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Cervélo Áspero review

15 Feb 2021
Verdict:

Might be a little too aggressive for some, but it's the perfect fast-paced off-roader and gravel racer

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fast • Responsive • Stiff • Light
Against 
Marginally limited versatility

It’s not easy to define what a gravel bike is, or even what it should be. It’s a problem that has vexed Canadian brand Cervélo for a while now.

‘We bike manufacturers still really don’t know what you consumers are actually going to use these bikes for,’ says Cervélo’s global product manager, Phil Spearman.

‘The result is that most manufacturers think, “Let’s make something that can do everything beyond what a 700x28mm road bike can do.” But then all you end up with are bikes that don’t really excel at anything. That’s not what we wanted to deliver.’

Thus in developing the Áspero, Cervélo wanted to send a clear message about what the bike is, and most importantly, what it is not.

 

Race ready

‘If we look at gravel events, there’s this whole spectrum of riders from the person who rides with every bag known to humanity strapped on their bike right up to the racing snake who has basically just pinned a number on,’ says Spearman.

‘But bikes cannot be all things to all people. You have to make a decision about where you can deliver the best experience. For us that was always going to be towards the faster end.’

Cervélo’s tagline for the bike says it all: ‘Haul ass, not cargo.’ With that in mind, the Áspero’s frame has been stripped back as much as possible, targeting speed and minimal weight, which means it’s better suited to single-day events than it is to multi-day bikepacking tours.

That said, there is still a mount on the top tube – neatly concealed under a smooth rubber cover – for a top tube bag, plus a third water bottle mount on the underside of the down tube, although you won’t find any mudguard mounts or forks peppered with bolts.

A raw 56cm Áspero frame, Spearman claims, weighs well under 1kg, but Cervélo prefers to quote the weight as 1,100g to include paint plus accessories such as the rubber down tube and chainstay protectors (which are both exceptionally useful, I might add), and front mech blanking plate.

 

That’s still light for a gravel frame, and it explains why the complete bike on test here weighs a comparatively impressive 8.41kg, complete with deep section wheels and 40mm tyres.

The dimensions are another nod towards the Áspero’s speedy intents. The geometry is certainly aggressive for a gravel bike, with stack and reach values closer to Cervélo’s S3 and S5 aero road models than its more relaxed C-series endurance road bikes.

Buy the Cervélo Áspero now

Speed fiend

Spearman suggests that this is deliberate. An extra 10mm has been worked into the top tube length (there’s a 575mm top tube on this 56cm frame) and a shorter 90mm stem has been specced accordingly.

The thinking, he explains, is twofold: firstly to elongate the front-centre (distance from the bottom bracket to front wheel axle); secondly to position the rider’s mass more centrally between the wheels. Both should improve stability off-road and at speed.

 

Unusually, given the company’s history of wind-tunnel-developed bikes, Cervélo makes no specific aero claims for the Áspero. However, the tube shapes are clearly influenced by the brand’s known-to-be-fast road models and are therefore likely to be contributing on some level to speed and performance.

Taking all this into account, it came as little surprise to me that whenever I was on the bike, be it on or off-road, there was always a sense I was covering ground quickly.

The frame’s stiffness is unmistakable and the combination of low weight and solidity is the foundation of the Áspero, with the aim of delivering efficient acceleration and agile handling. Speaking of handling…

Playing with trail

A key feature of the Áspero is what Cervélo calls the ‘Trail Mixer’. It’s an insert in the fork (not unlike the one in the previous GT Grade review) that makes it possible to switch the fork offset between 46mm and 51mm to maintain equal trail when different wheel and tyre sizes are used.

Spearman explains, ‘Changing wheel and tyre size will alter the bike’s geometry and trail, and that will be noticeable to the ride characteristics if you don’t take steps to correct it.’

 

I did the maths, and sure enough the Trail Mixer allows a near identical trail (62-63mm) for three distinctly different setups: 700x28mm road (with a 46mm offset), 650bx47mm (46mm offset) and 700x40mm (51mm offset) – the latter being the setup the bike came supplied with. Still with me? In simple terms, the bike should handle the same way whichever wheel/tyre configuration you choose.

Buy the Cervélo Áspero now

As a test I did three back-to-back rides using each of the three setups. Perhaps the least surprising result came in its most road-going guise (700x28mm), where the Áspero delivered a ride feel worthy of a top-level race bike.

It felt quick to accelerate, it held speed well and handling was surefooted enough that I’d have no qualms using it for a crit race. But that’s not really where the Áspero should shine. It is, after all, a gravel bike.

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The Áspero continued to impress on some of my more committed off-road circuits, with that same underlying efficiency and speed always present.

Where I found myself most pleasantly surprised was with the way the bike dissipated more of the knocks over rough ground than I was expecting. Given its frame stiffness – even its name is taken from the Latin word for rough – I was preparing myself for a fairly harsh ride, but it never came.

 

It’s not quite as forgiving as a Specialized Diverge or Cannondale Topstone, but then it doesn’t have any shock absorbers or flexy bits. Yet somehow it managed to be not too jarring on rutted trails, which spurred me to push it faster through singletrack trails than I would have thought possible.

Buy the Cervélo Áspero now

The Áspero might be Cervélo’s first venture into off-road territory, but I think it’s a resounding success. I would be equally happy riding it on the road, racing cyclocross, tackling an epic event like Dirty Kanza or just taking it for a day out along the South Downs Way.

It’s undeniably a racy bike and it will be most suited to one-day gravel events. Admittedly that’s still quite a niche scene in the UK, but it’s growing rapidly and, if you’re transitioning from racing on the road and want a similar experience on gravel, the Áspero will not disappoint.

Spec

Frame Cervélo Áspero
Groupset Sram Force eTap AXS 1x
Brakes Sram Force eTap AXS 1x
Chainset Sram Force eTap AXS 1x
Cassette Sram Force eTap AXS 1x
Bars Easton EC70 AX   
Stem Easton EA90 alloy
Seatpost Easton EC70
Saddle Prologo Dimension NDR
Wheels DT Swiss GRC 1650 Disc, Donnelly X’Plor MSO 700x40mm tyres
Weight 8.41kg (size 56)
Contact cervelo.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Price: 
£5,399