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Interbike Tech: Cervelo revamps road line for 2011

  • By Zack Vestal
  • Published Sep. 20, 2010
  • Updated Jan. 28, 2011 at 5:01 PM EDT

Canadian bike company Cervélo announced its revamped road bike line a few weeks ago at the Eurobike trade show in Germany. But we had to wait until the Interbike Outdoor Demo outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, to experience the updates in person.

The 2011 Cervelo line includes a major trickle down of technology and design pioneered in the limited production R5ca. The frame shapes and engineering developed for the R5ca earlier in the year make their way down the line to the new R5 and revised R3 models. Pricing and spec on the new, Asian-built R5 and R3 bikes are not yet available, but expect them to be much more affordable than the handbuilt R5ca. What’s better, they gain not a gram in weight for the new year. But the new designs gives them a steroid shot of stiffness.

Based on just one short ride on a new R3, the wait was worth it. Cervélo won’t be on hand during the indoor portion of the show. So under the scorching desert sun, we got the full scoop on the new developments from product manager Chris Bastie. He said that dealers and customers had anticipated some trickle-down of the R5ca technology in a few years, but the company moved quickly to capitalize on the development work they invested in the new platform.

“What they expected was some trickle-down maybe in a few years, but it’s already happening,” said Bastie.

Pioneering R5ca frame introduces design updates

After a debut at the Tour of California in May, followed by a starring role at the Tour de France under Cervélo TestTeam rider Carlos Sastre, the flagship R5ca needs little introduction. It’s the halo model built by hand in the company’s California design studio. The extreme attention to detail in its construction makes it the lightest Cervélo bike ever built, and simultaneously one of the stiffest.

The bike sports a tapered head tube, a design feature that’s become common but is new from Cervélo. The upper headset bearing is 1-1/8th inch and the lower is 1-3/8th inch. Bastie said that they tried a full 1.5-inch lower bearing, but it actually over-stiffened the front end, making the bikes less strong against frontal impact forces.

The R5ca also has an oversized bottom bracket that combines a 79mm wide BB shell with internal press-in bearings. Called BBright, the novel bottom bracket permits significant widening of the tubes where they meet the BB, granting the bike a big boost in stiffness. The BB requires cranks with a 30mm, BB30-style aluminum spindle, but the spindle has to be 11mm wider than a standard BB30.

Bastie said the new design is an open standard, available to any manufacturer that wants to make a crankset. He listed FSA, Rotor, SRAM, and Campagnolo as early supporters of the new standard. “We’ve had good talks with all major crank manufacturers,” he said. “Many are on board and more have interest,” he added, possibly hinting that a big player like Shimano might finally consider making an oversized bottom bracket spindle.

The 2011 trickle down

If you thought Cervélo’s engineering muscle would be limited to just the R5ca, you’d be wrong. For 2011, the BBright design, tapered head tube, and revised tube shapes pioneered on the R5ca make their way to two additional models, the new R5 and a revised R3.

The new R5 closely mimics the R5cc. For 2011 it replaces the current R3sl. Bastie said that bottom bracket stiffness in the R5 is 100-percent higher than in the R3sl it’s replacing, and the head tube is 40-percent stiffer. Even with the improved rigidity, the 2011 R5 weighs the same as a current R3sl.


One step below the R5, the new R3 also adopts the design updates, but internal differences in structure and materials keep its cost lower. It too boasts the same structural rigidity improvements yet weighs the same as a current R3.

In both the new models, geometry and fit are subtly altered for 2011. Bastie says that the new geometry is based on an amalgamation of the current R3 and RS frame dimensions. He said that current R3 fit tends to be longer and lower than most people like, especially in the larger frame sizes. The new bikes have their fit adjusted so that stack (head tube height compared to bottom bracket height) and reach (horizontal distance from bottom bracket to head tube) increase more proportionally as frame size increases. But he was clear to point out that frame sizing doesn’t change. “If you ride a 58cm R3 now, you’ll fit the exact same frame size in a 2011 R3,” he said. The changes are subtle, meant primarily to raise the bars on the larger frame sizes and bring them into line with more riders’ fit needs.

Cervélo is waiting until later in the year to release pricing and available specification on the new bikes. But in any case, the rapid trickle-down of R5ca technology into more affordable bikes is impressive.

Speaking about the $10,000 R5ca, Bastie said, “It’s basically a showcase bike for what we can do in that facility (the California design studio where the bike is built). But it’s not scaled for full production.” He said that Cervélo can build about 300 R5ca bikes per year on an as-ordered basis. The facility exists to develop and prove new designs without having to rely on larger factories where secrets might leak out to other builders.

Happily for those of us who can’t afford the R5ca frame module, the new bikes show incredible promise. The R5 and the R3 differ little in appearance from the R5ca and look to deliver huge chunks of performance at a fraction of the price.

I took a 2011 R3 for a quick spin around the asphalt adjacent to the Outdoor Demo grounds. It was amazingly stiff under power, yet comfortable and stable at speed. I don’t have experience with previous Cervélo models, but this one felt fantastic. Especially considering that it brings expensive design down to a more earthly price, it’s certain to be a bright star among the many new bikes for 2011.

Stay tuned for more from Interbike in the days ahead.

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