Earlier this winter Cervélo invited me to California to test out their brand-new C5, the flagship model in their C-Series, which marks the Canadian brand’s official entry into the “endurance” or “sportive” bike market. It was unseasonably chilly in the Napa Valley, where the temperature in the muddy olive grove where we camped dropped down to freezing at night. We were glamping, but without heat in the tent, I laid down under several blankets and wrapped myself in an 800-fill hooded down jacket, wanting badly to fall asleep, forget the chill and get out on the bike in the vineyards and rolling hills the next morning. Glamping in the cold ended up being a good metaphor for endurance bikes, which are meant to take some aspects of the hard-driving, rattle-your-bones road bike experience and inject it with a dose of leisure and comfort. The C5 is a glamper’s bike if I’ve ever seen one.
The big story here for cycling nuts is that Cervélo, whose founding mission was to make the fastest time-trial bike possible, is even making an endurance bike to begin with. Since they launched the Eyre and the P2 in 1996, the company has been focused on making carbon race machines that end up on the podium. With the C-Series, that haven’t abandoned that mentality, but they have adopted a combination of classic and inventive methods for making a more comfortable, stable and predictable ride.
Wheel Size: 700c
Fork: Cervélo All-Carbon Tapered C5 Fork for Disc
Brakes: Shimano BR-RS805 Hydraulic Disc
Weight: 850g (56cm frame)
Available Sizes: 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61
The construction of a classic endurance frame includes: lengthening the wheelbase for stability; lowering the bottom bracket, thus lowering the center of gravity, also for stability; giving more clearance to the wheels so riders can run bigger tires at lower pressure for a more comfortable and stable ride; a shallower head-tube angle combined with more fork rake to provide steering that’s more manageable at high speeds (race bikes, with steeper angles, are sometimes described as “twitchy”); and, overall, employing a slightly more “relaxed” geometry, which is just to say a more upright, comfortable position.
Cervélo being Cervélo, they also included a host of more innovative features, like an American-made all-carbon fork that helps keep the bike laterally stiff while absorbing pesky chatter from the road, and curved seatstays, which also help with the chatter. The proprietary Squoval (square meets oval) tube shapes come from the brand’s R-Series and are meant to provide the ideal convergence of aerodynamics, stiffness and compliance. (A small but important side note here is that before the Specialized Roubaix, a quintessential endurance bike, was being ridden to victory over cobbles at the Paris-Roubaix, the R3 was actually the endurance bike of choice for the likes of Fabian Cancellara, who won in 2006.) The icing on the cake is that the bike, in a 56 (I rode a smaller version), only weighs 850 grams, which the company says makes it the lightest endurance bike on the market.
The C5 handles country roads like a memory-foam mattress sleeps in a muddy olive grove. On a very chilly 75-miler through Napa, the bike absorbed bumps and road debris capably, things that on a racier road bike may have led to fatigue or soreness. The C5 performed especially well on high-speed descents, where I found myself enjoying the stability through turns instead of backing off as I might on a bike with more sensitive steering. Of course, the glamping experience was amplified by the C5’s Dura-Ace Di2 9070 components and Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc brakes, which make shifting and braking reliable and smooth. The area where I felt the design of the C-Series was less advantageous was climbing at low speeds, which felt a bit less responsive. I also prefer riding in the steeper, more aggressive geometry of a racier road bike, which could be roughly approximated by lowering the handlebars or grabbing the drops.
So, why did a hardcore racing brand set out to make a road bike for glampers? The reality is that in the roughly $6 billion US bicycle industry, most of the bikes trading hands are sold at mass merchants — 75 percent of them in 2014 — at a much, much (much!) lower price than the $9,000 C5 or the $5,500 C3 version. Yet specialty shops account for roughly 50 percent of the dollars because that’s where enthusiasts go to spend real money on a bike, and increasingly it seems that they’re spending it on endurance bikes; nearly every brand, from Giant to Cannondale to BMC, has an endurance bike in their line. Cervélo already has serious street cred in the racing community — just look at the Ironman World Championship bike count last year, in which there were 522 Cervélos, followed distantly by 275 Treks — and now they’ve entered the endurance category with a super-premium option for their customers who want a performance bike for weekend group rides and occasional gran fondos but don’t want to be in an aggressive, sometimes uncomfortable position for seven hours. That makes sense to me.
To put it another way, there will always be a small handful of Conrad Ankers who get more rugged with maturity and continue to camp out on the sheer walls of the Himalaya. The rest of, when we get older and a little less tolerant of discomfort, go glamping — and there’s nothing wrong with that.