About 50 miles into a 75-mile test ride on Cervélo’s new C5, I started falling apart. I had just returned to riding a little less than one week before, after a debilitating illness forced me off the bike for nine days. Some might say it was not an ideal situation for bike testing but I’d say that the chance to test this bike, in picturesque Napa Valley no less, was just about as good as it gets. That’s because Cervélo’s new C Series is not a race bike like the Canadian brand has traditionally produced, but rather an endurance-focused carbon road machine.
Trying to stay warm and save energy on a ride that was about 25 miles longer than I could handle.
TRYING TO STAY WARM AND SAVE ENERGY ON A RIDE THAT WAS ABOUT 25 MILES LONGER THAN I COULD HANDLE.Photograph By Gruber Images
It’s that last third of a long ride where these bikes really do their best work. Even in my convalescence, the C5’s stable handling—created through the pairing of a very relaxed 71.1-degree head angle with a 53mm offset fork, 75mm bottom bracket drop, and 420mm chainstay—let my hazy mind go almost on autopilot as I soaked in the numerous vineyards and farms. The C5’s low bottom bracket and stretched wheelbase give it a “sit in the bike,” upright feel rather than a “sit on” sensation, effectively raising the handlebars or stack numbers without resorting to a giant head tube. (With the stem slammed, though, I was still able to get really close to the low handlebar position I prefer.)
The C5 felt supremely comfortable and well damped. Its exceptionally smooth ride—helped by the frame, 350g fork, thin bent seat stays, Squoval-shaped tubes, and 28c Continental tires—kept my tiring neck, shoulders, and arms from tightening with every bump (and made me feel comfortable enough to take my hands off the bars for a selfie). Unlike some bikes with nice, compliant rears and rigid, stiff-feeling fronts, the C5 is nicely balanced; my hands felt very similar sensations to those transferred through the pedals and saddle.
Riding doesn’t get much better than the Napa Valley and surrounding areas.
That said, the C5’s frame is also stiff and efficient at the pedals, both in and out of the saddle, like a race bike; it felt lively, light, and energetic, even when I didn’t. Even more impressive, this size medium frame weighs just 850 grams, even after factoring in things like the seat clamp, rear derailleur hanger, and paint. That makes it one of the lightest—if not the lightest—endurance frame on the market. I did notice that it felt a bit ‘floppy’ at really slow speeds up climbs, compared to steeply angled race bikes with less trail, but the stability quickly returns when you speed up slightly.
When the road turns upward the C5 is eager to play.
The C5 utilizes Cervélo’s BB Right bottom bracket design. It takes the frame way out on the non-drive side for extra stiffness.
After every climb comes the reward of a downhill, and the C5 is a real hard charger. Its planted ride quality, combined with powerful Shimano disc brakes, thru-axles front and rear, and large sticky tires, meant I could push pretty aggressively and still feel in control. The slower steering forced me to set up earlier for corners and be more deliberate in choosing lines, but once laid over and committed to the turn, the Cervélo felt confident and eager for speed. Mid-turn, I was even able to avoid a couple of banana slugs and salamanders navigating the wet road.
The C5’s 350-gram fork is unique in that it’s produced in Cervélo’s California facility with a carbon layup technique Cervélo claims decouples fore-aft and lateral stiffness.
With some larger tires (31c max), I have a feeling the C5 would be a pretty good bike on dirt and gravel roads, even if it’s not specifically made for it. The area where we were staying had little in the way of dirt roads, but I did venture off the pavement and through a few washboarded roadside pullouts, and the C Series felt happy there.
The C5’s beefy driveside chainstay comes with a rubber protector to prevent damage and noise from chain slap on rough roads.
The C Series comes in two models: The C5, which I tested, and the more affordable C3, with a 975g frame and 415g fork. Stiffness is claimed to be the same, but the C3 utilizes more lower-modulus carbon, so the ride quality will be different—likely even more damped and quiet than the C5.
After years of focusing on making its bikes more aero, stiffer, and lighter in the name of racing, Cervélo has developed a bike for the enthusiast. And it’s not just another endurance-flavored road bike: This machine has all the detail and engineering of a race bike, but in an ultra-comfortable, stable-handling package that—for the average non-competitive road rider—may be among the best I’ve ridden.
The C5 features internal cable routing and its ports feature these nifty modular inserts that adapt the frame for mechanical or cable drivetrains.
Cervélo is taking orders for C Series bikes now, and you’ll see them on dealers’ floors by the first of the year. Look for a full review in the pages of Bicycling and here on Bicycling.com soon.