It’s a simple enough concept: take something good and make it better. Only Cervelo doesn’t do simple. While redesigning its top-end Rca frameset in California last year, Cervelo carried out what it calls ‘a cross-disciplinary parametric design study to determine the sensitivity of aerodynamics, stiffness, comfort and weight to the systemic dimensional variation of 15 different design areas’.
The result was a frameset that the Canadian company claims weighs just 974g (size 56cm, fully painted, frame and fork) and costs a staggering 35990 AED. However, as with all good technological family trees, this top-end development has had a direct influence on the generations below it, most notably the Cervelo R5.
‘Finite element analysis [FEA] and structural engineering work is conducted in Cervelo’s Toronto facility, then the carbon technology development is done by our engineers at the factory in California,’ says Cervélo’s Russell Mather. ‘The process is very slow and very costly, but paves the way for the same layup to be used on the R5 that’s built in the Far East. The extra time taken and some slightly different materials used in the Rca yields a lighter final product than the R5 – roughly 150g per frame – but that comes at a cost: 35900 AED for the 667g Rca versus 16990 AED for the R5.’
In other words, bar a bit of boron filament here and some syntactic foam there (both used to strengthen and lighten the 277g Project California fork), the R5 is – and here one must interpret the word somewhat loosely – an ‘affordable’ version of the no-holds barred Rca.
When the R5Ca (the father of the R5, released in 2011, and predecessor of the Rca) arrived in 2010 it redefined the classic racing bike concept by pushing several widely accepted design principles to their extremes. One, chainstays should be really fat for a stiff pedalling platform. Two, seatstays need to be extremely thin to provide a forgiving ride. Three, you can never have enough bottom bracket standards. To those ends, the latest R5 boasts chainstays that beef up to 49mm at their widest point, seatstays that narrow to 9mm and Cervelo’s confidently named BBright bottom bracket standard, where a 79mm wide BB shell supports 30mm crank spindles. But that’s not all.
‘The R5 includes a completely new tube shape, Squoval 3, for the head tube, down tube and seat tube, which has an aerodynamic leading edge, helping to improve overall aerodynamic frame performance by 7.4 watts at 40kmh compared to the previous R5,’ says Mather. ‘Up front stiffness has been improved by 15% and compliance measured through the seat tube improved by 10%. Frame weight has also decreased by around 15g.’
Lighter, stiffer, more comfortable and faster? Now there’s a thing you don’t hear every… well actually you do. Yet take even a short turn aboard the R5 and it’s hard to refute such claims, even if you’ll have to take Cervelo’s word on the numbers.
At 6.69kg this off-the-shelf R5 is indisputably light, and straight away it has that feel, but not in the way other light bikes demonstrate their lack of weight. It’s certainly easy to flick the R5 from side to side during climbs or stand-up sprints, and it punches its way from low to high speeds like the proverbial off a shovel. Yet it rides over the rough stuff and cruises on the smooth like it’s a much heavier bike, staying resolutely grounded over uneven surfaces while feeling like it’s still carrying speed – two things I think help back up Cervelo’s claims.
Just as a tyre run at low pressure is more apt to deform around an object than one run at high pressure, a more compliant, ‘softer’ frame is more likely to absorb bumps in the road without skipping all over the place. Secondly, if a bike is more aerodynamic, on the one hand it’s going to go faster for the same effort, but on the other it will take less effort to maintain a given speed. That the R5 delivers in both departments, tracking undulations like it’s fully suspended and bowling along like there’s a perpetual tailwind, speaks to its all-round comfort and speed.
Stiffness is a bit harder to quantify without a series of lab tests, and sadly Cyclist has yet to gain access to a local university research department. However, the real-time results that came back from my big-stomp experiments were overwhelmingly positive, though not off the charts. There are stiffer bikes out there, but for this type of road racer – one that I see as a traditional all-rounder – there’s no need for things to get much stiffer. Certainly, if someone could engineer a bike whose frame didn’t flex at all under pedalling load, that would be entirely preferable from an efficiency standpoint, but having ridden a few bikes that edge towards such immovable status, it’s not favourable from a ride feel standpoint. A touch of spring goes a long way to making you feel connected to the road and giving the sensation that you’re really influencing the bike.
So, the Cervelo R5 is the perfect bike then? Well, nearly. In each of the Holy Trinity of marketing categories it excels – stiffer, lighter and more comfortable. And then there are the apparent aero benefits of the redesigned Squoval 3 tubes too (for those wondering, Squoval is a portmanteau of square and oval, just like the tubes’ shapes). It’s also specced in a thoughtful manner.
Well, the thing is the Cervelo feels a bit clinical, a bit too good, a bit… robotic.The Rotor chainset may not be to every groupset completist’s tastes, but it is certainly stiff, enjoys the latest mid-compact 52/36T chainring configuration and its 30mm spindle makes use of the BBright standard without annoying step-down BB adaptors (Dura-Ace spindles are 24mm). Likewise, carbophile fashionistas might turn their noses up at the shallow section Hed Ardennes Plus LT wheels, but their alloy brake surface provides excellent all-weather braking. Their shallow, wide rim profile shod with 25c tyres delivers comfort, low rolling resistance and stability in crosswinds. Plus, at a claimed 1,564g and with a high level of stiffness, they roll easily up the climbs. If there’s a chink in the spec it’s the tyres – I would have preferred the more supple Continental Grand Prix 4000s II tyres as opposed to the straight up Grand Prix – but such things are easily remedied, and wouldn’t even crop up if Cervélo wasn’t selling the R5 as a fully built bike as well as a standalone frameset. So what’s the catch? Well, the thing is the Cervelo feels a bit clinical, a bit too good, a bit… robotic.
There’s a line in Terminator 2 that sums it up. John Connor asks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator if it has any emotions, and it replies, ‘No. I have to stay functional until my mission is complete,’ and so I feel it is with the R5. Cervelo’s given it a mission – to be the best road bike in the world – and it’s fulfilled that brief to the letter. Yet it’s done so in a supremely efficient way and the result, for me at least, is a bike that’s lacking a little soul. But hey, maybe I’m being too sentimental. Bikes aren’t people after all. Then again, neither are they robots.
|Top Tube (TT)||564mm|
|Seat Tube (ST)||560mm|
|Head Tube (HT)||173mm|
|Head Angle (HA)||73.5|
|Seat Angle (SA)||73.0|
|BB drop (BB)||68mm|
|Groupset||Shimano Dura Ace 9000|
|Bars||FSA K-Force Compact|
|Stem||FSA OS-99 CSI stem|
|Wheels||HED Ardennes Plus Lt|