When it comes to high performance, Cervélo’s R3 has more pedigree than Crufts. Super-light, super-stiff and super-strong, it’s been at the top of more wish lists than any other road bike since it was introduced in 2006, and it’s already been piloted to victory in Paris-Roubaix twice, while Carlos Sastre raced the SL version to win this year’s Tour de France… And that’s the model we’ve managed to get our grubby little bike mitts on, in its 2009 incarnation.
Cervélo have never been a company to tinker with things just for the sake of it, and they’ve not structurally altered the R3 SL frame for 2009. You get exactly the same Squoval down tube and chain stays as before, which are – you’re one step ahead here, right? – square but slightly ovalised for maximum lateral stiffness without the risk of buckling. The same massively oversized bottom bracket area for a solid pedal platform. The same anorexic seatstays – the skinniest you’ve seen in your entire life – to cut through the air with minimal disturbance.
What is different is the fork. Out goes the Wolf SL, which Cervélo voluntarily recalled a couple of months back, and in comes 3T’s all-carbon Funda Team. Lightweight (325g) and aero-section, it’s a beautiful match with the frame up front. You get a 3T Doric LTD seatpost to go with it, a Cane Creek integrated headset and that’s yer lot. The rest of the build is down to you. We had brand spanking new 2009 Shimano Dura-Ace on ours because… well, why not? For the full lowdown on that, click here.
So what’s it like to ride?
Fast. You want more detail? Very fast. More than that? Okay, here’s the deal…
The day Cervélo make a bad bike is the day Boy George jacks in the showbiz life and becomes a sheet metal worker… it’s probably not going to happen any time soon. But even by their standards, the R3 SL is an extraordinary machine.
First of all, acceleration from a standing start or out of a tight bend is nothing short of stunning, partly due to the R3 SL’s extremely light weight. Without pedals our 56cm model hit the scales at 6.5kg (14.3lb), and with pedals it’s still a sliver under the UCI’s minimum limit of 6.8kg, so if you’re hoping to win the Tour de France on one next year you’ll have to add weight somewhere. Maybe fit a bell or some spokey dokeys.
Of course, light weight is reasonably easy to come by – you just use less material. It’s keeping the bike strong and stiff while you do it that’s the challenge, and Cervélo have that one down pat. Get out of the saddle and crank it up and there’s virtually zero sideways flex through that Squoval [it’s what we in the words trade call a portmanteau. Oh yes] down tube or the multi-section top tube, and as for the bottom bracket – let’s call it what it is – slab, well, that’s not going anywhere. You could put it on the floor and jump up and down on it (if that’s your thing, like) and it won’t budge.
Hit the hills and the R3 SL is up ’em like a rat up a drainpipe. It’s where this bike is at its best. You find yourself further up your regular climbs than usual before your legs start shouting, and you can see your ride-mates getting more and more cheesed off at your extra speed. It’s very, very quick to the point that you occasionally feel more like a passenger than the engine.
Down the other side and the Cervélo is perfectly well mannered with accurate steering through the 3T forks giving you the confidence to take sweeping bends full on, and to chuck it into tighter corners without the need to scrub off speed ‘just in case’. Jam the brakes on in a bend that turns out to be sharper than expected and it’s not a problem – no readjustments necessary.
The R3 is comfortable enough too. Not plush, not harsh, just… comfortable. You can perch there on long rides without feeling that you’ve been battered and can no longer perform at your best, you don’t get excessive road vibration and, to be honest, that’s all we care about on a speed machine. You want more comfort than that, stay on the sofa or take the car.
So, where are we at? Light: check. Stiff: check. Fast accelerator: check. Quick climber: check. Surefooted descender: check. Comfy enough: check. Aero: well… the road.cc windtunnel is out of action right now [Tony – put another 50p in the meter, will ya. You’ve not been spending it all on sweets again, have you?] but the R3 SL is certainly not as slippery as Cervélo’s S series of bikes (née Soloists). Okay, the S bikes aren’t as light and they don’t have as much vertical compliance but… it’s a tricky one.
If we could only go with one or the other, would we be tempted by the R3 or an S model? Can we have both? No, okay, assuming we’re not going to be climbing Ventoux every day in which case the light weight would be more important, we’d go with one of the S bikes for the wind-cheating aerodynamics. We’re not saying that’s the definitive answer: Carlos Sastre went with the R3 SL in the world’s biggest race and won it… so who are we to argue?
The Cervélo R3 SL is one of the best road bikes on the planet; some people would argue that it is the best. If you’re in the market for a top level, high performance speed machine, this is a real taste of roadie heaven.
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Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.