Known for pushing the boundaries, Cervelo has cemented their place in modern cycling history as catalysts for change. Their bikes are designed to be light, stiff and comfortable. The R3 frame weighs under 1000g including paint in the 56cm (which we rode). The R series has a reputation for being super light but in all fairness the expectation of light and reliable has moved to well under the hallowed 1000g. The R3 isn’t a boat anchor but it now stands eye to eye on paper with any number of mainstream competitors like the Trek Emonda, Merida Scultura or Scott Addict.
The R3 is meant to be an all rounder and climber, the bike that you can throw anything at and know it will be up for it. Cervelo created the word ‘Squoval’ for its downtubes some time ago, which were round edged rectangles. The distinctive boxy tubes were reputedly stiffer than conventional rounder shapes. This generation of R3 (launched in 2015) takes more aero cues than the prior iterations. The headtube is slimmer and the downtube is far more rounded although it is squared off on the top face. The chainstays of the R3 have always been pretty generous near the bottom bracket too, before slimming towards the drop outs. Two distinctive features of a Cervelo are their BBRight standard, which is wider than most with the extra width located on the non-drive side. Cervelo decided to use the free real estate on this side to make more frame, in turn making a stiffer transmission for less weight. Another Cervelo innovation that the brand will perhaps always be known for is the super thin seat stay. Often copied, the thin stays seemed impossible when they first debuted. The big chain stays do most of the work, and the anorexic seat stays allow the bike to absorb a lot of the road buzz and ride smoothly over deviations in the road surface.
This newer generation R3 frame shares all of it’s features with the top of the line R5 (lighter) as ridden by Cervelo’s pro-level teams in the Grand Tours, and also the entry level R2. In fact the only difference between the R3 and R2 is the fork, which has to make the R2 a bit of a bargain. The new generation frame shapes have been tested by Cervelo, and compared with the old R3 the new design is 24% stiffer at the head tube and 8% stiffer at the bottom bracket. The aero considerations shave 7 watts of drag too. Not life changing but free speed is always in fashion, especially if there is no resultant disadvantage elsewhere.
Now this is that part where I note that I ride an R3, and have done for about two years. It came to me by luck rather than design, but it’s been a great bike and stayed in my stable longer than most. For the test I swapped in my own wheels and yanked my seatpost out of my bike, saddle and saddle bag still attached. In seconds I was home. This new R3 is physically much smaller and looks positively undersized. Despite this, Cervelo’s testing of the additional head tube stiffness is easy to feel. My older model feels bouncy at the bars when you’re really honking out of the saddle up hill. This new model has a much firmer feel, although there are many frames out there that are more solid still. I’d be lying if I said I could feel the extra muscle at the BB though. Over the years I had the chance to speak with some frame engineers, and when it comes to brands Cervelo is always spoken of highly, especially their elaborate and incredibly precise carbon lay ups. The admiration of their peers is noteworthy, and it’s not surprising that this slender new R3 is stiffer than the old model without being heavier.
As a Roubaix winner it would be expected that the R3 is a smooth machine, and that it is; it’s light and stiff and a great platform to build a race or go fast all rounder, but the ride is excellent on beautiful or dead roads and I’d say this new R3 is smoother than the old one. The chassis is supple enough to ride some gravel and dirt and hold it’s own amongst specifically comfort focused bikes, but it can turn around and rip as hard as most smooth road specialists too. The geometry is far removed from an upright, long wheelbase sportive bike. It’s agile and sprightly and loves to get up out of the saddle and pepper a climb and is just as happy headed down hill. The front end holds it’s line well and the slight give in the front end keeps the wheel planted if the surface isn’t glass smooth. This is a genuine high-performance all rounder.
The R3 is offered with mechanical or electronic Ultegra, with Rotor 3D BBRight cranks. The cables (and battery if needed) are all routed internally, Cervelo’s ‘Future’Proof’ cable guides good a nice job of keeping everything tidy. There is no point talking about Ultegra/Di2. It gets things done like a boss, every time. One consistent spec theme with Cervelo is basic wheels. Compared to the price point, Cervelos typically ship with simple wheels, the assumption being that the owner will have a set of nice race wheels of their choice and will use the stock wheels to train on. It keeps the price down but the wheels are intentionally down-specced compared to the ability of the R3
The R3 is all about the frame. Well finished and elaborately engineered, this simple and unassuming looking frame is anything but.
Happy as an animator or spectator, the R3 is confident in all situations. It lacks ‘burliness’ in the front end, so if that is a deal-breaker then perhaps look at the S Series bikes.
The spec list and weight won’t place the R3 at the top of the value stakes, especially as you’ll want to add in the value of a better set of wheels. The ride is pro-level refined and can do double duty over the dead country roads or smooth crit track, so there is a lot of versatility to factor in.
The R3 could easily fall through the cracks. It’s not a dedicated aero or sportive bike, nor is it cutting-edge light these days. The R3 stands out due to its combination of abilities, both stiff and comfortable without being a boat or a brute.
Frame: Cervelo carbon
Fork: Cervelo R3
Shift Levers: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Front Derailluer: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Rear Derailluer: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Crank: Rotor 3D30 BBRight, 36/52
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-25
Bottom Bracket: Rotor PF30
Wheels: Mavic Aksium S
Tyres: Mavic Aksion
Handlebars: FSA Energy Compact
Stem: FSA SLK
Headset: FSA 1 1/8 to 1 3/8
Saddle: Fizik Antares
Seat Post: FSA SLK
Chain: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 6800
Distributor: Derby Cycles