Cervelo R3 – the ultimate choice
Let me preface this by saying that I did NOT try every bike known to man. Sure I tried a few – from Specialized, Bianchi, Fuji, Kestrel, Cannondale... But I did not try any Trek bikes. I did not try and Giant bikes. I know that they make some fine bikes, but I was after something a little different. Of course, the final choice ended up being a relatively well known/commonly ridden bike, but I am happy that it is more of a ‘boutique’ brand bike, rather than one from ‘the big four’.
The key criteria for a new carbon bike was this:
1) Responsiveness – It needed to feel efficient and ‘excite’ me when I put the hammer down. Who knows – maybe I’ll try my hand at racing in the next year or two!?
2) Comfort – No more numb nethers – My aluminium bike, while nice enough, isn’t really gran fondo material. And Gran Fondos are the thing I’m looking at doing more of in the future
3) Components – at least 105, at most ultegra – whatever a max price of $2600 (with tax) can get me. This also covers the point about the budget
The bike I initially went out to try and buy was a Bianchi Infinito. The LBS had one in celeste (a MUST if one is to buy a bike from Bianchi) – which I tried, and liked. However I did not feel that it had much more responsiveness than my Fuji Roubaix bike (which, for the record, is a great bike). It looked good though, it was smooth to ride, and the slightly more upright position was comfortable.
I was then handed the R3. I liked the look of the new Cervelo R3’s (Silver) – which many have denounced, but it reminded me of those beautiful BMWs or Mercedes in arctic silver. Tres classy. Anyway, I tried out the Ultegra version of the R3, which was fantastic. It felt ‘engineered’. As an engineer myself, I feel qualified to make that statement! Stiff in the right places, and comfy where you’d want it to be. I’d found my new ‘this is the epitome of bikes’ – the ‘10/10’ . The 3900 price tag, however, was too rich for my blood. The 105 version was there, but again, I wanted to look at other options before being tempted to buy it.
I was also handed a Specialized Tarmac (on special for $2000 with 105 components) – but I’ve never felt a bike so lacklustre. I know many like them and ride them, but for me, it felt numb and heavy. End of test – a 5/10 bike (considering the price/performance ratio!).
On my extended ride around the Adirondacks in upstate New York, I happened upon a Fuji dealer where I tried both a Kestrel Legend Ultegra and a Fuji Altamira 2.0. The Kestrel didn’t excite me, but the Altamira had much of the ride quality of the Cervelo – perhaps a little more comfortable, but a little less ‘exciting’. Still good though – an 8.5/10 for sure (Bianchi = 6/10, Kestrel = 5/10). The price was right (at 1800 for the ultegra equipped bike), though the 55cm size didn’t fit me.
I found myself back home in Boston teetering between the two bicycles – the Altamira and the R3. One was about $800 cheaper for not that much less bike, the other was my holy grail of bikes. Also, the LBS who retail the Cervelos was fantastic about fitting me on one, sending me out for extended rides (in one case suggesting I take it back for a weekend to try out – FANTASTIC service). But I waited – my budget was still blown (JUST) by the 105 equipped R3 bike.
The week before I put the deposit down on the R3, I tried two cannondales – a 105 (and ultegra) equipped Cannondale Supersix and a Cannondale Synapse. You would be hard to tell the difference in BB stiffness between the two bikes – they both were fantastic in response to power. The synapse felt slightly smoother, though. The higher headtube did not make much difference to how the ride felt. In fact, I was hard pressed to notice the difference in height. But the back end of the synapse was fantastic – similar to the Altamira in many ways. The Synapse became my number 2 bike – 9/10. The supersix had vintage awesomeness – but was a bit harsh to ride. I would give that one an 8.5/10.
The week after I decided to see if the 105 version of the Cervelo was a) available and b) if any of the ride quality was diminished by the lower spec group (read wheels, not the 105 groupset – I fail to see too much difference between the two at this point in my cycling journey). Turns out they had one, and they were having a sale - $300 off the 105 equipped bike. That was certainly within my budget! I tried it out. Bought it. Here is what I thought of the bike itself:
1) Responsiveness – Yes, the bike was somewhat numbed by the wheels. But get up off the saddle and put some real power down and that thing GOES! You can tell how light it is off the bat – light enough that I lifted the front wheel off the ground when I sat in the saddle and pushed down hard! Fantastic.
2) Comfort – The seat stays do an EXCELLENT job of damping the vibration. No it’s not marketing hype. I would even err on the side of saying it was TOO damped. Of course, potholes would jar right through the bike (it is a stiff bike, after all), but what bike would have that happen?
3) Groupset – 105s are great – shifters, cables, breaks and mech. ‘Nuff said. The crank – I see many people moan about the BBright Gossamer crank, but I’ll be fully honest – I think it’s stiffer and more responsive than the ultegra crank I tried on different bikes. I will eventually upgrade the groupset on the bike to full ultegra (the 2013 11 speed version), but I’ll be thinking hard about whether I would need the new ultegra crank. Of course, there may or may not be BB issues in terms of getting the Shimano crank into a BBright BB, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
4) Looks – Important. Love the silver, white and grey. I feel like it’s a bit nicer than the ultegra silver red and grey, but each to his/her own. Mine also had the full 3T kit rather than the FSA SLK. I don’t know if there would be much difference between the brands, but I like the 3T stuff that’s on my R3.
I ended up exchanging the stock R501 wheels for Mavic Aksiums. I did not have the cash to upgrade to Ksyriums at the time, and had read bad things about the R500s (while mostly good things about the Aksiums). Also, I DID feel a difference between Shimano RS10s and Mavic Aksiums while doing my cannondale trial – the ride felt more responsive to me. The shop was nice and gave me the Vittoria Rubino Pro Slicks from the old wheels though, which was nice. I feel that the 23c Aksion tires on the Aksium wheels are rough riding at this point, but I’m more of a fan of 25c tires anyway (being a 200lb rider!). But I’ll ride the aksions until I get fed up with them/they are worn out.
I have only ridden about 70 miles on the R3 and I am very happy with it. I was a bit bummed when, within the first 30 miles I got something akin to ‘chainsuck’ and crunched the chain into the bottom of the chain-side chainstay (ref. picture). I took it back to the shop, okayed the carbon and touched up the paint, which was very nice. No chainstuck since then, thankfully, but I do have an extra set of Lizardskin chainstay protectors (the ‘sticky tape’ version – like on the top of the stay to protect against chainslap). I do feel that the paint on the Cervelo, while very nice to look at, might be quite easy to chip. Part of me wonders whether Cervelo layers the paint on thin with a very light clear coat. But whatever – nothing lasts forever, and paint will eventually chip no matter what you do. The R3 bike itself is a fantastic machine, and I’m expecting great things in the year to come (particularly with gran fondos next year!).
Thus endeth my search for a new bike, as well as this little ‘thoughts’ paper. Thanks for reading!
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