For four years running now, the annual spring convocation of cycling, the Sea Otter Classic, has enjoyed stellar weather as it draws crowds to the Monterey Peninsula. I’ve visited the event most years since 1997, and I can’t recall such an ongoing stretch of great weather as these last few years. For each of the four days of the event temperatures reached the mid to upper 70s and the skies stretched cloudless, showing the blue of a booby’s feet.
For the first five years I went to the event, I was there strictly to race. Most years, though, I’d find a window in which to wander the expo area. Back then, my wandering would take 30 minutes. If I gave myself an hour, I could see everything—twice. By comparison, even without doing one of the gran fondos on Saturday, I still don’t feel like I saw everyone or everything I had hoped to.
This year, I decided that during those windows in which I didn’t have a dedicated mission, I’d try wander the expo with fresh eyes and see what caught my attention. I’ve been hearing about Scott Montgomery’s (yes he of Cannondale and Scott fame) latest endeavor, called Club Ride. I’ve been noticing an increasing number of riders on the road in what has traditionally been considered mountain bike apparel. My takeaway is that as many people enter cycling many of them struggle to accept the idea of wearing Lycra, but have in some cases at least come around to the idea of technical wear for increased comfort.
Giro’s “New Road” line and Club Ride’s assortment are fresh takes on what technical wear can be. I don’t see myself doing a group ride in this stuff, but I would happily wear it for running errands on my bike and when going for a ride to the park with my son. If the next CicLAvia doesn’t conflict with my schedule (Which genius thought it would be a good idea to plan it for during the LA Times Festival of Books? But I digress.) I’d wear this sort of stuff for the outing.
Challenge has long made great tires, often for other manufacturers. Recently, they began a more concerted push to market their products here in the U.S. With the burgeoning acceptance of riding dirt roads on road bikes, even when ‘cross isn’t in season (Or is ‘cross always in season now?), the 32mm-wide Grifo XS made me lust for roads unpaved. Its stablemate, the 27mm-wide Paris Roubaix, looked like it would be at home on hard pack or the local group ride.
So if you’ve ever wanted to drink beer, go for a ride, burn calories and NOT get pulled over for a DUI, the brain trust at Sierra Nevada has the perfect solution. You pedal and drink while someone else does the steering. Somehow I think you could drink beer faster than you could burn it off, even with the aid of this contraption, but being wrong has rarely been as likely to be as fun.
I’ve been following the work of the folks at Alchemy Bicycles since before I first met any of the guys at NAHBS. I’ve seen their work improve and evolve to the point that I think it’s fair to say they are doing something fresh and new in carbon fiber. The bikes I saw at Sea Otter featured unidirectional carbon fiber cut in artful shapes to give the bikes an unusually artful look. I can say I’ve never seen any work like this anywhere else.
Even when they paint the bikes the paint lines are crisp and reflect a honed aesthetic.
The work on the top tube on this bike deserves to be shot in a photo studio to capture all the beauty and detail, but even outside, I was blown away with what I saw. It’s a refreshing departure to spraying the bike one solid color or wrapping the whole thing in 3k or 12k weave. While I still need to learn a lot more about their current work, I’m coming to the conclusion that they are doing some of the most advanced work in carbon fiber, at least on the appearance side, but maybe on the construction side as well.
I’m not your typical guy in that I don’t spend Saturdays and Sundays each fall watching football while consuming 6000 calories as I sit on a couch. However, I am still some variety of guy and that means I do have a thing for tools and tool boxes. The Topeak Mobile PrepStation is a mobile work station. It includes 40 professional-grade tools that fit into water jet-cut foam forms in three trays. The bottom bucket is good for larger spare parts and any additional tools you might need, while the top tray is great for sorting any small parts you may need to keep on hand, such as quick release springs. And while this $895 rig is really meant for mechanics working event support, in it I see the genius of being able to put away all your tools and then have the whole shebang roll into a corner. I’ve witnessed many a household where the more the bike stuff got put away the happier the real head of the household was.
This Ag2r Team-Edition Focus Izalco comes in SL and Pro versions. The SL is equipped with Campy Record EPS, an FSA cockpit and Fulcrum Racing Speed 50 carbon tubulars; at $9800, it ain’t cheap, but that’s a lot of bike for the money. The Pro is equipped with Campy Chorus, an FSA/Concept cockpit and Fulcrum WH-CEX 6.5 wheels. It retails for only $3800. Honestly, there’s not another bike company that delivers as much bike for the price, though Felt comes close. I can’t figure out why I’m not seeing more of these on the road.
Cervelo has just introduced a new P3. While I haven’t seen wind tunnel specs or anything like that, I’m told this bike is both UCI-legal and faster. The UCI-bit I could give a moth’s wings about, but faster, well that always makes my mouth water. Apparently, some Cervelo purists complained about the new seat tube shape, but from an industrial design standpoint, I think this bike is really gorgeous. That said, I can observe that the hydraulic brakes spec’d on that bike aren’t easy to work on. The version shown here with Dura-Ace mechanical and Mavic Cosmic Elites goes for $5400 and is already shipping.
I have this belief that when I have to pay to do an event, that’s my time. And if I’m on my time, I’m not obligated to do anything other than ride. It has happened that on a few occasions I have chosen to write about the experience afterward, but because I paid to be there, I wasn’t obligated. It doesn’t change what I might write, but it does affect the urgency I feel about getting a piece up, post haste. This year, the Sea Otter organizers declined to grant me an entry for either gran fondo, so I took the opportunity to do a reconnaissance ride of the cross country course with Brian Vaughn and Yuri Hauswald of GU. We pulled over at a couple of points for them to give riders tips less on how often to fuel than where they could fuel, given the challenge of the course. I’ve heard a lot of bright people talk about how to fuel for races and hard rides and these two guys offered fantastic strategic thinking on how to stay on the gas even while staying fueled. Given the way I’ve been riding, this was a good deal more fun than trying to drill it for hours. And I definitely learned a trick or two.
Of course, strategic thinking about how to be a good athlete got short-circuited every time this thing came by in the expo. If there was more fun being had by adults than this, it Ninja’d by me in sunlight bright enough to burn my scalp through hair. I did encounter some great skin-care products, but I didn’t see a conditioner with an SPF factor. Someone needs to get on that before next year.
The big news from Cervelo wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it was good news nonetheless. The company’s S5 model, their very quick aero road frame is now available in the company’s relatively recent VWD variant. The upshot here is that the S5 should now have a livelier presence on the road. Also, the company debuted any number of new finishes, which if there has been one thing about Cervelo that can get really old it’s that the company can go years without changing a paint scheme. Not only are the new finishes, well, new, but I think they are pretty good looking and some of them even forego the clearcoat that covers almost all of their work, which is another step in the right direction in terms of road feel.
Race-winning bikes are always fun to check out at Interbike and Cervelo didn’t miss the opportunity to show off Ryder Hesjedal’s rig from his recent Giro win. Take a moment, if you would, to look at the incredible amount of seatpost showing on this 56cm frame as well as the 14cm tiller keeping the handlebar in place. I couldn’t help noticing, either that with the Di2 batter in its spot, the seat-tube-mounted water bottle cage is too low to allow the water bottle to be fully inserted. That’s a small oops in an otherwise amazing bike and crazy PRO fit. How anyone can ride that low and still climb remains a mystery to me.
I saw a bunch of new bags at Lezyne (rhymes with design). Given the cost of a decent pair of bibs—let alone the cost of an amazing pair of bibs—I’m unwilling to use a seat bag that features a Velcro strap that wraps around the seatpost. My favorite designs that qualify are from Fi’zi:k and Lezyne and this new design shown on the white bag above uses a clamp that secures to the saddle rails and allows the seat bag to be removed as easily as some bike computers. No rattle, no Velcro.
Also new at Lezyne were a couple of smart phone bags that allow you to protect your smart phone while maximizing the space in your back pocket. In insulating the phone while combining a few pockets with the overall carrier, plus adding a loop of webbing for ultra-quick retrieval, they created one of the most useful and truly new products I saw at the show. Well done.
The Mega Drive light, shown above, foreground, is a 1000 lumens light that will last for 1.5 hrs. At 500 lumens it will go for three hours, while on the 200 lumens setting it will last a whopping seven hours. All for $200. I suspect this light and the many other new lights in Lezyne’s line will be cast in the roles of game changers. We pointed the light at the roof of the convention center while on the 1000 lumens setting; it was bright enough at that distance to reveal that the Sands could use a serious dusting above the 60-foot elevation. I’m just sayin’.
File this one under “Not Dead Yet.” The GF02 is a new bike from BMC. It takes the design concepts used in the carbon fiber gran fondo bike, GF01—such as the whispy, flexing seat stays—and translates them into an aluminum frame. Yep, aluminum. This Red-equipped bike weighed in under 16 lbs. The production bike will be sold with choices of Red, Ultegra Di2, Ultegra or 105 and will bring BMC’s work into a new, more affordable price tier.
Chrome has been the go-to brand for the urban commuter since essentially the brand’s inception. They’ve expanded their offerings over the years into clothing, some urban-oriented technical wear and now they even offer shoes. Everything I saw from them at the show seemed really solid, but the items that most impressed me were their new series of camera bags. The open bag on display here will carry a couple of camera bodies as well as lenses and has a pocket (note where the hand is slipping into the bag) that will fit a 15″ laptop. There are waterproof pockets for your SD cards and given that it zips open like butterfly wings, everything within the bag is easily accessible. I don’t really want to carry that much camera gear while riding a bike (I mean, I seriously don’t want that much camera gear on my body, ever, but if it was, I wouldn’t want to have to ride a bicycle at the same time) but I concede that there are times when nothing else would be as practical. In those instances, this bag looks as well-thought-out as any I’ve ever seen.
A Personal Note
For each of the last 20 years I’ve gone to Interbike with the stated intention of seeing the latest and greatest the bike industry has to offer. When I went to my first show, in Atlantic City back in 1992, it really was just to see the bike stuff. I was eager to see all the stuff the shop I worked for wasn’t carrying. Every time I could get someone to acknowledge me and walk me through their products it was a kind of victory. Heck, back then, I really didn’t even know what questions to ask.
At a certain point in my education I began to understand how to ask the right questions, questions that showed I not only was interested in the product at hand, but understood the challenge of creating a competitive product within that category, which would lead to questions like, “Why did you decide to go with the full zip rather than the 3/4 invisible zip?” It was an opening for someone to talk about who they were as a company.
It took a while but there came a point when I realized that no matter how many of those questions I asked, I really hadn’t built a relationship with any of the staff at those companies. It wasn’t until we allowed the conversation to veer off-topic, into the riding we did, the traveling that’s not for work, where we live or family and heritage. These days, those are the conversations I live for. That’s where the magic happens, where you can really have a laugh. Robot and I spent some time in the Gita booth talking with creative director Jenny Tuttle. Gita is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, which gave us a chance to talk about the South and Southern Vernacular, in particular the obvious difference between saying “y’all” and “all y’all.” And we may have even bonded over the insane usefulness of a statement like, “All y’all are full of shit.” I didn’t know Jenny before that day, but I walked out of their booth convinced she’s my kinda peeps.
When I was young, I used to think that talking family was kind of a copout, like you had run out of more important stuff to talk about. Some years passed between when I understood what talking family meant and when my son was born and with the advent of Facebook, there was a lot of talk of kids at the show. Crazy what kind of fun that is. That said, the most memorable and even most visceral conversation I had at the show was with a group of guys in the Enve booth where the talk of the number of kids inevitably turned to talk of controlling the number of kids. Yes, the big V. And I don’t mean victory. One among us had done it and I can assure you no talk at the show caused anyone to to squirm more or laugh harder than I did that morning.
Last year I reviewed the Cervelo R3. I spent three months riding the bike over all my favored terrain and on my usual group rides. When the time came to pack the bike up, I did so with the reluctance of a child heading to his first day of school. For those who missed it, part I is here and part II here. For those who want the bottom line, I can tell you it’s a seriously amazing bike, one of the best I’ve ridden.
But here’s the strange thing about the R3: It’s not Cervelo’s top-drawer stuff. While it compares favorably to bikes like Specialized’s S-Works Tarmac SL3 and even preferable to the Focus Izalco, which I liked a lot, there’s still the R5 to consider. For a while, the R5 was only available as the R5ca, the nearly $10k wonder bike made in California that had been ridden by so few people most of us were left wondering just how good it was. Now there’s an Asian-produced R5VWD (Vroomen White Design) that goes for $4900, half what the R5ca retails for.
Okay, so let’s talk about what differentiates the R5ca from the R5VWD from the R3. They all share tube shapes and geometry. Put another way, the heart of the bikes is the same. They handle the same and offer essentially the same performance characteristics in terms of stiffness. The R5ca and the R5VWD share the same molds, but the R5ca is made by hand here in California while the R5VWD is made in Asia—also by hand. What they don’t share are materials. Well, they share some materials, but not all. The R5ca gets Cervelo’s best-of-the-best materials while the R5VWD receives a mix that’s a little less fussy. While Cervelo wouldn’t go into detail, my previous experience in talking with engineers is that there are varieties of carbon fiber that are super-light and ultra-stiff (not to mention stunningly expensive). They are also wicked-pissa-brittle. They have to be handled carefully and placed just-so in order to result in a useful contribution to a frame.
The R5s both get a one-piece front triangle, but they aren’t quite the same. The R5ca does have an interesting feature to it. The mold to make its one-piece front triangle isn’t exactly the same as the R5VWD. Once the engineers at Cervelo were convinced they’d gotten the geometry right for the R5, they fixed the saddle location and then slackened the seat angle to enable them to achieve the same saddle position while using a lighter zero-setback seatpost. That is why if you look at the geometry chart for the R5ca and the R5VWD, you’ll see they have the same reach, but the R5ca has longer top tubes at each size.
By contrast, the R3 has completely different molds and is made using some less expensive materials than the R5VWD. The R3 has a separate BB that is then bonded and over-wrapped to the seat tube, down tube and chainstays. Laying up a one-piece front triangle is considerably more difficult, especially at the bottom bracket. However, the extra time and work required result in a frame that is just as stiff as the R3 but 10 percent lighter. The R5ca realizes an even greater gain: a 56cm R5ca weighs in at 650g.
Everything else about the R3 and R5VWD is the same: same size run, same geometry. Though not the price. And honestly, the price is the great separator between these bikes. The R3, at $2200 for frame (complete bikes start at $3150) is less than half the cost of the R5VWD. The obvious question is whether the R5VWD is twice the bike. And the answer is … sorta.
The challenge presented by these super bikes (and ultra bikes in the case of the R5ca) is that the gains that are possible over a bike as good as the R3 are really incremental. The difference between a Schwinn Varsity from the 1970s and an R3 might be several orders of magnitude (Varsity < ’70s Colnago < current custom steel < 1kg carbon frame < R3 … roughly). And what I mean by order of magnitude is that you can put a non-cyclist on a 1kg carbon frame—a decent bike by any standard—and they’d be able to appreciate how much nicer the R3 rides. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the difference between the R3 and the R5VWD. To most riders, I think you’ll notice the difference, but it’s not of the mind-blowing difference between hanging out in the garage listening to some neighborhood kids play AC/DC and actually seeing AC/DC live.
So if they are just as stiff torsionally and vertically and have the same geometry, what’s the fuss? That’s easy—less mass. If you look at the R5VWD as the same bike as the R3 but lighter, you’ve missed the real point of this bike. Weight isn’t the reason to buy this bike. In reducing the amount of material in the bike, Cervelo moved an important step closer to the point I keep making in review after review: Less material results in a livelier ride. This point was driven home for me in an unexpected way when I was up in Geyserville in May and we did some rides over rather rough roads. To take the sting out of the combination of stiff bikes rolling on deep-section Easton wheels, we pumped the tires up to only 80 psi. Most bikes I’ve ridden feel pretty dead at such low pressures because the tires soak up so much of what’s happening with the road surface. I was surprised by just how great a sense of the road I continued to have even at the more forgiving pressure.
The R5ca continues to intrigue me. It has a much more minimal finish than the R5VWD, and in my experience, what often makes the biggest difference in feel between bikes in the sub-900g range is paint. If you’re going to take 100g of material off an 850g frame, I’m more interested in dropping the nonstructural paint than I am structural carbon.
I rode this thing like crazy while I had it, even putting a final ride on it the day I had to pack it up and ship it out. Today’s garden variety carbon frame is so much better, performance-wise, than the stuff most of us cut our teeth on, it can be difficult to convey just what a cut above a bike like the R5VWD is. Think back to the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s and how nearly every steel bike of quality (let’s leave out the crap, straight-gauge 4130) out there was made from Columbus, Reynolds or True Temper tubing. It was a good, but exceedingly limited, palette. Today’s builders have far more powerful tools at their disposal. So while the cheapest open-mold Chinese carbon fiber bike found on eBay performs better in a sprint than anything built with Columbus SL, the very best work being done by a company like Cervelo is difficult illustrate. The best analog, or perhaps the easiest analog, is to be found in the automotive world. Few of us have driven a car as nice as a Ferrari. Few of us can afford one as well, but those who have had the experience describe it as unlike more run-of-the-mill sports cars. And that’s where the R5VWD sits. It’s a luxury. You can get an amazing bike for half what this costs. But the bikes we ride aren’t just transportation, they are expressions of passion and when I get on a bike, I want an affair to remember. Trust me when I tell you, I’ll not soon forget this bike.
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
My favorite bikes are of a piece. They’ve got sharp handling. They have enough stiffness in torsion that when I stand up at the foot of a short hill they yield the sense that not a watt is wasted in flex. They also impart a tactile sense of the road surface. That’s not to say bikes that fall outside that particular style are bad, but if I’m plunking my money down, that’s what I want out of the experience.
It’s fair to ask why and the why is rooted in my sense of a good time. My favorite rides are 70- to 90-miles long and head north to Malibu. Generally two ascents, but sometimes three. And on the descents I do all I can to brake not at all. That’s really only possible on four of the descents in Malibu. On the others I’m late and hard and for that reason I want maximum feedback from the road. I want to know as clearly as possible what those tires are doing.
As I see it, the difference between a bike like the Tarmac SL3 and, say, a Time VRS is the difference in feel at the steering wheel between a BMW 3-series and a Lexus IS. Time works to dampen vibration and shield the rider from as much high-frequency vibration as possible. This is no sport-tuned suspension.
The R3 offered a similar sense of road feel to the Tarmac, though not quite so crisp. I can’t say exactly what factors contributed to the difference, but the fact that the frame was painted played into it. What we’re talking about here is a very minor difference.
That I liked the handling is no real surprise. In my size, the bike has the same head angle (73.5 degrees) and fork rake (43mm) as the Tarmac, resulting in the same trail, 5.59cm. BB drop is almost identical. Same for the front center and top tube length. The chainstays on the R3 are 2mm shorter (40.5cm) and the head tube is 6mm shorter (19.9cm). These bikes, at least in my size are virtually identical. Little wonder I liked the handling and could rail descents on this even if I’d just switched back to the R3 after I’d spent a week on the Tarmac. The biggest difference between the two bikes in my size was the longer head tube (6mm longer) on the Tarmac SL3 (though 1cm shorter on the SL4).
As you continue to examine the geometry of the R3, the similarities to the Tarmac continue. The R3 is made in six sizes, just like the Tarmac. The top tube lengths are within a half centimeter of the nearest size of the Tarmac.
The point here isn’t to say, “See, the Tarmac is a great bike, so the R3 is a great bike.” Rather, if you’ve been interested in an R3 and haven’t been able to ride one, because the geometries are so similar, a ride on a Tarmac will give you a feel for both the sizing and handling of an R3. Honest to blob, I’ve never switched between two bikes so seamlessly. It’s enough to make me think there’s industrial espionage going on between the two companies. Okay, not really.
Cervelo lists the sizes for the R3 as 48, 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm. The jumps in top tube length run mostly 15 or 16mm. The biggest jump is the 17mm spread from the 53.1cm top tube on the 51cm frame and the 54.8cm top tube on the 54cm frame. I’m in the camp that believes very few people really need a custom frame and while I love custom stuff, frames as advanced as the R3 simply aren’t available in custom, are they?
Each size of the R3 features a 73-degree seat tube angle and 40.5cm chainstays. I’m sorry, but using one mold for the rear end of every frame strikes me as a bit lazy. I am suspicious that this approach could cause some problems for riders who might be considering the 48 or the 61.
When I was in high school and really sucking at math, my parents hired a tutor for me; he taught me a lesson that helped me pass Algebra II and remains useful today. I’m more grateful for the latter than the former. He taught me that once I thought I had the solution to a problem to plug in some huge variables and the answer should pass the sniff test if I had the equation right. If it was wrong, it would look wrong right away. I’ve found it’s much the same way with bikes.
After spending more than a month on the R3 I had an opportunity to get on a friend’s SLC-SL for a ride around the block. His was a 56, so it was a bit smaller, but it was the perfect opportunity to remind me just how stiff the rear end of a carbon fiber bike can be. The rear end of the SLC-SL was the ridiculous variable that illustrated the point.
I’ve been on a mechanical bull and that was a good deal gentler (and funnier) than the SLC-SL. Look, I know that experienced cyclists are exceedingly skeptical of the “torsionally stiff, vertically compliant” claim that is as standard equipment to the bike review as the water bottle cage is to the bike. That said, those crazy small seatstays on the R3 have a distinct effect on the bike’s ride.
I’m aware that if I write that those stays absorb shock two things happen. First, I’ve said something that simply isn’t accurate. Second, you head for rec.bicycles.gassbag to flame me for saying something so stupid. But the simple fact is, riding an R3 isn’t like riding some other bikes out there. Lacking a better, more objective term, I’m going with “gentler.”
Okay, so I should mention BB Right and the Rotor Crank used with the frame. I was suspicious that I’d notice the odd Q-factor, but I didn’t. I flat-out don’t like the asymmetrical design, but that’s a bias, nothing more, nothing less. It’s like looking at a slug. It gives me the creeps, but for no truly objective reason. I don’t like that you are limited in your choice of cranks, but this was a 15-lb. bike, so it’s not like I can complain that the Rotor crank turned a vesper into brick. I’ve encountered riders with short-ish legs who have Q-factor issues if their feet move too far apart. I wonder if this could be a problem for some riders, but as for me and my 32-inch inseam, I didn’t have a single issue. I didn’t notice a thing as I was riding. Guess I need to shut up about that.
Perhaps a bit more worth discussing is the fact that Cervelo just entered a financing arrangement with Pon Holdings BV. Pon is a gigantic Dutch conglomerate with some 11,000 employees and owns Derby Cycle, which includes Raleigh, Univega and Kalkhoff brands. The financing came with a string—should Cervelo ever sell, Pon has an exclusive option to purchase the company. It’s basically a right of first-refusal. It’s possible this is fallout from the drain the Cervelo Test Team put on the company. Or it could be an infusion of horsepower that could transform the company for the better. Time will definitely tell.
Here’s what amazes me. Whenever I talk to Phil White at Cervelo (all five times), he wants to talk about the company’s aero designs. I really can’t get him to show any excitement about the R3. WTF? One could be forgiven for getting the impression that the company is less than bullish on anything non-aero. It’s strange. The R3 is better than most of the bikes I’ve ever ridden.
And that, dear reader, is why I keep reviewing bikes. The chance to get on a new bike and be surprised, to be enchanted, to feel that holy whoosh and be transported back to when I was six and tearing down the sidewalk with no assistance, that, that right there, that opportunity to make cycling fresh is why a new bike is a legitimate purchase.
The world changed when the bike industry moved to carbon fiber for fabricating most high-end bicycle frames. The shifts were myriad. Many of the bigger companies began employing engineers for the first time ever. Most of the bigger companies either started producing what was effectively their own tubing for the first time or had someone else produce tubing for them, to their spec. The way marketing materials were written changed as they sought to attempt to both hide what materials they used even as they tried to pitch the objective advantage their materials offered the buyer.
It was a helluva change.
Think back. For those of you who went through a steel frame or three before buying a first carbon fiber frame, you’ll recall that bike companies, as well as small framebuilders, all touted just whose tubing they used. So much so, they put a sticker on the seat tube announcing just what they used. It was anything other than a secret.
How companies like Trek, Specialized, Felt, Zipp and others deal with their materials is very different. They effectively create their own alloy by buying carbon fiber from different mills and blending it within their frames as they see fit. To make matters worse, when you try to talk to the folks charged with media relations, one will talk about sourcing from Toray (one of the big mills), while another will talk about modulus and tell you the source doesn’t matter, while another will say modulus doesn’t matter, compaction and resin are the issues. It’s maddening.
Without the benefit of that tubing sticker, bike companies go to great lengths to check out the work of their competitors. They have two primary tools at their disposal. The first is the saw. They will cut frames apart to see what’s inside. They can get a look at exactly what fibers are being used. The other method involves baking. A frame can be put in an oven and baked apart; all you have to do is exceed the resin’s cure temperature. What it yields is a bunch of sheets of carbon fiber. You can see the exact shape and position of ever sheet used. Unfortunately, this method of investigation comes with a downside. You can’t tell what any of the sheets of fiber were; there’s no telling if they were intermediate modulus, high modulus or ultra-high modulus.
I’ve long admired Cervelo’s work, even if I have found some of their designs less than attractive, or comfortable. The SLC-SL remains one of the most unpleasant to ride bikes I’ve ever swung a leg over. But with a pair of Zipps, it was a very fast bike. I found myself constantly scrubbing speed inside the group. What was more impressive about the bike was its torsional stiffness. The bike, despite its aerodynamic-profile tubes, didn’t twist to any appreciable degree. I’ve been on many similarly shaped frames that would twist under a hard acceleration even while firmly ensconced in the saddle.
What elevated my regard for Cervelo’s work a few years ago came not from anything their PR people told me, not from a big win aboard one of their bikes and certainly not from some bike magazine review. An engineer for one of their competitors had baked apart a frame and told me of the sophisticated layup they were using. That there were places where he’d have loved to know what fiber they were using to achieve the stiffness and strength they managed at the bottom bracket. The frame was too light, too stiff and too strong to make the answer easy or obvious.
This guy was unimpressed with some of the work he was seeing from the big three. He talked about how you’d see stacks of fiber maybe five or 10 sheets thick grabbed and placed. Maybe with decent care, maybe not. In his view it was the downside of having to achieve the production numbers they needed. He said with Cervelo you could tell that each sheet was placed individually. You can’t make frames as quickly that way, he told me. But they break less often and usually offer the rider better quality and improved stiffness because the sheets are perfectly oriented for their intended role.
The conversation (actually, I’ve had a similar conversation with two other engineers not employed by the Canadians) made me sit up and take note of Cervelo in a fresh way. It also gave me a new perspective on my previous experience with the SLC-SL. Maybe some of that incredible stiffness was due to great care. Huh.
Since then, I’ve ridden every Cervelo I can get my hands on. I’ve had a day on the S5 (I wrote about that here) and a couple of days on the old R3 SL. This spring Cervelo sent me the new R3. I rode it through the spring, summer and into the fall.
I didn’t want to send it back.
Tomorrow: Part II
When I review a bike, I tend to hit the “road feel” aspect of a bike’s ride pretty hard. I’ve done it enough and gotten enough subsequent questions about just what I mean and what I value that it seems high time I spend devoted some pixels just to the subject of road feel.
It used to be that road feel or “ride quality” was an indispensable dimension of any bike review. Even Bicycling Magazine would address it in their famously brief reviews. Those publications that devoted more than a couple hundred words to a review tended to spend more time defining not only a given bike’s ride quality but also made an effort to assign some sort of value to the quality. I’m not seeing much conversation on the subject these days, save the reviews Ben Edwards pens for peloton magazine.
While it may seem that ride quality and road feel may be essentially two different phrases for the same phenomenon, I do see them differently and I believe historically that “ride quality” was often used to define not just the feel of the frame material, but the interplay of that material with the bike’s geometry. In a nutshell, I use road feel to address the sense of road I get based on the frame material alone. It has nothing to do with the frame’s overall stiffness.
So any discussion of road feel is limited to the sense of road the bicycle’s frame imparts to the rider. Many of the bike’s components can affect just what you experience. Ride a bike with 100 psi in the tires and then ride it again with 140 psi in the tires and you could be forgiven for believing you were on a different bike.
Bar, bar tape, seatpost, seat and tires will all affect road feel, but none of these will usually have the effect that a significant change in tire pressure will bring. Additionally, different shorts and different shoes will affect what you experience as well. When reviewing a bike, I never get the chance to normalize for more than wheels and tires. I’ve got a set of wheels I know intimately and have some trusted open tubulars on them. That will zero out the wheel/tire combo. Ride a bike long enough and you’ll even see through differences in shorts. All that aside, the most important feedback you get comes through your feet and butt.
Okay, so all those factors can skew what you feel, but that doesn’t answer the central question of why road feel matters.
I’m fascinated by road feel because it is one of a handful of the dimensions of a bike’s overall composition that can affect how I descend and corner. When a bike is pushed to its performance limit, road feel can have a profound influence on just how far I’m willing to go.
People will use descriptors such as “lively,” “dead,” “springy,” and even “razor-sharp” to discuss the way the bike feels as they ride it. That feel is road feedback. Think of your frame as a pair of glasses and the road as the sky. The frame you ride is essentially the lens color of your glasses. You can ride a frame that blots out most of the sunlight to tame a sunny day. Or it can be a high-contrast yellow lens for the low-light situations you find on early morning fall rides. And whether you choose a dark or light lens, the quality of that lens will determine the clarity with which you see.
While this may be obvious almost to redundant, the road surface has a huge influence on just what you experience. The smoother the road, the less input you get and the deader the bike will feel. Some amount of texture is helpful for descending and cornering.
When I first started reviewing bikes, my sense was that the changes I experienced in road feel related almost entirely to frame material, that all bikes created from a frame material were sort of static in feel. However, the market was being flooded with new steels and I quickly learned that some of the new oversize steel tube sets (such as Columbus EL-OS Nivacrom) felt different from older stuff (such as Columbus SL). Even though the material density was the same, the bikes felt different.
So why was that? The best information I have from engineers is that it was related to wall thickness. If density remains consistent, a thinner wall will transmit more vibration. Increase wall thickness or decrease density and the feel changes. Titanium is half as dense as steel; aluminum is a third as dense as steel.
But the vibration transmission is affected by other factors. Butting makes a huge impact on road feel. No matter what material is used, if the tubes are straight gauge, the bike will have a harsher feel; more vibration will radiate through the frame.
So what constitutes good road feel and how much vibration should a frame transmit? Well, there are a variety of opinions on this. The French manufacturer Time does all it can to eliminate as much road vibration as possible; they include materials like Kevlar to make the frames mute to vibration. There are other manufacturers, such as Specialized, Cannondale, Felt, Look, BH, Parlee and even Bottecchia that offer bikes with a nude finish; that is, decals and no paint. No paint means an absence of 80 to 100 grams of material that contributes nothing structural to the bike. When you’re talking about a potentially 800g frame, that means 10-12 percent of the bike’s weight does nothing to contribute to strength or stiffness. You might as well just wrap the frame with electrical tape.
While 80g of paint is a liability in the weight department, the presence of paint does an interesting thing to a bike’s road feel. It deadens the frame. Not terribly, but it does fundamentally change just how the bike feels.
I’ve had the opportunity to ride bikes from a couple of manufacturers with paint and then with a decal-only finish. The difference in feel has to do with high-frequency road vibration. It’s that high-frequency stuff that gives you the greatest sensitivity to the road conditions. And though Trek doesn’t offer (so far as I’ve seen) a single nude-finished frame, it’s absence suggests less that they aren’t concerned with road feel and more that they aren’t confident in the cosmetics of their unpainted frames.
While I could try to illustrate the point of sensitivity with the analogy of a condom, let’s go with a stereo instead. On a traditional stereo with volume, bass and treble controls, if you turn up the bass and then turn down the treble, you wind up with gangsta rap—a pumping sound that has little definition. Carbon fiber frames with nude finishes feature a little less volume overall (because the frames feature an incredible amount of internal butting at junctions) but offer clarity that can only come from keeping the treble cranked up. Think of top-40 radio and the way those melodies can carry even when played on a lousy department store PA.
The Trouble With Color
Painted carbon can look amazing. It can also give a manufacturer the opportunity to cover blemishes in substandard work. It even offers a very minor degree of impact resistance. But it does nothing for road feel.
Bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Cannondale SuperSix EVO, Felt F-series and BH Ultralight feature next-generation carbon fiber construction that has eliminated the use of foam in junctions where compaction has traditionally been a problem. Internal forms help make sure the bike achieves optimal material compaction. I suppose there are others using these techniques, but these are the bikes I’m aware of so far. Tap a fingernail on the down tube of one of these bikes and you’ll hear a distinctly metallic sound. The greater the material density, the higher frequency the sound. Both frame strength and road feel benefit.
It’s easy to conclude that greater high-frequency sensitivity is strictly an aesthetic preference and that one can make a strong case for a frame that stamps out vibration like ants in a kitchen. Unfortunately, there are objective reasons to seek out a frame with less vibration damping.
If your goal is a frame that maximizes strength while still achieving a competitive ~800g weight, you have to go with a nude finish. I’ve yet to come across a bike that offers the strength and weight equal to the world’s top frames that also feels dead. I’m so glad. But, God, how I wish Cervelos were available in a paint-free scheme.
A final note: One needn’t ride on the roller coaster roads of Malibu to make use of the benefits of superior road feel. I try not to push bikes to the point of breaking the tires loose (at least, on the road), but when the roads are wet, a bike that gives me great feedback will help me get down a descent faster. And as a rider, the greatest challenge I ever face on two wheels is riding in the rain. Descending in the rain? Nearly guaranteed flow state, and it’s times like that I want all the data I can get, even if it’s 100 percent right-brained.
The last few weeks have been crazy enough that I’ve got a few different bike posts I’d planned to have up before Interbike that, well, I’m just now getting around to.
To some degree these are going to go up in reverse order of how the events have actually taken place. First up is the Cervelo S5; it will be followed (shortly) with reviews of the Focus Izalco Pro and Cervelo R3.
The S5 reviewette (new word, you heard it here first) came about as a result of Mark Reidy of True Communications. Mark is handling some endemic media duties for Cervelo and had the bright idea to get a bunch of S5s in different sizes and then host a bunch of writers to an afternoon ride in the canyons of Malibu.
Why more PR/marketing types don’t do this is an absolute wonder. If they did more of this, we’d be less inclined to call them hacks.
We met at the Starbucks that practically sits in the shadow of Pepperdine University (also known as the site of Landis’ Last Stand). Sit here for an hour and you’ll see someone paparazzi-worth. I’ve seen Pamela Anderson, Tony Danza, a Brolin, and scores of minor celebs whose faces I recognized but whose roles were as lost to me as the name of my kindergarten teacher.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mark reminded us to bring our pedals no less than three times. Remember them I did. The shoes? Uh, a cat attempting to escape short-circuited me and I left the shoes behind. That’s not really the disclosure bit; this is: I did the whole ride in Vans and pushing giant downhill-style platform pedals.
The loop we chose had plenty of climbing. They were roads I know well and even though the shoes were wrong, I could tell plenty about the bike from the bar and saddle. The short answer is that I was surprised by my experience.
I’ve spoken with Phil White on a couple of occasions about his company’s designs. When last we spoke the S5 wasn’t yet out, but the S3 was. I’d told him about my review of the SLC-SL, which was the single most unpleasant-riding carbon fiber bike I’ve encountered. I could have more fun in front of a firing squad. White was adamant that the S3 would be a different experience. In riding the S5, I rather skipped a generation of development.
Latigo Canyon Road is a 12k climb and a fair bit of the asphalt is less than perfect. I know how my own bikes feel there. The only detail the S5 shares with the SLC-SL is that both are rather aerodynamic. Where the SLC-SL makes rough road feel like pavé, the S5 leaves it at rough. I’ve ridden other non-aero carbon fiber bikes that were less forgiving.
It was apparent in talking to him that White really favored Cervelo’s aero designs over its popular R-series. Honestly, I think they’d discontinue the R bikes if it wouldn’t hurt their sales. It’s an impression Mark backed up. He told me they don’t understand why someone would choose an R over an S.
Part of this has to do with what they understand about aerodynamics versus what most of us don’t understand about it. I’ve been told by several engineers and product managers that all the significant gains in bike design in the future will be in aerodynamics. The only way to make a bike significantly faster will be to make it more aerodynamic.
My response to the assertion that I should go with an aero road bike has been my regard for my undercarriage. I like it. I want to keep it. I want to avoid unnecessary scar tissue in my nether regions.
Is the S5 as comfortable as an R3? That seems to be the $64,000 question. The short answer is no. It’s not as comfortable. But it’s not the Muy Thai beating that I’ve come to expect either.
That minor loss of comfort was the most apparent difference to the R3 I’ve been riding. It’s difficult to try to quantify the aerodynamic gains; I’d have an easier time getting a feel for that on group rides. Time spent at the front of a group ride is where I get my best feedback on aerodynamics.
The crisp handling I’ve come to revere in the R3 was present in the S5. I was afraid it might not handle well on descents, but given that I did 45 mph coming down Decker Canyon in Vans, I’m going to suggest is indication that I was comfortable with the bike’s handling. I’ve gone faster, but never in sneakers.
You know what I’d really love to try? Either the R3 or the S5 in nude finishes—just decals, no paint. The liveliest carbon fiber frames I’ve ridden feature no paint. That’s for another post, though.
The aero road bike was a screwy idea five years ago. It was still bleeding edge two years ago. Today, I think the idea has come of age. There’s still a weight/torsional stiffness penalty with these bikes, but they are so much better than they used to be bikes like the S5 really don’t deserve to be compared to creations like the SLC-SL.
I’ve got to give White and his partner Gerard Vroomen credit. They have really taken a stand on aerodynamics. The aero road bike is something of a mission for them. They really don’t care what you think; they believe you’ll be faster on an aero bike, and from all appearances, they care more about your speed than your opinion.
So Omega Pharma has announced it will merge with another team. L’Equipe is reporting that there will be no Belgian superteam merger with QuickStep. Rather, the merger is likely to take place with Dutch formation Vacansoleil.
Why no announcement has been forthcoming from Vacansoleil is curious. If the deal is done enough for Omega Pharma to announce that there will be a merger, one wonders why Vacansoleil needs to wait.
Regardless, the merger is unfortunate. Any team merger—such as this season’s merging of Garmin and Cervelo—invariably results in a game of musical chairs that leaves a number of people without seats. From riders to mechanics to soigneurs, there are always some good people who are left scrambling looking for paychecks when one formation ends, and that happens even if they don’t act like Trent Lowe.
The two best Belgian climbers in a generation (or two), Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen van den Broeck are said to be headed to the new Lotto formation, and that—quelle surprise (exclaimed with not even a hint of irony)—Philippe Gilbert is headed for BMC. That’s great for Gavin Chilcott, Jim Ochowicz and Andy Rihs, but I mean, dude.
I began today thinking that today’s FGR would speculate on just what formation would join forces with Omega Pharma, but with these latest revelations, the question has changed.
If you have Philippe Gilbert, who is unquestionably the finest one-day rider of this season, at your disposal, would anything short of your personal, professional and moral bankruptcy allow Gilbert to slip from your clutches? There’s no denying that Vanendert and van den Broeck are gifted climbers but nothing signs sponsors like a win, which is something Gilbert can do against anyone, any day.
And while we’re at it, you can’t help but wonder what else BMC has up their sleeve. Are BMCs selling that much faster than Cervelos that Rihs can fund a formation with some of the world’s top riders out of his pocket without suffering the same fate as the Canadian frame maker? Not to put too fine a point on it, but multiple sources told me that team nearly bankrupted the company. Do you think Rihs is really funding the team strictly out of BMC’s operations or is he feeding it with his own money?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
You had to figure that the Canadian manufacturer that was single-handedly responsible for the creation of the aero road bike segment would apply their ultra-high-end manufacturing technology found in their R5 to their aero design. The answer to that un-asked question is both yes and no.
Behold the S5.
The first, most apparent aspect of the bike’s appearance is that it appears to be the sloping top-tube love child of the S3 and P4. And that’s not far off the mark. Though it looks familiar, the S5 required all new molds to be cut. The folks at Cervelo say it’s their most aerodynamic road bike design so far. It’ll save 36.8 seconds over 40k, almost a second per kilometer, 92 grams of drag and 9.2 watts. They are just different ways of saying the bike is purported to give you free speed.
You want something more impressive? It weighs in at 990 grams. The “it” is the frame, fork, paint and derailleur hangers. That’s sub-kilo for frame and fork. But they say it’s not a noodle; they claim testing show it is 12 percent stiffer than the S3. They didn’t happen to mention if that was in torsion or in the vertical plane.
So what’s it handle like? The bike features the same geometry and sizing found in the R3. That’s six sizes with handling proven to work in the world’s most challenging races. Special steps were taken in the design to accommodate items like water bottles and brakes into the aerodynamics, eliminating the need for proprietary brakes or water bottles.
Naturally, this bike won’t be cheap, or widely available, but it won’t be quite as expensive as the R5. The S5 with Dura-Ace Di2 will go for $9000; with SRAM Red it’ll be $7500; with Ultegra Di2 it’ll be $6000 and with regular Ultegra it’ll be $4800. I’m looking forward to a chance to actually ride one. I’m hearing it’s not supposed to be harsh the way the SLC-SL was; I’m curious to see if they succeeded. It’ll be quite a victory if they did.