Ae-Road Rules: Cervelo Tour-debuts the S5
What will the newest aero road bike mean to triathletes?June 29, 2011
As a bike aficionado, the year 2003 sticks out. That’s the year Cervelo, a small Canadian tri bike manufacturer that managed to wrangle its way onto a ProTour road team, created a groundswell with the introduction of one bike: The Soloist. As sponsor to Team CSC, the aluminum Soloist—a road bike comprised of NACA-shaped aero tubing—became a favorite of the markedly tech-progressive team. A few years in, one ornery Germany rode a carbon fiber version alone in brazen attacks, helping the bike truly earn its title as a breakaway ace.
That Soloist was the first aero road bike. We now know those were the butterfly wings that started a hurricane. At the time, European traditionalists scoffed at such a design. But Cervelo co-founders Phil White and Gerard Vroomen knew something the “old technology purists” didn’t; aerodynamics mattered.
Eventually, the market came around. Today, aero road bikes are de rigueur among roadies.
A few years ago, we spent time with Thor Hushovd at the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel, as the powerful Norwegian and former Tour de France green jersey winner was aero-tested aboard his then-groundbreaking Soloist SL in the tunnel, on the hoods, in the drops, and out of saddle in a simulated sprint. While most manufacturers at the time were placing their athletes in the wind tunnel aboard time trial bikes, White and Vroomen thought differently. Again, even on a road bike—aerodynamics absolutely mattered.
The last few years have seen the Soloist evolve into the S1, S2 and S3 bikes; a variation on the Soloist, with cleaner cable integration, and a greater emphasis on ride quality, particularly stiffness. The attention to aerodynamics and function created a bike that was nice to be sure (a statement we can back—this editor owns a Cervelo Soloist as part of his small personal collection and it remains a favored ride).
Given White and Vroomen’s dogged focus on tech advancement, it comes as no surprise that the duo from Toronto, Ontario today debut a new aero road bike that actually seems on its face to set a new paradigm: the new S5.
“If there’s one thing that’s at the core of Cervelo’s DNA, it’s pushing the envelope in an effort to make the most aerodynamically efficient bikes possible,” White says. “With the S5, we’ve created the fastest road bike available, but we’ve also worked incredibly hard to engineer incredible stiffness and ride quality into the frame.”
This S5 will make its debut this weekend with its Garmin-Cervelo squad at the Tour de France. LAVA will be present at Passage du Gois on France’s west coast to cover the debut of this absolutely triathlon-relevant ride, as well as test it on the roads of France. We’ll have a chance to speak with Cervelo staff, as well as Team Garmin-Cervelo riders to discuss the design cues in detail. But here’s what we do know:
While there are several aero road bikes on the market, even at first look the S5 stands as a unique offering. The comparatives are obvious, a visual marriage of the Cervelo’s flagship time trial bike, the P4 and its top previous aero road bike offering, the S3, blending the S3’s front end with several features—most notably the compacted aft—of the P4.
The downtube is an area of interesting note. Most obvious is that as it moves downward from the headtube to the bottom bracket the tube’s trailing edge transitions from a teardrop to a blunted trailing edge.
Also of note on that downtube is the use of three bottle bosses—instead of the standard two—presumably for a high or low bottle cage location. Cervelo’s initial media release states that the design is built for optimization with bottles. We’ll find out what that means.
The cues from the P4 are undeniable. The fork crown as it melds with the dropped downtube, for improved aerodynamics. The smooth transition from downtube across the BBright bottom bracket to the seat tube. The wide-stance and horizontally anchored seatstays.
And of course, a curved cutout. Heretofore, aero road bikes like the Felt AR have done a cowled rear wheel, but none to the degree of the S5, which best mimics … well, a time-trial bike.
Like the S3, the frame runs a stiff compact geometry, with an internal cable porting for the front and rear derailleurs at the front of the top tube. At first glance, it does not seem to run Cervelo’s ICS3 internal cable stops, which on bikes like the P4 and S3 were located on the lateral sides of the downtube near the headtube.
The bottom bracket is true to form with Cervelo’s quiet attention to functional detail. The juncture between downtube, BBright bottom bracket and seat tube is a stout one. Cervelo says the use of the BBright bottom bracket creates a drivetrain platform with 12 percent greater stiffness than found on the S3,
Of interest is the fact that integrated brakes are eschewed, in favor of a standard front and rear brake caliper setup.
Fit geometry is reportedly a mirror of the S3, with a 73-degree head angle. While our supplied info doesn’t specify it, that would likely include a 73- and 76-degree seat angle option with the aero seat post clamp fixed in the after or fore position, respectively.
As always, Cervelo proved its design in the tunnel with testing at the University of Washington Kirstin Tunnel in Seattle (with baseline tunnel speed at 30 miles per hour and rider speed set at 25 miles per hour). To date (that being their most recent test in May), Cervelo claimed the fastest aero road bike to be the S3, and as Cervelo says, the new S5 smashes that previous benchmark. Cervelo says the new design of the S5 carves 36.8 seconds off a 40k effort, a savings of nearly a second per kilometer.
Power was dropped with 9.2 watts saved (or 92 grams of drag saved across the frame) when compared to the S3, Cervelo says. Frame weight is claimed at 990 grams, including frame, fork, paint and all metal parts.
The first crack at racing it will come with the Garmin-Cervelo squad, namely the team’s sprinter, Hushovd, who seems rapt with the new bike. “We’ve been shown all the test data on the S5, but I don’t need that,” Hushovd says. “I can feel it’s the fastest and most agile road bike I’ve been on.”
So the next logical questions is, what are the complete bike kit options, and when can I get mine? An ultra-clean Shimano Di2 version will price at $9,000 complete. One spec’ed with SRAM’s Red group will cost $7,500.
Further down (and certainly of great interest with its debut) will be the S5 Team frame, kitted with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 version, retailing at $6,000. The S5 Team frame outfitted with Shimano’s standard Ultegra group will price at $4,800, and the S5 with Rival will cost $3,800.
Availability is, well, now. July 1 is the when Cervelo dealers worldwide can get your order in.
So what does this new bike mean to triathletes? A lot more than you might think.
When Cervelo debuted the Soloist years ago, the gears ticked as we considered the triathlon-related possibilities, and those anticipations were well founded; today, you’ll find many dedicated tri bikes, but you’ll also find a great range of road bikes (and versatile aero road bikes, at that) in the age-group transition racks.
Of course, ITU pros began making them their go-to weapon, but even for age-groupers, the value of having an aero road bike is apparent. In fact, most triathletes ought to have a road bike for off-season base training. There’s a rule of specificity and some top coaches may disagree, but we just don’t think there’s a need to be bent over your aerobars while doing long slow distances or a casual group rides with friends in the dead of winter.
And with the growing propensity for challenging triathlon bike courses (see TriStar Monaco, Escape from Alcatraz, Savageman, and the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon as prime examples), there’s clear value in having an aero road bike that will see actual race action. With greater climbing geometry than a tri bike, mixed with aero advantage for flatland sections, the advantage is apparent. You can have your cake and eat it too.
As many answers as we’ve been provided, some is conjecture on our part, and we’re sure there are going to be more questions when we get our first look in person at the S5. Check in here at lavamagazine.com for chats with Cervelo staff (including lead race engineer Damon Rinard), a test ride report more on the pre-Tour debut of the Cervelo S5.