I’ve often wondered how much of a difference there really is between today’s high-end road bikes. They’re all light, few are lacking in stiffness, and differences in strength sound like they would take a sumo wrestler riding Belgian cobles to discern. So do the differences matter for a 5’ 8” guy with a sprint that might take a city limit sign on a geriatric group ride?

Signs point to no. And that’s the answer I would have given, until I took a little spill.

Yeah, that’s my femur. And the tiny crack you may see kept me on crutches and off my bike for the better part of this past fall. Fortunately, I received some good medical care, the bone has healed and I’m now back on the bike, fully equipped with some new steel hardware in the bone.

Shockingly, I’m not quite putting out the wattage I was before the accident. So when I picked up my new Specialized Tarmac SL4 last month, I wasn’t expecting to notice any difference compared to the top-of-the-line euro carbon bike that I had been riding.

But I did. Somehow, even pedaling at the speed of rehab, the Tarmac flies. Features like the tapered head tube and one-piece bb/chainstay help the frame achieve its industry leading stiffness to weight ratio. Bottom line, with this kind of pickup cruising at a modest pace, I can’t wait to see what the bike feels like attacking on a climb.

And the acceleration isn’t even the best part. I’ve certainly never been god’s gift to ballsyness in the bike handling department. Not surprisingly, the trauma of breaking my femur in a crash didn’t help my confidence. This was immediately clear when I was allowed to get back on my euro carbon bike at the end of December. I saw gradual improvements in confidence over the next few weeks, but the process promised to be painstakingly slow.

Then I got the Tarmac SL4. Within two rides, I already felt better descending than I had on my Gucci euro carbon ride of nearly three years. The razor sharp handling has provided just the confidence boost I needed.

Maybe most importantly, these features make the bike fun to ride. More fun leads to more time on the bike, which is a good thing whether you’re training to race, rehab or just get some exercise.

So apparently, there is a difference between high-end carbon bikes, even for a little guy without a sprint and some new steel in his leg. And as I rehab my way back into racing, I’ll take any advantage I can get.

-Steve O.