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Groupset: Dura Ace 9000
Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 3.5
In early 2013, Cervelo updated their line topping, wallet busting, no-expense-spared super bike frameset. That frame comes with a $10,000 price tag. The Rca is not meant to be an experiment in seeing how expensive a bike can be, but more of an exercise in bike design. To quote the company line: "Showcasing the best of our knowledge, testing, and industry-leading engineering processes". For us, the importance of the Rca is not the bike itself, but the trickle down technology and innovation learned during it's development. Which brings us to the new R5.
Click past the jump for the full review
The Kamm-tail shape of the Rca have made it to the rest of the R series.
What's new? Updated tube shapes (called Squoval 3) are both stiffer and more aero. Cervelo states that the new design reduces drag by 7.4 watts, compared to the previous R5. This closes the gap between the R-series and and the S5 by about a third.
Lighter, stiffer, and more aero. What's not to like? Well, there are a few dark spots on the build kit. The largest of which, to us, is the inclusion of the Ultegra cassette and chain. Performance wise, this was pretty much a non-issue, but for $7k, it would be nice to have a full group*. The other build spec note, is the wheelset.
As an aside, Cervelo isn't the only company that does this, it is pretty standard industry practice. Also, this is probably a good year to purchase an Ultegra build, as there are no lower spec parts currently on the market. Next year's builds will have a sprinkling of the new 11-speed 105, no doubt.
I used to be critical of Cervelo for offering high end bikes with low spec wheels, but I have since changed my mind. I have found that I am rarely pleased by the stock wheelset on any bike (too narrow, too heavy, not enough spokes... I am hard to please, grin), so they might as well be cheap. It appears that this criticism has reached Cervelo, as they no longer offer just Fulcrum Racing 7, but have started moving up the various lines.
The Fulcrum Racing 3.5 wheels on the R5 are better than others that we have tested. Our understanding that the Racing 3.5 wheels are an OEM spec that combines the Racing 3 rim with the Racing 5 hub. Not particularly good at anything, they are perfectly acceptable training wheels. However, they were a little slow to react, and felt a little soft for my 200 pound frame. I feel that life is too short to ride cheap gear, so I would change these out for something that works better for me, even for 'training'. Ultimately, a bike as nice as the R5 deserves better.
Cervelo has added their 'Future-Proof Cable Management' system to the R5. The system uses a modular design that allows for interchangeable cable stops so the frame will work with any drivetrain or braking system: mechanical, electronic, and hydraulic. While we are not currently sold on hydraulic rim brakes, it is nice to know that your frame is ready for almost anything.
I rode a size 56 frame, which is what I typically ride, but the fit is a little taller than a typical bike of this size. The relatively taller head tubes in the upper range of the Cervelo geometry means that it is difficult to get the front end low enough. A few years ago, Cervelo revamped their geometry in order to closer match the realities of how the majority of people set up their bikes: the low front end meant that they needed a stack of spacers under the stem in order to be comfortable. To make their bikes perform better, they made taller head tubes so there would be fewer spacers, therefore increasing front end stiffness. A 'race' fit is still easily achievable with a -17 degree stem and a low profile dust cap.
While not being my 'usual' fit, I had no problem feeling comfortable and confident on the R5. It didn't take long to realize that I was riding a pretty special bike. Bike companies often tend towards hyperbole in describing their bikes, and Cervelo calls the R5 a 'benchmark' bike that others compare to. While we can't speak to that we can say that it is just a beautiful all-round bike. The front end was solid, and tracking was excellent. The R5 felt spirited on the climbs, and did an good job dampening the bumps while keeping excellent road feel. Aimed more towards the race crowd, it seems to have a bit of that 'special-sauce' that is hard to describe, but just 'feels' right.
As I mentioned above, the wheels were a bit weak link of this bike, and I just happened to have a pair of ENVE SMART 6.7 clinchers nearby. Needless to say, the result was one of the nicest riding and looking set ups that I have had the opportunity to experience. The deep wheels added no weight but improved aerodynamics, and when combined with the stiff R5, they carved like rails. I know that for around $3000, it shouldn't be surprising that the bike rode better with the ENVE wheels, but it was still pretty amazing (grin). However, our rating reflects that actual build, not with the ENVE wheels.
When you are getting up to this price point, the question of value always comes up. While I really like this bike, it would be hard to justify the cost, as there a many special and exotic bikes in this range. For my money, the R3 is probably a better bet. It may weigh a little more, but when you are as heavy as I am, a few hundred grams on the frame don't mean a whole lot. However, if you are in the market for a big-ticket race bike that will get lots of attention and rides like a dream, the R5 is worth a look.
: 3.2/4 with the stock wheels.
+0.5 Future proof cable stop system accepts mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic.
-1 Can't overlook the Ultegra parts at this price point
: +.5 The subtle graphics and matte black look still find a way to attract attention from fellow riders.