One of my favorite things to do after logging a long ride is to review the segments on Strava. If you’re not familiar with Strava, a segment is a particular section of a ride where the app ranks riders based on their speed. For a New Yorker like me, those segments are usually the Central Park Loop (six miles) and the East Side Flat (one mile). It’s always surprising to see how fast everyday riders can be. (Neil Bezdek, for example, is the seventeenth-fastest rider on the list, having done the loop in 12 minutes — an average of 30 mph.) It’s one thing to follow Taylor Phinney and marvel at his ability to ride 116 miles in six hours, including 10,000 feet of climbing. But in New York, these are mostly weekend warriors logging pro-like stats. Those top guys certainly have the fitness and talent to set them apart, but they’re also riding the world’s best and lightest machines — and if you think it’s not about the bike, you’re dead wrong. I’ve been riding the Cervélo R5 ($7,500) and I can say for certain that, sometimes, it is about the bike.
At 808 grams (just under two pounds), the 2015 R5 is one of the lightest frames in the market. It weighs a full pound less than a MacBook Air. This bike is the top of the line in Cervélo’s classic road-design R-series lineup and the first frame in the R-series in which Cervélo incorporated the frame profile from their “Project California” Rca bike. Unlike Cervélo’s aero-specific S-series, the R-series is designed to be an all-around classic road bike both aesthetically and in practice. But some tinkering under the hood has made it an all-around beast: Compared to previous versions of this bike, it’s lighter, stiffer, more vertically compliant and more aerodynamic. It also has a really neat “future-proof” cable management system that allows the rider to change between electronic and mechanical shifting and mechanical and hydraulic braking, all while keeping everything routed internally. It is, in sum, a Grand Tour bike that’s meant to take on anything. You’ll pay for it — the bike I tested was $7,500 specced with Dura-Ace — but you can also get Ultegra for $5,500, and we challenge you to find a better bike in this price range.
I’ve been a cyclist for about seven years and have ridden all kinds of steel, aluminum and carbon bikes. The R5 was something of a different animal. At first, the bike felt so light I almost felt like there was nothing underneath me. A bike of this weight is often labeled a “climber’s bike”, but I found it to be more than that: light as hell but also stiff, returning everything I put into it as speed out on the road. During my city commutes, I was chasing taxi cabs moving at 30 mph down Fifth Avenue and accelerating quickly from stoplights; on weekend rides, I was able to keep up with my group during long climbs, which is typically a challenge; over bumps the bike ate everything up. One thing that worried me about the weight was how well the R5 would perform on a fast and bumpy descent, which can be a challenge for really light bikes. The R5 was stable and responsive. I even hammered a stretch of cobbles and got through it without much discomfort. I tried to find problems with this bike, but the experience only improved the more I rode it.
You still won’t find my name on the Strava leaderboard, but I’m faster and more confident than I was before, and in a way, I feel like I owe that to the bike. Now if it could only wake me up for early-morning strength workouts.