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Cervelo R5 review

9 Jan 2018

Cervelo’s flagship steed gets a serious makeover, and the result is a fast and versatile World-class racer

Cyclist Rating: 
Stiff, light, stunning and thoroughly well tuned for handling on descents and technical corners
A little more system integration of wheelsets and tyres could push this to the level of the world’s very best

Cervélo is no stranger to innovation. From the days when founders Gerard Vroomen and Phil White created the otherworldly Baracchi TT bike as their college graduation project, the brand has been at the cutting edge of design and performance, and the R5 has traditionally set a benchmark for what’s possible in terms of weight.

But these days its competitors are matching it for lightness, so Cervélo has had to rethink its approach to its flagship.

‘Ongoing feedback means that when it’s time to update a product, we have a list of concerns we want to address,’ says Philip Spearman, product manager at Cervélo.

‘For this version of the R5, we knew that we wanted to prioritise stiffness, handling, fit and usability.’

That’s an interesting list. Usually when we receive a new bike, its maker boasts of improved weight, comfort and aerodynamics, but Cervélo has gone for raciness.

‘To address the variability in fitting demands, we deviated from the traditional “Elite” fit and lowered the stack by 8mm to offer an option to those riders who need a lower hand position in what we call “Pro” fit,’ says Spearman.

‘But to avoid alienating those riders who liked our previous fit, we lowered the stack along the steering axis as well as the BB drop. So installing 8mm of spacers moves the R5 Pro fit back to our traditional Elite fit.’

Put simply, Cervélo has lowered the front end, offering the potential for a more aggressive riding position.

But this has been met by a lowering of the bottom bracket, meaning the rider’s centre of mass is lower too, which should result in the R5 being more stable.

In a move to further improve stability, Spearman claims the manufacturer has placed a lot of importance in ‘matching front trail and rear trail’.

The latter is a new concept to us – what with the rear wheel not having a steering axis – but Spearman assures us that it really does exist.

While the science of rear trail and its effects on a bike’s performance are mind-bendingly complex, a reduction in trail at the front thanks to an increased fork rake, with a corresponding increase in chainstay length at the rear are more straightforward.

The old wisdom once suggested that longer chainstays meant for a flexier rear end, but Cervélo claims the new R5 has an increase of 20% ‘torsional’ stiffness and 15% bottom bracket stiffness, all for the same weight.

So, in summary, the R5 is longer, lower and stiffer than its predecessor. Does that make it better?

Working stiff

From the first pedal stroke the Cervélo R5 had the responsiveness of a WorldTour frame. I immediately found it offered feedback from the road, coupled with an extremely efficient transfer from power to speed.

In terms of fit, the shorter head tube wasn’t as noticeable as I thought it might be. While it’s 13mm shorter than before (151mm for this 56cm), it’s tempered by the lowering of the BB from a 68mm drop to a 72mm drop.

I didn’t feel like the front end was too low – for me, it seemed to sit in an endurance racer sweet spot.

From the second I slung my leg over the frame, the position seemed to just work, while the geometry complemented that low-slung position with a sharp but stable handling quality.

I found myself flying down descents at alarming speed, and had to check my enthusiasm at times. That caution was also a consequence of the liveliness of the rear end, though.

From the outset, I found the rear of the bike bounced aggressively and unpredictably beneath me on rougher road surfaces.

It’s a consequence of all that added stiffness, and the price you pay for improved speed and acceleration.

To soften the back end, I had to reduce tyre pressure slightly, but thankfully the new R5 can accept 28mm tyres, which takes care of some of the comfort issues.

Happily, considering the fact that the increase in stiffness hasn’t increased its weight, the bike feels as light as its predecessor, with the same responsiveness on the road.

At the same time it’s a very different bike to the old R5, which tended to soften the road slightly more, and even have a certain dead feeling to it.

While aerodynamics weren’t near the top of Spearman’s lengthy list of priorities, the redesigned ‘Squoval’ tube shapes and D-shaped seat tube have certainly played some part in reducing its drag compared to the previous generation.

The bike comes together as a thoroughly fast package. It’s never quicker than when descending, where the tuning of the frame around stability and handling has paid off in bounds.

It feels thoroughly well seated but every bit nimble enough to take corners at speed.

Yet despite all of its various merits, the Cervélo R5 doesn’t leap ahead of the competition as it once did. It’s a very well rounded endurance racer, but it’s got some very stiff competition.

I found it hard to isolate what exactly makes the Cervélo stand out from the likes of the top-level Trek Émonda or the Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

It’s not specifically lighter, faster or better handling than its rivals, and it’s a little on the harsh side.

That said, despite being shod with incredibly pricey Enve 3.4 wheels, the R5 is considerably cheaper than the competition – £2,000 less than the top Émonda or Tarmac, and in a similar bracket to Canyon’s top-spec direct-to-market bikes.

Cervélo’s new R5 is certainly a step on from its previous R5, which itself set a pretty high benchmark.

Is it the best bike on the market? No – but it’s not far off. And despite its hefty pricetag, it actually represents excellent value for a thoroughly world-class bike.

Buy the Cervelo R5 now from Evans Cycles


Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9150
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9150
Chainset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9150
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9150
Bars Cervelo AB06
Stem Cervelo
Seatpost Cervelo Carbon SP18
Saddle Fizik Antares R5
Wheels Enve SES 3.4
Weight 6.65kg (size 56cm)

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