Cervelo R3 SL
While Carlos Sastre was
riding his R3 SL to victory in the 2008 Tour de France I was riding Bob
Cabot's around the coast of Jersey. I didn't have a yellow
jersey and Sastre doesn't have a dodgy accent (for our global audience
listen to the Beatles talking!) but the one thing we did have in
common was a bike of supreme quality.
Where do we start? Weight?
The first thing that anyone does when they see someone else's bike (well
they do in Jersey) is pick it up. What does it weigh? In
this day and age, who cares. My first race bike weighed 26lb, my
second 22. Now those were the days of weight saving!
Cervelo don't publish the
weight of their frames; but I'll tell you now they're bloody light!
This was the lightest bike I've ever ridden and it wasn't particularly
that tricked up. Even with a PowerTap wheel in place it still came
in under the UCI limit of 6.8 kilos.
first thing that grabs you about the R3 SL is those impossibly thin
seat stays. What's all that about?
It appears that they're only
there to provide a hanger for the rear brake calliper. And to be
honest, it's not that much of a hanger; they are so thin.
Due to the monstrous
strength of the squoval chain stays the seat stays can be trimmed down
to the minimum required to provide a brake mounting. The added
benefit of this is that compliance can be engineered in to their
compression to allow for a comfortable ride without sacrificing strength
or back end comfort.
The urban myth has it that
the frame doesn't need seat stays because the chain stays are that
strong. They really do look the part but it's not just their
external beefiness that gives them strength.
You'll have noticed the
phrase "squoval tubing" appear above. Yep, it's another of the
fancy marketing, made up, terms that plague our sport like it does my
daytime job. IT I'm afraid!
Squoval tubing has gone through the design process of
maximising the strength to weight ratio of each particular tube
depending on the application to which it is being put and the forces
acting on it. Round tubes are good, but square tubes are best.
However, square tubes don't like forces acting on them in a certain
plane because they can easily buckle.
Different forces acting on
the same materials give different results dependent on the direction of
that force. Seems highly complicated but here's a demonstration
even my mum would understand.
Get a drinking straw and
holding it like a magic wand, hit it over the back of your hand, as hard
as you possibly can. A slight tickle. Please don't do this
next bit! If you were to hold it like a dagger and place your
thumb over the hole at the top, then stab it in to the back of your
hand, there's a chance it would penetrate the skin.
See; different planes of
force, same materials two very different results. Back to the
The top tube is pretty much
the same, squarish at the two ends to resist lateral forces and ovalish
in the middle to resist torsional loads. If all this wasn't
enough, there's Smartwall design engineering going on to further enhance
the tubing properties. High and ultra-high modulus carbon fibre is
placed at the furthest points from the centre of the tubes to further
resist lateral forces.
The bottom bracket area on
Cervelo's has to be the biggest of any of the bike manufacturers on the
market. It's huge beyond all comprehension. And the R3 SL's
is no different. All these squoval tubes feed in to the area so
it's no surprise it has to bulk out to manage and distribute the forces.
I've held one of these
frames, bare, straight out of the box. The frame tubes look huge
when there's no kit hanging off them. But as soon as you hold it
in your hands, you cannot believe that this featherweight frame could be
built in to a bike to support a rider's weight.
The box it came in was
heavier, but I wouldn't like to descend a mountain pass on it. The
biggest issue you have with a Cervelo is that how can anything so light
be strong enough to cope in a competitive environment. Let's find
Seeing as Cancellara and O'Grady have taken the SL's bigger
brother, the R3, to two victories and a second place in Paris Roubaix we
shouldn't be overly concerned about the R3 SL's ability to do the job.
Especially as Cancellara is no lightweight at 80 kilos. So that's
that issue cleared up.
rode the bike with Campag Record and Zipp 404's hanging off it.
And it was evident before I left the drive, that this was going to be a
good day. The lightness of the bike was immediately evident.
I was planning a quiet recovery ride after a three hard week
training/sportive block. But as soon as I'd warmed up I felt I had
to find a hill to test out this featherweight climber.
The term "climber" doesn't
do the bike justice. The ride was firm but comfortable, no doubt
that's the spindly seat stays, but the whole bottom and back end just
felt as one unit. Hard accelerations and sprints out of the saddle
showed no sign of lower end movement, which is as you would expect from
an old vet riding a pro's mount.
The massive front end, with
it's boomerang build (the carbon fibres run seamlessly from top to down
tube) make for a lively ride. This bike feels like it will turn 90
degrees in it's own length! I'll stop short of saying it was
nervous but you need to be in complete control of your thoughts all of
Stay on your game otherwise
you could find yourself drifting off line or turning too tight in to the
corner and hitting the apex. It really is that light and lively.
To be honest I'm not sure I'd enjoy doing a seven hour
sportive on it, but for a crit or a road race there's few bikes better
equipped for the rigours of racing. It will change direction in
the blink of an eye.
The compact frame design
just enhances the feeling of flightiness from the frame. It feels
and looks like there is nothing between your legs; where have I heard
You look where you want to
go, you dip your shoulder and you breath on the bars and the bikes
already where you want to be. Make sure you have your wits about
you if doing an Alpine descent on this bike because it will catch you
out. It's that fast at changing direction.
The 3T Funda Pro front fork
was clean, solid and showed little sign of flex or twisting. But
on my, "don't brake and hang on" corner test, the Cervelo did drift
about six inches wide. It could have been flex in the wheels. But
when quickly changing direction when climbing out of the saddle, I
couldn't get the wheels to flex again.
So the conclusion is; when
pushed to the limit, which most people won't, the fork does appear to
give a controlled run wide at the front. Nothing a bit of front
end braking wouldn't bring under control, but try as I might I couldn't
physically pull it back under the line it wanted to take.
Frame stiffness is a
relative concept anyway. The forks may appear to flex because the
back end is so solid. It may just be that the front is less stiff
than the back. All those lateral cornering forces have to go
somewhere and the solid middle, attached to the girder like chainstays
means the frame ain't going to absorb any of it. But strangely none
of it is fed back to the rider as road vibration.
When sprinting, climbing,
cornering and braking you can just forget about the back end. The
back just looks after itself. No drama, no fuss, no worrying about
positioning yourself correctly over the back wheel, seat post, bottom
bracket area, as appropriate to what you are doing at the time.
You just stand and stamp on the pedals. What you do have to watch
is the front end. As I said before, it's a lively little beast but
then speed always has a price. You wouldn't want to do the school
run in an F1 car.
Cervelo produce six sizes that they believe, due to ingenious
geometry manipulations, covers twelve sizes of "normal" manufacturers.
Who am I to dispute it, everyone who has one is more than pleased with
So there you have it.
The fastest, lightest bike out there? To be honest, it's not as
comfy as my Colnago Extreme-C and it
wasn't "as together" as the Felt F1
recently tested. But as an out and out race bike that climbs,
sprints and corners with the best of them there can be little equal.
Pound for pound the R3 SL punches way above it's feather light
weight. It does all things well, and lightness better than most.
Speak to them nicely at Pedal Power or check out their
53x39 website as they have them in stock for £2,045, not
cheap but look at the value not the cost!
This year Cycling weekly had
the Felt F1 and the Cervelo R3 SL as the top two in their Race bike of
the year tests. Either one of them is a winner, as with all things
this good, it's down to personal choice. If in doubt just flip a
coin, you wont be disappointed either way.
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bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.