Choosing a new carbon fibre road bike is a big decision.
There are so many options, so much jargon, and so many different approaches to designing a frame, all of which each manufacturer claims to be the best. More importantly, there is the consideration of what sort of riding you intend on doing, where you will be riding, and what kind of geometry is suitable for your body type.
I live in Northumberland. The roads seem to be in a yearlong state of disrepair, and everywhere you go there seems to be a headwind. I am also a heavy rider, with a short upper body, which rules out several bikes I would love to be able to own and ride. Ultimately, when it came to choosing a new frame, I found myself restricted to what has become known in the industry as the “endurance” road bike – i.e. one that has been designed for the sportive market, and is usually race proven on the cobblestones of Paris Roubaix and Flanders.
One such bike was the Cervelo R3.
I have always been a fan of Cervelo – that is to say, I’ve always been a fan of the idea of a Cervelo – until recently I had never ridden one. Although they don’t have the mystique and heritage of brands such as Colnago and Look, they do still represent in my mind a superbike – something one would aspire to own. Finding myself in the market for a bike in this price range was a pleasant surprise, and the Cervelo was definitely on my radar.
The Cervelo R3 is a frame with pedigree. It is a direct descendant of its big brother the R5ca (or Project California as Cervelo call it), and indeed inherits a lot of the technology used on the Giro d’Italia winning frameset. Having been on the podium 6 times in 7 starts of Paris Roubaix, 3 of those as the winner’s bike, you know it can cope with anything Northumberland, or indeed I, can throw at it.
Built up with Mavic Ksyrium Elite S wheels, 2012 SRAM Red Black and Pro PLT finishing kit, the 51cm R3 weighed in on our shop scales at 16lbs on the dot (7.2kg). It’s only a pound above the UCI weight limit, so whilst there are lighter bikes available, one could argue that for the roads in Northumberland and for an average club rider, the R3 in this guise is plenty light enough.
In my head, I had an idea of what a Cervelo R Series bike would ride like – solid and responsive at the front end, stiff at the bottom bracket, but compliant at the rear end and capable of smoothing out harsh road surfaces. Throwing my leg over the R3 confirmed all these preconceptions – the R3 has all the pedigree of a bicycle that has been raced on pave.
My initial reaction to the R3 was to grin. From ear to ear. I’ve ridden quite a few carbon frames recently, but the R3 seemed to offer that grin factor that the others hadn’t. It only took a few pedal strokes to realise that the frame had the stiffness I need to put the power down without being as harsh as an all out race bike.
The handling on the R3 is sublime. In fact, within half a mile of riding the bike for the first time, I very nearly crashed. This is purely because the front end is so much more lively than I was used to, and found myself turning in way too much on a corner. Luckily I was able to correct myself before causing myself too much embarrassment. The immense handling is down to a combination of the straight blade fork and oversized lower head tube, which creates stiffness where it is needed in order to firm up the steering. In turn, this meant that the Cervelo is a dream downhill. Again, the beefed up headtube and straight blade forks ensure that the bike goes where you point it with very little drama, in a predictable yet lively fashion. Put simply – I found myself going downhill faster on this bike than any other before.
For a rider of my size and weight (about 100kg) going uphill is always a challenge. On my winter bike, a titanium frame with handbuilt wheels, I always find myself searching for that little bit of extra power in order to keep up with fellow riders. On the Cervelo, I find the bike lurching forward when out of the saddle, and a lightning quick ascender when seated. A lot of this is down to the Bbright bottom bracket (essentially a 30mm pressfit design but 79mm wide rather than BB30′s standard 68mm wide – allowing a wider frame which translates into a stiffer bottom bracket junction) and the asymmetric seat tube (Cervelo put the carbon where it is needed most – on the drive side of the frame). For a man who has a maximum power output of just shy of 1500 watts, stomping the pedals on the Cervelo produced no noticeable deflection – a sure sign that the power is going through the wheels rather than flexing the frame.
On the flat, the Cervelo shines. The chunky chainstay design (Cervelo claim the frame would function without the seatstays) and the skinny seatstay allows a certain degree of vertical compliance – something that is noticeable on Northumberland’s roads. Don’t get me wrong – you still feel the bumps, but over a longer ride they do not take their toll on the back and arms as much as they would on an all out race bike. For long days in the saddle, the R3 is the perfect companion – comfortable, predictable yet responsive.
In conclusion, there are lighter frames available. There are also stiffer frames. And there are better handling frames. And more comfortable. However, what Cervelo have tried to do with the R3 is combine all of these attributes into one very well rounded package. Not only have they tried, but they have succeeded.
Buy if: You want a stiff, responsive bike that has all day comfort and Pro Tour looks and pedigree.
Cycle Art has the Cervelo R3 in stock. www.cycle-art.co.uk