Several months ago, I had the opportunity to test ride the fully California-made and heavily lusted after Cervelo RCA. The limited-run model is an exercise in wretched excess; exotic materials, proprietary queues and handbuilt in America at a small manufacturing plant in Southern California. And at $10,000 for a frame, it was the dream bike that was always going to remain for many of us just that; a dream.
Just ahead of Eurobike, Cervelo debuts the new R5. And you’ll be forgiven if, on first glance, you mistake it for the RCA. If so, mission accomplished by the Canadian company; this new, Asia-produced model takes the learnings from the California, produces it at a greatly decreased cost in Asia and puts it on store showroom floors, at a comparative pittance.
Indeed, there are sacrifices that help bring costs down. The first is the absence of the 3M Nanovate application on the fork steerer. This nano-tech application created a level of strength and durability to the steerer—with much less weight—that added to the safety of the steerer/stem interface, which exists as a major area of high fatigue and impact stress. Cervelo reinforced the carbon steer with, well, more carbon in the R5 to meet the exceptionally high steerer impact and fatigue metrics Cervelo sets for itself. Also gone from the R5 is the use of some exotic (and very expensive) proprietary carbon fiber cloth that was used sporadically and focally in the bottom bracket area on the California model.
During development of the RCA, and as one would expect, the R5, there was a side benefit engineers discovered; aerodynamics. Engineers worked and reworked the Squoval3 shape in all the main tubesets and especially in the downtube, particularly with its lopped trailing edge. And as seen on the California, Cervelo engineers rotated the whip-thin seatstays into an ovalized shape that runs now as a thinner aero profile. Cervelo puts the aero advantage over its predecessor R5 at 7.4 watts at 50 kilometers per hour.
While ride quality was paramount when developing the RCA and by default, the R5, aerodynamics were an unintentional finding. And of all companies, who was Cervelo to give aerodynamics back? In fact they pursued its benefits.
“It’s like what we have on our website; what’s the tipping point?’ Cervelo co-founder Phil White told LAVA on site during its unveiling to the media last week. “When do you give up aero for weight? That was the goal with the California; to build aerodynamics into a bike without sacrificing weight. We met all our parameters in dropping weight and keeping stiffness—and then we made it more aero. We’re a bike company that prides ourselves in aerodynamics, so it’s important to us here.”
The end result is a frame that, at 808 grams comes in 140 grams heavier than the California. That established, it does come in 20 grams lighter than the R5 of a year ago, with a 15 percent increase in torsional stiffness.
The new R5 will price at half its California big brother at $5000. But the best value is in the complete bike offerings; $7,000 for a bike complete with Shimano 9000 mechanical or SRAM Red 22, or $9,000 outfitted with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9070.
Our test ride spanned both shores of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge; a jaunt out on the roads of both Stevenson, Wash. and near the foothills of towering, snow-capped Mount Hood, on some of the roads that serve the Mount Hood Cycling Classic.
While we couldn’t necessarily discern the aero side benefits on a mountainous climb, we did find the bike rides like a dream; sensitive without being twitchy, and certainly not resonant over chattery roads. It’s so well balanced, but that’s par for course; it’s a Cervelo, built in the spirit of the California, it’s not quite the performance level that the California represents, particularly with vertical stiffness. But it’s certainly done well in translating much of what it has in the RCA from a frame shape and materials layup standpoint and replicating the process in Asia; it was still snappy out of saddle and exiting corners, and carved turns with aplomb. For those that have long lusted after the California, this is a darned good substitute that gets you in the ballpark as ride experience goes.
You’ll find more on the new R5 at cervelo.com.