Cervélo R5 eTap
The latest incarnation in Cervélo’s R "Series, the new R5 comes with a racier geometry and, as Procycling’s Warren Rossiter discovers, it’s one of the best all- rounders out there
The all-new Cervélo R5 made its fullproduction debut at this year’s Giro d’Italia, and to great success, with Dimension Data’s Omar Fraile taking victory on stage 11 in Bagno di Romagna. The win made this iteration the latest in a long line of successful R-Series bikes.
The first of the R-Series’s success dates back to 2003 when Carlos Sastre and Tyler Hamilton were winning stages at the Tour de France riding the R2.5. Two years later Cervélo debuted the R3, before Fabian Cancellara won Paris-Roubaix with it in 2006.
The R-Series models are Cervélo’s grand tour bikes, and the R5’s all-round capability is designed for big climbs and high mileage days at fast speeds. Previous incarnations of the R5 have all come and gone, but each bike has centered on being lightweight and stiff. The idea behind the R5 is derived from Cervélo’s Rca frame, which weighed in at 667g and was only recently surpassed as the world’s lightest production frame by Trek’s new 640g Emonda, the bike ridden by Alberto Contador to his swansong stage victory on the Alto d’Angrilu at this year’s Vuelta a España.
The new bike isn’t designed to be the lightest on the market, though hitting the scales at 850g, it’s hardly a heavyweight. Instead, Cervélo have concentrated on improving the ride of the bike, so they’ve changed simple things. For example, they’ve increased the tyre clearance to enable a 28mm tyre on a wide rim with plenty of clearance (the previous version of the R5 only had clearance for 25s). They have also designed a seatpost with more flex.
Cervélo have also revised the bike’s geometry. With Dimension Data, they found their standard geometry meant that some pros who wanted a lower, more forward position were effectively sizing down, which could have a negative effect on stability and handling.
Cervélo started the transition to a new geometry standard with the revised version of the S5 bike in 2015, where the stack was reduced across the sizes to allow for a lower position. So now Cervélo will give you a pro fit (long and low) on the S5 and R5, with lower models having a more sport-focused shape.
For handling, Cervélo has looked at the trail, bottom bracket drop, wheelbase and chainstay length. Trail can be thought of as the tyre contact patch behind an imaginary line drawn through the head tube to the road. More trail adds stability and less makes it quicker to steer: the R gets a slightly reduced trail figure, giving it faster handling.
The bottom bracket drop has been reduced by 3mm to 72mm. Some of this change is to mitigate the increase in tyre sizes, but it also lowers the centre of gravity to give the bike a more balanced feel through corners. The chainstay length is set at 410mm and front centre is 594mm (on a 56cm frame) with a wheelbase of 993mm. The idea is to balance front and rear so that the bike feels nimble but not twitchy.
Straight from the gate, the R5 feels taut. Standing out of the saddle and stomping on the pedals is met with stunning acceleration; it feels like every ounce of your energy through the pedal stroke is pushing you forward, with no losses from flex through the frame. Where the bike really surprises though is
When the road turns downwards the R5 becomes a truly impressive bike. The steering responses are spot on
that for a chassis which feels this stiff it certainly doesn’t feel harsh. In fact, settle into the saddle and get up on the hoods and the R5 is sweetly smooth. The D-shaped carbon post with its long, laid-back head offers plenty of compliance, which you can actually feel. If you ride into a pothole or ridge in the road the comfortable Fizik Antares saddle shifts fore and aft as the seatpost absorbs the hit - it’s a weird feeling but not one that’s off-putting. It’s compliant, rather than harsh, which is what we’d have expected from older generations of the R-Series bikes.
The Sram eTap drivetrain works as well as we remember. Yes, the shifts seem a little longer and deliberate at the front than Shimano’s latest Di2 but we love the way that by removing the cables it gives the R5 a very clean appearance. The non-eTap bikes have cable routeing through the top tube - behind the stem, like the S-Series bikes - for aerodynamic reasons, but the sight of no cables at all looks far, far cleaner. We tested a Dura-Ace version of this bike over three days during the Giro in northern Italy in May, and this eTap version certainly looks cleaner and simpler, as looped-over cable routing can look a bit cluttered on the bike.
The wheels are Zipp’s new 302 carbon clinchers, which are the aero pioneers’ latest, more affordable aero wheel - though they are £1,300 a pair. The shape isn’t nearly as bulbous and blunt as their current 303 Firecrest design, and the much more toroidal shape and slimmer width is more akin to that of pre-Firecrest designs.
We were impressed with the tight build of the wheels. Their performance in some seriously windy conditions was confident, with little in the way of influence from crosswinds and just the occasional perception of pressure pushing the front wheel. Braking in the dry is firm and noisefree. However, they lack the feel given by the Showstopper brake track on pricier Zipp wheels. Their performance in wet weather was good but not great, as there was a slight lack of progressive feel when trying to modulate the speed rather than just stopping altogether.
The Continental Grand Prix 25mm tyres provide excellent grip whatever the weather, and while they’re not the best the brand has to offer, they still grip well, last well, roll well and offer decent puncture resistance
The new carbon bar is stiff and very well shaped. We like the way in which the aero, flat tops slightly kick back towards you, so when you’re on a long, extended climb and get into a rhythm on the tops your hand position is spot on, and not in the usual elbowsout style you get when the sweep is more forward.
Our only criticism is that the front end does occasionally feel solid, almost a little dead-feeling, like it’s bouldering over rougher surfaces rather than having a smoothly flowing, endurance bike style - like the one you get with Cervélo’s C-Series range. It’s a little at odds with the smoothness of the rear end. This is the result of a combination of the increased stiffness in the head tube and the stiff carbon bar. You could drop the PSI in the tyres a little, or switch up to a 28mm tyre instead (as the frame now accepts them) if you ride on particularly rough tarmac, and that would help sort it for a smoother ride.
Climbing on the R5 is a joy. The combination of the frame’s lightness and a great range of gears all encourage fast climbs, and the balance that the frame exudes means you’ll be able to get out of the saddle more readily. When the road turns downwards, the R5 becomes an even more impressive bike, a truly incredible ride. The steering responses are just spot on, and the ability to control the bike through weight shifts to hit the apex through a hairpin bend is among the best on a bike we’ve tested, and means the R5 is up there with some of our previous favourites, including Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo and Bianchi’s Specialissima.
The revised geometry which lowers the front end will appeal to those wannabe racers as well. We found the new shape was spot on, as it is not overly aggressive or low. However, if you do prefer the older style geometry the new version of the R3 uses it, or you could simply put 10mm of spacers under the stem of the new R5.
In all, the new Cervélo R5 is a great all-rounder bike - perhaps one of the greatest. It climbs brilliantly, descends like it’s on rails, and puts a huge grin on your face while you do it. Plus, its closest rivals that have a similarly high specification, such as the new Specialized Tarmac and Trek Emonda SLR9, are £1,200 and £1,650 more expensive respectively. Those savings would buy you a seriously good training bike so you could keep the R5 for your best rides.
The new racier geometry allows riders to get longer and lower for a more pro style ! it
Zipp’s 302 clinchers perform well in crosswinds, with good, though not great braking Pros The handling is so sweet it’s almost telepathic; climbs willingly Cons Front end can feel ‘hard’ on occasion; brake feel is not perfect