Perfection is possible, but it doesn't come cheap
Weight: 7665g Contact: www.madison.co.uk
The S3 is the newest addition to the Cervelo family and with improved aerodynamics, internal cable routing and a shiny £3000+ price tag. It aims to be a superbike and the S3 does not disappoint.
The Cervelo S3 was the frame of choice for the Cervelo Test Team this summer. With riders such as Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd, 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre and 2009 women’s tour winner Emma Pooley among those on their roster these frames have got a lot to cope with.
Cervelo set out to combine all of the positive elements of their luxuriously smooth R-series bikes (the R3 in particular) and their S2 bare knuckle, all out speed offering. Cervelo have been doing this throughout their time, combining benefits from various bikes that they produce to deliver a new standard in road bike design and performance, with the S3 this heritage continues.
The most apparent improvement made by Cervelo in the S3 over other bikes in the range is the internal cable routing and in particular the way that it is used. In alternative internally routed framesets the cables need guiding throughout the frame, thus adding extra carbon to the overall weight.
The S3 is different in that it has various entrance points for the cables in order for you to set it up the way you want but also two lugs that are removed by simple allen key adjustment, one on each side of the frame’s downtube. These are to access the internal cable stops giving more control and greater weight saving performance. In previous Cervelo incarnations such as the Soloist the internal cables had to wind their way around the headtube before entering on the downtube, the S3 allows them to go straight into the frame at the front end (or behind the headset area if you wish) to further reduce wind turbulence and also to stop the cables rubbing the top layer of lacquer off your extremely expensive new toy.
Top end carbon fibre frames are surely as light as is physically possible to make them now so what advances can be made? Cervelo have concentrated on stiffness and aerodynamics because you can shape carbon in a way that you simply cant achieve in metals or alloys. Take the chainstays for example, a re-design here with the focus being on maximing aerodynamic benefits, therefore the stays are lifted directly from the new Cervelo TT frame, the fast (but kind of ugly) P4. The seatstays are exciting too given the likeness they hold to those on the R3. This is simply to improve comfort when riding on rubbish road surfaces (which we have in abundance down here at the road.cc test facility in the West Country).
I have to say that when I first saw the bike I was impressed with the aesthetics, the frame coupled with Shimano Di2 and dura ace 7900 kit, Dura Ace aero carbon rims and Pro carbon fibre finishing kit was something to behold. It was also extremely light, not the lightest bike on the market but a lot lighter than it looks. The Deep, aero carbon tubes, deep rims and Di2 battery kit all come together to fool your mind into thinking this bike could be a little on the lardy side. It isn’t, and when you stamp on the pedals it launches itself forward with no complaints.
The svelte S3 frame comes about by Cervelo employing their specialist smartwall and carbon lay up techniques which give a virtually flawless internal tube finish (so no extra carbon adding weight). The S3 weighs in at just 1080g for a 56cm size frame which is extremely competitive given the comfort benefits that it holds over the slightly lighter Soloist.
It is stiff too, do you remember watching in awe as the Swiss monster Fabien Cancellara powered his way back to the lead group to claim a bronze medal up the hills toward the Great Wall during the Beijing 2008 Olympics? He bridged 2 gaps in 2km in humidity unlike anything seen in Olympic road race history, he passed Andy Schleck who is no slouch en-route to claiming the third place. This race was the public unveiling of the S3 and in fact this bike claimed 3 of the top 5 places, not a bad result for Cervelo.
More victories came the way of the S3 when two members of the Cervelo Test Team were victorious during the opening week of the Tour De France. Thor Hushovd came away with the stage victory on the wet uphill sprint toward the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona and then Heinrich Haussler followed this up a couple of days later with a solo win in the Pyrenees. Thor continued this success throughout the Tour to claim the green jersey from Manxman Mark Cavendish. This, to me, proves the pedigree of the S3 and let's face it, if it can bring these results to guys like Thor Hushovd then its likely to be pretty good for mortals like you and me.
On the flat the Cervelo is exceptionally comfortable, forgiving on our bone shaking Bristolian roads but tense and stiff enough to give real response and confidence both climbing steeply and nailing a twisty descent. The only time I found the bike to be a bit skittish was hitting the winding bit through Cheddar Gorge at about 40mph in the rain and lets be fair I was scared too! I raced this with the addition of some Zipp Vuka aero bars at the Tewkesbury Sprint Triathlon and despite looking like a poser with too much money I thought the bike helped me along nicely. Not a hilly course but one where I could grind out the speed on slight undulations and country lanes. I felt that I was going a good amount faster than those that I exited the lake with and recorded a bike split in the top 10 which considering others were there on P3’s, Trek TTX’s and Specialized Transitions with discs all over the place was a very respectable outcome.
Carbon frames are expensive to develop and the moulds required are a big investment for any company and as such only limited sizes are available. Sizes dotted between 48cm and 61cm should cover all bases but even our 54cm test bike felt very small to me and I am 5ft 9” tall. It reminded me somewhat of my Giant OCR from back in the day, not quite as compact but certainly bridging the gap between my normal road bike and what I used to ride. For the money you really need to test it well and ensure that the sizing is correct for you.
In test guise the S3 performed superbly but then the bike had a retail value of over £7000, not within the grasp of the vast majority of us. Part of me thought ‘well, this frame would be good with 105 on it’ trying to justify my temptation, and it would, but realistically for a frame like this hitting the standards that it does then the S3 should be adorned with the best kit you can get hold of, Dura Ace, Red etc.
A couple of housekeeping points, the reversible seatpost from other Cervelo models will fit this bike but does not come as standard, you get a carbon seatpost with a 73degree angle with the frame. Also, it comes complete with an FSA Orbit headset and the outstanding 3T Funda forks but will require an English fit bottom bracket. The test bike we were supplied with came in the classy and understated Black with silver highlights. You can get the frame in White with Olympic ring design as seen on the triathlon circuit beneath the best in the business, Javier Gomez but strangley enough this weighs a little more, apparently white paint is heavier than black…
A superb frame, exceptionally comfortable given its stiffness and weight. As with all things that are at the top end of their class they have a lot to live up to but the Cervelo S3 really does deliver, no part of it was left wanting in my opinion. When I win the lottery I will be buying one.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cervelo S3
Size tested: 54cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The s3 frame and 3t funda forks are both made from Carbon Fibre as you would expect. The frame utilises Cervelo's own 'smartwall' and carbon lay up techniques to place the carbon at specific points making for a lighter frame with strength and stiffness precisely where it is needed. The test bike we took out was kitted with Shimano Di2 and Dura Ace 7900 components throughout with pro vibe carbon fibre finishing kit. No expense spared.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Cervelo say it ia both lighter and more aerodynamic than the S2 so that means it is improving on the current leader of the aero road bike market, if you can do it then why not!? I agree that it is an incredibly light feeling bike that effortlessly spins up to speed but it shouldnt be forgotten that this bike ahs strengths on the hills too, the stiffness allowed me to accelerate up the steepest of slopes that I could find. Throwing the bike around didnt phase it, nor did sharp corner descending. Most people who seem to have one on order are getting it for pure riding pleasure and the occasional race, that seems a fair compromise to me. It is exceptionally comfortable and when I was out on it the miles just rolled by.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Superb, utterly faultless. The frame was finished to a high standard, no signs of cutting corners or penny pinching when looking over the frame and when riding the frame felt fantastic. The forks are a perfect match, aero profiled with a reassuringly 'normal' form, no swooshes or ridley style foils, just a simple but extremely effective aero fork.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame and forks are naturally made of both high modulus and ultra high modulus carbon fibre with extra strips concentrated and bonded in at the most critical points to increase strength and stiffness while maintaining a low weight. Cervelo also added kevlar to the headtube/downtube area to hammer home the S3's strength credentials.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Cervelo use a different geometry to other bike manufacturers, what they call 'reach based' geometry. Cervelo supply only 6 sizes for all their customers, both male and female. Basing their sizing on three points where the rider comes into contact with the bike (bars, cranks, saddle). Rather than alter the angles of tubes as some bike manufacturers might do when providing a range of sizes from, say, 48cm through to 60cm, Cervelo maintain the tube angles which provides for a more comfortable and therefore efficient frame throughout their sizing range.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The frame felt small, I commented to those at road.cc towers that it reminded me a little of one of my old Giant OCR bikes from a few years back. The geometry of Cervelo isn't compact as such but for some reason it felt it. My usual bike is a Felt AR4 in 56cm size, this Cervelo felt more comfortable, the sloping top tube gave me the feeling of riding a more agile bike and this flowed through the rides that I completed.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Extremely comfortable, I cycled miles and miles on this bike without feeling at all strained in my lower back, shoulders or any of the usual suspects for cycling related soreness. The rear triangle design really does give a responsive but smooth ride that makes you feel extremely lucky to be on such a machine.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No, it felt spot on. With the amount of research and development in Cervelo's arsenal I wouldnt expect anything less but still, to actually deliver a smooth but sharp, comfortable but responsive bike with this sort of quality is industry leading. When I wanted the s3 to power up a hill it did, when I wanted it to hit the apex on a corner at speed I enevr had any doubt that it would.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
In my mind every ounce of effort that I was putting into the pedals was being translated into forward momentum, now clearly this isnt the case as there is always some loss but the pedalling and general feel of the bike felt so comfortable and easy that I almost felt rude when I finished a ride and wasnt knackered.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
I have been the victim of this in the past on both my aero style bikes but it was less obvious on the S3, there was still a small area where toe clip could occur but it was only evident when turning sharply at low speed. It is unlikely that in a real world scenario this would occur or at least be of concern at that point.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Natural, it did what I wanted it to without trying to throw me off.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Strangely enough the bike felt great through towns and cities, sprinting up park street on my usual hilly city test was a breeze and the ever-blind pedestrians that insist on running accross in front of me were never in any danger because with one brief twitch of the bars I was round them. Totally reliable, utterly smooth.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The San Marco Zonalan saddle was very comfortable in itself as I swapped my own saddle with it for a fair comparison. The most impressive component for me was the Pro Vibe bar set up. So nice in fact that I am looking to get a set for my own Felt.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Can I class different parts of the frame as components? Yes, thanks! The massive oversized bottom bracket area really does transfer power well to the rear wheel, this is one major point for the Cervelo. Like I said earlier on, it didnt feel like any energy was wasted.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
In this guise, with the Dura Ace deep carbon clincher rims I would suggest these made a very strong impact regarding efficiency. They were a breeze above 30kph, pre release photos of the deeper, meaner dura ace rims have got me excited about how those would feel on this bike too.
Out of the saddle, on the drops the bike felt great but the unique geometry made me feel like I was falling forward. Once I got used to that sensation it made sense but be aware that it can feel a little odd at first.
Only due to the toe clip problems that any aero type road bike would suffer from, at low speeds corners require more or a turn on the bars and therefore this issue becomes more pronounced. Still nothing major to worry about though.
Di2 with dura ace 7900 sprinkled on top...how can anyone complain?
I had no reason to question its durability. Working perfectly in all weather conditions and everything the British roads could muster. A couple of creaks and knocks but nothing worrying.
As mentioned on the Di2 review this groupset is extremely light for what it is but isnt the lightest out there so a 10/10 is impossible.
Again, fighting an uphill battle here for the Di2 kit, it works a treat but it costs. If you have the money there is nothing that can touch it.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
As you would expect with several thousand poiunds worth of groupset there is little to find fault with. As mentioned on the Di2 review, this could be the start of things to come.
Wheels and tyres
A superb wheelset, full review coming soon, the combination of the durability of clinchers, the braking reliability of alloy rims and the aero benefits of carbon deep sections work perfectly together.
I had no issues at all despite the various weather types encountered. Even in race scenarios they performed superbly.
Light but not the lightest aero wheels available. In comparison with my own mavic cosmic carbone clinchers these are lighter but they still dont touch Zipp's.
The conti gp400's performed as admirally as ever, no worries about grip or performance.
For this money there are lighter wheelsets available but when mated with this bike set up it is hard to find fault.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
I encountered every type of condition except snow and ice. The wheels and tyres felt great but I felt sorry for them. Personally I would not take a frame or components out in weather like this if I owned them but on a test needs must. I dont expect expensive components to fail but I also like to protect them if they are mine. The wheels were superb in horrific rain and strong winds, the usual gusting around Bristol and Cheddar didnt throw the front wheel off line too much which was a great comfort.
Di2, the shifters and brakes were magnificent.
I didnt have any problems at all, the bars were superb, the shifters didnt miss a beat.
Without the need for internal gibbins to pull and guide cables the shifters are extremely light.
For me, superb, for those who ride on the drops more they could take some getting used to.
As with all Di2 stuff and finishing kit on a bike such as this it is a case of you get what you pay for. You pay a hefty amount but my word you get a lot of performance for it.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
As alluded to, the shifters on Di2 are almost ghosts of a normal cable shifting system, the shape is similar but it remains this way for purely ergonomic reasons. The shifts are done by tapping buttons, these are placed rather handily for riders like me who prefer hills and therefore sit up more. Riders who tend to stay 'dropped' will have to adjust to the layout.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
A bike with this retail price (around £7000) doesnt have a poor component specced, I didnt find any area of fault. I want the bars, Id love to get Di2 (although maybe the ultegra version when/if it comes out) and the wheels were a dream.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Absolutely, the best bike I have ever and may ever ride.
Would you consider buying the bike? If I could sell all of my posessions and convince the girlfriend that it makes sense then I would order one tomorrow.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? A wealthy and committed cyclist, yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
A dream to ride. In truth I wish I could have kept it for longer, much longer, say a few years. Absolutely fantastic, comfortable, resiliant, honest and above all fast. The frame alone was the focus for this test and I cannot find fault with it
About the tester
I usually ride: felt ar4 My best bike is: i like my felt and my orbea ora tt bike equally
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, commuting, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb, triathlon