What is the secret to Cervelo’s success? Why do people want these bikes so badly? How did they become so successful and sought after in only a few years when other companies, most much larger, have not been able to capture this segment of the market nearly as well?
There are a lot of major bike companies looking for the answers to those questions. One place they need to look is the Cervelo Dual.
With its precise synergy of performance and value the Cervelo Dual is a “customer’s bike”. The perfect mix of high performance and value priced features. When compared nut to bolt with everything else available it is apparent the Dual is a best buy.
The Cervelo Dual is such a devastating “category killer” that American Tri magazine named it “Editor’s Choice” as the best buy under $2000. But that is not even a fair assessment. The Cervelo Dual is not a $1999.99 bike just under the $2000 ceiling. The Dual is fully 21% under $2000 at $1599.99. No matter what you compare it to, the Cervelo Dual is a bargain.
Price notwithstanding the Dual is an impressive achievement for any bike company. How did Cervelo do it?
The design team of White and Vroomen started Cervelo doing exactly what they do best: Design time trial bikes. For most bike companies time trial and triathlon bikes are a niche of a niche. They amount to a very small part, if any, of their business. Cervelo was founded on that niche. An afterthought for most companies; it is the foundation of Cervelo. That is why they do triathlon bikes so well. As we pointed out over a year ago when we first reviewed Cervelo’s excellent P2K, Cervelo has more time trial and triathlon-oriented frames in their line-up than any other company.
It has been by providence and good luck that the market found Cervelo. I doubt that Cervelo insiders did an empirical survey of the demographics of cycling and predicted that triathlon would be the largest growing category in 2002 and 2003. That part was luck. The rest isn’t. It is good engineering.
Cervelo is not an overnight success. Now 9 years old, a virtual epoch in the bike industry, the company has already rocketed to the number three bike in Kona at the Ironman World Championships. It is likely the only reason they are not number one is because the people with the top two bike brands have not been able to unload their bikes. The growth rate of Cervelo at Ironman, and all triathlons, has been astronomical. Most Cervelos on the pier in Kona are under two years old, and people keep buying them. They absolutely leapfrogged over other companies many times their size. Cannondale, Litespeed, Quintana Roo, Specialized, Softride- all of them were there first and all of them fell to Cervelo. And they keep falling. Customers want Cervelos, and they want them for good reasons. The honeymoon for Cervelo ended years ago, but the marriage is solid. The reasons the bikes continue to sell is that, when you compare them to what else is out there, they are usually the best. Also, the wide fit band, or versatility of fit, positions them as the odds on favorite that a Cervelo will fit you. Functionally speaking, no company makes more frame “sizes” than Cervelo. Their sizing is like a Swiss army knife: It comes closer to doing everything than any other brand.
Success for Cervelo comes from good engineering. The bikes are not basic, they are all exotic designs, but they are functional exotics. If you look carefully at the Cervelo lineage they have evolved and learned carefully from previous models. When Cervelo does something that works, they keep it. Model year on model year shows a succession of refinements rather than complete redesigns. The Dual is a perfect example.
The Cervelo Dual uses several key features found in other Cervelo models:
- The Smartwall 2 NACA profile aerodynamic downtube.
- The Variable Geometry Seatpost design.
- The proprietary rear end and front-end frame geometry and dimensions that enable the Variable Geometry Seatpost design to work, when it has failed on other brand bikes.
- The lowest head tube heights in the industry to facilitate a truly aerodynamic body position.
- Simple, reliable parts specifications that require little or no upgrade even for Ironman distance races.
Taken one at a time:
The NACA downtube profile was refined in the wind tunnel and features the most advanced aerodynamic profile commonly available on any bicycle. It is the foundation of Cervelo aerodynamic frames, and no one else has it. While estimates of the time savings afforded by the Smartwall 2 NACA profile bladed aero downtube vary, there is no doubt the aero downtube makes the bike faster. Some wind tunnel tests have claimed the fortified aerodynamics of a Cervelo frame will save about 1 minute over a conventional round tube frame over 40 kilometers at a specific speed. The profile of the tube was designed in the wind tunnel; it is a result of wind tunnel testing. Most other companies design their aero tubing then take it to the wind tunnel, not the other way around. As a result of the sharp trailing edge and unusual chord ratio (width to depth) special tubing had to be designed. Smartwall 2 tubing uses differential butting inside the tube to reinforce the tube and provide exceptional strength and shock damping.
When you first see a Cervelo Dual with its straight seat stays and deep section, aero downtube you may think it will have a stiff ride. Even with 120 psi in the tires the ride quality is incredibly comfortable. This is due partially to the thicker sides of the Smartwall tubing dispersing high frequency road shock energy before it reaches the rider. You simply feel the bumps less. No other company is doing this. Another interesting design element with the Dual and other Cervelos are the “wiggle” shaped chainstays. There is an odd detour in the chainstays immediately behind the bottom bracket. This set of curves accomplishes a number of functions: It contributes to ride comfort. It negates the need for an indentation in the right chainstay for chainring clearance and maintains the structural integrity of the rear triangle. It maintains the original profile of the chainstay for its entire length on both sides of the rear wheel, this helps keep the rear end of the bike laterally stiff so you transfer drive forces more efficiently, but makes the rear end more vertically compliant so it rides better and you feel bumps less. You are faster on a Cervelo because you are more comfortable and more aerodynamic.
It is worth noting that this is the same downtube used on the flagship Cervelo P3 that took the Ironman world by storm in 2001 when they won four Ironmans, followed by another four Ironman victories in 2002. In some cases, professional triathletes had to buy Cervelo P3s when other companies were offering them free bikes. It isn't a fluke. Top pros know the Cervelo is the fastest frame. From Steve Larsen to Lothar Leder, the fastest Ironmans have been on Cervelo. That makes the Dual an even greater bargain. No other bike company is using their highest end tubing throughout their line. Cannondale used to do it but stopped for the 2004 model year. If you want their flagship "Slice" multisport frame (not even available as of this writing) now it is only sold as a frameset or a complete bike at around $2500, nearly $1000 more than the Cervelo Dual.
The variable geometry seatpost design is not a new concept. Aftermarket companies like Profile and Sugino have made forward facing seatposts to shorten the reach and artificially position a cyclist’s pelvis in closer vertical proximity to the bottom bracket. The problem is, forward seatposts on a standard road bike create more problems than they solve. Simply shoving the saddle forward when using aerobars puts too much weight on the front wheel causing steering to be hyper-responsive. This also makes the ride quality horrible in most cases. For a forward oriented seatpost to work correctly the frame has to be purpose built to work with it. Cervelos are. And they are the only ones.
So why does it work on a Cervelo? I asked Cervelo engineer Gerard Vroomen that question at Dan Empfield’s Xantusia desert compound near Edward’s Air Force Base in the California desert. Vroomen wasn’t talking: “If I said how we did it, then everyone would do it…” In measuring a Cervelo Dual it appears relatively unremarkable, but there are enough subtle differences to account for major advantages in handling when configured with the saddle all the way forward. The bike remains stable and corners well. Ride comfort is still excellent. However Vroomen and White accomplished this, it works.
We did some investigative journalism with a tape measure to try to discover why a Cervelo Dual works with a variable geometry seatpost and other bikes, like the Kestrel Talon or a road bike with the seat pushed forward, do not work nearly as well. It didn’t take much investigation to uncover the “Cervelo conspiracy” of aerodynamic and comfortable position design.
First we measured seat tubes on four popular triathlon bikes in our store: A 2004 Cervelo Dual, a 2004 Cannondale Ironman 800, a 2004 Felt S25 and a Quintana Roo Kilo. We selected sizes that all had an effective seat tube dimension of within 5mm of 50.5 cm. It is also interesting to note that the manufacturer’s “names” of these sizes ranged from a low of “49 cm.” to a high of “52 cm” for the size names. That is an example of how misleading size names can be.
Having measured these parameters and established a baseline we used a laser to measure the actual, effective straight-line chainstay length of each of these bikes. Well I’ll be darn, Cervelo was shortest by a centimeter or more. It was over two centimeters shorter than some.
Simply put the Cervelo variable geometry seatpost works on Cervelo because they position the rear wheel farther underneath the mounted rider’s center of gravity. Unlike a traditional bike with a forward seatpost retrofitted the weight distribution on the Cervelo Dual, P2K, Soloist Team, Soloist 105 and flagship P3 remains excellent and correctly distributed even with the seat forward due to the shorter chainstays. Simple. And no other company is doing it.
If you have trouble visualizing this think of it like this: A big cargo airplane is carrying a load of elephants. As long as the elephants stay near the middle of the airplane while it is flying the center of gravity remains centered and stable, allowing the airplane to handle easily and predictably. Should the elephants suddenly decided to walk forward in the airplane it forces weight forward and the nose down, forcing the pilot to not only compensate for the horizontal angle of the airplane, the “angle of attack” but also screwing up the steering or “yaw” angle under steering control. Still follow me? Now, bikes are different than airplanes because there is no “angle of attack” control axis in the horizontal aspect. But the fore/aft orientation of the load does influence the “yaw” axis or left/right steering substantially. If the airplane analogy doesn’t work for you try picturing a school bus full of elephants. A road bike with the seat shoved forward is like all the elephants walking forward in the school bus. You can imagine how that would effect steering and braking. With a Cervelo that has its seat oriented forward in the variable geometry seatpost the elephants are still in the right place in the vehicle and the bike handles predictably and rides comfortably.
Put the saddle forward on a Cervelo and it works be the frame is designed to be ridden like that. Other bikes are not. I call that perfect bike “fung shui”. It is elegant genius.
The low head tube height is an example of Vroomen and White making the market come to them, rather than pandering to the market. This has created problems though. Vroomen and White gave bike shops and customers more credit than they deserve. A walk thought any transition area will reveal at lest a few Cervelos with an absurd number of spacers between the top of the headset and the bottom of the stem. This is a misguided attempt on the part of the bike shop or the customer to raise the handlebars. It is OK to use a couple centimeters of spacers, but the handlebars on these bikes belong low, that is what they are for. You are supposed to learn to ride like this. It takes time, but it is worth the effort, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Most other bikes won’t allow you to ride this low in the front end. For my taste the Dual is delivered with too many spacers under the stem. You can see this is the photo at the top of this review. What is the point of having a low head tube if you are just going to stack a bunch of spacers under the stem to raise the bars? The point is, it is a start point: As you become more skilled at riding lower you remove the spacers. Eventually and with training you will only have one 5 mm spacer and your fork steer tube can be cut down. You will have a more aero posture than you could achieve on any other bike. you will be a lot faster. You can achieve this posture, but it is like anything else in our sport, it will take a little work.
We put our investigative journalist hats back on and grabbed the tape measure again to prove why Cervelo is better and more aerodynamic. We went back to our sample set of popular tri bikes here in our store: 2004 Guru Trilite, Cannondale Ironman 800, Quintana Roo Kilo and Felt S32. We measure the head tubes in the equivalent seat tube lengths.
I’ll be darn, Cervelo wins again. They have the shortest head tube by over 3 cm.! That is incredible. The benefit to this is an incredible aerodynamic advantage for the rider. In fact, realistically speaking, this is the most significant aerodynamic feature on the bike, not the sexy bladed down tube. A rider can get more aero more easily on a Cervelo Dual, P2K, or P3 because of their lower head tube height than any other bike in its size range. No one even comes close. I find it incredible that there is such an enormous difference. Think about it: Each of these four bikes had roughly equivalent effective seat tube lengths, but the head tubes varied by a range of only 9 cm. for the Cervelo Dual to over 14 cm. high in the highest one we measured. Amazing. This is why your best bike shopping comparison tool is a tape measure.
Simply put, Cervelo’s aerodynamic triathlon and time trial geometry is the best, most thoroughly conceived, in the bike industry.
This is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact. Shop for a bike with a tape measure and you will see. The numbers don't lie. A tape measure doesn't have opinions.
As you go nuts to bolts on the Cervelo Dual you find the Cervelo product managers did a great job specing out the bike too.
The wheels are the Ritchey Pro DS wheelset. 700 and 650c depending on your frame size. Depending on when the bike was assembled may influence exactly which wheel configuration is on the bike. We find minor variations in wheels from bike to bike within the same 2004 model year, even in the same size. No big deal. When we spoke to Ritchey designs about the pro DS wheelset they told us “Cervelo virtually designed the Pro DS wheelset for us”. There was no wheelset like it in the Ritchey line-up four years ago when Cervelo first came to them saying “Make us a value oriented race and training wheel to spec on our bikes”.
The collaboration resulted in the Ritchey DS Pro. It is a very solid, very fast and reasonably light wheelset suitable for all weights up to around 210 pounds in our estimate, and that is pretty conservative. Rear wheel spoke count is 20 spokes for the 650c bike sizes and 24 spokes for the 700c. In this age with advanced rims and hubs that is plenty of spokes for a strong wheel but not too many to ruin the aerodynamics.
The derailleur set on the Dual is excellent: Shimano Ultegra 6500 nine speed. Little else needs to be said. It is light, strong and dependable. The rear derailleur uses sealed ceramic pulley bushings, sealed bracket pivots, aluminum inner and outer links and weighs 215 grams. One very pleasant detail Cervelo included in the parts spec of this bike, and it is something you probably would have never noticed in the bike shop, is a genuine Shimano zinc-alloy plated chain. Thank you Cervelo. They did not low-ball us with a cheap substitute non-Shimano brand chain. They could have too, and you probably would have never noticed since the bike shop would be forced to change to a Shimano chain after you came back saying "The drivetrain makes noise". We have had to give away a lot of free Shimano chains to replace non-Shimano brand chains on other brands of bikes that found they could save a buck by specing a non-Shimano bargain basement chain. But Cervelo traditionally keeps their parts spec pretty “pure” where it counts and is not afraid of upgrading in certain places either. Thank you Cervelo for giving us a real, high quality Shimano brand chain instead of a cheap substitute.
Shifters are Shimano Dura-Ace nine speed bar-end, the same ones Lance Armstrong used in the Tour de France when he raced on nine speed. They work perfectly.
Cranks have been upgraded to the excellent and attractive FSA Gossamer crank on an impressive, huge diameter ISIS splined bottom bracket. I like this much better than Shimano. The chainrings are a lot nicer, the bottom bracket beefier and the profile of the crank arms themselves is slimmer than Ultegra so you are less likely to hit your ankle bone on them during pedaling. While it is a minor issue I like the appearance of the black crank also. the CErvelo sponsored Team CSC under the leadership of Tyler Hamilton used the FSA cranks in the 2003 Tour de France. I have used FSA cranks extensively and feel they are among the best in the industry now. I din;t at first, but the proof is in using them, and I have used them for over a year. With the exception of Shimano 2004 Dura-Ace, FSA cranks on an ISIS bottom bracket are better than Shimano Ultegra and Shimano 105.
Brake levers are the tried and true Dia-Compe 188, again, as used formerly by Armstrong and about everyone else. Cervelo paid attention to detail and speced black ones.
Even the tires are nice: The impressive new Vittoria Rubino Intrepid with Kevlar and the “3D Compound” tread formula. I love these. They ride great, hold pressure well and are very, very flat resistant. It is about everything you could ask for in a tire.
Handlebars are very good but not my absolute favorite. I am a self-confessed Syntace lover. The Dual uses Profile Carbon Strike aerobars and I know why: Greater adjustability. For most retailers the Profile Carbon Strike is a better choice than Syntace C-2s or streamliners because most retailers are lazy. The Syntace aerobar is more “solid” than Profile but is sold in sizes and is not adjustable for length. I like that. But it means you have to do some swapping of aerobar sizes to fit a customer correctly and we even cut the bars to get the sizing precise for individual customers. Most retailers don’t do that. They prefer the convenience of simply turning a few bolts to get the aerobar size they want, if they bother to adjust it for the customer at all. So, of the profile aerobars, the Carbon Strike is among my favorite, but I still prefer Syntace, although I fully understand and respect Cervelo’s decision to spec these aerobars. It makes better sense for most retailers and customers. In praise of the Profile Carbon strike you can adjust the rotational angle of the grip too, you can't on Syntace. Basically, you can put these bars wherever you want. That is nice.
The base bars are a fine flat-rise bar and the stem is a nice alloy model easily disassembled for flight case use. It is without flaw but non-remarkable. I see no need for change or upgrade except to facilitate fit if necessary.
The saddle: Well- saddles are a matter of personal preference so it doesn’t matter much anyway. We call the Selle Italia saddle on the Dual a “50/50 saddle”. That is to say, 50% of the people who try it for a couple months like it, 50% don’t. I’m in the 50% that didn’t. This isn’t an issue since any retailer worth your while will give you fair value in trade for this saddle toward an upgrade to something like a Fizik Arione (which I love) or a Selle San Marco Azoto Triathlon Gel. Give the saddle on the Dual a fair shake, you may be in the 50% that likes it. A neoprene saddle pad helps it, but I didn't like the curved profile and "lump" in the nose. I’ve been training for Ironman New Zealand so I am perpetually saddle sore. The only thing working for me right now is the Fizik Arione. I love that saddle. Shell out the extra $100 for the upgrade to a Fizik Arione and I bet you'll thank me.
The fork is the Cervelo branded carbon fiber aerodynamic bladed model we've seen before on Cervelo and other triathlon bikes. It is nice and works fine.
Overall, the ride quality of the Dual is, well, pretty damn amazing. I love it. I really enjoy riding this frame. It is an utter delight: light fast and comfortable. Solid and beefy as hell. You can be aggressive but remain comfortable on this frame no matter where the saddle is positioned on the seatpost head. It is brilliant. I am tempted to strip the bike down and build it with a Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed or Campagnolo Record parts kit to produce a super high-end exotic bike. That would turn the $1599.99 Dual into a $3500+ Ferrari of a bike.The frame is worth such an upgrade. It is simply excellent.
The cornerstone of the frame’s superiority is the Cervelo geometry. No other manufacturer has anything even remotely close. No one. That makes the Dual an amazing bargain at $1599.99 with this parts kit. You could make an effective argument for Cervelo selling this bike at $1999.99 and just saying "Well, this bike is a little more because of the proprietary Cervelo geometry, the only triathlon geometry that works this well.” And you would be right.
The Dual is the best buy in this price category if it fits you. And with this unique geometry, chances are it probably will.
It makes me wonder: When are the other companies going to learn?