Posted by: Ian | November 18, 2011

Choosing my Cervelo

After my recent post on the choice between a Cervelo R3 and the S5 I had some useful feedback from friends. Joerg supported my preference for the R3 and cited the following chart from the Cervelo website:

This shows the extra expended by a typical non-drafting rider at varying speeds on different frames. Joerg’s conclusion was that the difference between the R and the S – e.g. 11W at 35 km/h – is inconsequential. I’d seen the same chart and thought of it in the context of doing closer to 40 km/h on Park Loops – then, the fact that I’d be saving ~20W on the S5 struck me as material. But Joerg’s right: most of my riding is done on long, hilly rides where at the corresponding lower speeds the power saving is minimal.

At a different part of their website, Cervelo have a presentation entitled, “The eternal question” that balances the saving in weight of a traditional frame against the aerodynamic benefits of the S5. Of course, they favour the latter, claiming that on slopes of 5% or less for a regular rider and 8% or less for a rider like Thor Horshovd the aero savings trump the weight penalty. But I look at the chart above and see 4W at 30 km/h and think I’ll take the comfort, thank you very much.

Emily expressed the same view: for the riding that I actually do the R3 looks like a better bike.

The contrary position was argued by John, the newest of our Park Loops crew. The body gets used to stuff, he says: just get the fastest bike. If I get the R3, he tells me, I’ll always be thinking that there’s a bike I could be riding that’s less compromised and speedier. Paula’s view in favour of the S5 was more direct: she loves its mean looks.

On Wednesday I went to the Condor shop and this really helped me finalise my decision. They had just taken delivery of an S5 frame and I could see it in the carbon. Like Paula, I had thought that it looked very sleek in the photos online but I’m glad (for my sake) to report that that doesn’t translate to the real bike. The red and blue on black colouring is natty but the bike itself looks like a hastily finished engineering project. You can see, having read the Cervelo materials, why the shapes are the way that they are but the aesthetics, for me, don’t work. It looks clunky, especially (but not only) around the bottom bracket. And, as I wrote before, the robust tubing from the ground up through the chunky seat mast to the saddle looks like a clear transmission path for the worst kind of discomfort. All in all, I have no remaining doubts that the R3 is the bike I want.

Thor takes receipt of his new S5, having returned his R3 to Cervelo

The fitting on the jig at Condor went well. I like the geometry that we arrived at, based around a 58 cm R3 frame with a 110 cm stem and an inline seatpost. In consultation with Pete from Condor, I chose all of the components to hang off the frame and ordered the bike.

Rationally, if that’s a word that I can use to justify so much extravagance, I’m more excited about the Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels I’ve ordered than the frame itself. I do think that the Cervelo will be a marked improvement over my Felt but that is, to an extent, an act of faith since they’re both stiff carbon road bikes with a sportive geometry. By contrast, the Zipps are completely different from any wheels I’ve had to date and it’s hard to see how they could not have a different character from my Mavics or my Fulcrums. I really can’t wait to get out on them.

The other big decision was what groupset to choose. Pete, like the reviewers in every magazine or website I’ve seen recently, was very enthusiastic about the new Ultegra Di2 package. I have no doubt, having read so many unequivocal views on the matter, that the electronic gears give a crisper shift, especially as they trim the front gear as you move up and down the cassette to keep the chain line straight. But I don’t care. On my mechanical groupsets I can dump gears as quickly as I need to. Also, I can change the front and back gears while cycling up even the steepest hills without any drama by respecting them with a degree of finesse rather than mashing them. Moreover, look at the weights on the table here. The Ultegra Di2 is 333g heavier than the mechanical DA, which costs about the same. Considering that I “saved” £1,000 by taking on the extra 200g of weight that the R3 frameset carries over the R5, this seems like a great, free way to do more than compensate.

On a very practical note, it turns out that Shimano have sold all of their Ultegra Di2’s to the big bike manufacturers, all of whom have gone electronic this year, so it could take many months to get it on a custom build. And if I was still thinking of cable-tieing an ugly battery onto my nice new frame, here’s “one small issue” noted by the very enthusiastic reviewer who supplied the weight table above:

“Shimano was very careful to note that the cables and plugs (everything, actually) were pre-production and not fully watertight on our test bikes. We were warned that they shouldn’t get too wet, but on one of our rides, the ground was damp with puddles in spots from an overnight rain and overcast morning. My bike stopped shifting about 90 minutes into the ride. After about 30-40 more minutes, shifting function returned sporadically and after the full 2.5 – 3 hour ride, it was mostly shifting again. Some of the Shimano guys thought perhaps a little water had entered one or more of the plugs, others thought it might be something else. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the diagnostic tools on hand to test it and find the real issue. Should this concern you? Probably not.”

I’d like to re-express the last couple of sentences in my own words. Should this concern you? What are you thinking, are you on drugs?? Of course it should concern you!! The gears stopped working because it had rained!!!

One day we’ll all be on electronic shifters but for now I’m pleased to have gears that work in England and that I can easily service myself.

Another important decision is what saddle to fit: no matter how good the frame is, a saddle you don’t  like can ruin the ride. My favourite saddle, which I have on both the Tempo and the Astraeus, is the old-model Specialized Avatar. With a possible new bike in mind, I recently re-tried the Fizik Arione that people rave about. I got used to it somewhat after a few miles but initially it felt as if I was getting a broom handle rammed into my perineum, even atop a Ti seatpost. Given my strong Spesh-pref, Pete recommended the  Romin, although I don’t think he likes it himself. I had a look at one in the shop and it feels harshly unpadded and over-light. However, I like and trust the shape, and the reviews I’ve read subsequently have all been glowing – see this one, for example. Now I’m very keen to try it, and, as a plus, I like how it looks (in black).

The cost of the whole package is, if you want to look at it that way, a bit silly, even with Condor’s 10% complete build discount. With the exception of the second hand BMW 840 that I had for a while (my favourite ever car), this will be the most I’ve ever spent on something for myself. Having dwelt on it at length, I’m comfortable with the cost. I could argue that it’s okay for the budget (in £ or Euros or $)  for your best bike to be the same as your annual cycling mileage but I know that that’s fatuous. I’m just really really looking forward to riding it. I had an email this week about the 2012 Cornwall Tor sportive. Although I rode it in 2010, I hadn’t done it this year and wasn’t planning to do it next year either. But as I read the email it struck me that by the time it comes around I’d have my new bike so maybe I’d find a way to fit it in…



  1. I can’t believe you decided on an R3 over and S5 on aesthetic alone. I’ve ridden both bikes and the S5 is both comfortable and fast.

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