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Game changer: Cervelo Soloist

Peter Stuart
6 Dec 2016

The bike that started an aero revolution

You’ve probably realised by now that round tubes are at a significant disadvantage compared to aero-profiled tubes when it comes to bike speed. These days, it’s hard to find a bike that hasn’t been given the aero treatment in some form, but it was more than a decade ago that the first road frame broke the cylindrical rules.

In 2002 Cervélo released the Soloist. Originally made from aluminium, it looked like no road bike in existence. ‘We extruded the first true aerofoil tubes in cycling,’ says Cervélo engineer Damon Rinard. ‘Until then, “aero” looking tubes had been formed by flattening round tubes into lemon-shapes.’ 

The Soloist boasted aero profiles developed by NACA – the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. This was partly made possible by Cervélo’s in-house tube construction methods. Cervélo co-founder Phil White says, ‘Everyone was buying steel tubes from Columbus or Reynolds and aluminium tubes from Easton. But we said, “You know, these aren’t the right shapes, and it’s not what we’re looking for in the stiffness profile.” So we went and created our own tubes.’

Welding and cabling were both areas that Cervélo targeted for aero and performance gains. Rinard says, ‘Smartwall welding was the best way to add the most structural performance at the lightest weight, and then we also used brilliantly simple and reliable internal cable stops – aero, light and easy to route the cables.’

Welding methods for the Soloist evolved over time, including internal welds to smooth the joins on the down tube and further improve aero efficiency. As an early advocate of anodising, rather than painting, Cervélo also managed to bring the Soloist in at the same weight as the top steel frames of the time, while being vastly superior in terms of aerodynamics. With a fairly low head tube, and the first example of a reversible seatpost that could switch the rider from a set-back position to being directly over the pedals, the Soloist was only a set of aero bars away from a fully-fledged TT set-up. 

While the bike made a splash on its release, it only became a must-have once it had success on the racing scene. Riding for Team CSC, Frank Schleck took victory on Alpe d’Huez aboard a Soloist SLC-SL (pictured), the first carbon iteration of the bike. The Pro Continental Cervélo Test Team became a hotbed for development, and the Soloist became a driving force in the aero revolution.

So while traditionalists will lament the slow death of the conventional tube shape, Cervélo arguably changed the mindset of the cycling industry when it came to aerodynamics on a road bike. The Soloist is where it all began.

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