Cervélo Áspero

Just the bike for tak­ing on gravel races

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - re­viewed by An­dre Cheuk

Just the bike for tak­ing on gravel races

“I

t doesn’t mat­ter what bike you are rid­ing to­day,” Dan Mar­shall, the race di­rec­tor, said glee­fully. “You are go­ing to think you brought the wrong bike at some point on the course.”

I was wait­ing at the start line of El Ban­dito, among a cou­ple hun­dred rid­ers astride ev­ery­thing from canti-equipped ’cross bikes to full-on fat bikes. The 120-km course ahead of us com­prised choppy tar­mac, dirt and gravel roads, dou­ble­track and even sin­gle­track. Per­fect, I thought, for test­ing Cervélo’s new gravel racer, the Áspero.

One of the key ob­jec­tives for the Áspero, ac­cord­ing to Gra­ham Shrive, Cervélo’s di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing, was to main­tain the race-fo­cused char­ac­ter that the com­pany’s frames are known for. “We re­ally wanted to fo­cus in on rac­ing or fast rid­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, like the Dirty Kanza,” he said. The boxy and over­size tube shapes hint at re­spon­sive­ness un­der power. The geom­e­try is long and low, even longer and lower than the R5, Cervélo’s Grand Tour racer. There aren’t any sus­pen­sion or com­forten­hanc­ing fea­tures to speak of.

The pace at El Ban­dito was hot from the gun, ev­ery­one jock­eyed for po­si­tion and a clean line into the rocky de­scents that led us to the dou­ble­track. I man­aged to ne­go­ti­ate the rocky de­scent by go­ing to a less ob­vi­ous, but slightly rougher line, thanks to a bit of pre-race re­con and the nim­ble han­dling of the Áspero. I shot past the bot­tle­neck and got on to a group that I had no busi­ness be­ing in. Ro­tat­ing in the group on rolling ter­rain, rac­ing along dirt roads, the race-bred han­dling of the Áspero felt fa­mil­iar. It was like an R5, only with clear­ance for 44-mmwide tires (49-mm with 650b wheels).

I even­tu­ally lost touch with the group, which sucked but was also a re­lief. On the sin­gle­track-filled sec­ond half of the course, I was wor­ried the quick-han­dling Áspero would be a bit of a hand­ful on more tech­ni­cal ter­rain. Shrive and his team, how­ever, worked some alchemy here. The long reach of the Áspero paired with the rel­a­tively shorter stem mir­rored the de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern moun­tain bikes, which tend to favour a longer reaches to ac­com­mo­date shorter stems for bet­ter con­trol.

Ac­cord­ing to Shrive, af­ter in­tense dis­cus­sions at Cervélo about which wheel and tire size the Áspero should be de­signed for – 700c or 650b – the team picked both. With the Trail Mixer, an ad­justable in­sert at the fork dropout of­fers two trail op­tions. By al­ter­ing the trail, you can change the han­dling and feel of the front end. I ad­justed the Trail Mixer setup to the slower-han­dling set­ting, just to see how it felt. On 700c wheels, I found my­self carv­ing wider arcs. Once I put on a pair of 650b wheels, the steering tight­ened right back up again. The in­sert it­self is pretty easy to flip – just a sin­gle small bolt on each side – how­ever, the swap meant mov­ing the brake caliper to ac­count for the new wheel po­si­tion rel­a­tive to the fork.

Rac­ing can mean many things. For some, it means podi­ums. For most of us, an honourable fin­ish or just fin­ish­ing be­fore the cut­off of the event is hard enough. Re­gard­less of what you are rac­ing for, the Áspero de­liv­ers speed if you need it. Af­ter spend­ing sev­eral months aboard the bike – do­ing solo noo­dles, fast group rides and some gravel races like El Ban­dito – it is clear that Shrive and his team nailed their ob­jec­tive.

I was not rac­ing for the podium at El Ban­dito that day, just an honourable fin­ish. I man­aged to get it, just. Mar­shall was right about the chal­lenges the course presents, but he was wrong about one thing: I never thought I brought the wrong bike. In fact, I couldn’t think of an­other bike I’d rather have suf­fered on.

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