Posted by: Ian | December 12, 2011

Cervelo R3 100 mile Review

On Tuesday I picked up my new Cervelo R3 from Condor Cycles on Gray’s Inn Road. The fact that it arrived on time itself reflected a dramatically different – and better – bike buying experience than I had when I last bought a bike. This time, the fitting went well, the guys at the shop were super-helpful and they delivered, on time, what we had agreed. Almost. The one let-down was the seatpost. At the fitting, Pete had specified an inline post yet when I tried the bike on the turbo at Condor and found myself stretching right over to the distant bars I spotted that it had come with a post with a standard 25mm layback. After some discussions I left the shop with an inline Condor seatpost and they have promised to swap it for the 3T one that comes with the frameset soon. Functionally, I doubt that they’re much different but the 3T pin will be a better match for the rest of the bike.

I asked the guy who was serving me whether they’d sold any of the uber-expensive Cervelo r5ca framesets. Apparently, they’ve sold four – I don’t know whether this is more or less than I would have expected. Confirming the suspicion that you could only buy one of these if you have more money than you know what to do with, it transpires that the shop is having trouble getting hold of one of the purchasers who hasn’t yet swung by to pick it up.

If your brain is addled by comparing it to the r5ca or even the R5, the price of the R3 seems almost reasonable. Of course it’s not, but it looks fantastic. This isn’t only my opinion – several people I passed in the streets around London told me the same thing. Partly, it’s the New Bike effect – anything in carbon in black and red looks striking when new, and there are plenty of such bikes to choose from. But the R3 really does look the biz.

Geometrically, it’s quite similar to both my Astraeus and my Felt but in every respect more committed. They all have sloping top tubes that have a vertically ovalized join at the head tube and narrow down towards the seat tube; the R3 narrows most. The head tube on the R3 also fattens towards the bottom. The Felt and the Astraues both have down tubes that also ovalize vertically at the head tube and then ovalize horizontally to make a fat join across the bottom bracket; the R3 has a “squoval” down tube (work it out or look it up) with a massive junction at the bottom bracket, which itself is asymmetric to transmit the same power along the non-drive side as the drive side. All three have chunky chain stays for direct power transmission from pedal to rear wheel and thin seat stays to disperse road noise en route to the saddle. But the picture shows just how pencil thin the seat stays on the R3 are.

Weightwise, the R3 is about 400g lighter than the Felt despite the fact that the Fulcrums on the Felt are a bit lighter than the Zipps. The Astraeus weighs about 800g more than the Felt, depending upon how I configure it. However you weigh them all, the difference between the R3 and the Astraeus is less then the difference between my weight in summer when I was putting in more miles and my winter weight now.

The most important and expensive component on my build is also the one that most enhances its kerb appeal: the Zipp (“Speed Weaponry”) 404 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels. Pete recommended Vittoria Pave tyres. They have a green band round the breaker strip and I wouldn’t have chosen them myself but they actually look very classy.

I can’t say that the Dura Ace group set “saved me money” but it was way cheaper than the DA Di2 and, I think, no more expensive than the Ultegra Di2. Even though electronic shifters are fast becoming de rigeur I’m more than happy to stay mechanical for now, as I wrote before. I was very pleased to see that Condor built the bike with Jagwire cables. The bars are my favourite 3T Team Ergonova’s, with matching stem.

I’ve fitted both my Tempo and the Astraeus with Specialized BG Avatar saddles. They’re very comfortable but too heavy for the R3’s lightweight spec, and I’m not sure whether the Avatar is even a current model. Pete pointed me instead towards Specialized’s Romin Pro as an alternative. It has a reassuringly wide channel all the way along it and despite being very firm it has the flared-at-the-back shape that I find much more comfortable than flatties like the Fizik Arione.

I like being able to slide up the back, especially when I’m in the drops and I’m hoping that the shape alone compensates for the lack of padding.

At some point I’ll get myself some proper road shoes and pedals to go with them. But for now, I like to be able to swap around the shoes that I have and walk for as far as I need to without risking a clown fall. Accordingly, I recently bought some Shimano Ultegra PD-A600 touring pedals. They’re quite light SPD’s with a platform unlike the SPD’s that I’ve been riding for the past several years. I tried them out on the Astraeus for a couple of weeks before bringing them along to Condor to put on the Cervelo and I’m very pleased with them. I was also happy that when I got them (from the aptly-named pedalon.co.uk, which had 33% off) they were a neutral grey/silver rather than the light blue shown in most photos.

So, how does it ride?

My very first impression was just how snappy it is. In the same way that the Felt just feels faster than the Astraeus, so the R3 feels faster again. Every watt that you put into the cranks feels as if it drives you forward. On the few sustained runs I could get in London, my first being around Regent’s Park, the R3 (thanks, probably, to the Zipps) also feels as though it holds the speed better. Unfortunately, the conditions haven’t permitted me to do meaningful straightforward time tests against previous runs on other bikes. Apart from the traffic, which was heavier than normal, when cycling over to Paddington, the traffic lights on Edgeware Road were literally swaying in the wind.

Back in Somerset, I had a similar experience: wet, greasy roads and strong winds conspired against record times. First, I did a 12.5 mile moderately hilly circuit that I’ve done a number of times this year. The last time I did it, a couple of months or so ago on the Felt, I stormed round in 41 minutes. On the Cervelo it took 5 minutes longer. It was analogous to driving a new Maserati around a track that you’ve done many times on a souped up Clio: you know the new car is faster but you probably won’t slam it round at the same speed on your first go. Apart from new owner circumspection, the wind was an even bigger factor.

Next, I did a route that I like down the fast hill to Staple Fitzpaine followed by the return up the hill through Corfe. My time was better than my recent ones on the Astraeus and the Felt but not quite as fast as I was getting round it in the summer when the weather was sometimes better and I was fitter and lighter.

Although I have excuses, I was a bit pissed not to have set any new best times on a bike that feels very conspicuously faster. Partly in frustration, I went out for a 7 mile sprint round the (also hilly) 7 mile block that I’ve done twice on the Astraeus in the past fortnight. Here, I managed to take a substantial amount of time (well over 10%, which is a lot) off my recent form.

Today, I went for a longer ride to see how comfortable the R3 is over some dozens of miles. With better weather than we’ve had so far this month, I cycled down to Lyme Regis, stopping off in Axminster to pick up a pie from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s cafe/deli to enjoy overlooking the sea.

I like the feel of the bike on the road. On some surfaces, such as the Marshvale road from Axminster to Crewkerne, more buzz comes through than on the (titanium) Astraeus but it’s as comfortable as the Felt. I need to do properly long rides to see whether this gets draining but I doubt it: rather than feeling harsh, it’s positive and sporty. On downhills, the R3 is excellent, but the Felt is pretty sharp too and, on the right road, I even can do 50 mph on the Astraeus without it getting sketchy; I suspect that the R3 will turn out to be the best of the lot though. However, the situation where the R3 already sets itself apart is on short climbs that you can muscle up: it’s as if the bike is willing you to put in some grunt and roll over the top as quickly as you can.

The Zipps feel great. When I’m pedalling they make the whoosing sound that I’ve admired on other riders’ deep rim hoops around Regent’s Park. On more or less level ground and downhill, they do seem to hold speed and I doubt that any penalty on the uphills is very noticeable. I had read in reviews that in crosswinds you can sometimes feel a gentle push on the front wheel and it’s true. I’ve had plenty of chance to discover any unwelcome strong wind response and it’s not been even slightly worrying. I’d do the Exmoor Beast on the 404’s in foul weather without a second thought.

These are just my initial impressions after 113 miles. If it doesn’t come across, I love the R3 and couldn’t be happier with it. I’ll post a more considered and meaningful review when I’ve done 1,000 miles – I’ll make sure a ride up Dunkery Beacon features. The 1,000 may not come round too quickly as I’ll be doing most of my bad weather miles on the Astraeus and the Tempo.

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Responses

  1. […] quite right. It’s not an encouraging sensation. For that and other reasons, I’m missing my Cervelo, which is sharper and set up more […]

  2. […] Last time I reviewed my new R3 on the basis of 100 or so miles of riding in high winds. I had planned on sticking with my Astraeus and Tempo over the worst of the winter months. However, despite today being the Winter Solstice, the weather has been surprisingly mild and I decided to take the R3 out for another spin. I chose a 32 mile circuit that I rode on Saturday on the Astraeus; the weather then was a little colder – 41 deg F instead of today’s 49 – but not transformationally different. This, then, was my first decent ride on the R3 in normal conditions and I can sum up the experience in one syllable: Ha! […]

  3. Hi Ian,
    I just bought an Astraeus based (in big part) on your reviews here.
    And it is written in the astraeus booklet that if you rave to your friends about the qualities of the bike you can get a free t-shirt.
    As your raving had a big influence on my decision, if you contact me at prafdeinger@gmail.com I would be happy to give you the purchase details so that you can proudly wear a(nother) Van Nicholas t-shirt.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks! I’ll ding them and see what they say. I’m certain you’ll be happy with the bike if/once you get it.


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