Last week I was invited to a small media camp that gave me the opportunity to spend some time on the Cervelo R5 and be among a select group of people to have actually ridden the Cervelo P5 time trial bike. Now, I don’t ride a lot of time trial bikes, but I’ve ridden enough of them over the years that when I climbed on the P5 I knew instantly that this was a cut above, an achievement befitting Cervelo.
I say befitting Cervelo because few companies have spent as much time in the wind tunnel in pursuit of the most aerodynamic of bikes. It’s a short list of companies that play in this particular arms race and Cervelo loves to point out that their engineers outnumber their bike models. Of course, the alternate view is that with so few bike models, how is that their competitors can make anything even close? Nevermind. I’m not going to answer that today.
What’s apparent is that this frame features far more aerodynamic shaping than its predecessor, the P4. The front triangle features a very deep aero section behind the head tube and the top tube expands downward as it reaches the head tube. Similarly, the junction between the seat tube and the top tube is much larger and features far more aerodynamic shaping than its predecessor. I hesitate to use the term “fairing” because that would lend the impression that these sections are more aerodynamic than structural in function. And obviously that can’t be the case.
Why? Well this little UCI-issued decal is why. Honest to blog, I don’t know how this design was approved by the UCI. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the bike. On the contrary, it’s truly remarkable. No, the UCI’s rules regarding aerodynamic shaping strike me as nonsensically as the woman at the park today who was bitching loudly about kids, including my two-year-old, breaking the rules for riding bikes in the park, but I digress. Are these rules really doing any good? I’ve long maintained that the UCI’s primary argument against technological advances—rider safety—is a red herring. No company wants the PR black eye that would come from an insufficiently strong bike folding up during a sprint. The resulting press—and falloff in sales—would be far worse than any punishment the UCI could hand out.
The Aura base bar, stem and extensions are a Cervelo design produced by 3T. I’m told there are three different height mounts for the extensions. What I rode was the highest of the bunch and while it was good for a first ride, with a bit of time on the bike I’d swap the extension for something a bit more diminutive. The Aura also include two opportunities to mount a water bottle cage, either on the stem or between the extensions. Gone is the P4’s special water bottle. But at only 38cm in width, that base bar made out-of-the-saddle efforts feel a bit sketchy.
Most TT bikes smooth the transition from the seat and down tubes to the BB, but Cervelo chose to keep the seat and down tube profiles thin and suddenly bulge the frame right at the BB. It might seem counterproductive to stiffness, but when you look at those tree trunk chainstays, you can begin to understand how the bike delivers great stiffness under power.
The P5 is also notable because only one cable is evident—for the front brake—even when using a mechanical drivetrain. And for the Garmin-Barracuda riders who are on the bike (not all have made the switch because so few have been produced), even the Di2 battery is hidden from the wind. The Magura hydraulic brake system is said to be maintenance-free, but that would suggest it requires even less work than traditional brakes, which is tough for me to believe. I can say they aren’t easy to adjust; at least, not until someone who knows the system walks you through them.
Naturally, the only way to get the rear wheel to achieve it’s snug nest behind the seat tube is with track-style dropouts, which makes changing a wheel nearly as fun as ferret-legging, though not nearly as fast.
For the P5, Cervelo went with a less aggressive fit. Per size, the P5 has less stack and reach than the P4. Presumably this is to make the practically unavailable bike (there appear to be fewer than a dozen in circulation) more attractive to the hoards of triathletes who are lining up at Cervelo dealers to purchase the P5 when it does become available in wider numbers. And as built, this P5 goes for $6k. While that’s a lot of money, I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t more.
The bike I rode was a 56. This was a huge 56. With the saddle positioned all the way forward on the rails and with the seatpost inserted all the way into the frame (which is to say, the shortest possible distance from the BB to the saddle), the saddle height was 78cm. Put another way, to fit on the 56, you need an inseam of at least 32 inches.
I didn’t get a chance to weigh the bike, but it felt light for a TT bike, like steel road bike territory. The other thing I noticed was that it didn’t ride like a paint shaker on the gnarled roads of Sonoma County. I rode through quite a bit of broken asphalt and was impressed that the bike didn’t have the unforgiving ride of many of Cervelo’s other aero designs, such as the SLC-SL.
All that is well and good, but frankly, there is only one thing to do when you climb on a rig of this sort: drill it. I wasn’t thrilled to learn (upon entering the shower) that I’d given up some skin from my fruit cup, but this is one of those go-fast machines that is ill-suited to the Sunday tour. There is little as compelling as free speed.
Did I mention this is the bike David Zabriskie just rode to victory and the yellow jersey at the Amgen Tour of California? Well, now I have.
Action images: Robertson/VeloDramatic