Cervélo Bikes: R5 vs. R3 vs. S5 & More: Which is Right For You?

Cervélo led the aero revolution in the world of road bikes. But beyond it's speedy S-series bikes, there are a range of drop-bar options for any kind of terrain or rider.

Jammin out on a Cervelo road bike

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Guides

Do you have an insatiable need for speed? Then a Cervélo might be the bike for you. For over two decades, its mission has been to use its aero expertise to design and engineer the fastest bikes in the world.

In fact, Cervélo was one of the first brands to fully embrace aerodynamics in bike design. It's become one of the most sought-after brands among cyclists and triathletes who care about performance above all else.

Whether you want to win big races, keep up with your Sunday group ride, or just set new personal bests, a Cervélo road bike can help you achieve your goals. But how do you decide which Cervélo is right for you?

This overview covers all current Cervélo models for road and gravel, (you can check out Cervélo time trial and track bikes here). We’ll go over the technology and design ethos behind each model so you can better understand Cervélo’s line-up and make an informed decision when buying your next bike.

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Contents

    Cervélo History

    Cervélo got its start in 1995 in Montreal. Two engineers, Phil White and Gérard Vroomen, were approached by an Italian pro cyclist who asked them to design the fastest time trial bike possible. His existing bike sponsor used traditional tubes and didn’t have the interest or expertise to develop a cutting-edge frame focused on time trialing and aerodynamics.

    Cervelo prototypes

    White and Vroomen agreed and designed their new bike from scratch. The goal was to create a frame with unbeatable aerodynamics without sacrificing weight or stiffness. The result was a radical new time trial bike that challenged traditional bike design. It was meant to be a one-off for this rider, but the new bike generated huge interest.

    Soon after, White and Vroomen started their own bike company. The name Cervélo is a portmanteau of “cervello,” the Italian word for brain, and “vélo,” the French word for bike. Cervélo introduced its first production models in 1996. Within two years, its bikes had won triathlons, time trial nationals in Germany and Canada, participated in the triathlon and road world championships, and raced the Olympic time trial in Atlanta.

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    In 2001, the Canadian brand introduced the Soloist, which was the first aero road bike to see widespread success. In 2003, Cervélo became the bike supplier to Team CSC. It was the smallest and youngest bike company to ever supply a WorldTour race team. Since then, Cervélo has continued to grow and improve, building bikes that have gone on to achieve wins in the Tour de France, the Olympics, and Ironman.

    Cervélo road race bikes

    Scooting around on a Cervelo R bike

    These are Cervélo’s “classic” road race bikes. They are climbing weapons. Light weight, stiffness, and precise handling are top priorities. These bikes use Cervélo’s “Squoval Max” tube shapes which are a mix between square and oval cross-sections with an aerodynamic leading edge. This gives R range bikes an aero advantage over traditional round-tubed bikes while delivering targeted stiffness and reducing weight in key areas.

    Cervélo R5

    Super sweet Cervelo R5

    The top-of-the-line R5 is the lightest and stiffest road bike Cervélo produces. The R5 uses “Pro-fit” geometry which provides a more aggressive riding position. Developed based on input from pro riders, it has less stack than the R-Series to allow for a lower handlebar position. This should attract racers seeking the most aggressive position possible.

    The geometry of the budget-friendly R-series is slightly more relaxed and upright, but it’s still targeted at high-performance riding and racing. Other than the carbon construction, it saves money with an alloy cockpit and mid-level drivetrain options.

    The 2021+ R5 fits up to 30mm tires and the R-Series up to 28mm, accommodating the versatility and ride comfort of wide tires.

    [product-block handle="2019-cervelo-r5-disc-l-3"/]

    Who it’s for: Road racers. Climbers. All-rounders. Weight-weenies. Riders looking for a road bike that can be used for training, racing, fast group rides, and weekend exploration. Riders who want to take uphill KOMs and beat their friends to the top.

    Older models: The current R-Series replaced the R3 (2006-2019) and even more budget-friendly R2 (2014-2019) and RS (2008-2012).

    Cervélo aero road bikes

    Cervelo S bike looking fine

    Cervélo essentially created the aero road bike concept with the Soloist in 2001. It has since evolved into the current S range of aero road bikes. Wind resistance is one of the greatest forces cyclists have to overcome to accelerate and maintain speed. In fact, at speeds as low as 13mph, aerodynamic drag can have a huge effect on how much power you use to move forward. Aero bikes are designed to reduce drag so you can put every last watt to good use.

    Cervélo S5

    Cervelo S5

    S range bikes cheat the wind with sculpted aero tube shapes, full internal cable routing, aero cockpits, and aggressive, low riding positions. Bikes in the S range dominate flat and rolling terrain and are the choice of some of the world’s top sprinters. These bikes are fine for climbing, but on big mountain climbs, most riders will prefer something from the featherweight R range.

    To achieve the slippery aero tube shapes, aero bikes are a bit heavier and less comfortable. Despite being more aerodynamically efficient than their predecessors, the current S range models also provide better overall ride quality than aero bikes of the past. They can even fit bigger, more comfortable 28mm tires.

    New (2019+) S5 models use Cervélo’s CS28 stem, a V-shaped stem that maximizes aerodynamic performance and stiffness. It integrates seamlessly with Cervélo’s aero handlebars and provides an integrated cable management system intended to make assembly and adjustment easier.

    Cervelo aero V stem

    The Cervélo S-Series model uses a normal aero stem that can fit traditional round handlebars. It also has a higher stack for a slightly less aggressive riding position and thinner seatstays which increase compliance to improve rider comfort. You give up a bit of stiffness, but this is a great choice if you want an aero bike with a more forgiving ride.

    [product-block handle="2019-cervelo-s3-m-2"/]

    Who it’s for: Sprinters. Crit racers. Riders trying to maximize speed on flat and rolling terrain. Racers trying to win fast-finishing sprints or perform daring solo breakaways. Riders who need an aerodynamic edge for their high-speed adventures.

    Older models: The current S-Series replaces the more comfort-oriented S3 (2008-2020) and budget-friendly S2 (2009-2019).

    Cervélo endurance bikes

    Riding a Cervelo up a white hill

    The Caledonia was designed in collaboration with Team Sunweb as a dedicated endurance bike for cobbled races in Belgium and Northern France. Endurance bikes are built to survive these unforgiving conditions and reduce rider fatigue over rough surfaces and long distances.

    Compared to classic and aero road race bikes, endurance road bikes provide much more comfort. They have additional compliance built into the frames, fit larger tires, and have more upright riding positions and stable geometry. In general, these are ideal bikes for the majority of cyclists who aren’t racing. Cervélo explains that the Caledonia splits the difference between the road-oriented R range and gravel-focused Aspero, to cater to the modern rider that wants to do it all.

    Cervélo Caledonia

    Cervelo Caledonia

    The Caledonia fits 35mm tires, so you can leave the tarmac and explore bumpy backcountry roads. It can even tackle dirt, gravel, and the occasional singletrack jaunt. Hidden mudguard mounts (31mm max tire with mudguards) add to its versatility. Being a Cervélo, speed is still in its DNA so it uses truncated airfoil tube shapes to aid in aerodynamics.

    Unlike many of its competitors, the Caledonia doesn’t use compliance features like micro-suspension or complex tube intersections. Cervélo claims it can achieve the desired frame compliance through clever tube shaping and layout.

    The main difference between the Caledonia-5 and Caledonia is the componentry. The Caledonia-5 has higher-end drivetrain options, an aero seatpost, and cables that are fully integrated into an aero cockpit. The regular Caledonia uses a standard round bar, stem, and seatpost.

    [product-block handle="2021-cervelo-caledonia-ultegra-disc-l"/]

    Who it’s for: Riders who put in big miles, day after day. Riders tackling on long-distance epics. Riders who need a bike that’s fast on the road, but that can also conquer junk pavement, backroads, dirt, and gravel. Riders seeking more comfort on the road.

    Older models: The new Caledonia-5 and Caledonia replace the C5 (2016-2019) and C3 (2016-2019) endurance road bike models.

    Cervélo gravel bikes

    Riding a Cervelo on some dank gravel

    If Cervélo was going to make a gravel bike, it was going to make it fast. Rather than go the ultra-capable adventure-ready route, Cervélo purposely made the new Aspero one of the most race-focused gravel bikes on the market. The carbon frame has lower, more aggressive, geometry than most gravel bikes. Add in quick handling, stiffness, low weight, and aerodynamic tube shapes, and it becomes a true gravel weapon.

    Cervélo Aspero

    Cervelo Aspero

    Cervélo designed the Aspero for two major races: Unbound Gravel and the Grinduro series. The rolling 200-mile Unbound race generally favors faster 700c wheel and tire set-ups while Grinduro suits burly 650b set-ups that have more tire volume and tread. So of course, the Aspero is versatile enough to fit 700c wheels with tires up to 42mm or 650b wheels with tires up to 49mm.

    Cervelo's tricky little dropout thingie

    Cervélo wanted the Aspero to feel quick and agile no matter the set-up, so it accounted for the different rolling diameters of various wheel and tire combinations with an adjustable front axle. Different size wheels and tires will make handling faster or slower by altering fork trail. To compensate, the “TrailMixer” front axle can adjust the fork rake by 5mm so the handling remains the same between different tire sizes.

    Cervélo is so committed to optimal steering geometry that there are even three different forks with rakes to match the various Aspero frame sizes. This allows riders of all heights to enjoy the same handling characteristics.

    The Aspero is compatible with both 1x and 2x drivetrains, and it has mounts for a top tube bag to carry your race essentials. It is solely focused on speed, so it does not have fender or rack mounts.

    [product-block handle="2020-cervelo-aspero-grx-1-l"/]

    Who it’s for: Gravel racers. Riders who want quick handling and a race-oriented position on their gravel bike that’s similar to their road bike. Off-road adventurers who need the fastest bike possible and can leave the extra gear behind.

    Still have questions about which Cervélo bike is right for you? Hit up a TPC Ride Guide at (866) 401-9636 to discuss our current selection and find the ride that suits your cycling needs. Do you already have one of these bikes? Let us (and other cyclists) know in the comments what you love about your Cervélo.

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