by Nick Legan
Cervélo created the aero road bike segment, and in popular opinion the brand has largely owned the category since. And though we made every attempt at objectivity, the truth is Caley and I hoped an underdog would emerge at the top of our test. But the Cervélo S3 is so compellingly good, we simply couldn’t ignore it. The S3 was launched in 2009 after Fabian Cancellara, Kristin Armstrong and others rode the bikes at the 2008 Olympic Games. Cervélo combined the slippery shapes of its aero frames with a more forgiving rear triangle, and the result is undeniable.
Scientific Testing: 25 of 30 points
While only the third stiffest in our torsional test, the Cervélo is the clear winner in the wind tunnel. Amazingly, with race wheels it’s actually faster at 20 degrees of yaw than it is head on.
Subjective Ride Quality: 27 of 30 points
Cervélo is no stranger to compliant rear triangles. The R3, and its miniscule seat stays, was fairly revolutionary when introduced. Incorporating a similar design into an aero bike yields a very comfortable ride. Even after three hours in the saddle, I was happy for more.
Proven by Thor Hushovd at the world road championships and Cam Meyer at the Tour Down Under, the S3 is a race bike, and its acceleration is great. It ranked third in torsional stiffness, but the S3 felt almost springy when I jumped hard.
Handling is where the Cervélo was the clear winner for me. Caley preferred the Felt, but agreed that the S3 is a beautiful bike to ride. When descending, I felt like a fool each time I reached for the brakes. The S3 is so confidence-inspiring I almost went out and bought a yellow jersey to wear when riding it. Even on rough or dirt roads, the S3 tracked perfectly. It would eagerly turn into a corner, but was never nervous. The geometry formula: parallel 73-degree head and seat tubes, with a 43mm fork offset — remember that if you ever start making bikes.
User Friendliness: 13 of 15 points
When I was a mechanic for Team CSC in 2006, I told Cervélo that they should make a zero-setback seatpost. I’ll say it again here: Cervélo needs a zero-setback option. I hate having my saddle shoved all the way forward on its rails.
Some mechanics have complained about the top-tube routing of the shifter cables. The system is easy to set up and works well, but it is easy to kink a cable with the hard angle the cable must make to enter the frame.
Lastly, the Rotor crankarms are very square and offer little ankle clearance. Initially I hit my heels more than I liked, but I worked around it.
Value: 17 of 20 points
Value is the hardest thing to judge, because it is highly personal. For $6,600, the Cervélo is expensive. But is it worth it? I feel it is. With full SRAM Red shifting and brakes, Rotor crank, 3T bar and stem and a fi’zi:k Arione saddle with braided carbon rails, there are no house brands in sight. The Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels rode well and the Vittoria Rubino Pros are good all-around tires. I think that selling the S3 with good training wheels makes sense. Most racers are far pickier when it comes to race wheels than they are regarding their training wheels.
Weight: 4 of 5 points
Amazingly, even with Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels, the S3 was the second lightest in our group at 7.130 kilograms (15.72 pounds) without pedals.