Long Term Review: Cervelo S5 Aero Road Bike
We had the Cervelo S5 for several months and logged about 350 miles between two testers. Whether you love the looks or hate ‘em, it’s a fast bike. It’s also a fairly stable ride, not twitchy in the least like some crit bikes. But, it can still be whipped through some tight turns at speed when necessary. In other words, it’s a solid performer in any situation where speed is critical.
As with any bike, though, there’s more to the story…
For the full tech run down, weights and specs on the S5, check out our original “First Look” post here. The gist of it is this: The S5 is Cervelo’s version of an aerodynamic road bike. Designed with performance taking a precedent over appearances, it prizes function over form. Tube shapes are optimized to smooth airflow over the entire bike even with water bottles mounted on it and a rider perched and pedaling.
We tested a 58, which has a 581mm top tube. Head tube angle is 73.5º, which is similar to race bikes like their R5 or the Trek Madone or Specialized Tarmac.
From the front or rear, the bike virtually disappears. It’s that thin. One group ride participant said he could barely see a bike under me.
TYLER’S REVIEW (6’2″, 180lbs)
Even with thin, flat tubes on virtually every surface -fork, stays, down- and headtubes- the S5 is plenty stiff. Stand up and crank or throw it into a corner and there’s little if any discernible flex. If you remain seated and really, totally hammer, you can see just the slightest bit of movement at the BB, but it’s very, very minimal and never felt like it was robbing anything from my acceleration.
It is a tall bike…which I like. The tall headtube makes it easy to sit more upright when just cruising along, something I’m a fan of. If I want to get aero, the drops are there, or I can just get down into a DZ-like tuck. Aerodynamics are only part of the equation when it comes to speed, being comfortable is the rest, and it was quite easy to find a comfortable position on this bike.
Part of that tall headtube is an illusion of the frame design. The downtube is actually dropped, joining the HT lower so that it sits very close to the front tire, smoothing air flow from tire to tube. Part of that tall feel translates into a somewhat weird feeling standing up to crank or climb, though. Where a traditional round tube, compact frame feels snappy, the S5 feels stable. If you took a 1′x4′ piece of plywood and stood it up between your legs and bounced it back and forth between each hand, then did it with a 2′x4′ piece, you’d get the idea of the difference in feel.
I rode in headwinds, crosswinds and no winds, and in every instance I felt faster with less perceived effort. And the Garmin backed up the “faster” part of that, showing about 1 – 1.5mph faster than my usual speeds at the same perceived effort.
Riding into a decent headwind, the bike seems to take away the pain. I may only be slightly faster, but it doesn’t feel like I’m pushing a sled. You can see and hear the wind, but it doesn’t get inside my head and destroy my mental game. My temperament is much better when it’s windy on this bike.
Critics may say I should have used HR or power measurements to back it up, but here’s the deal: I ride for fun. If I can go a little faster at the same effort, it means I can explore a few more miles of country road in a given amount of daylight, or I can just hammer it a bit to keep up with the group rides and not totally die. Pure performance junkies need look no further than the Garmin test team to see the bikes do their job at that level.
UPDATED: All of the S5 spec packages use
deep aero wheels Fulcrum Racing T wheels, an OEM model similar to the Racing 3/5. Our test bike came equipped with Mavic Cosmic SR wheels, but I was curious to see how much of the aero-ness was due to the wheels and how much was the frame. Some of the pics in this post show it with Stan’s NoTubes original road tubeless wheels, a completely non-aero wheel set that’s similar in profile to the Fulcrum wheels. With the lighter wheels, the S5 felt quick, but not as fast. It’s definitely a package deal, so riders looking to get the most aerodynamic bang for the buck will want to put some aero wheels on it. It’s surprising (and a bit disappointing) aero wheels aren’t offered, particularly on the high end models. Cervelo’s PR folks say serious riders will already own a favorite set of aero wheels, but we’re thinking that some cyclists may want to get into aero road bikes with the S5, so it’s an oversight that should be remedied to let new owners get the most out of the bike right out of the box. (Cervelo’s website shows all models with deep section wheels, but the images don’t reflect stock offerings)
Most of my rides were between 2-3 hours, only a couple lasted longer. For me, this is where the bike excels, on medium duration rides. On the longer rides, the stiff frame started catching up with my backside and I was wishing for something with a bit more compliance. The wide, straight seatstays and aero seatpost don’t have much give.
The upside of that stiffness is that you can rail into corners and the bike maintains its line. Just look where you want to go and there you are, no drama or micro corrections needed.
As for the looks, well, they grew on me. And surprisingly, no one on the group ride seemed to express an opinion one way or another. When I first saw the bike last summer, I thought it was ugly. By the time it made it to our office for review, I was impartial. As I was boxing it up to go home, I had developed an affinity for its tall, thin tubes and actually kind of liked it.
CHRIS ELDER’S REVIEW (6’1″, 180lbs)
My contribution to this review comes from riding the Cervelo S5 just once. For a little over an hour. What I add here amounts to what you’d get if a buddy of yours loaned you his favorite steed so you, too, could Know What It’s Like.
Given my time constraints and limited bike availability, I decided to take the S5 out on my favorite 20-mile loop, a route characterized by long flats, pleasant rolling hills, and three short, steep climbs. I didn’t clock my speed, but the stiffness and efficiency of the frame gave me the impression that I was flying above the asphalt. Gusty crosswinds required me to pay more attention than usual to handling. But how much of that was due to the deep-section wheels and how much of it owed to the aero frame with its notably flat side profile? I would have had to ride again under similar conditions with low-profile wheels to tell that tale.
Speaking of handling, the above-mentioned stiffness was felt more in power transfer rather than comfort. That is to say, the bike seemed to absorb a surprising amount of the holes, bumps, and even railroad tracks I encountered. Would that be the case as more miles accumulated? The S5 cornered so well that I maintained my momentum and barely had to lean, and it soared up the climbs. All in all Cervelo seems to have achieved a good combination of stiff power transfer and comfortable, sure handling. I could envision this bicycle inspiring confident riding up and down mountains, as well as giving me a better chance of hanging on in the local weeknight 30-mile flatland hammerfests. The rest would be up to me; this bicycle does not impose limits.
So if a buddy offers to let you ride his Cervelo S5, my unequivocal recommendation is to take him up on it!
We’re pretty sure the next generation of the S5 will take advantage of the new aero properties of SRAM’s new Red and possibly even Magura’s hydraulic TT road brakes. Even without them, it’s a bike that will instantly make you feel faster. If speed and efficiency are your priorities, and your roads are in decent shape, the S5 is a bike that’ll make you feel closer to pro.
Another point worth mentioning: If you’re a full or part time triathlete, but still want to get on regular group rides, the S5 is a compelling option. Swap in your bullhorns and aerobars for race day and you’ve basically got a triathlon bike. The two-position seat post lets you jack your saddle way forward if you want (I ran it in the front spot anyway), and the frame is about as aero as most UCI approved time trial bikes without limiting its use as a standard road bike on non-race weekends.
(side note: the saddle bag is from Inertia Designs and fits thin, long aero posts quite well!)