Anyone who subscribes to RIDE Cycling Review before 6 June 2015* goes in the draw to win a fabulous Cervélo S5 valued at $5,400. This bike was reviewed in issue 64 (volume 02, 2014) when Graham Springett concluded: “The S3 will do all we mortals could possibly demand of it and, at the back of your mind, you know that it is capable of so much more.”
Given that the Cervélo S3 is our prize bike for subscribers, we thought it appropriate to publish the review as an online version. You can also find more on the Cervélo S3 as a gallery, complete with voice files from our ‘Round Table’ ride/discuss day…
*Please note: entry is open to all residents of Australia. (Existing, current subscribers to RIDE Cycling Review are automatically entered into the prize draw.)
Subscribe to RIDE to win this bike
“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes please. I’m looking for a bike for racing.”
“Certainly. We have a few to choose from.”
“I’m looking for an aero bike because I need all the help I can get in races, but where I live the roads can be a bit rough and I’m not as young as I used to be, so I’d like it to be a bit forgiving. All the aero road bikes I’ve tried have been, err, rather unyielding and harsh. It sounds like an impossible ask – but does that sort of mix exist?”
“You mean aero and comfortable? Yes sir, yes it does. Here’s the Cervélo S3, for example.”
Such a customer is typical of many riders who like to go fast but don’t want to pummel their backsides on some of the less than smooth roads which criss-cross this wide brown land.
Until now it would seem that designers have got the aerodynamics of their frames sorted and accepted that comfort has to take second place. They no doubt feel that such a compromise will be readily accepted by people who regularly put themselves through agony in the name of fun.
No doubt there are many lithe young athletes for whom a pounding from a stiff aero frame is like a necessity. Just as a sharp-handling car with sports suspension will leave you feeling shaken and stirred on rough road surfaces, so too will an aero road bike give the rider a fully focused caning in the name of speed.
Cervélo’s designers asked: why can’t we have aero and comfort? The S3 was released in 2014 after a brief hiatus. While the predecessor was used to great effect by Thor Hushovd and Fabian Cancellara back in their days using bikes from this brand, the new model builds on Cervélo’s accumulated experience of manipulating carbon and studying aerodynamics to pinpoint where you need wind-cheating shapes and where you can focus less on aero and more on ride quality.
The front end owes much to the fully aero S5 model, which makes no compromises in its quest for speed. The S3’s fork and head tube area are elongated and obviously shaped to cleave the oncoming rush of wind. But the back end is more like Cervélo’s comfortable R3 (which I happen to own). Narrow round seatstays are common to both designs, allowing comfort through a slight give which an aerofoil section could not provide.
Throw in the lessons learned from the über high-end Rca model – which is at the bleeding edge of frame design in terms of lightweight comfort and stiffness – and what you have is quite possibly The Perfect Bike.
A slender hourglass head tube which tapers from 1-1/8” to 1-3/8” not only helps reduce the frontal area exposed to the wind, it also provides improvement in stiffness over the top-dog S5. That’s not the only place where the S5 has to give ground to its lesser sibling: the bottom bracket area on the S3 is a substantial bit of carbon which is said to offer an advantage over the S5.
This combination is, according to Garmin-Sharp pro Steele von Hoff, just the job for a powerful rider like him. “For a sprinter, the S3 is a fantastic all-round bike that has the pure speed and stiffness for the sprint but is still light enough to be great for the climbs as well,” he says.
“Perfect for every day and especially those hilly races that finish in a bunch kick.”
While I’m no world-class sprinter, I can attest to his words: when you get up out of the seat to inject some pace, the S3 responds in an immediate and very satisfying way. I’ve enjoyed a lot of kilometres on my R3 which is a very stiff frame. The S3 somehow builds on that feeling, with the headstock area, bottom bracket and chainstays combining to minimise wasted effort.
While the head tube area has a lot of material by way of its aerofoil design, the bottom bracket region will impress you simply because there is so much of it. With chainstays playing no part in the airflow riddle, the shape is optimised. They work together with the smooth, voluminous bottom bracket region to help you surge forward when you demand it. While the BBright design may add stiffness to the crankset, the shell itself is arguably a more critical component in the bike’s overall rigidity and feeling of aggressive acceleration.
The down tube connects these two regions using a constantly variable cross section, starting at the top like a flattened aerofoil but shifting towards a more chunky, torsion-resistant box shape as it reaches the bottom bracket. There is a flattened area where the bottle cage sits, enabling the bottle to form part of the aerodynamic shape by helping the air to come off the frame and round the bottle – the air sees down tube and bottle as one elongated shape instead of a narrow shape followed by a fat, round bottle to get past.
In a similar fashion, the seat tube has a cut-out to accommodate the rear wheel and help present the tube and tyre/rim as one aerodynamic factor.
Despite this close physical relationship, there is room enough in the frame and fork for 25C tyres. Larger tyres on road race machines appears to be more than just a fad, with some compelling evidence showing that more rubber equates to a more efficient ride. That the extra volume of air also adds more comfort to any bike is a boon for the S3’s already generous frame design, and it was enough of a factor to encourage a rider of the calibre of Sebastian Langeveld of Garmin-Sharp to use an S3 to negotiate the cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders and finish in 10th place.
Wider tyres, stiff frame for scampering up the famed bergs, aero shape for the flat roads – this machine ticks all the boxes. Another is weight – this frame is 1,029 grams and builds up as tested to a smidge over 7.5kg. It wouldn’t take much to shave a fair bit of weight off, but if you blame the mass of a bike for getting dropped, you perhaps ought to take some Viagra eyedrops and take a good, long, hard look in the mirror.
If Langeveld can ride an S3 to 10th in Flanders (as he did in 2014), there’s no reason we mortals can’t use an S3 to carve a path to local coffee shop glory.
With the bike doing all the wind-cheating it can to aid you in this quest, you’ll also find it supports you with well-sorted manners when you’re pushing the limits of your nerves. There are no surprises when cornering, braking hard or tucking in at 70km/h – the bike is right there with you, almost holding your hand and encouraging you to go as fast as you can. Hitting a bump or small pothole at speed does nothing to unsettle the machine, while sweeping descents can be ridden with the utmost trust that it will go exactly where you want it to. Even mid-corner line alterations are handled with aplomb, should some unforeseen obstacle pop up ahead of you.
It’s not all frame and fork though; some credit has to go to Shimano’s 11-speed Ultegra groupset. On this range-topping model you get Di2. With almost instantaneous gear changes achieved through the merest stroke of a finger, it’s very difficult to justify spending more (on Dura-Ace). The front mech is just as swift, working happily with the Rotor 3D crankset. Although not as solid-looking as Ultegra – with its chainring shape designed specifically for Di2 – the Rotor set-up is a worthy alternative. Not once did the chain fail to engage.
The levers are a beautifully slender design which, without the bulk of any gear mechanisms, offer a pleasing place for your hands. Should you need to pull on the anchors, there’s plenty of bite, feel and modulation provided by the calipers.
The Mavic Cosmic Elite wheels are a perfectly decent set for training on and they would even pass muster in a race, boasting bladed spokes and a slightly aero cross-section. They certainly did not slow the S3 or flex during hard efforts and you could happily own the bike without getting a nagging urge to swap the wheels out for something light or deep-section.
For our customer who opened this review, it seems like the S3 is exactly what he needs. He probably has a hard time justifying a bike for every condition, he needs to present as little frontal profile to the wind as he can manage in a race or fast group ride, and he probably has to get up and gallop at the end of most of his races – all without ending every ride feeling like he has been rattled to pieces.
The S3 will do all we mortals could possibly demand of it and, at the back of your mind, you know that it is capable of so much more.
– By Graham Springett
* * * * *
Note: Every issue of RIDE carries at least five bike reviews. Each bike is subjected to a range of test protocols including: the ‘Build Report’, ‘Round Table’ discussions, flex test on the jig, and long hours in the studio, we also feature online galleries of each bike features. Be sure to use the ‘Search’ button on the right side of our homepage to see if we’ve reviewed the bike you’re most interested in…