Long Term Review: Cervelo S5 Aero Road Bike

Cervelo S5 road bike review

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…

Cervelo S5 road bike review

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.

Cervelo S5 road bike review

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.

Cervelo S5 road bike review

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)

Cervelo S5 road bike review

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!

Cervelo S5 road bike review

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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!)

Comments

Nate - 03/26/12 - 12:40pm

This may be a dumb question, but as someone who has never ridden an aero road bike, is it really possible to gain 1-1.5 mph just by changing the frame? I thought I remembered the performance gains for aero frames being measured in seconds over 40km at speeds of around 30mph.

Joe Remy - 03/26/12 - 12:50pm

I’ve been riding my S5 (base model) for several months now on group rides from 25-70 miles, and I have to say I would highly recommend the S5 to almost anyone.

On the looks department, my S5 looks fantastic. This may be due the the size 51′s shorter top tube. I’ve noticed the 58′s look a bit stretched out. My S5 gets nothing but compliments.

The S5 accelerates quick, descends super fast, and goes up hills no problem. I almost always find myself passing the other guys on a no-pedal descent. Handling is great. Long rides are easier. Cross winds, while more noticeable, aren’t really too bad.

I think the only downside I’ve found riding the S5, is that one of my jersey pockets is now taken up by my tool/spare tube kit. The idea of a saddle bag on this bike is almost abhorrent for me.

OK, seriously, the only actual downside I’ve found is that the Fizik Ardea saddle which comes with the base Rival model, while being almost like the Arione, is just a tiny bit less comfortable.

Joe Remy - 03/26/12 - 12:53pm

@Nate

I have a Cervelo P2C (aero) and an S5. My old bikes were a Trek (non-Aero), a Felt CycloCross bike, and miscellaneous old road bikes. I do notice the sustained speed difference between the aero and non-aero bikes.

Gerald - 03/26/12 - 12:56pm

Pretty sure they don’t use deep dish wheels much….

Mark - 03/26/12 - 2:25pm

I’ve ridden an S5 last year. Handling etc is all fine, but you aren’t any faster than with a normal frame. The advantage of an aero road frame is so minor it cannot be measured on the road. 1-1.5 mph is ridiculous.

And using an S5 as a true triathlon frame? I wonder how one gets away with an aerobar and the enormous headtube.

Evan - 03/26/12 - 2:35pm

I can attest to the benefits of an aero frame. While 1-1.5 mph gain seems absurd, I can definitely tell a difference between my Blue AC1 SL and Litespeed Xicon. Granted, the Blue has Easton EC90 Aero’s on it and the Xicon Ksyriums, but it’s certainly a lesson on the importance of aerodynamics when all else is equal.

For long days in the saddle, it’s definitely the Litespeed. For the Thursday night World Championships, I’m always bringing out the Blue.

Matt - 03/26/12 - 3:49pm

The bike is hideous. It is like the designers felt the bike was so ugly they just gave up on giving it a good paint scheme.

Bikerumor - 03/26/12 - 4:16pm

With the pros they’re measuring at 30+ mph time trialing, eking out another mph would probably be asking too much. That’s a question for the aerodynamic engineers. On my rides, I consistently went from cruising along at 16-something mph to 17-something mph averages, occasionally 18mph, maintaining my otherwise casual training pace. Unless I’m specifically pushing something hard to test it, I’m not out there to set records. At face value, yes, claims like that can seem a bit much, but this isn’t the only aero roa bike we’re testing and the general consensus among those that have ridden them are similar.

Topmounter - 03/26/12 - 4:49pm

I’m still having trouble believing that this isn’t a mislabeled entry-level frame.

Topmounter - 03/26/12 - 4:53pm

I mean it COULD happen… you get a shipping container full of frames off the freighter and you start sticking decals on them and you just make a mistake, no one notices and voilà!!!

Dan - 03/26/12 - 5:20pm

This bike is so ugly in every way but Cervelo fully balance it with the so out of this world beauty of P5.

Gillis - 03/26/12 - 5:27pm

off topic, but I would love to see Adrian Newey design a road bike.

SL - 03/26/12 - 8:07pm

U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, YOU UGLY.

It may very well be more aero, faster, and just better, but it’s absolutely HIDEOUS looking. I’m sorry, it just is. And I live in a world where 5+ inch travel full-suspension bikes and dirt jump hardtails are the norm, so I know ugly.

“Function over form,” sure, but I’m having a hard time believing that anyone will spend thousands in order to ride a bike this ugly looking. There are other aero road bikes out there. Or is it just the fact that it says Cervelo on the downtube?

ajbosch - 03/26/12 - 10:18pm

I DO like Cervelo bikes. S2, R3, P2,P3 & P5 are all lovely but I just can’t get myself to find the S5 appealing in the least bit.

carl - 03/26/12 - 10:24pm

@ Gillis – Yup – Adrian Newey would know what to do!!! Give it a McLaren silver paint job and I’d be first in line……

carl - 03/26/12 - 10:26pm

@ Gillis – Yes, I know. Newey is Red Bull’s designer, but I hate their color scheme……..

SL - 03/26/12 - 11:19pm

New thought: this bike is perfect for the dentist who’s putting it on a rack, mounted to the trunk of a convertible Porsche 9-11 with an automatic transmission. Think of the savings on gas thanks to all the extra added aero!

Gillis - 03/27/12 - 1:06am

@Carl: I agree about RB. I’d go for flat black JPS livery and get a matching kit made.

Dan - 03/27/12 - 10:38am

UGLY UGLY UGLY.

And it will still be ugly even in 2 years from now.

An aero frame alone is just not good enough anymore. Everybody is doing that now. Where are the built in DI2 battery, built-in cadence and wheel sensors. Heck… if they’re really so keen on aero… why don’t they put the new hydraulic Magura brakes on this thing? Possibly even routing the cables through the stem. And please Cervélo … you have Garmin as a sponsor. Please tell me how to mount the cadence sensor on a P4 chainstay or the Garmin Edge800 to the stem (the cables interfere because of the funny cable routing). Why isn’t there an aero mounting option for the Edge bike computers like the SRM powercontrol when your cable routing doesn’t permit the traditional mounting? Also the P4 seat post doen’t allow mounting of non-round carbon railed saddles.

Sometimes it feels like Cervélo does only look at the frame itself without any idea what is required to go for a ride. They test the S5 with a timetrial version of Dave Z. How does that even make sense? The dummy is not even touching the bars with the hands. They test the frame without bottles. Who rides longer than an hour without bottles? How does a bottle on the seat tube affect the rear wheel cut-out? Combined with the turbulent air from the legs the cutout probably doesn’t really matter anymore. Also those blade-seatposts… how much effect do they have if 95% of people put a saddle bag or drinking systems (triathlon) there. Possibly a broader seat post would even be more aerodynamic and give more comfort and replaceability:of the seat posts. The seat post can have a gigantic effect on comfort as I know from my Specialized S-Works SL2 that I’m eventually looking to replace.

But certainly no new Cervélo for me in 2012!

bjorf - 03/27/12 - 1:49pm

This is a terrible and pointless review. It’s contradictory and aimless. First “the stiff frame started catching up with my backside and I was wishing for something with a bit more compliance”, then “the bike seemed to absorb a surprising amount of the holes, bumps, and even railroad tracks” he encountered. I have to scream BS at 1 to 1.5 mph increase. Without any real comparison or other data to back it up, that statement is nothing but hyperbole. Why not just have a simple roll-down test comparing it to another bike? No power meter required. A couple of test runs for each bike (and for the S5 with the two different wheel sets) noting max speed and distance rolled would have told us something. I too ride for fun. If it isn’t fun, find something else to do. It would be fun to know that there was a verifiable aerodynamic benefit to these bikes and what it was.

JFDEZ599 - 03/28/12 - 1:59am

IM RIDING A SPECIALIZED ROCKHOPPER COMP 24LBS EST, (2001) WITH 1.25″ SLICKS. I RIDE 80-90 MLS IN WINTER 17.1- 18.4 MPH AVG-SPEED…IN SUMMER I RIDE 120-140 MLS 18-19.25 MPH AVG…. SO I CAN;T WAIT TILL I GET MY R3 OR WOULD A S5 BE A BETTER BIKE ANY THOUGHTS. I THINK I WOULD DO A LEAST 20.5 AVG ON FAST DAYS,,,ANY THOUGHTS WHAT BIKE WOULD BE BEST FOR ME….THANK YOU…I’M 6’0 175..

Dan S - 03/28/12 - 8:12am

I switched from a regular shaped-tube bike to a Cervelo S3 last year. I gained 3 to 5 km/h on my favourite descent and leading the pack on weekend rides requires less effort.

Question: Has anyone tested (back-end) comfort and performance between an S5 and a S3?

progressivesnap - 03/28/12 - 12:40pm

I have a newer P2 and a S5, running both with stock wheels. Yes, there is a difference in speed the S5 is very light and fast, corners great and is very comfortable. I do agree with one complaint and that is the cable routing, that could have been different. I can not believe all the comments saying that this bike is ugly, especially looking at other manufactures, models and colors. Sounds to me like people are hating on the bike cause they can’t afford it.

Sean - 03/28/12 - 1:27pm

A ‘normal’ bike only makes up a small percentage of bike+rider frontal wind area. A “skinnier” bike would decrease this percentage by an imperceptible amount – especially with a ‘girthier’ rider, big belly, knees out, etc. Granted the aerodynamics are probably tuned for yaw angles as well but we are still talking only a small percentage of the total. And talking aerodynamics when the majority of the riding is sub-20mph is laughable as air resistance only starts to play a major part at speeds over 15mph.

If the reviewers could come up with a reliable methodology for separating the aerodynamically-derived benefits of this bike, from stiffness of the layup or other critical specs (bb width etc.) that would make for a more interesting and informative review. Otherwise this falls into the typical black hole of bike marketing speak.

RL - 03/28/12 - 5:03pm

Let me guess the people who say the S5 is ugly ride a fancy boy Specialized or Trek. No ever went fast because because they looked good. If you are cycling to look good perhaps check out some disco pants before you ride in your next crit.

I love how people are so hyper critical on anything that gets written – perhaps they should submit their own analysis on the same topic before being able to comment.

Mark - 05/17/12 - 4:24am

Try mounting a rear light on the S5, sorry, try finding a rear light that will fit on the S5. Cause I haven’t yet…

Lou - 06/11/12 - 11:16am

I have an S-Works and a new S5. Looks are definitely a matter of opinion (just look at who prince Charles chose to marry after Diana) but I have to say, I LOVE the look of my S5. It’s art! And by the way, way faster than my S-Works. I use the same wheels on both bikes (Durace CF). I will bet that the negative reviews on this bike are from riders who, for a moment considered buying it and then chose differently to further justify their purchase. This bike climbs like no other bike I have climbed with. So stop bashing the bike because you all you could afford was that lame old Cannondale!

stevo - 06/12/12 - 9:18pm

hey progressivenap!
how does your P2 compare to your S5?

SKit - 12/20/12 - 10:10pm

Great Job on the review guys. I had been following this review and comments for a long time before I committing to buying the S5 51″. Thanks to all you guys out there for the positives and the negatives. It helps to get a total perspective. Well said Lou on the recent posting.

Have you ever had that feeling when you saw a four wheeler or a two wheeler ‘work of art’ standing still in a showroom and you knew it would be very fast by jus the looks? S5 is one of those pieces of brilliance from the R&D folks. All the facts on paper/reviews does not justify the ride until you try it for yourself. Let me share a different point of view from personal experience after a month of ownership.

From the first ride on stock wheels, first thoughts on my mind was “Wow!” before “Fast” came to mind. Slap on some carbon wheels (tubulars) and similar thoughts came to mind but this time, “WOW!!!”, then “VERY FAST!!!” That was just on the flats. Climbs are always subjective but all depends your legs and your setup but it’s no slouch. On descends, different thoughts come to mind. “YIKES!!! Can I stop in time with these little brakes?!!!” then, “TOO FAST!!!”…and the story goes…FASTER as you gain confidence and get stronger.

Looks does start to change after 54″ but it is not as bad as they say. The experience superseeds everything else. Like any new sports machine, one really has to see the real thing to appreciate its curves and dimensions.

One can justify the stiffness with a softer saddle and/or padding and seating position(from a proper fitting). I would not recommend it to all beginners but it should not be a determining factor if one could afford it.

Don’t be shy…Try it! RIDE SAFE because it is as fast as they say it is :-)

z german - 01/19/13 - 10:29am

just purchased an s5, sram red, rotor 3d plus 52/36,dura ace 11/27, mav cosmic carbon sl rims,7.4 kgs total weight ,peddles speedo the whole shebang, ive only had one chance to take it due to shite weather but over the first 4 miles up hill it felt faster and it was by 30 secs over my prev best.ivegone from a cart horse bike to a race horse .unfortuanatly its still got a cart horse riding it. the moral of the story is , the s5 is a very quick bike but youve still got to have the engine to ride. just one more thing i was 30 secs quicker in really windy wet cold weather ,in comparidom prev best was hot summers day.make your own conclusions

Roy - 02/14/13 - 10:51pm

I have had my S5 for almost a year, and I can say this is one of the bikes that I like more now than when I bought it. It is more comfortable than I thought, and we have terrible roads here (Northern California). I have everything on Strava and some routes have over a 100 rides. All of my PRs, where I have a lot of data, are on the S5. I also use a Roubaix SL4 (now) and used a Madone prior to the Roubaix. Most of these PRs are only by a small margin, and there is no way for me to get 1-2 mph improvement. The difference for me is an average of 21.3 vs 21.1 mph (or possibly a smaller margin). With this data I have seen that my power output is roughly the same. When I get into the hills, the bike does not hold me back at all. I have long legs in proportion to my torso, so the tall head-tube is great. As far as looks go, I have no idea why anyone would bring it up. My experience has been that when people see the S5, they often will tell me how nice the bike looks. For the record, they say the same thing about my Roubaix, but fewer people notice my Roubaix.
The real world problems that I have had with the bike are things like small rocks getting stuck to the tires and causing some wear on the paint, or if the chain drops (SRAM) it almost always gets wedged between the chainrings and frame.
In summary, while my S5 is heavier by 1lb than my other bikes, I am able to go slightly faster. I would recommend this bike to a friend, and have done so in the past.

Lennox Morris - 05/27/13 - 10:38am

I competed on the track at an international level back in the sixties and have not ridden for 49 years. My bikes at the time were Legnano and Freus track bikes. My last international event was the Pan Am Games in Chicago in 1959. Recently bought a S5 and find it faster but difficult to ride.
Have been doing spinning on fixed bikes for the last 4 years and always asked others what was the difference between spinning and actually riding on the road. Well I can say it is like chalk and cheese. I had to regain my sense of balance and after one month on the S5 I cannot release both hands from the handle bar. Getting off the saddle is another problem, it feels as if I am pulling the bike behind me. Maybe there was more flex in the old steel frames. Could someone shed some light on my predicament?

eadm - 06/14/13 - 12:29am

Hey Lennox, a bike with relaxed geometry might be more to your liking. I ride a Giant Defy, and it took a rider to 2nd place at Paris-Roubaix this year so it’s no slouch. There’s many other examples, you can have a light frame with a slightly longer wheelbase etc. to compensate for the lack of flex in carbon racers and not feel like you’re pulling the bike or have twitchy unstable handling.

wayne baldridge - 06/17/13 - 5:32pm

S5 base Shram. Untill a week ago, I had to really work at keeping the HR at 110 BPM on the old bike. The second real ride on th S5 was different. I discovered a noticable faster pase and the HR was in the 130s and over. The preceived effort was the same but this bike pulls more out of me. Stability, fit, comfort who knows. The Garmin says so also.

I remember from the good old days when a rough road or RR tracks would divert my attention and the pace would slow. I felt the work load was there but it wasn’t. The S5 transends this tendency.

This bike may be a little faster but it definately pulls more out of you.

Jimbo - 06/25/13 - 5:05pm

I have an S5, 2012, no frills white version. Its a little more bike than I really need as I am a recreational triathlete. I thought the S5 would be a good choice as I didn’t want to have to store both a tri bike and a road bike in the garage. Recently, I had a rear derailleur dropout break so its been in for warranty repair. In the meantime, I was given a Trek Domane 5.2 to test drive for a couple weeks now. These two bikes cost about the same at the LBS – around $3500. How do they compare? The S5 did seem faster. The S5 is noticeably heavier when you pick it up. The S5 seems to have a bit better handling at higher speeds – over 30mph. The Domane is more upright. The Domane IsoSpeed de-coupler is supposed to make a long ride more comfortable. It causes the seat to flex when you ride over a substantial bump if you don’t lift from your seat. It makes a clicking noise. I didn’t really notice better comfort after my typical 45 mile weekend route. Looking forward to getting my S5 back.

Lennox Morris - 08/15/13 - 12:23pm

Thanks @eadm. After 4 months I find the S5 more accommodating. Still can’t release both hands and ride 100 meters. Presently doing 60k 3X per week but taking more than 24 hours to recuperate. Maybe its my age, 75, that is keeping me back. Any recommendations for a good energy supplement that does not affect one’s prostate?

Bob - 09/16/13 - 2:05pm

I rode 25,000 miles on a 2009 Cervelo R3 and a Trek 5200 (Carbon) before that. Now on a 2011 Cervelo S5. Comparing my monthly avreages for the same routes, the S5 is 0.3 to 0.45 mph faster at 19/20 average speeds, right out of the box with the standard Fulcrum wheels. The S5 is more compliant than the R3 but I see no difference between the two in bottom bracket stiffness. I ride the S5 90% of the time because it is simply more comfortable. Where the bike just leaves all others behind, including the S-Works is in descents and 24 mph TTs. The Cervelo S5 has an increasing advantage with higher speeds. I can stay with riders 30 lbs heavier than I while on their S-Works.

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