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Cervelo C5 Dura-Ace Disc review

20 Dec 2016

Cervelo takes things off-road, but on close inspection the new gravel bike seems to be every bit the road machine

It was almost a year ago when the Cervélo C5 broke cover, and it proved to be a bit of a shock.

The Canadian brand with a historical laser focus on performance and aerodynamic speed teetered away from road and into the nebulous region of a slack endurance ride with off-road persuasions.

This is far more than another addition to the new genre of ‘gravel’ bicycles, however.

This, in fact, is Cervélo’s attempt to rethink how a bike should be made for endurance riding.

Altered geometry

In a similar vein to the bikes that sit squarely in the gravel sector, the C5 boasts a slightly altered geometry to a normal endurance ride coupled with wider tyre clearance and disc brakes.

The C5 was Cervélo’s second leap into discs for the road, following quickly on from the release of the R3 disc, although the brand has since launched disc-equipped models across its range of aerodynamic and lightweight bikes.

Importantly, where we might have expected to see an R5 frame crudely repurposed for use with disc brakes, the C-series was a complete rethink of how disc brakes could alter, and improve, the character of a bike.

‘We noticed a change in the road cycling landscape – lots of cyclists love to participate in gran fondos and do not want to race,’ says global product manager Phil Spearman.

‘Unfortunately, bicycle sport has often failed bicycle participation in terms of bike design.’

Cervélo’s solution with the C5 has been to concentrate on delivering more comfort and versatility, alongside increased stability.

These can be vague concepts in bike building, and Spearman is keen to establish exactly what that means for Cervélo.

‘By lifting the head tube we hope to eradicate the situation whereby riders stack numerous headset spacers on the R-series, because this makes for
a twitchy ride,’ he says. 

Slacker angle

Not only is the head tube of the C5 taller than that of the R-series, but the angle is slacker as well.

The rear chainstays are slightly longer and the bottom bracket position has been dropped. What all this means is that the C5 should handle more predictably and with more stability than the R-series, having lost a bit of the latter’s racy feel.

While the C5 certainly appeals to a wider range of riding scenerios, it arguably lacks some of the commitment to the looser gravel tracks that the likes of the GT Grade were designed for.

The maximum tyre clearance, for instance, is a relatively skinny 30mm, compared to clearance that allows for 35mm tyres and beyond on many pure gravel bikes. 

‘Obviously gravel was considered throughout the development, but we prefer to say the bike is mixed surface,’ says Spearman.

‘All of the best roads in the US seem to be dirt, so we built it to be able to ride those surfaces, but that single-track dirt road really isn’t as demanding as a serious gravel trail. So primarily this is built for road riding.’

Smooth rider

At first glance, I had a few criticisms of the C5. The brown colourway isn’t particularly fetching, and I feared it would quickly look dated.

The price, too, seemed out of proportion with the offering. The Dura-Ace groupset, Rotor chainset and HED Ardennes wheelset are all excellent components, but with a total pricetag of more than six grand, I estimated that the frameset alone must cost in the region of £3,500-£4,000.

It certainly put a lot of expectation on the bike’s performance.  

The bike gave me quite a shock when I first set it on the road. That’s largely because it didn’t feel like a gravel bike at all – it felt like a race bike.

It’s relatively light at 7.55kg, and with ample stiffness at the rear it sprung up to speed where normally an endurance disc bike would have a heavy-duty feel.

There were downsides, however. The C5’s stiffness was a plus point when it came to both descending and general handling, but it also meant the bike could feel a little harsh.

Oddly, it seemed to soak up off-road gravel really well, but on rough tarmac – of the kind found pretty much everywhere in Britain – I felt a little too much jolt. The bike pounded over disturbances rather than striding over them. 

That aside, the Cervélo C5 was generally a joy to ride. It handled well on all terrain, and I found myself diving down gravel trails with a sense of total control.

Similarly in the mountains, the bike descended with stability, and the higher front end didn’t render it floppy or less responsive. 

Decision time

After spending a few weeks in the company of the C5, my impressions of it changed.

At first it seemed slightly undercooked to me – an all-road bike that didn’t seem to commit enough to off-road riding – but the more time I spent with it, the more I came to consider it an excellent solution to the problem of bringing performance road riding to a broader audience.

It offers an entry point to Cervélo’s extremely high-level engineering ability, but without requiring riders to contort themselves to the geometry of pro race bikes.  

Would I like to own a Cervélo C5 Dura-Ace Disc? Certainly.

Would I pay £6,199 for it? That’s a trickier question.

Model Cervelo C5 Dura-Ace Disc
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace 9000
Deviations Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc brakes,
Shimano ST-R685 shifters,
Rotor 3D+ BBright chainset
Wheels HED Ardennes LT Plus Disc wheels
Finishing kit FSA K-Force handlebar, stem and seatpost, 
Fizik Antares VS saddle
Weight 7.55kg (56cm)
Price £6,199


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