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Cervélo’s new bike, the superlight, super-expensive, super-limited R5ca

Cervelo's new California facility designed the new r5ca frame in part to showcase its expertise in carbon development and manufacturing.

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By Jason Sumner

The complete lack of front-door signage says a lot about Cervélo’s small southern California research and development facility, quaintly dubbed Project California.

The new bike
The new bike

The simple mission — as stated by company co-founder Phil White — is to find newer and better ways to make frames. And two years after setting up shop in this non-descript industrial park in quiet Garden Groove, White and the facility’s top engineer Don Guichard were ready to show off the initial results of that quest during a tour given to media and local dealers a day after the Tour of California wrapped up 70 miles northwest from here on the other side of Los Angeles in Westlake Village.

Meet the R5ca (as in California), Cervélo’s newest ultra-light steed that, depending on frame size, weighs as little as 680 grams with hardware. Just don’t expect to see these stealthy black-on-black frames showing up in droves on your weekend group ride. The Toronto-based bike maker is planning to produce only about 300 of the new frames this year, and with a sticker price of $9800 for frame, fork, headset, zero-offset seatpost and a bundled Rotor crankset, they are not exactly troubled-economy friendly.

But for Guichard and his team of about a dozen co-workers, including three other engineers, manufacturing and selling frames is secondary to the facility’s primary purpose.

“We can do everything from design, to testing, to analyzing our approach to how we fabricate,” said the bespectacled 50-something. “Our goal is not to be a manufacturing facility, but when you are working with composites, you can’t separate manufacturing from design. How you actually put carbon together is part of the design process.”

Indeed, the R5ca is as much a demonstration as it is new product. The frame is made up of roughly 350 different plies of carbon that take about 90 minutes just to cut.

“We are trying to be light, but not just light by using fewer plies,” said Guichard. “We are applying smaller pieces right where you need them.”

Along with the new bike, which Cervélo TestTeam rider Brett Lancaster piloted in the final stage of the Tour of California, Cervélo rolled out a new bottom bracket standard dubbed BBright, as in “right” not “bright.”

The open standard takes pieces from both BB90 and BB30, using a 30mm axle and all the space that the non-drive-side crank and chainrings will allow. The result is a beefy, asymmetrical bottom bracket that White claims yields the best of both worlds.

“We wanted a big diameter axel for bottom bracket stiffness, we wanted to keep the bearings spread out because that makes it stiffer, and we wanted straight cranks and spiders because if you have weird load pass you have to add material,” he explained later in the day at a nearby community center meeting room, the site-change required because of the minimal office space back in the industrial park.

“That means the whole frame can get a lot bigger because it’s asymmetric. So all the tubes are bigger. The down tube is wider, the seat tube is wider, and the chainstay is about double the size. Imagine what that does for bottom bracket stiffness.”

Well, about a 40-percent increase in stiffness, adds White. And before you roll your eyes at yet another new “standard,” White says that besides Rotor, FSA and Zipp have also crafted compatible BBright cranks, and adapters for Campy, SRAM and Shimano will also be available.

“It’s really not a huge change,” adds White. “And it’s certainly not something we are trying to control. We just think it’s a better way of doing things.”

And this better way will eventually trickle down the entire Cervélo line.

“We have the ability to do all the molds here, all the carbon lay-up development,” said White of the California facility, which will start cranking out small batches of R5ca’s in the next couple weeks. “When we find things that work, we can transfer it to Asia or keep it here or even develop another facility. It’s not a direction to move production to California. We’ve got some really good producers in Taiwan and China. This actually supports them in the development.”