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Cervelo P1 2009
By Tom Demerly.
Read this first about our reviews

Cervelo P1 2009

Cervelo's 2009 P1 is the result of years of evolution from previous designs refined into this bike.

Review Note: You’ll see a new look to our reviews for 2009. We’ve built a new studio specifically for our product photo shoots. The new photos will show greater detail where we can control color and lighting more accurately. We can devote more time to photographing details since we aren’t relying on weather for good conditions. We hope you find the new photo format useful. As always, we write and photograph all our own reviews.





Economy and elegance are often in conflict with one another. In the best of circumstances economy becomes a function of elegance: A great deal without sacrificing performance.

Cervelo’s P1 is the epitome of elegance, the convergence of price and performance make it the best value in a performance triathlon bike. Simply put: It is the best bang for the buck- period. Re-stated, the P1 is the most performance you can buy for the least money. Additionally, it is the least expensive truly high performance triathlon bike available. It isn’t a category killer- it is its own category.

Cervelo P1 2009

With an optimized truly aerodynamic down tube, close fitting rear seat tube cut out, narrow, round top tube and lowered seat stay the P1 is not just aero looking, it is truly aerodynamic for real world bicycle speeds.

The Cervelo P1 didn’t get to where it is in one model year. The entire legacy of Cervelo contributes to the P1’s current design, and it is the bike closest to the original Cervelo aerodynamic bike frame designs. Of all the Cervelo models available, this is the fruit that falls closest to the tree. Cervelo is slow to introduce new models, but vigilant about evolving proven aspects of previous designs. The new P1 is the convergence of this philosophy of constant evolution.

Legacy models prior to the P1 include the original Cervelo Eyre, the bike that first employed the optimized aerodynamic tube shapes Cervelo is founded on.

“[The Cervelo P1]…is the least expensive truly high performance triathlon bike available.”

The P1 looks like a relatively simple welded, aluminum triathlon bike, but it is more than that. The P1 is often overlooked in favor of Cervelo’s molded carbon fiber models from the proven P2 to the enigmatic P4. Carbon is king for a long list of valid reasons, but it takes money to build a carbon fiber bike well. Cervelo made a good decision in staying with a highly evolved aluminum design rather than a heavy and unsophisticated low end carbon design. In short: The best aluminum construction is better than the cheapest carbon fiber construction.

Is carbon fiber better than aluminum? In a word: Yes. To get to that level of performance you have to spend more though. The price to benefit ratio changes. Few values provide the same price to benefit relationship as the P1.

Cervelo P1 2009

The complex shape of Cervelo's Smartwall 2 tubing compared to a generic aero-styled down tube. The aerodynamic and ride quality benefits are easy to imagine when seeing this contrast in attention to internal detail. This is the part few customers ever see, but it makes a significant difference in ride quality and aerodynamics. The difference is more than skin deep.

The simple outward appearance of the P1 is misleading. It is a sophisticated and complex design with several elegant engineering features inside the frame. P1 is not an entry level bike. It is likely the most advanced aluminum triathlon frame available; fully capable of winning the biggest races overall under the right rider.

The predominant feature of the P1 is the frame profile and shape. Congruent with Cervelo’s aerodynamic principles the bike is narrow along its entire length. Frontal area is minimal. In addition to being narrow the bike is shaped correctly. While almost every aluminum triathlon bike has a wing shaped down tube Cervelo is the only company with an optimally shaped aerodynamic down tube. The trailing edge of the down tube on the P1 is noticeably sharper than other aluminum (and carbon fiber) tri frames. This narrower trailing edge is only a part of the optimal cross section of the P1’s downtube shape. The ratio of depth to width and the placement of the widest section are also optimized through well over a decade of wind tunnel testing. Given the roots of the P1 going back to Cervelo’s original design it isn’t a stretch to say that the P1 and the original designs that evolved to it are most wind tunnel tested and evolved bikes in history.

Cervelo P1 2009

The complex shape of the Smartwall 2 down tube, including the frame stiffner inside the tube at the bottom bracket (left). On the right is a production down tube from another brand with a technically incorrect aero profile and no structural features to enhance ride performance. These technically valid features add value and performance to the P1.

Features unique to the Cervelo P1:

    • Smartwall tubing enhances ride comfort, stiffness and durability.
    • Optimized, wind tunnel designed (not just tested) frame shapes.
    • Sophisticated internal bolsters to optimize frame performance.
    • Proprietary chainstays to improve ride comfort and lateral stiffness.
    • Proven geometry, dimensions and fit evolved through race results and testing at the elite level.
    • Price efficient, technically valid component spec.
    • Dependable, simple internal cable routing using internal cable stops.
    • Adjustable proximity rear wheel cut-out for better aerodynamics.

Considering an impressive list of unique frame features not found on any other bike the P1 adds a sturdy, proven list of components to complete the overall package.

“Cervelo is the only company with an optimally shaped aerodynamic down tube.”

Cervelo P1 2009

The trailing edge of the P1 is sharper than any other production triathlon bike. It also tapers down more gradually from its widest point, a direct result of Cervelo's research in real-world, low speed aerodynamics. This is what a truly aero tube needs to be shaped like. It isn't just aero styling, it is truly aerodynamic.

From the onset the component group appears workman-like, with no conspicuous frills. Everything on the bike from the wheels to the saddle is proven and time-tested. There isn’t anything flashy about the component kit on the P1, but there also isn’t (almost) anything wrong with it- that is remarkable.

The P1 has been built in previous versions with everything from Shimano’s flagship Dura-Ace component kit to a very basic component group aimed at the first time buyer. The P1 has landed at an appropriate middle ground as a primarily Shimano Ultegra SL component bike with upgraded brake levers, our favorite bend Visiontech aerobars, utilitarian Shimano R-500 wheels (Easton wheels on the 48cm bike) and Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 bar-end shifters.

The Shimano Ultegra SL drivetrain is a face lift and minor technical up spec from the conventional Shimano Ultegra. For the details on the differences in their new version of Shimano Ultegra go here.

There are a few items trickled down from the Dura-Ace component group including the rear derailleur pivot. The overall finish of the new Ultegra is ice gray, a pleasant color that offsets the metallic silver on the frame nicely.

Cervelo P1 2009

Cervelo P1 2009

Starting with the front of the bike the P1 uses a tried and true cockpit built around the Visiontech alloy wing shaped base bar and Visiontech alloy ski bend aerobars. We’ve always liked ski bends better as they offer a more anatomically restful and less stressful forearm posture. You can read about the use of ski bend aerobars versus “S” bends here.

Controls are the Shimano Dura-Ace ten speed bar end shifters. There are more of these bar end shifters on the road than any other model: They are simple, light, robust and proven.

Cervelo P1 2009

Cervelo P1 2009

The newest version of FSA Visiontech's aero brake levers with a wider, more comfortable profile and the Tektro made high return spring brake calipers. This is an excellent braking system on an aero cockpit and requires no upgrade to either calipers or levers.

Brake levers on the P1 are the new, wider and more comfortable version of the slim FSA crab-claw style lever. Again, we like this lever- it is sleek and aerodynamic with the newest version being more comfortable on the fingers than previous, narrower versions. Shifters are Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 10-speed bar end shifters- the same ones they use in the Tour de France.

Brake calipers on the P1 are Cervelo’s house brand they call Mach 2 and are made by Tektro for Cervelo. An important note: These calipers are designed specifically to work with a variety of brake levers, that is to say they are not Shimano specific. When people change the brake calipers to a Shimano brand caliper but don’t use a Shimano brake lever the response will be relatively poor. Shimano brake calipers are designed to work best with the SLR brake levers also made Shimano. When used with other brands of brake levers there isn’t enough spring tension in the Shimano brake caliper to return the brake lever after releasing the brakes unless you adjust the spring tension to its maximum in the Shimano caliper, thus taking more force to actuate the brake. Bottom line: These brake calipers are specifically intended to be used with aero brake levers, Shimano doesn’t make an aero brake lever (yet), so these calipers are better in this application than a Shimano caliper.

Cervelo P1 2009

Cervelo finally got the color very right on the P1. Previous iterations of the P1, known as the P2SL and other names as the component spec changed, ran a gamut of colors from a nice, stealthy flat black to an interesting pewter/gun metal color to a rather bilious yellow few people adored. The new livery is metallic silver, opaque red and white. The bike is not gray as we have heard it referred to, it is silver. We’ve heard many people mention they didn’t want a gray bike, then see the bike in person and tell us they like the metallic silver color very much. Cervelo’s photography on their own website doesn’t do the bike justice. It is lively, metallic silver that matches most helmets and race apparel and has a bright, summery feel. It is also a racing color that invokes images of Formula 1 and Indy racing cars. There are subtle sparkles in the paint that are brilliant in the sun. Overall, this is the paint scheme the bike has always deserved.

Cervelo P1 2009

Integral frame cable stops provide excellent brake and drivetrain performance and prevent internal rattling of cables.

The P1 uses one correctly placed bottle mount on the seat tube for optimal aerodynamics. Mounting a bottle on the seat tube is more aerodynamic than mounting it on the down tube. Cervelo intends for the rider to use another hydration system such as a handlebar mounted rig or a behind the saddle mount for longer distances when more bottles are needed. From sprint to Olympic distance one bottle mount will suffice.

Cable routing on the P1 is the legacy state-of-the-art created by Cervelo. It’s the best in the industry. No removable cable stops. The cable housing stops at the frame inlet to save weight. Since the cable stop is built into the frame your shifting and braking will feel responsive, there is no mushy feel from a lose cable stop.

Welds on the aluminum frame are nicely done and left un-ground. Previous aluminum frame manufacturers ground the aluminum weld beads smooth. Grinding the weld bead smooth likely weakens the joint by heating the material and removing strength and structural integrity from the joint. With the Cervelo welds what you see is what you get: A nicely done, workman like joint that will last thousands and thousands of miles.

Like all Cervelo frames the P1 has a lifetime warranty you will probably never have to use.

The seat post binder bolt is a simple and robust affair that uses a standard bolt and goes together easily with a 5mm Allen wrench. This is a durable design well suited for flight case disassembly. The binder bolt threads into a separate and robust anodized collar. This entire assembly can be easily and inexpensively replaced if abused by a ham-fisted mechanic.

Cervelo uses an aluminum aerodynamic seatpost with it reversible geometry seatpost head to achieve a wide range of effective seat tube angles.

A key feature to the P1’s nice ride quality is the seatstay configuration. The seatstays join the seat tube of the frame well below the top tube. This design achieves two desirable affects: It helps divert the flow of road shock energy coming from the rear wheel and it reduces the surface area of the rear triangle making it stiffer. This is an elegant engineering cue that improves stiffness and ride comfort at the same time. This design may also contribute to great rear brake performance on the Cervelo P1.

Cervelo uses a San Marco Ponza Trilon triathlon specific saddle for the original parts spec and this is a respectable saddle. The nose is wide and generously padded for riding in the aero position. Few riders will need to look elsewhere to achieve good saddle comfort in the aero position. We like the Ponza even for long rides.

Cervelo P1 2009

Rear brake mounting on the P1 is entirely conventional. The rear dropouts are Cervelo’s rear-facing, horizontal dropouts that provide good rear tire proximity to the aero cut-out seat tube with a wide variety of tire sizes and with the new generation of wider aerodynamic race wheels. This is a versatile rear end design with no aerodynamic compromises. Cervelo has started masking off the dropouts so there is a nice, finished look to the rear wheel mounts. On previous versions the dropouts were painted and the paint would flake off when the quick release was tightened. The new version looks much cleaner.

Cervelo P1 2009

The remaining components on the P1 include the FSA Gossamer crankset with a 110mm B.C.D. (Bolt Circle Diameter) using a 50 tooth large ring and a 34 tooth small ring. This is a great gear range that gives you a top end gear of 122.7 gear inches which moves the bike 32.1 feet across the ground for every revolution of the cranks in the biggest gear. By contrast, a traditional road bike large gear of 53/12 would only provide 119.2 gear inches with a total development of 31.1 feet of development (distance covered by one crank revolution). In short, the 50/34 is plenty of gear for a high top speed but a nice, low gear for easy climbing. The 34/23 low gear provides a 38.2 inch gear that travels 12.7 feet every time you turn the pedals. Contrast that with a typical 39/23 that travels 18.0 feet for every pedal revolution. Simply put, less travel is better at the low end but more travel is better at the high end. The compact cranks achieve both agendas while reducing weight and improving shift quality. It is a 100% win-win component specification.

Even flat landers will like this gearing selection since it likely gets them out of the middle of their cogset when cruising at race pace on flat terrain.

If the logic of compact cranks is still lost on you swapping this out for the heavier, less versatile, older 130mm bolt pattern crank is easy- it splines onto the same bottom bracket.

Wheels on the P1 are the newest version of the Shimano WH-R500 with black, bladed aerodynamic spokes, 20 radially laced aero spokes in front, 24 aero spokes laced cross 2 for extra strength in the back. We still don’t like the Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick tires that come stock, so wear them out and replace them with a nicer Vittoria tire or some Continentals.

The wheels themselves have a nicely machined brake track for good wet weather stopping.

Cervelo P1 2009

For many people who buy the P1 this will be their very first racing bike. There is no better place to start- the ride quality is superb. Forget the stereotypes about aluminum riding rough, this bike is comfortable enough for long distance triathlons when equipped with 23 millimeter tires, it is even more comfortable with race wheels. Handling is well scripted and the bike follows instructions without pushback- it will do what you tell it. You get the same excellent fit and geometry in Cervelo’s higher end carbon fiber P2 at 30% lower cost. Simply put, there isn’t a 30% difference in performance between the bikes.

There are a number of offerings in the entry price, sub- $2000 price category among triathlon bikes. While most of them are solid bikes, none offer the lineage, evolution, technology, sophistication and refined internal frame features or aerodynamic benefits of the P1. Below $2000 the P1 is a lethal category killer.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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