The Cervélo C5 is a big deal for the Canadian company. It marks a significant change of direction for a brand so closely associated with racing, with models like the R5 and S5 developed to help professional racers win races, from the Tour de France to Paris-Roubaix. The C5 is designed to appeal to the growing number of cyclists who want a bike that provides comfort and stability with the control afforded by hydraulic disc brakes.
Quite simply, the ride quality is sublime. It provides a stunning level of comfort and smoothness, while the handling lets you exploit the performance that the carbon fibre frame, with its tapered head tube, wide bottom bracket and thru-axles, offers.
With the 28mm Continental tyres inflated to 75-80psi, the Cervélo smothers road imperfections in a way that makes it one of the smoothest endurance bikes I've yet tested. It's simply fabulous. Impressive too, that Cervélo has managed to achieve this without resorting to any gimmicks, just a combination of clever tube profile shapes and carbon fibre layup.
The damping provided by the frame and fork removes almost all the vibrations and judders generated from riding over a rough surface, whether a poorly maintained country lane or gravel path. It was really at home on the bumpiest roads I regularly ride, and many that I routinely ignore because they have deteriorated so badly.
What's really impressive is just how well matched the fork and frame are, with both equally damped and ensuring your hands and bum are isolated from the worst of the vibrations and impacts.
But it's not a soft bike, oh no. There's enough stiffness to ensure the Cervélo has plenty of get-up-and-go when you want to push on at speed. It's responsive and taut when being ridden aggressively and at pace, and is rapid enough to keep up with the fast group in the evening chain gang, should you indulge in such things. Dial back the pain and suffering, and it's pliant enough to look after you on an all-day adventure or sportive with a multitude of road and off-road surfaces.
The handling is a delight. As you turn into a corner, the steering is well measured, with the slacker head angle, long wheelbase and lower bottom bracket combining to create a superb stability.
This relaxed handling, though a touch slow at lower speeds, comes into its own at higher speeds and especially on fast descents. It's here that the Cervélo really captivates you, and reveals itself to be a hugely entertaining and rewarding bike if you like the rewards that come from grovelling up climbs. It never feels nervous or twitchy; the lower centre of gravity from the dropped bottom bracket and the head angle, combined with the stiffness of the frame, make it an easy and enjoyable bike to ride.
And when it comes to adjusting your speed, the powerful hydraulic disc brakes provide incredible control. I experienced no unpleasant squealing in bad weather, and the thru-axles prevented the twisting forces that can lead to the pads rubbing on the discs during out-of-saddle sprints or climbs.
Not only is the Cervélo comfortable because the frame and fork provide wonderful damping over rough roads, but the geometry plays an important part too. The higher stack and shorter reach (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) create a position that is more relaxed than one of Cervélo's racier models, but it's not so cramped that you can't obtain a stretched out position if that's your preference. The only change I made was to fit a longer stem to achieve my desired fit. And because of the lower bottom bracket, Cervélo hasn't hard to resort to a really tall head tube to create the comfortable position.
In the generous spec of the review bike, a low weight of 7.51kg makes it one of the lightest endurance bikes I've yet tested. This lack of mass really adds to the performance, as you'd expect. It simply flies up the hills and the light wheels help to provide swift acceleration, especially useful when keeping up with racers on race bikes and all the aero accessories that a modern performance cyclist seems to collect.
The new C5 shares many of the same features as Cervélo's racier models. First and foremost, there's the familiar Squoval 2 rounded square down tube, borrowed straight from the Cervélo R5, though the profile has been refined to produce a shape that provides more vertical compliance.
There's a tapered head tube, naturally, and a BBright bottom bracket, which pushes the non-driveside bearing out by 11mm so the entire BB shell can be widened. This means Cervélo is able to increase the size of the down tube, seat tube and chainstays, benefiting the frame stiffness.
The seatstays are as skinny as expected on a bike designed to provide a smooth ride, and meet the seat tube well below the sloping top tube, the idea here being to provide more deflection. All cables are routed inside the frame with future-proofed ports, with the main entry point in the top of the down tube, which keeps the cables neatly managed around the front of the bike.
Catering for up to 32mm tyres and having mudguard eyelets are two key features that move the C5 well beyond the capability of two competitors, the Cannondale Synapse and Giant Defy, neither of which take mudguards. With mudguards fitted there's space for 28mm tyres on the C5.
While the bike isn't intended to be a gravel or adventure bike, there's certainly nothing to stop you fitting one of the new breed of lightly treaded gravel tyres if you want to embark on some less travelled paths. And if you do, the down tube features a plastic bash guard that is designed to protect the carbon from rock strikes. That's something you see regularly on mountain bikes but I've never seen it on a road bike.
It's a disc brake-only bike, of course, and Cervélo has opted for the latest Flat Mount standard for fixing the callipers to the chainstay and fork leg. To provide the necessary clearance for the rear disc brake, the seatstays are asymmetric and there's space for adapters if you want to size up to 160mm rotors from the 140mm stock models.
There are thru-axles too: 15mm at the front and 142x12mm at the back. Given that Cervélo is owned by the same company that owns Focus, Pon Holdings, you might have expected to see the use of the Rapid Axle Technology (RAT) thru-axles on this latest Cervélo, but that's sadly not the case. The thru-axles are easy to use, though, and the wheels slot really well into the dropouts, making wheel changes a doddle.
For a company that is known for producing some of the lightest production carbon frames, the C5 comes in at a claimed 840g for a size 56cm, which makes it one of the lightest endurance disc frames ever to pass through the road.cc office (the 'lightest endurance road frame on the market today' according to Cervélo).
The range consists of five models: three of the 'more affordable' C3 versions (same frame but cheaper carbon layup) starting at £3,899, and two C5 models, the £6,199 version tested here, and a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 model costing £7,499.
For the money, as you'd hoped, this bike is very generously specced. The Dura-Ace mechanical shifters are flawless and mesh well with the Rotor 3D+ chainset, though the chunky cranks did cause some occasional interference with my shoes during pedalling. I had no doubts about the stiffness of the chainrings' shifting performance, though.
The Shimano R685 brake levers operate RS805 hydraulic callipers, and the performance was excellent, with perfect modulation providing very fine control over the speed, whether trail braking into a corner or stopping abruptly at a T-junction at the bottom of a steep descent.
The HED Ardennes Plus LT Disc wheels are a clincher wheelset with a 1,560g complete weight. The rims are made from aluminium and measure 21mm internally and 25mm externally. The wheels offer just the right level of stiffness to enhance the handling of the bike while also contributing to the smoothness of the ride, with 24 spokes front and rear. It's a tubeless-ready rim as well, ideal if you want to upgrade the tyres in the future (the Conti tyres aren't tubeless-compatible).
Continental's tyres are excellent. Inflated to 75-80psi (dependent on rider weight), the ride is silky smooth, traction is impressive in a range of conditions including rain-soaked roads, and durability has proved good so far – no flats during the many hundreds of miles logged on this bike or cuts to the rubber when getting adventurous in the wilderness.
Handlebar shape has changed a lot over the years, and the shallow drops of the FSA K-Force Compact here are easy to reach and provide a very comfortable position. The matching FSA K-Force stem and carbon seatpost complement the bike and it's topped off with a Fizik Antares VS saddle.
Saddle shape is very much a personal thing; I found this one fine for shorter rides, but anything in excess of three hours found me squirming. Swapping the saddle is an easy change.
Cervélo has made a bold move into a market populated by some very established rivals, but it has succeeded in producing a bike that offers one of the smoothest and most comfortable rides of any endurance bike I've yet tested. The C5 has a poise and balance that make it extremely controllable, predictable and fun to ride.
Fast, stable, predictable and balanced, Cervélo's new C5 is a class leader
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cervélo C5
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The ultimate endurance frame demands the most advanced components. Both the Dura-Ace Di2 9070 and Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed groupsets feature Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc-brake calipers with RT99 rotors, Ardennes Plus LT Disc wheels, Continental Grand Prix 180 tpi tires and Rotor 3D+ BBright cranks.
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, 11 spd
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, 11 spd
Shifters: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, 11 spd
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, 11 spd, 11-28
Chain: Shimano HG900, 11 spd
Crank: Rotor 3D+ BBrightTM, 50/34
Handlebar: FSA K-Force Compact
Saddle: fi'zi:k Antares VS
Seat Post: FSA K-Force
Stem: FSA OS-99 CSI
Wheels: HED Ardennes Plus LT DIsc
Tyres: Continental Grand Prix 180 tpi, 700x28c
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?
Cervélo says: "Cervélo has always pushed high-performance cycling to new heights, and is now taking it to new surfaces and seasons with the launch of the C Series platform. The inaugural model, the C5, is designed to inspire confidence through a new endurance fit that delivers predictable, stable handling. It combines the exceptional lightness and appropriate stiffness engineered into every Cervélo – including an all-carbon fork from the pioneering Project California team – with a uniquely integrated disc-braking system."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Excellent build quality, as you'd expect from a company with Cervelo's reputation, and the high price tag.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Cervélo says: "A single-piece rear triangle and wide seatstays boost back-end and bottom-bracket stiffness, allowing weight reduction to be the focus of the carbon fibre layup elsewhere across the C5 frame. The result: at 850g with paint and all small parts, the C5 is the lightest endurance road frame on the market today."
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Cervélo says: "Moving the bottom bracket closer to the ground lowers the bike's centre of gravity, improving stability and handling. Longer chainstays, a shallower head tube angle and additional fork rake increase trail and boost tire clearance, allowing for a wider range of tire sizes and room for a fender. All of this also produces a very stable, smooth and reliable ride."
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Perfect, with the change to a slightly longer stem. The bike has a lower bottom bracket so the head tube, at 18cm, isn't ridiculously tall to achieve the higher stack (the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) that the C5 provides.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's one of the most comfortable bikes in the endurance sector.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The frame exhibits all the stiffness you need for fast-paced riding and climbing, with a wider bottom bracket and tapered head tube.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very balanced handling due to the longer wheelbase and slacker head angle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I'd change the saddle for personal reasons.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels were light and responsive, and the tyres provided great traction, comfort and durability.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
A tiny niggle was the chunky design of the Rotor cranks which led to a bit of shoe rub during pedalling.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's one of the best riding and smoothest endurance disc brake-equipped road bikes I've yet tested, it's right up there with the class leaders.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.