Just over a year ago we tested the Cervelo R5, and it instantly attained notoriety among the racers on staff. Its feathery light weight, amazing lateral stiffness and a relatively compliant ride made it a hit with the fast guys. The newest version is the R5 VWD (as in Cervelo founders Gerard Vroomen and Phil White Design) and is identical in appearance to the previous model. But, refinements in the layup process help to shed about 30 grams from the previous R5, taking it below 750 grams, a mighty feat considering the 2011 R5 is what many in the industry hold as the gold standard in stiffness-to-weight ratio.
One look at the R5 VWD’s mix of round, square and rectangular tubes tells you that Cervelo’s engineers take their geometric tube shapes seriously. And just as we found with the R5, it’s not just for the sake of scoring points in a sculpture class that they use such a variety of shapes. One of the most defining features of the R-series is the pencil-thin seatstays that Cervelo introduced on the R3, which was ridden to a Tour de France victory in 2008 by Carlos Sastre. The thin seatstays not only help the R5 VWD become one of the lightest production frames on the market, but they also improve damping, a feat that is often noticeable by its absence on other high-performance frames. While the seatstays add compliance, the necessary rigidity comes from Cervelo’s Squoval (square-oval) downtube, seat tube and chainstays.
The tubes’ square profile and monstrous diameter use every millimeter of surface area where they meet the 79mm-wide BBright bottom bracket shell. Despite a relatively tall head tube—with a 1 1/8- to 1 3/8-inch taper rather than the larger 1 1/2-inch-lower diameter used by some other brands—the front end was still sufficiently stiff. In the quest for optimum positioning, the tall head tube (between 5–10mm taller than other frames in its category) needs fewer headset spacers to be used in achieving a more upright position (spacers are not structural and do not add stiffness).
For those wanting a super-low handlebar height, they can run a negative-degree stem as many of the Garmin-Sharp riders do. In terms of geometry, the R5 VWD doesn’t vary much from typical race geometry, with 40.5cm long chainstays, a 98cm wheelbase, and 73-degree seat tube and 73.1-degree head tube angles (size 54). All four R-series frames (R3, $2200; R3 Team, $3200; R5 VWD, $4900; and R5ca, $9800) share the same exact shapes but differ in their carbon layup, which culminates in lower weights as the price goes up. We saw both the VWD and the vaunted “California” frames used by Garmin-Sharp riders in the Tour this year.
One thing that Cervelo is known for is selling their complete bikes at prices where it is hard to imagine they’re not losing money on the components. Take the R5 VWD, for example: the frame, fork and seatpost sell for $4900, but for $1800 more you get a complete bike with SRAM Red,FSA K-Force Light cranks, 3T Ergonova Team carbon handlebars and an entry-level Fulcrum Racing T wheelset. Or, you can get it with Campy Super Record for $8500. We received the SRAM version for our test model, and rather than it being completely stock, it had one fairly substantial upgrade: Easton EC90 56mm carbon clincher wheels. The $2100 wheels are an upgrade over the stock Fulcrums in terms of aerodynamics and stiffness, in addition to a weight savings of close to 200 grams.
We hate to gush, but throwing a leg over the R5 VWD immediately felt like we had reacquainted with a dear old friend, a friend we’d be happy to spend endless hours with. For the testers who wanted a bike that offered no-sacrifice performance, the R5 VWD was a boon. Its low weight— combined with a stiff bottom bracket and front end—helped it accelerate like it was one of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory projects. Not everyone was bowled over by it, though. One tester liked its responsiveness, but felt the ride quality was much more suited to the racer types and not necessarily the best choice for those who are not. Even though the non-spec, 56mmdeep, 1740-gram Easton EC90 wheels aren’t considered super light by carbon standards these days, their stiffness helped the R5 VWD in terms of acceleration and efficiently helped turn our power into forward momentum. The stock wheels will have a more compliant ride, but they give up some of the efficiency we admired most about the bike. We’re betting that most people who are in the market for this level of a race bike would not be using the Fulcrums come race day.
Honestly, there’s not a noticeable ride difference between the 2011 R5 and the current-year R5 VWD—and we’re fine with that, since both models are firmly planted on our list of great bikes. As long as you’re looking for a no-holds-barred bike that’s capable of performing at the highest level, there’s truly little in which to find fault. The R5 VWD is apologetically a bike designed for being the first across the finish line—whether it’s a ProTour stage or a local Category 5 criterium. Pro-level bikes don’t come cheap, and the R5 VWD is no exception. But, it’s also not out of the realm of its competitors—such as the Specialized Tarmac SL4, BH Ultralight and Wilier Zero7—while running slightly more than a comparably equipped Cannondale Evo. A less expensive alternative that would give you similar qualities to the R5 VWD would be the R3, which can be had with a SRAM Rival build for $3150.
• No one but yourself to blame if you don’t win
• Light, stiff and relatively compliant
• Race wheels required to optimize frame performance
: $6700 (stock), $8800 (as tested)
14.7 pounds (as tested)
48, 51, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm
For more info: Cervelo