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Road Gear

First Ride: Cervelo C5 endurance bike

Cervelo's new disc brake-equipped C5 is the right blend of confident handling, stiffness, and comfort. Here's our first ride review.

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Light, agile, and fun to ride — not the words you’d normally associate with an endurance bike. But that’s exactly what came to mind while chasing town line sprints and climbing steep California hills aboard Cervelo’s new C5 endurance bike. The 850-gram frame (including small parts) is a versatile machine that provides a smooth ride without giving up Cervelo’s signature race feel. While Cervelo says it’s unlikely that we’ll see any pros racing the C5 this year (except maybe at Paris-Roubaix), the endurance bike is best-suited for mixed terrain including pavement, gravel, and dirt roads for everyday adventures.

On an unseasonably cool and rainy December day just outside of Napa Valley, California, Cervelo introduced its new C-Series line of endurance road bikes. The top-of-the-line C5 Dura-Ace Di2 9070 model that we took out for a spin is equipped with Shimano flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes and employs endurance geometry, including a taller head tube (180mm), longer chain stays (420mm), and a lower bottom bracket (BB drop 75mm).

Founded in 1995 by engineers Phil White and Gérard Vroomen, Cervelo’s first design was a time trial bike, built specifically for Italian cyclist Gianni Bugno. From the P-Series time trial bikes to the S-Series aero road bikes, everything Cervelo offers is built with speed in mind. So when rumors surfaced that the company was adding an endurance road bike to its quiver, we had our doubts. But after a weekend spent aboard the new offering, our assumptions were squashed and this smooth ride quickly won us over.

Endurance bikes have an unfortunate reputation as being unresponsive or mushy under power, but a few of the new endurance offerings we’ve ridden this year admirably combined responsiveness and a smooth ride. Cervélo’s C-Series is no exception.

Hopping aboard the C5, which had HED Ardennes Plus LT Disc wheels and an FSA cockpit, we were immediately treated to a gentle ride through some of Napa’s vineyards. Thanks to the bike’s disc brake construction, Continental’s 28mm Grand Prix tires fit with room to spare. One Cervelo engineer suggested that even 32mm tires would fit for clearance close to that of a ‘cross bike. Naturally, the bigger tires added to the smooth ride, minimizing vibrations from the road for a buttery feel over rough pavement.

Besides smooth, the C5 also feels quite active. It certainly isn’t as snappy as the R5 or S5 race bikes, but the BBright bottom bracket shell adds stiffness to the bike, making for faster than expected acceleration. BBright is an asymmetrical open standard developed by Cervelo. The standard extends the BB shell by 11mm (on the non-drive side) so larger frame tubes can connect at the BB. The oversized 30mm spindle is compatible with SRAM, Rotor, FSA, and Campagnolo cranks, but needs an adaptor for Shimano cranks.

The C-Series’s combination of a shallow head tube angle (71.5 degrees) and increased fork rake (53mm) results in a trail figure that’s only 1mm shorter than the 73-degree head angle and 43mm rake of many road bikes. The C5 does feel a tad sluggish at slow speeds but is especially stable at high speeds. This became apparent when carving down a steep and twisty descent on the last day of riding. The lower BB puts the bike’s center of gravity closer to the ground, which lent stability through switchbacks, enabling us to hold smooth lines through each corner.

The bike’s lower BB also helps when it comes to geometry. Dropping the rider relative to the handlebars allows for a taller stack (595mm) without an exaggerated head tube. Add the comfort of a taller stack and a shorter reach (382mm) to the Project California fork and curved seat stays, and the C-Series feels downright luxurious.

As for aesthetics, that’s the one place we think Cervelo missed the mark. The C5’s glossy black and brownish-gold paint scheme did little to wow us. We prefer the lower level C3 model’s black, red, and white paint job.

While we only had a couple of days to test ride the C5, we did get out for one long ride with lots of ups and downs and even some seriously degraded tarmac. In what little time we spent aboard this endurance machine, it was apparent that Cervélo did not turn its back on the company’s history of speed, but instead just reimagined what speed can feel like. We love the way the C-Series feels.

The C5 will be available at the end of December while the lower spec’d C3 model will come out in 2016. Six sizes will be offered, including 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, and 61cm.

MSRP for the C5 Dura-Ace Di2 9070 we tested: $9,000
Weight: 850 grams for the frame and small parts

Cervélo provided transportation and accommodations for this review.