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Cervelo R2.5.
By Tom Demerly.

Read this first about our reviews


I bought a Cervelo R2.5 bike long before they were available because of a conversation I had with Cervelo’s Gerard Vroomen.

Vroomen is part of the duo of Vroomen/White whose name appears on the chain stays of Cervelo bicycles. They are the tandem that provides the novel and credible designs that rocketed Cervelo to the top of the brand recognition charts and the podium at the Tour de France.

Five years ago Cervelo was a small niche, high end bike company known for their time trial and triathlon designs. When Vroomen told me they were doing a carbon fiber road bike that struck me as a banal and predictable move from a company that had previously only ventured into less charted areas of the bike market.

“A carbon road bike?” I asked Vroomen. “Everybody has a carbon road bike…”

Vroomen took offense. He ranted that most carbon bikes were cookie-cutter clones and relatively poor quality ones at that. He pulled no punches in his criticism of the other brands and models- naming names and quoting test results.


The R2.5's Tour de France pedigree makes for an still life in my hotel in Nice, France.
He went on to outline the standards he expected his bike to exceed. These were standards many of the bikes we discussed- bikes consumers may regard as “competing” bikes- didn’t even come close to meeting. An alarming number of them, according to Vroomen, couldn’t even pass half of the test protocol’s duration before they failed.

Vroomen proposed a new design that was lighter weight and more durable than any of them. I figured it was a safe bet ordering one. No one could ever fill that order. And if they could, I wanted to be first in line.

Whether I kept my money or got the fantastic bike (literally) that Vroomen was proposing I would make out. “Sign me up for a 51cm Gerard” I told him.

It took quite a while before the version I wanted was available but now it is readily available. We have them in stock, in our store, ready to sell. The same bike I waited more time than I care to mention for. It was worth the wait. You don’t have to wait. Based on my experience with the bike Vroomen’s superlatives about durability, bantam weight, superior alignment and ride quality and precision geometry and design were not exaggerated. Apparently his vision became reality. In our opinion the R2.5 met every one of Vroomen’s lofty claims. What I didn’t count on was that when a bike actually did what Vroomen claimed, how truly different it would be.

I am no stranger to carbon fiber road and triathlon bikes. I have personally owned no less than eight different brands and models of carbon fiber road bikes and ridden literally over 30-50 different carbon bikes. I have probably sold over a thousand. I’m familiar with the material.


Superior carbon fiber, design, construction and testing estalish the R2.5 as the best of the carbon frames.
One of the things I know for a fact about carbon fiber is that you cannot make generalizations about it. Carbon fiber is a more “engineerable” material than any other popularly used bike frame material. It is a synthetic- a composite. It is born in a test tube.
As a result, the quality of both carbon fiber and carbon fiber bikes is wildly different.
Metals such as cro-moly, aluminum and titanium can be heat treated, alloyed, surface treated, and all manner of other manipulations but they remain very similar to their original state even after significant manipulation by the metallurgist. When it comes to metal frame materials, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. What comes out of the mines in the ground is pretty close to what you put between your legs. In the grand scheme of things the difference between the most expensive cro-moly, aluminum or titanium bike and least expensive ones boil down to design, assembly and that’s about it. It makes you wonder why one cro-moly frame can sell for under $400 retail and others are over $3000 retail. Can there really be that much difference? In terms of just the material, not really.

Carbon is different. When you consider that carbon fiber is used in applications that run the gamut from flexible fishing poles and bullet resistant armor and fighter plane wings you understand this is not a material with a predictable pedigree.

That is both carbon’s boon and its bust. As Vroomen so passionately described when he outlined the R2.5 to me years ago, there is good carbon fiber, and there is bad carbon fiber, and the difference between them (unlike metals) is enormous.

I’m not a materials engineer and have only a rudimentary understanding of the chemistry behind the R2.5 and why it is “better”. Ultimately, much of the impressive and industry leading test results generated by the current R2.5 are lost on me. I can quote the test results in sales pitches, but when I am on my own bike they don’t mean much. It is just the bike that is significant then.
Lug work creates durability that has tested repeatedly higher than all other manufacturers.

The test results are a matter of record. Suffice it to say the Cervelo has smoked every other carbon fiber bike in testing. The anally exacting European bike mags have subjected it to absurd scrutiny. Weird engineering test protocols with bizarre acronyms have been leveled against the R2.5. If you want all the details do a Google search or visit Cervelo’s website.

If you want to know our experiences with the Cervelo R2.5 then read about it here.

I rode the Cervelo R2.5 throughout the summer after coming off a Look KX light carbon fiber road bike. The KX light was a good, sturdy bike. Built like a Russian tank in every sense of the word it was durable, somewhat imprecisely made, heavy but had great ride characteristics. I liked the big brute of a bike. It was stiff as an “I” beam and never backed down from pedal force. Riding it was work, but it was honest work seemingly matched by the bike’s acceleration.

I relinquished it after 1,700+ miles to the minions of E-Bay and bought a new component group for my R2.5 that had just arrived.

“If it is as good as my Look KX Light carbon, I will be happy.” I told the guys in the shop. How naive I was. I took Vroomen superlatives about the R2.5 as salesmanship. What I failed to realize at the time I bought my R2.5 was that Vroomen is not a salesmen. He’s an engineer.

The clues came quickly. The Cervelo R2.5 Team edition frameset I got was lighter than my Look Carbon. The bike was lighter by well over four pounds. Four pounds. And that was with shorty aerobars on it which the Look KX light lacked.


The oversized, blended and molded bottom bracket shell makes for drivetrain stiffness while maintaining excellent comfort.
The Cervelo R2.5 went together without mechanical protest. The bottom bracket threaded in with my hand. The fork headset plug seated easily. There were no hitches. The rear wheel snugged into the triangle without the slightest force. It just went together gently in a quiet evening with a feeling of planned precision.

Sizing it was easy. The dimensions Gerard Vroomen told me would be on the bike were on the tape measure in my store. It was what he said. He had quoted the geometry chart from memory. He knew it by heart. I guess so, he wrote it. I set up my position with ease and the stem I predicted would give me my appropriate reach measurement did it to the millimeter. There were zero surprises in setting the bike up. Once I dialed my positional dimensions into it I didn’t touch it with a wrench once.

The first ride was one of those experiences where I immediately rewound my memory back through the best bikes I had ever ridden to fight for a comparison- and I found one: The Colnago C40.

If you want me to compare the Cervelo R2.5 to some existing frame I would suggest that you picture a Colnago C40 carbon fiber in compact geometry with a slightly more comfortable ride, about 25% greater stiffness and the sensation that it is also 25% lighter. Then factor in the durability of most titanium frames, roughly double that and you have it.

Riding the R2.5 feels like taking off your shoes after a long day. It is just light and airy. The same roads you have ridden so many times are now repaved. The bumps are gone. At least they feel gone. And the bottom 30 pedal strokes of your local climbs have been removed. That is what I felt on this R2.5.

It’s a good thing too. I was about to face the biggest mountain I had ever climbed on a bicycle.

In the Tour de France mountain climbs are rated by categories. The categories are numbered 4, 3, 2, and 1 and an ominous rating known as “Hors Categorie” or “Above Category”. The lower the number, the worse the climb- until it gets so bad it is referred to as “Above Categorie”.


Near the summit of the Categorie 2 Col de Vence climb in the Nice Triathlon on my R2.5.

In September I was to compete in the almost Ironman distance 23rd Triathlon de Nice in Nice, France. The race is renowned for its difficult bike course. In particular, its crossing of a mountain pass called the Col de Vence.

The Col de Vence is a “Categorie 2” climb by Tour de France standards. It is such a demanding climb that riders like Greg LeMond, Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong and Frankie Andreu have used it for Tour preparation.

I would climb it after swimming 2.4 miles as part of a 74 mile bike leg in a triathlon, then run over 18 miles. I needed to be able to get over that climb with minimal effort and maximum comfort. I took my Cervelo R2.5 with prototype Hed shorty “S” bend aerobars originally intended for use by U.S. Postal Team riders in the L’Alpe d’ Huez time trial stage of the ‘04 Tour de France.

Not only did the R2.5 distinguish itself on the climbs, but more importantly for me, it was like a snug safety belt on the descents that Greg LeMond told me were “sketchy”.


The R2.5 is perfectly suited for climbing and descending as well as smooth rides on bad pavement.

Additionally, I found the Cervelo R2.5 exceptionally compatible with shortened, road bike friendly “shorty” aerobars. This is due in large part to the appropriate ratio of top tube length to seat tube length (at least for my body dimensions) of my frame size. Being a relatively average sized guy I wager the same relationship extends throughout the other frame sizes unless your body is freakishly out of proportion torso to leg to overall height.

In France I used custom Hed, ultra-lightweight carbon fiber shorty aerobars with the revolutionary “S” bend. This bars are prototypes and weighed almost nothing. They were absolutely superb even in this early version. Since then I have installed set of FSA Visiontech shorty aerobars available at retail for $69.99 in our store now. This is the bar you see in the photo shoot for this review. In the shots of me on the Col de Vence in France you see the Hed shorty aerobar. Shorty aerobars are the correct fit and position choice for a road bike that is being used in mountainous, technical triathlons. I combined these with the versatility of the 30cm long Fizik Arione saddle for even greater positional flexibility.


FSA Visiontech shorty aerobars suit the R2.5 road geometry perfectly. Regular aerobars are inappropriate for road bikes.

I built my R2.5 with an FSA Compact Carbon crank using 50/34 chainrings. I am a compact crank convert now. It is the answer. Compact cranks provide all the advantages of a triple but with none of the drawbacks. In fact, for the purest, the compact configuration is actually lighter than a traditional 53/39 tooth chainring double crank. Using a smaller 110 millimeter bolt circle than the tradition 130 millimeter bolt circle found on the crank of traditional doubles you can get away with smaller gears. The sacrifice at the high end of the gear chart is non-existent to me, and I consider myself a masher.

It’s is hard to describe the ride quality and handling characteristics of the R2.5. It is an ephemeral feeling. The bike is so light but so solid. And you are just insulated from the rough pavement- but you do feel the bike.

FSA's Carbon Compact cranks are a break through in road bike versatility: Advantages of a triple but lighter than a double and no drawbacks.
I have heard carbon bikes described as “dead”. These tend to be the high margin, bargain basement “cookie cutter” bikes sold in T-Shirt sizes small, medium and large and with geometry charts that make no sense to me. I owned one of these odd bikes from, well, shall we say- an “enormous” manufacturer.

The bike was sold in sizes called, among others, “small” and “medium”. After measuring both the company’s “small” and “medium” I discovered I needed the seat tube length from the “medium” but the top tube length from the “small” and the seat tube angle from something that didn’t exist in their line. I settled quite poorly onto the “small” defaulting to its shorter top tube. It handled shitty. And the ride quality was dead as a box of hair. While the bikes are a bargain for the person buying them and a boon for the retailer selling them they struck me as uninspiring. I don’t even remember what I did with mine. It just went away. Thankfully.

How amazingly different this Cervelo is than any previous carbon bike I’ve owned or ridden. All eight of them.

First off, the proportions of top tube length to seat tube length and the attendant adjustments in frame angles seem to make sense as they move from smallest to largest. There are six separate frame sizes with distinctly different geometries. In an odd departure from the norm the top professional Cervelo sponsored riders use stock Cervelo R2.5 frame sizes. There are no customs. They test prototypes but they are the ones we will buy in the next model year if they past muster. For the most part the bikes winning stages in the Tour de France are the ones you and I are also buying. Exactly the ones.

And the success Cervelo has had in the Tour de France is staggering for such a young, small company. Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Jakob Piils, Michele Bartoli, Bobby Julich, Andrea Peron, Peter Luttenberger and the rest of the CSC team have had illustrious rides and numerous stage wins on their Cervelos, most of them on Cervelo R2.5’s. Stock Cervelo R2.5’s
CSC Team Director Bjarne Riis inspects an R2.5 frame for the CSC team.

The R2.5 is available in different versions. Vroomen related an interesting tale about the R2.5 “Bayonne” version on the Slowtwitch.com forum. It seems that the Cervelo R2.5 Bayonne bikes used by at least one member of CSC was under the UCI mandated minimum weight rule. Not by a little, but by a lot. These bikes were to be used by at least one rider on CSC in the L’Alpe d’ Huez uphill time trail stage of the this year’s Tour de France. After a significant amount of scrambling to locate the “official” UCI scale for weighing in the bikes to verify compliance it was decided the only way to bring the bike up to legal weight was to add a 300 gram pair of aerobars. One athlete, Ivan Basso, did add the aerobars- which are largely useless on an uphill time trial- to bring the bike up to “legal“ weight of about 15 pounds. It seems the bikes initially weighed only 13.2 pounds. Another CSC rider, Carlos Sastre, took a slightly less elegant approach to getting up to the minimum weight: He had mechanics conceal a spare bicycle chain in the seat tube of his frame.

The most common version of the R2.5 is the readily available R2.5 Team bike. This is a complete bike with Dura-Ace at about $3899.00 and a frameset with frame, fork, carbon fiber seat post and aheadset for about $2199.00.

The Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed group is the current Asian state-of-the-art Tour de France winning component group. It is proven time and again, over and over. It is our best selling high end component group. In addition to the Dura-Ace kit on the R2.5 Team bike there is an outstanding set of Velomax (now Easton) Circuit wheels.

The Velomax/Easton wheels surpass even the Mavic Ksyrium in technology, workmanship, durability and weight. The Mavic Ksyrium is a good wheel but uses an occasionally cantankerous multi-piece hub body. The precision Velomax/Easton hub is a one piece central body. It never “creeks” and does not rely on the wheel quick release skewer for structural integrity. The Circuit wheelset uses the “Twin Thread” spoking configuration with no spoke shoulders or bends to create stress raisers and potential failures. Quality of the free hub body is also very good- a level above almost all other OEM wheels.


A molded, lugged, reinforced wishbone and "S" bend seat stay holds the lightweight, single pivot Campagnolo Record rear brake.
While the parts spec on the complete Cervelo R2.5 Team is beyond adequate, I built mine up from a frameset using my favorite Campagnolo Record Carbon component kit and Campagnolo Eurus wheels.

No question, this is the lightest bike I have ever owned at a shade over 15 pounds with shorty aerobars, computer and bottle cages.

The Cervelo R2.5 exceeded my expectations significantly- even compared to a lot of previous carbon bikes I’ve owned and ridden. I have no problem giving it “Best in Class” status among the enormous range of currently available carbon bikes. It’s peers like the Colnago C40, Time carbon bikes and the new Look 585 are also excellent and in some ways perhaps the equal of the R2.5- but not one of those has tested better than an R2.5- and the R2.5 has tested better than all of them numerous times in independent tests and reviews.

It’s impossible to call any on bike “the best”. However, the Cervelo R2.5 is certainly positioned among the top 2 or 3 carbon fiber bicycles in the world at any price, and costs less than those. That makes it a mandatory addition to any “ultimate bike” short list.

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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