It was long the bike other brands copied and tested against. Now it’s taken on a whole new shape, geometry and price—all targeted at age group triathletes.
While many point to the Soloist aero road bike, or the Project California road bikes, there would be few to argue which bike model brought Cervelo a small triathlon company from Toronto its fame in the cycling market.
That bike was the P3. Tour de France time trials under Zabriskie. Olympic gold with Kristin Armstrong. Just last year, the P3 model alone had 252 bikes on the pier at the Hawaii Ironman—a number that would have won the count on its own, apart from adding its other models like the P2, P4 and P5. It was the bike most brands used as the baseline to test against in the tunnel. And with its signature curved seattube that covered the rear wheel, it was the bike that was most copied, however subtle or blatant.
But as technology advanced, many “superbikes” with integrated front ends and other aero cues were finally able to aerodynamically surpass the P3.
Last week, Cervelo debuted to the media the revamp of the P3 at a press event in Boulder Colorado. It’s a wholly redesigned beast that borrows many of the technologies it learned from the P5. Mixing many of those advantages, while removing some of the leading-edge technology (and at the same time making the bike easier to manage mechanically) makes for a new bike that’s more affordable than the P5, and certainly worthy of its name.
And that segue from a bike that brought the company so much of its notoriety leaves Cervelo CEO and co-founder Phil White with a bittersweet taste.
“That was a tough one,” White said of moving on from the old P3. “It’s an iconic shape and bike, and you have to recognize your heritage, but not be a slave to it. We’re not a tradition-bound company. Internally we asked ourselves, ‘do we tweak it slightly, or look more at what it should be in the future? We decided on the latter as opposed to being a slave to the past.”
White had the perfect analogy for what its newest bike in the fleet represents. “The P3 is accessible performance,” he said. “A lot of people call us the Ferrari of bikes, but we’re not Ferrari, which has a limited production; we’re Porsche. We’re trying to sell a lot of bikes that are high performance. The P3 is a premium product, at a premium value—you’re getting a better bike for your dollar.”
And with a new P3 that comes in quite close aerodynamically to the P5 for $5,400 complete? Yeah, we predict they’ll sell a lot of these bikes.
Bon voyage, curved seattube; it was great while it lasted.
Cervelo took its time to learn what worked and what didn’t on the P5 before it started in on the redesign of the P3. Fortunately, there wasn’t much on the P5 that didn’t work. The new P3 takes on whole new shapes, and certainly looks to the P5 for much of its inspiration. Elements like the a dropped downtube of the P5, and a truncation on the trailing edge are seen on the P3.
But the rest of the bike sees ease of use through standardization; instead of hiding integrated brakes, they’re in their traditional placements, at the front of the fork crown and the top of the seatstay junction.
And unlike the P5 with its integrated Aduro aerobar that melded with its 1 1/8 fork and cowled front brake cover, the P3 uses a standard open 1 1/8 fork with a carbon fiber steerer, and mates to it a standard stem and aerobar: the 3T Aura. Nothing tricky, but highly functional, and easy to use.
The seatstays have a horizontally-oriented L-bend shoulder as seen on the S5 road bike. The design allows for the Magura rear brake (location in its traditional location behind the seatstays instead of under the bottom bracket) to be fully faired by the stays as wind moves past it. White said the design, in concert with the svelte design of the Magura brake caliper, makes for drag numbers so small and inconsequential that White says they’re within the error parameters of the tunnel itself.
Like the P5, real-world utility is key, with bolts capable of receiving top tube-based nutrition boxes from brands like XLAB and Torhans, as well as potential for storage location at the seatube/downtube junction.
The new P3 employs the sliding seat rail seatpost head used on the P5 and is set up for future-proof cabling options, fully ready for mechanical, electronic and hydraulic systems. Cables port cleanly into the frame at the front of the top tube for minimal aero resistance.
Utilizing the wide-stance BBright platform, torsional stiffness goes up from its predecessor P3, while bottom bracket stiffness remained the same as before. While industry bottom bracket fatigue standards are set between 100,000 to 200,000 cycles, Cervelo testes to 1.6 million. “Strength isn’t sexy, but it sells,” White said.
Combined with a revamped geometry (see below), P3 is going to hit every possible consumer, big or small. And on that small side, Cervelo introduces a 650c 45cm frame, as well as a 700c 48cm frame. Sizes are as follows: 45 (650c), 48 (700c), 51, 54, 56, 58, 61cm.
White displayed a chart that indicated the just where in the grand scheme of the industry the P3 falls. “We segmented the super bikes at over $6000 and the rest of the bikes at under $6,000,” White said. Of those, Cervelo claims that the P3 is faster than any bike under $6000. And among the over-$6,000 “superbikes,” White says the new P3 “is better than all but two of them.” One of those bikes, White said, is, of course, the P5.
Finally, a P3 for the triathlete, and not just the cycling time trialist!
Certainly, while the P3 saw its fair share of success, it was without a doubt idealized for riders like Dave Zabriskie who motored it to his successes on CSC in short prologues. Its long toptube and low
But that design was the same reason Chrissie Wellington’s successes came not on a P3 but on a bike with a taller headtube: the P2. The less aggressive geometry lent itself better to riders who were out there for longer days (56 miles or 112 miles) and had something else to do after the bike ride: a run.
The new P3 now gets a more applicable geometry for distance triathlon, which it now shares with the P5: a slightly taller headtube, and a slightly shorter top tube. It’s another example of Cervelo catering to its true target consumer: the age group triathlete.
While it wasn’t a detailed test, we found out enough what we most wanted to know: how well it fit. While the old P3 was an aggressive beast that I would be good to ride for an Olympic, I’d always have eschewed it for a bike with a less aggressive front end for longer rides and races.
The new P3 solves for that with its P5-esque fit, which is ideal for us triathletes; aero enough, with excellent steering input and day-long comfort.
We’ve been big fans of hydraulic brakes when Magura debuted the RT 8 on the P5. While this version is with alloy levers instead of carbon fiber, the design and function is the same, with smooth braking requiring little manual input.
Riding along with the media were two Cervelo pro triathletes: American Mary Beth Ellis of TeamTBB and Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce. The two were also making their first voyage on the P3, and suffered the 11-degree F day after a few inches of snow and cold air swept through the Boulder area the previous day.
“If you’re an age grouper and you can’t afford the P5, then it’s nearly there aerodynamically,” Joyce said.
We’ll have to wait for a longer, warmer, hillier ride to determine stiffness, but in one short burst sprint effort (before the lungs seared in the thin Colorado air), we were able to tell that without a doubt, the bottom bracket is a huge improvement over the older bike. Again, considering the P3 incorporates so many design cues from the P5, this stands to reason.
Who’s going to like this bike? We submit that there may be a few P5 people that will look back at this bike, its integration—and its more reasonable price point—and wish they’d gone the P3 route…..but they will be few. A P5 consumer will have wanted the all-in aero benefits of the cowled front brake, features that make one of the fastest bikes on the planet.
But the sacrifices for an open brake in traditional spots is minimal. In fact, the lack of brake covers or crazy brake location makes for a more familiar experience for many triathletes who travel to races and pack their bikes, and simply want a fast bike without a lot of unfamiliar parts. The ability for the average age grouper to remove a stem faceplace, pedals and post, or service the brakes—without a lesson—will be a huge draw. Many triathletes aren’t that tech savvy; the P3 is going to be one of the fastest bikes available, but among them, certainly the easies to get your head around mechanically if you’re not a five-star bike wrench.
Ellis, a woman who’s more familiar with bike boxes and airports than most of us, echoed that sentiment after her ride. “It’s got all the performance of the P5 with all the usability of the P3 where it’s easy to take apart and travel with,” Ellis added. “It’s really the best of both worlds.”
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The new P3, specified with Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical groupset, a Magura RT6 TT hydraulic brakeset, a Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset, a Rotor 3D+ round crankset and an ISM Prologue saddle will price at $5,400 complete.
How long will we have to wait for ‘em? They’re literally moving today from shipping containers on U.S. soil to retails as we speak. North American Cervelo retailer will have supplies in days. All sizes runs are currently in production, but the initial size run availability in stores will be for 51, 54 and 56cm frames, with larger sizes (61cm, etc.) shipping in June.
Other spec levels as well as frameset options will be made available in the future, but no timetable has been provided.
Citing its utility for the TT set, the early version P3 will also remain in the line for the foreseeable future.
“IT’s been a very positive experience doing this relaunch of the P3,” White said. “I had to be distinctively Cervelo, and I think we achieved that goal.”
For more info on the new P3, visit cervelo.com