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Which Cervélo bike is right for you?

By Bruce Lin

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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.

Cervelo bikes overviewWhether you want to win big races, keep up with your Sunday group ride, or just set new personal bests, a Cervélo 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, gravel, time trial, and track. It will 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.

Contents

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.

First cervelo time trial bike

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.

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 bike range, frame, and component options

Cervélo bikes are divided into different model ranges aimed at specific disciplines and riding styles. The intended use for each Cervélo model range is indicated by a letter in the model name. Classic road race bikes use an “R” (R5, R3, R-Series), aero road race bikes an “S” (S5, S3, S2, S-Series), endurance/all-road bikes a “C” (C5, C3), time trial and triathlon bikes a “P” (P5, P3X, P-Series), and track bikes a “T” (T4).

The exceptions to this letter naming system are the newer Aspero gravel bike and Caledonia all-road bike.

Within each model range there are two or three models. Cervélo uses a number to denote the model hierarchy with higher numbers representing higher-end models (e.g., the R5, S5, and C5). These premium models are built with higher-modulus carbon fiber to reduce weight and improve stiffness. They also have higher-end components and more aggressive geometry.

For 2020, several lower-number models have been renamed with a “Series” designation rather than a number. For example, what was once called the R3 is now called the “R-Series.” These models are more budget-friendly, have slightly more relaxed geometry, but still provide high performance. Cervélo maintains that the difference between these and the top-end models is fairly nuanced. The average rider likely won’t notice a frame that’s a few grams lighter or slightly stiffer.

Choosing the right Cervélo bike simply comes down to picking the model range that suits your intended riding and then choosing a model within the range that fits your budget and performance needs. The top-end options will suit riders who want ultimate performance without compromise.

As of 2020, all road, time trial, and gravel bikes are disc-brake only. Cervélo no longer produces bikes with rim brakes. This may disappoint rim-brake purists, but as a technological leader, Cervélo is committed to investing in and developing future technologies.

All Cervélo frames are made from carbon fiber. Cervélo has produced aluminum models in the past, but in the last decade, it has focused on carbon frame development. If you’re looking for an aluminum frame, you’ll have to look for Cervélo models (like the Soloist) from 2011 or prior.

Road race bikes: R5 and R-Series

Cervelo R5These 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.

Cervelo R5 road bikeThe 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.

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).

Aero road bikes: S5 and S-Series

Cervelo S5Cervélo 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.

Cervelo S5 road bikeS 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.

Cervelo CS28 stemNew (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.

The 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.

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).

Endurance / all-road bikes: Caledonia-5 and Caledonia

Cervelo CaledoniaThe 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.

Cervelo Caledonia-5 road bikeThe 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.

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.

Gravel bikes: Aspero

Cervelo asperoIf 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.

Cervelo Aspero gravel bikeCervélo designed the Aspero for two major races: DK200 (soon to be renamed) and the Grinduro series. The rolling 200-mile DK 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 Aspero trailmixer forkCervélo 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.

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.

Time trial and triathlon bikes: P5, P-Series, P3X, and PX-Series

Cervelo P5Cervélo got its start with triathlon and time trial bikes. In the world of triathlon, its P range has an unmatched reputation. Its time trial bikes are some of the most sought-after. They’ve seen success at many of the biggest races in the world.

Cervelo P5 time trial bikeThe P5 is Cervélo’s top UCI-legal time trial bike. The model comes with the integrated “Speed Riser” cockpit, which makes it easier for riders to fine-tune their position.

The new Cervélo P-Series a slightly more affordable entry into the P range. You won’t get the integrated adjustable Speed Riser cockpit, but the more traditional stem and bar allow riders to fine-tune as needed. You’ll also notice that some of the tube shapes are slightly different. The P-Series is not as up to date as the P5, but it’s more affordable and still a seriously fast machine.

Cervelo P3x triathlon ironman bikeWith the PX triathlon bikes, Cervélo threw out the UCI rule book. Note the lack of a seat tube, seat stays, and the very non-UCI compliant tube depths. The new P3X improves on its predecessor, the P5X, by increasing stiffness and reducing weight to improve climbing. It also includes the Speed Riser cockpit.

The PX-series uses a split base bar which makes disassembly for travel easier. Both models are targeted at the triathlon market, particularly longer-distance races. These bikes are among the fastest options for racers participating in non-UCI events like Ironman.

Who it’s for: Time trialists and/or triathlon athletes.

Older models: There have been several P range time trial bikes through the years, P2, P3, P4, and P5 with countless variants. There are too many to list here. The new P3X replaces the P5X (2017-2019).

Track bikes: T4

Cervélo has also had great success on the track. The British cycling team used the Cervélo T5GB in 2016 to win several Olympic medals. That bike has since evolved into the new T4 which is available for the public to purchase.

The T4 is built incredibly stiff to satisfy the needs of Olympic-level athletes, and it has been designed around a very long and low pursuit-style geometry. The extended seat tube cut out was developed through the P range of time trial bikes and provides additional aero benefits on the track. The T4 is available as a frame only.

Who it’s for: Track racers. Fixed gear enthusiasts.

 

All Photos courtesy of Cervélo Cycles.


4 comments


  • This write up and the previous one on Trek’s bicycle line up have been incredibly useful. I’m fairly new to cycling and your articles have gone a long way in demystifying, for me, how manufacturers name their various models – thank you!

    Roger on

  • Very informative and quick read….Thanks!

    Bruce Stone on

  • surly singlespeed,
    Thanks for the correction! I somehow got the models backward in my head. Appreciate the catch. 

    Bruce Lin on

  • I think you misplaced the RS in the hierarchy but informative otherwise.

    surly singlespeed on


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