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Tech-Redux: Cervélo S3 SRAM Red

From issue 2 • Images by John Maynard

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As we near our 100th issue, we take a look back at some of the tech we covered including a boatload of sweet bikes. This Cervélo is from issue 2. FUN FACT: $4,600 (for the frameset) in 2011 is equivalent to about $5,393 in 2020 money (according to saving.org)!

It has been less than a decade since Cervélo debuted in the European peloton under the riders of Bjarne Riis’s CSC team. From the start, Cervélo’s involvement in the team was much more than just a bike supplier. Cervélo pioneered aero road bikes in the toughest races in the world. They pushed the limits of lightweight frames and what is capable with carbon fiber. CSC stayed with Cervélo until the 2009 season, when Specialized took over as the team’s equipment sponsor. Instead of simply finding a team to sponsor, Cervélo pushed in a new direction by creating their own top-flight team. Led by 2008 Tour de France champion, Carlos Sastre, and sprinting hero, Thor Hushovd, the team became one of the best in the world—climaxing with Hushovd’s world title in 2010. Despite this success, the team struggled, and with an uncertain future looming, Cervélo has merged with the Garmin team of Jonathan Vaughters for 2011.

Cervelo’s time with CSC—and the TestTeam—was not in vain, and every bit of knowledge gained over the past two years has been poured back into the Cervélo line.  The company has introduced the ultra lightweight, 675-gram R5ca and revised the super aerodynamic S3. The R5ca is the ultimate lightweight climbing bike—designed to get to the top of the mountain in the shortest time possible. The S3 has, arguably, a tougher role to fill as a aerodynamic road bike that is stiff enough to cope with the power of world-class sprinters, yet still be able to soar when the wind starts to howl or the road tilts upward.

The frame is constructed using unidirectional carbon fiber in a process Cervélo calls Optimized Smartwall. This process consists of over 300 pieces of carbon specifically placed and designed to deliver strength, reduce weight and add vertical compliance. The extensive process also allows Cervélo to shape the S3 using their extensive knowledge of aerodynamics. This led Cervélo to their True Aero tube set that is designed for the lowest drag at speeds commonly experienced in bicycle racing.

Aside from the large airfoil down tube, the Cervélo S3 boasts massively oversized aero chainstays and a stealth aero head tube that features a narrowed section between the headset bearings. This results in a reduced frontal area and increased aerodynamic efficiency. Continuing their efforts to reduce drag, Cervélo uses their ICS3 internal cable routing. The ICS3 features top tube cable entry with an integrated trim adjuster that allows rear derailleur adjustment on the fly.  The S3 continues to cut through the wind with an aero profile seat tube mated to a Cervélo Aero SL seatpost. Almost looking out of place with the oversized and aero profile tubing are the ultra thin aero seatstays. The super thin design increases the vertical compliance of the rear triangle, and while not noticeable at first glance, feature an aero profile that further reduces drag. Despite all the aerodynamic work, the Cervélo S3 tips the scales around the 1,000-gram mark. The frame is then mated to the 3T Funda Team full carbon fork with carbon steerer tube.

The Ride. Just a few turns of the pedals make it clear that the S3 wants to go fast. The lateral stiffness of the bottom bracket makes for direct power delivery to the rear wheel. Both in and out of the saddle efforts are met with instant acceleration, and in a full sprint it was impossible to irk any noticeable flex from the S3. The S3 had a unique feeling of the frame’s stiffness being balanced in the middle of the frame, with the front and rear triangles giving just enough so that it never got kicked around on rough roads. Through corners the S3 tracked smoothly and had a calm, having an almost relaxed feel even when pushed hard.

The S3 rolled in equipped with a complete SRAM Red group mated with a Rotor crankset, 3T Ergonova LTD carbon handlebar, 3T RXT-TEAM alloy stem with Fulcrum Racing 7 box-section wheels. A fi:z’ik Arione CX completes the setup. The build helps keep the weight to a respectable 15.7 pounds, without pedals. During the test all the parts performed without issue, but at this price level we expect a lighter and more aerodynamic wheelset than the 1,823-gram Fulcrum Racing 7.

Finding the right position on the S3 was easy. The 73-degree head tube angle gives the S3 predicable and stable manners with the 56.5-centimeter sloping top tube providing the cockpit an open feel. The 73-degree seat tube features an optional two-position seatpost that provides plenty of fore and aft adjustment.

When the road tilted skyward, the S3 charged ahead and broke the stereotype of an aero frameset. The Cervélo S3 can climb. Surprisingly, the S3 felt much more suited for in-the-saddle climbing. A lot of this perception may be centered on the Rotor cranks, which use elliptical chainrings to minimize the dead spot in a rider’s pedal stroke. This allows the rider to get into a smooth and consistent rhythm and produce more power.

If the S3 breaks stereotypes going up hill then it reinforces them on the way down. The well-balanced stiffness of the frame gave the S3 a sense of stability, leading riders to have the sensation they were going slower than they actually were and pushed them to go faster. Perhaps it was the S3’s Cervélo TestTeam paint scheme, or dedicated professional pedigree, but we had visions of having to ride on the razor’s edge to maximize its potential. We were surprised to find it a much more mild mannered and well-behaved descender than we had imagined. This is not to say that it is slow. In fact, it’s the bike’s stable and balanced handling that makes the S3 a rocket going downhill. The S3 gives up nothing to other bikes in tight corners and is a thing of beauty gracefully arching through corners, hitting every apex in perfectly timed secession.

Once on the flats, the S3 feels fast and keeps its speed well. How much of this is the aerodynamic design of the frame or its lateral stiffness—or a combination of both—is hard to say, but the complete package will keep rouleurs satisfied. We would have liked to see our test bike to have come equipped with a set off Zipp 404s or 303’s so that we could have experienced the same setup as Hushovd and the rest of the Cervélo TestTeam.

The Rider. The S3 rider is looking for speed. The Cervélo S3 is built for the sole purpose of going fast. The S3 is for the racer that hunts breakaways and charges off the front in search of solo victory. Victory is the ultimate goal for a rider choosing the S3, and they are not going to put a premium on ride quality. Fortunately for S3 riders, Cervélo delivers a bike that surpasses all ride-quality expectations.

Builds. From Cervélo the S3 is available with Red components and two different levels of 3T components. Our Cervélo S3 featured the same build as the Cervélo SRAM Red Team build but with the Zipp 404s being replaced with the Fulcrum Racing 7s. The Cervélo S3 is also available as a frameset, so the possible builds are endless.

The Bottom Line.
PRICE: $4,600 (frame and fork); $7,200 to $11,000 (depending on parts and wheels)
GROUP: SRAM Red
WHEELSET: Fulcrum Racing 7
OTHER: 3T Ergonova LTD handlebar, 3T RXT-TEAM stem, Rotor crankset and chainrings, fi:z’ik Arione
CX saddle
WEIGHT: 15.7 pounds (56cm); 950 grams (frame)