By James Haycraft
It is hard to describe the excitement that a new bike can bring to your life. Running your hands along its sleek shapes and marveling at the “newness” of such a machine brings much joy into anyone’s life, especially someone that rides bikes. It was with those feelings that I welcomed the first road bike into my life on my 18th birthday, circa 2003. At the time, my bike represented a good couple-of-steps-above-entry-level quality; it boasted Shimano Ultegra, an aluminum frame with carbon stays and fork.
Fast forward to 2012; I was still riding said bike and nine years of hard riding had long ago taken their toll. It was time to begin anew. Time to feel the excitement of a new road bike destined for glory. Cue the Cervelo S5.
Cervelo has long been an innovator in the field of bike design. They like to think of themselves as a bunch of dorky engineers who happen to build very good bikes. Having met many of the Cervelo employees, it is true. Their knowledge of aerodynamics, geometry, carbon lay-up, and pretty much everything else involved in bike design and manufacturing is astounding. They began the aero road bike trend long ago and have improved upon their design with each new iteration of frame style. The S3 was touted as the most aerodynamic road bike available on the market. Cervelo took what they learned from the design of the P4/S3 along with carbon manufacturing processes learned in their California facility’s production of the R5Ca frames (the lightest road frame in the world) into consideration when designing the S5.
At first glance, the S5’s looks definitely are a bit of a shock. It looks like the P4 and S3 blended together. The front end is remarkably different from any road bike yet seen and the back half follows similarly.
It’s obvious that form follows function on this bike. Everything has been designed with aerodynamics in mind, from the dropped downtube to the shielded rear brakes and everything in between. This bike has one purpose: to go fast.
Looking at the bike from the front or rear, it’s almost as thin as paper (yes, exaggeration, but the point remains) and the cables are extremely well hidden in the frame (especially if you use Ultegra or Shimano Di2). The bike will certainly turn heads, although not always positively. Fans of traditionally shaped and sculpted road bikes will likely cry foul upon seeing the S5 for the first time. Luckily, looks are a completely individual feeling and others’ opinions have no bearing on your bike, especially when you’re usually ahead of them on the S5.
Cervelo claims significant savings (in terms of demand watts) over the previously fastest-in-the-world S3. They can talk all they want but what really matters is how it “feels” in real-world situations.
Out of the box, this bike blows away anything I’ve previously ridden. While feelings are subjective, I’m a fairly experienced bike rider and I’m not sure anything currently on the market feels quite the same as the S5. It’s extremely stiff, but not harsh. It has a good bit of vertical compliance, and rolls over bumps and bad spots in the roads with very little chatter. The taller-than-normal headtube, while very narrow for aerodynamic purposes, is still very stiff (although not as stiff as the R5). Many criticized Cervelo for producing a bike with such a tall head tube, but in most cases this is beneficial for riders. It is much better, aerodynamically speaking, to have a nicely sculpted head tube hit the clean air versus having un-aero spacers plowing forward. This theme is present across all areas of the bike.
The rear seat stays effectively shield the rear brakes, the seat tube cutout hides the majority of the rear wheel, and the bottle bosses have multiple positions allowing for various configurations with the goal of producing the most aerodynamic setup possible.
It shows on the road. When I am riding intervals on this bike with my forearms horizontal and hands on the hoods (the most aerodynamic position on a road bike, not in the drops) I am flying. In this position I very closely mimic my time trial position, minus a few angle and arm position differences, and the result is that man plus machine equals very fast.
This bike is an absolute blast to ride. It’s stiff without being overtly so, it’s fast enough to make me consider putting aero bars on it and racing time trials and triathlons, and I personally love the way it looks. It’s different enough to really stand out in a crowd of nice bikes – something that has not always been true with Cervelos and triathlons – and shows itself off nicely under a good rider. It’s a great bike to own if you are a triathlete and can wrap your head and/or your wallet around only one bike for two reasons: first, because of its aerodynamics and multiple geometries available on one bike, and second, because of its wide array of model options. From as low as $3,800 to as high as $9,000 this bike can find a place in any stable.
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James Haycraft is the bike manager at Inside Out Sports in Charlotte. He is beginning his rookie year as a professional triathlete and his fourth year of racing. Born and raised in New Orleans, schooled in Virginia, he now calls Charlotte home. Look for him out at the races and say hi; he is a huge dork and loves to talk about training, racing, and life!