1400 Spline wheels with 22.5mm internal width are paired with a set of 32mm Schwalbe Pro 1 tires. The build is a bit more realistic for most, but still has plenty of bells and whistles.
For our Aethos, we decided on a custom build instead of one of the two stock S-Works builds. This led to a slightly heavier complete bike from what Specialized offers, but in our opinion, a more well-rounded build and one that is more unique. To start, we opted for the wireless 12-speed SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain. We chose the 48/35t crank matched to the 10-28t cassette for gearing that is performance-oriented, but still has enough range for most of the climbing we do.
Since the Aethos uses a standard stem with no proprietary standards, we chose an Easton EA90 120mm stem matched with the EC90 SLX bar for durability and performance. Our go-to Lizard Skins DSP V2 2.5mm bar tape keeps our hands happy. For the saddle, we opted for the Fizik Antares 00 carbon-braided saddle.
While an ultralight set of wheels is normally paired with a bike of this style, we opted for the reliable Hed Vanquish RC4 Pro wheels paired with 28mm Kenda Valkyrie TLR Pro tubeless tires. The new Kenda tire has also been a top contender in the growing tubeless road offering. Simple is the name of the game, and while not the lightest Aethos on the road, it might be one of the most reliable and well-balanced versions.
With equally as much time on the MIN.D, it is clear that carbon composite frames have come a long way in just the last five years. The bike generally looks like many of the bikes we had before disc brakes from a distance, but simply rides so much better. Not just comfort-wise but performance-wise, too. The lateral stiffness and pedaling efficiency are spot-on and, in short, the bike just goes. Setting up and cutting the 25mm seat tube to our length is a bit stressful, but once set, there’s no need to worry about it slipping.
“The Aethos’ aero qualities were taken into account, but they didn’t dictate the design direction.”
Also worth noting is that the seat tube’s inside diameter reduces above the top tube, meaning the carbon is much thicker than we were expecting. This could make it a tight fit for a Di2 battery.
As we look at the geometry of our size-medium MIN.D., it is clear it is a bit less aggressive. There is a 37.3cm reach with a 56cm stack on a bike that has an effective top tube length of 55cm. Because the bike is designed around a zero setback, the top tube is more comparable to those that have a 54cm top tube. There is a 15.8cm head tube at 72.5 degrees matched with a 37.5cm long fork that makes the front end feel significantly higher. Like the Aethos, the MIN.D. is nimble yet balanced with a 97.8cm wheelbase and 40.5cm chainstays.
We swapped a few different stems on the bike, but even at 110mm, our position always felt significantly higher on the bike. This is not a bad thing, but for those looking to get really low, over the front position, you might have to shop for some extreme angle stems. Ride quality with the supplied 32mm tires was incredible, and from our measurement, they were 33.6mm, leaving a paper-thin gap of clearance. When we swapped to a set of 28mm tires, we were still impressed at how well the bike balanced performance and compliance.
Cornering is confidence-inspiring at all speeds, and we came away most impressed as the road curves tightened. Out-of-the-saddle pedaling stiffness is very good. A few riders complained that the large tires were too big for their preference, and they felt that there was too much bounce, but like anything else, it takes some time to adapt to larger-volume tires and the lower pressures.
After many hours on the bike and some reflection on Specialized bikes of the past, in our opinion the Aethos should have been where the Tarmac name went and the SL7 should have maintained the Venge naming. Either way, we now have what we think is a more rider-optimized option that still maintains the performance geometry. Yup, the Aethos has the same fit as the Tarmac, which is a performance/race geometry. For some, this seems out of line since Specialized is targeting the rider who is less interested in racing. For us, it seems like a perfect fit since we like going fast, and performance-oriented geometry helps in that pursuit.
The comfort level in the saddle is more in line with the Tarmac SL6 and significantly more compliant than the SL7. Our size-54 frame shares the same geo numbers that have been found on all the performance bikes since the launch of the SL6 Tarmac. There is a 38.4cm reach and 54.4cm stack with a 73-degree head tube angle. The head tube is 13.7cm matched to a fork that is 36.9cm long for a low feeling. A 97.8cm wheelbase with 41cm chainstays offers a nimble yet balanced responsiveness.
Performance-wise, the Aethos offers almost the same level of lateral stiffness that the Tarmac does but in a much lighter package. Descending is impressive, and unlike many other bikes on the ultralight list, the Aethos is solid. The wheels stay aligned, as it was pushed through high-speed turns, as well as tight technical ones. Overall, if we were to have ridden the bike before we knew the weight, we would have never guessed that it might be the lightest disc frameset on the market.
As we compare the two bikes, it is clear both Open and Specialized recognized an opportunity to target a consumer that has been less prioritized in the last few years. The MIN.D. offers a geometry that is less traditional and only has four sizes. It also has a rider position that will most likely fit more riders better, even if they think they should be lower.
The Aethos sticks with the long-proven race geometry that all of their performance road bikes have used for over four years. Specialized offers six sizes from 49cm–61cm. Also nice is the fact that Specialized offers complete builds starting at $5200, the same price as the S-Works frameset.
Overall, both bikes focus on the technology implemented into what seems to be a traditional design. Both offer refinements that not only offer amazing ride quality but impressive performance. Both brands minimized branding, and for what might be a first, Specialized has removed the massive S-Works logo from the downtube.
Both bikes have exposed cables near the head tube, making them much easier to travel with and will fit in a larger variety of bike travel bags and cases. With that said, the seat mast on the Open could limit the selection of bags on the larger sizes.
For us the choice is simple; we would probably opt for the Pro level of the Aethos and still have a bike that is incredibly light. The S-Works version is awesome, but the price tag just puts it in a ballpark that we can’t play in.
The MIN.D. is an impressive value at $3600 for the frameset, but building a bike from the ground up adds significant cost. If Open starts selling complete builds, then the decision becomes a bit harder. The MIN.D. also has a bit less aggressive rider position but offers almost the exact same performance when it comes to handling.
At the end of the day, the most impressive part was how little attention both bikes captured. We had both on the road before they were launched, and only a few very observant riders noticed them as something new. Both bikes bring back a style and aesthetic that has been lacking for the last few years, and for that reason alone we will likely see many more jump on the bandwagon very soon.
OPEN PUNCH LINES
Boutique and affordable
No complete builds
Geometry that is different but works
Price: $3700 frameset
Weight: 15.81 pounds
Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL
SPECIALIZED PUNCH LINES
Light and expensive
The Pro is the way to go
Price: $12,500 ($5200 frameset)
Weight: 14.12 pounds
Sizes: 49, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm
MIN.D. RIDER GEAR
Helmet: Lazer Century
Jersey: Ornot House
Bib: Ornot House
Shoes: Shimano RC701
Socks: Volar Active
Glasses: Oakley Wind Jacket
AETHOS RIDER GEAR
Helmet: Giro Synthe
Jersey: Team Dream Team
Bib: Team Dream Team
Shoes: Giro Empire
Socks: Team Dream Team
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