Cervelo bikes have a formidable reputation based on their pursuit of racing advantage. The R3 was hailed by many when it was launched as the best road bike ever, whilst most of the aero bikes now available on the market trace their roots back to the Cervelo S-series bikes. Cervelo’s relatively short life as a bike company has therefore had major impact on the world of cycling.
This review is based on thousands of miles ridden on the R3 and just a couple of blasts on the S5. But as a long-term Cervelo rider with history on an R3, those hours on the S5 were enough to persuade me to plump for one. (Though I would have liked to keep the R3 too were it possible.) At first glance the bikes are chalk and cheese – they seem to have very little area of crossover and look set to make you choose between their very different ways. The implausibly thin seat stays of the R3 with its classic geometry are the diametric opposite of the S5’s chunky bulk and general muscularity. But they have a lot more in common than engineering standards or branding, for these bikes are based on the same geometry. This means that they can be set up for identical road positions, with identical contact points and with the frame beneath you mapping the same angles between yourself and the road. Where the bikes differ is in looks, character and purpose.
The R3 – this really is a bike to build up into a lightweight classic. It will easily get sub-UCI limits of 6.8kg without the pursuit of absolute cycling exotica. I have ridden this with Campagnolo’s top gruppo and can testify to a lightness and litheness that belies the apparent solidity of the squared-off tubing. On the road you soon discover the fabled ‘compliance’ of a Cervelo R3 – it seems to absorb buzz like nothing else: the uncanny sense of total rigidity and strength is cut through by a damping of the road surface that really makes this into a long haul race bike. For those with the cash and aspiration to ride the best, this would be the ultimate sportive bike: it never sacrifices speed or control but neither does it sacrifice comfort. It is built for the biggest rides like the Etape du Tour, the Dragon Ride or the Etape Caledonian; with good height in the head tube it also produces a comfortable position for mere mortals.
To balance the quality of the bike it needs a quality set of wheels that have as much ‘go’ in them as the frame does. I have tried it out with the Easton EA90SLX (light but not rigid enough), some Mavics (fast and strong but not quite light enough) and Campagnolo Shamal Ultras (they worked!) … Strength in the wheelset matches up properly to the boldness of this frame. I can’t quite get over how direct this frame feels whilst keeping me happy on the Fizik perch. It sprints, climbs and descends like a thoroughbred – the efficiency the engineers have dialled in is translated into fantastic progress on the road.
I rode this bike on the Raid Pyrenean – a tasty 100 hour coast-to-coast from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean through the French Pyrenees: it stood the riding. Think four back to back Etapes and you’ll not be far wrong… the 17 mile drag up the Col de Puymorens was an epic rhythmic spin; it mashed me over the Aspin, Peyresourde, Menté and Col de la Porte in a single day sequence; and it raced flat out for 23 miles downhill from the Col de la Perche to Prades with amazing solidity. The bike was properly comfortable throughout. It steers and brakes, it transfers power, it looks like it goes … in short it gets six stars on a scale of one to five.
The Cervelo S5 does enough that is the same but different to intrigue me. Its striking, even astonishing, looks mark a new point in bike design. Cervelo are taking us where others will follow: fared-in features, almost cowled around the seat tube illustrate a commitment to aerodynamic improvement that is currently matched only by real TT bikes. In the flesh it is probably the nearest thing to F1 technology that cyclists are going to see in their local shop.
In the Red Kite shop it drew admiration and a degree of bewilderment in equal measure – “what is that?” being a standard reaction to a bike that defies normal aesthetics. But once the position is tweaked to that of the R3 I have ridden so much, it feels like I am back home. The radical looks belie a tried and trusted geometry that has served the R3 so fantastically well. The road tells a slightly different story.
Crikey! Blimey! etc … This bike flies. It goes like a train, even if I don’t have the engine of one. It is rigid and stiff but keeps enough of that Cervelo compliance, whilst also adding an afterburner sensation to any highpower efforts on the flat and downhill sections of my Warwickshire riding. If the R3 showed its class in long distance speed and general rideability, the S5 shows a frightening turn of speed when it’s leathered down the road. Get low to the bars yourself, spin and shift up through the gears and you will be flying; it feels like it will add pace to every phase of your riding; even on the big climbs its stiffness through the unfeasibly chunky bottom bracket is going to help you out more than most other high quality road bikes. In truth I ran out of legs way before this bike ran out of pace – but it makes me want to get stronger and faster just to see if I can actually keep up with it one day!
It clearly needs a set of deep section wheels – we had Dura Ace C50 carbon rims on it to stonking effect, but our final shop build will end up with ENVE 45s and an electronic Campagnolo gruppo. Just like the S2, which is still a great aero road bike, the deep wheels are a part of the design; they help route the air back across the down tube and across the rear triangle in tidy flows. The other thing the S5 begs is rider commitment in terms of flexibility and suppleness – you just have to get down over the bars on this bike and spend good ride time on the drops. Effectively you have to meet the bike’s commitment to aero design half way. The R3 is no tourist machine but with its more traditional looks the hoods seem a much more natural place to hang out.
So, in conclusion, if the R3 is a mountain goat with gazelle speed for all day riding, the S5 belongs in a stampeding throng of migrating horses: it will still go all day long but it will give you less quarter for rest and recuperation and leave you more breathless and thrilled. My major concern with this bike is that I’m just not man enough for it, but if that turns out to be the case at least it’ll whip me into shape with the absolute thrill it brings about as it turns the road in front of you into history. Ride one if you can.
Review by Adrian, Red Kite Cycles.
Red Kite Cycles is a stockist of all Cervelo frames and we will happily do consultations and custom builds to turn your riding dreams into reality. We are also stockists of other frames and bikes, whilst being home to Campagnolo and Shimano electronic group sets. In addition we have fantastic finishing kit and wheels to build brilliant bikes. You can see our current Cervelo stock here.