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First ride review: Cervelo P3 time trial bike

29 Mar 2017

We make a quick inspection of a bike that has become iconic in triathlon and time trial circles

This Cervelo P3 is a longstanding fixture in the brand's fleet, but remains a favourite for those getting serious about speed. We take a look at this Shimano Ultegra Di2 edition, a perfect entry level to the higher tiers of domestic time trial competition.

Cervelo was the first brand to really break the mould in terms of aerodynamics with the Barrachi in 1996, when Gerard Vroomen and Phil White were fresh engineering graduates.

Since then, the P-Series of time trial bikes has been regarded as the benchmark across time trial and triathlon.

The Cervelo P3 was, unsurprisingly, the successor to the P2, and had a long and successful run in the pro peloton.

Across time trial and triathlon events it boasts more professional wins than any other bike, and continues to be the most popular choice at professional Ironman level.

Of course, the P3 has changed a little in its lifespan, rather than purely existing in stasis after the P5 superseded it.

The aerodynamic merit of the P3 is well supported by Cervelo’s white papers, which brings together the CFD and wind tunnel analysis used in the development of the frame.

The white paper covers the development of the P5, but the eagle eyed will notice that aside from brake placement and a traditional non-integrated cockpit, the Cervelo P3 is a carbon copy of the P5, only several thousand pounds cheaper.

Purists of the TT scene still seek out the previous generation P3C, sold until 2013, for its shorter headtube which suits more aggressive aerodynamic positions.

The main difference to the design has been an increase in headtube height to match the average stack of most racers and avoid aerodynamically unfavourable spacers, as well as bring other aerodynamic advantages to the leading edge of the frame.

The relatively tall height at the front, though, is certainly not below my ideal front end height for TT, and still offers a great deal more space for manoeuvre than the numerous time trial frames which have opted for an integrated front end.

For those really geared to the minutiae of position, it will limit some experimentation.

The Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset is a great training wheel, and in my experience fairly bomb-proof, but clearly not race-ready for a bike of this tier.

That’s an important consideration when looking at a price point of five grand, as it may cost a further thousand to get the bike up to racing spec.

Other than that, the spec is fairly positive for this level of frame.

The carbon 3T Aura Pro handlebars and extensions are a high performance and costly addition to the build.

As many aerodynamic obsessives will know, though, the front-end plays a disproportionately large role in the overall drag of the rider and bike.

While an integrated solution would be better against the wind, the adjustability of a conventional bar and stem is a huge win for anyone who isn’t totally informed on optimum position and fit.

The ISM Adamo saddle is also a favourite for serious racers who want to preserve circulation in intimate regions, albeit not permitted in UCI-level racing.

While I’m sometimes sceptical on deviations from the specified groupset on a build, I think the Rotor 3D30 chainset is a nice addition to the Cervelo P3.

It stacks up well against the Shimano Ultegra chainset in price terms, suggesting it’s a supplement to the bike rather than a cost-cutting measure.

Cervelo does a good job of ride quality on the whole, but we’ll take this on the road over the coming weeks to really determine how well theory has translated into function.

Check back for a full review in the coming months.


Frame Cervelo P3 Carbon
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
Brakes Shimano Ultegra 6800
Chainset Rotor 2320 BBright
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed 11-25
Bars 3T Aura Pro
Stem 3T ARX Pro
Seatpost Cervélo Carbon, Aero, Rail Adjust
Saddle ISM Adamo Prologue black
Wheels Mavic Cosmic Elite
Weight 9.0kg

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