It’s the bike that many have been talking about and, given several leaked images over the past week or so, you may well have caught a glimpse of. Well, here it is – officially – the new Cervélo P5X triathlon bike, launched today in Kona, Hawaii.
In recent days Richard Melik, himself a triathlete, bike fitter (www.freespeed.co.uk) and bike tech specialist has been one a handful of international media given exclusive access to the bike, the developers and more to bring you the inside track on this major new release from the brand that consistently tops the annual Kona bike count.
Grab yourself a coffee – here is pretty much everything you need to know about the Cervélo P5X.
A dramatic departure from previous Cervélo TT bikes, this bike has been conceived, designed and engineered from the ground up as a pure triathlon bike.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few days in advance of the launch testing the bike, picking the brains of the designers and engineers at Cervélo (and their partner brands – more of that later), and assessing every small detail from its usability to fit characteristics.
I came away very impressed.
The most striking aspect of the bike is the shape itself. As early as 2013, given a blank sheet of paper from a design perspective the engineers conducted some stress loading tests and these confirmed that the key areas of load on a bicycle are between the three contact points – the head tube, bottom bracket and saddle – particularly in straight lines along the top tube and downtube. Significantly, the lowest loading was found to be in the seat tube area.
Armed with this information the design department sketched various frame blueprints, culminating in a frame uncannily close in its aesthetic to the original White/Vroomen designed Barrachi concept frame from 1995.
Is it a beam bike? Technically no, say the engineers at Cervélo.
Richard Matthews, lead engineer on the project, commented “the original beam bikes were designed to deflect along the top tube for improved comfort, but that came at the cost of stability and power transfer. Our carbon monocoque frame has such strength in its composition that there is only a tiny amount of deflection, less than 1mm for a typical 75kg rider”.
Once the frame concept had been signed off internally at Cervélo, an approach was made to the late Steve Hed with a view to his company providing the required expertise in composite manufacturing.
Challenge accepted, every P5X frame has been and will be manufactured in Minnesota by Hed Cycling. By moulding the entire frame in one shot, the process eliminates the extra epoxy and failure points that are typically required to assemble frame tubes into a complete frame.
Talking to Hed engineer, Greg Alexander, his passion for the project was clear to see. “The moulding technique we use allows us to position the carbon fibre and bladder exactly in their place during the process.
This prevents carbon from migrating under pressure, retaining the inherent strength of the material in its intended location. The great thing about the nude carbon finish on the frame is you can really see the quality of the process, no cosmetic body filler required.
Creating a frame without seat stays or a seat tube that was stiffer than its predecessor was a challenge, and we are proud to say we helped to achieve that.”
An important point on a frame of this type, particularly with the popularity of training platforms such as Zwift and TrainerRoad, is that this frame is fully covered under its warranty for use on turbo trainers. This is often not the case with other manufacturers and is a testament to the strength of the frame and the manufacturing process.
Recognising the adjustability limitations of most ‘superbikes’ the Cervélo design team led by David Killing set about creating a front end setup that would be aero but equally importantly fully adjustable in all directions. To help with this they turned to Enve who developed a system that has taken aerobar design to a new level.
Kevin Nelson from Enve commented “Overall, the project was an interesting one. The challenge with any aero bar is to provide a combination of aerodynamics and fit. Working with Cervelo meant that the frame and fork could both be modified to accommodate different design solutions which allow for more adjustability than we could on an aftermarket design. I think that overall, the design accomplishes the goals set by Cervelo very well”.
A sliding riser post, with a wedge clamp system similar to those seen on many seatposts, makes the setting and fine tuning of the height of the aerobars a thirty second process by loosening one 4mm bolt.
Pitch of the aerobars is an equally simple adjustment using a two bolt tightening system to set the angle. A graduated scale is visible at the back of the clamp to allow for accurate adjustment between -5 and +15 degrees.
There is a macro fore/aft adjustment by the rotation of the elbow pads bracket which has a forward and rearward position.
With the bracket in the forward setting a plastic retaining clip is positioned to keep the cabling tidy and out of the wind.
Micro adjustment is then achieved using spaced boltholes that allow for 14mm of adjustment or the rotation of the pads themselves which are offset and provide a further 20mm of adjustment.
There are four elbow pad width settings. The bracket has two rows of bolt holes 28mm apart and the pads themselves have two rows of drilled holes at 17mm spacing. The pads can be rotated in or out to give a natural flow from elbow to hand.
The extensions are long enough for the tallest cyclist and can be cut down at both ends to give an ergonomic shallow angled ski bend grip position or a classic s-bend position. The extensions have a large range of fore/aft adjustability.
The control box for SRAM or Shimano electronic systems are housed in a plastic fairing just behind the riser post. This fairing incorporates an ingenious translucent window that enables athletes to check their battery levels without having to remove the control box.
This is where it gets really interesting.
The aerobars have a split design with the two halves of the bars overlapping at the middle and are held in place with a four bolt clamp. Once this clamp is removed the aerobars simply fold in, significantly reducing the complexity of packing the bike away in a travel case whilst retaining the stiffness and solidity required for confident handling.
A neoprene holster is provided to keep the bars stable and from hitting the frame during travel.
The base bar has a swooping curved shape and can be flipped to provide a preference of brake lever position, low or high.
The fork, also designed by Enve, has a traditional steerer which is pre-cut to the exact height required for each frame size. It is a tapered steerer with a lower 1 1/2” and an upper 1 1/8” bearing size. There is a full length channel through the fork for the brake cable to pass through, popping out just above the brake mount.
There is a shaped retaining mast at the front of the fork on to which slides the aerobar base unit locked into place with two side bolts. This also provides the recess for the sliding post and clamp system.
The seatpost is supplied uncut and slides through the frame and can be ridden with post exposed below the frame whilst the final height is being dialled in. Once happy, the owner of the bike can trim the seatpost flush to the frame for aerodynamic and aesthetic improvements.
As with the front end, the seatpost has graduated measurements printed along the back of the post to aid with setting up the position after breaking down the bike for travel.
The saddle clamp has plenty of fore/aft adjustability and will allow effective seat tube angles from 77 to 80 degrees on all frame sizes.
The original equipment saddle for the P5X is the ISM PS1.0. This is an excellent choice and, in my opinion, an improvement on the ISM Prologue supplied on previous Cervélo models.
The PS1.0 has a firmness level of 15 which makes it one of the firmer saddles in the ISM range but with little direct downward pressure on the saddle in an aerobar posture this should suit most triathletes. This saddle also locks in your fore/aft position better than most other models, keeping your shoulder, elbow and hip angles consistent at all effort levels.
And, of course, this saddle features the same pressure relief technology as all other ISM saddles making it the brand of choice for a significant majority of triathletes, male or female.
The P5X will be one of the first TT bikes on the market to move to the disc brake and thru-axle standard. This choice was made to improve the stiffness and safety of the bike. Thru-axles by definition provide a stronger connection between the wheels and frame. This frame uses the same 12mm axles as on current Cervélo road frames, the front is 100mm and the rear is 142mm.
The flat mount TRP Hy-Road cable-actuated hydraulic brakes are compatible with all existing cable levers and in this case the bike is supplied with lightweight SRAM Red carbon levers.
The discs themselves provide braking power and modulation far superior to even the best rim brake setup, particularly when comparing carbon rims.
Cervélo have effectively placed an educated bet with this bike that disc brakes are the future and are here to stay. It is a risky call, particularly with disc brakes still banned in some Ironman races around the world, notably Barcelona this past weekend, but that is likely to change as more leading brands follow Cervélo’s lead and embrace the technology.
The frame has been future proofed to accept full hydraulic disc brake systems once the major groupset manufacturers include TT levers in their existing ranges.
Enve SES 7.8 disc wheels are supplied with the top spec P5X, weighing in at 1711g for the pair. With the braking load moving from rim to disc, these wheels have been redesigned to take advantage of the reduced load on the rim.
The second build option is supplied with Hed Jet Plus 6 disc on the front, Hed Jet Plus 9 disc on the rear.
The wheels are fitted with 25mm Continental GP4000s II tyres.
The frame is designed to accept mechanical or electronic groupsets, but the only available options at launch will both be electronic. SRAM Red eTAP wireless on the top spec bike, Shimano Ultegra Di2 on the second option.
Usability and storage was a key driver in the design of this bike. The team at Cervélo undertook thousands of hours researching, photographing and talking to triathletes about their preferred hydration and nutrition setups on the bike.
An important finding was that almost no athlete felt the same, everyone was different and they set about designing a system that was infinitely adjustable.
They also made it a priority that the storage systems should focus on round bottles as these are what an athlete is most likely to receive whilst racing.
The frame has no internal structure so could effectively be used as additional storage space once the plastic Stealthbox is removed. This is removed by a simple latch and is held in place firmly with a rubber seal so there is no rattle when in place. The Stealthbox itself then has a door and is a perfect recess to keep a small tool kit for training and racing.
At the lower end of the downtube is the removable Speedcase. This is a large plastic storage box that is shaped to act as a fairing and has a large amount of storage on training rides to keep spare jackets, gilets, armwarmers and the like. It also acts as an extra mount for a horizontal bottle whose placement was extensively tested so as not to impede with the pedalling action.
Where the top tube meets the head tube is the Smartpak. This is a zipped rubber nutrition holder with a fabric lining and internal pockets that is attached to a deep plastic box that sits in the downtube and allows for enough nutrition to last several hours on the bike.
There is a separated area within the box to keep salt tablets within easy reach, a very cool and convenient solution to a tricky problem when racing.
The Smartpak can be removed and replaced by a flat plastic cover which still enables access to the frame recess for storage if required.
For hydration there are three custom positions for behind the saddle, between the arms and downtube bottle cages if required.
Another brand to partner with Cervélo is Biknd, an innovative Canadian company who have pioneered the concept of inflatable protection in their successful Helium range of bike bags.
Available as an optional extra to P5X purchasers, a customised Helium 4 will not only protect this high value bike but offers an ease of packing that has never been seen before with a bike of this complexity.
I watched a demonstration that lasted around 15 minutes from dismantling a fully built bike to zipping up the bag and the attention to detail was impressive.
The pedals are removed, the bottom bracket sits in a custom shaped foam block, the thru axles are secured in place and there are a combination of straps that secure the frame in place.
With the bars split in half and contained in their holster, the saddle is removed and strapped in place where the seat tube would normally be.
Finally the wheels are secured to the side of the bag and two inflatable panels pumped up to protect the outer shell of the bike and wheels. Two wheels fit comfortably on each side of the bag so it is possible to travel with a choice of wheelset.
There is a custom toolkit provided with the bag, apart from the pedals you only need a 4mm and 5mm allen key to dismantle the bike, and a torque wrench is provided for reassembly.
There remains plenty of space for helmet, track pump and shoes within the front section of the bag and there is a deep internal side pocket for other items if required.
The fully loaded bag with bike weighs around 21kg so well within airline allowances.
Any newly launched Cervélo is expected to be fast and the P5X is no exception. Over 180 hours in the wind tunnel and thousands more at the drawing board and Cervélo are confident they have achieved what they set out to do back in 2013.
Under real world conditions, fully loaded with nutrition and hydration, the P5X surpassed all other bikes Cervélo tested during their tunnel sessions. They even approached competitive brands directly to ask them to advise on the fastest configuration for their bikes.
The move to disc brakes has allowed for a much cleaner flow around the headtube and fork area which offsets any negative aero impact of the discs themselves.
The frame itself tests very well at most yaw angles particularly at and around 5 to 10 degrees, typical angles in real world conditions.
Cervélo also tested at length the interaction between the various storage options to find out which is the most aerodynamic setup and the answer was that there isn’t a clear winner. The take home from this is to set the bike up with your own personal favourite options and you can be confident that the bike has been fully optimised for that setup.
The P5X, whilst appearing to be a radical departure from traditional double diamond bike frames actually retains an orthodox geometry, and has very similar fit and steering characteristics to the P5. The big difference is the range of adjustability which has enabled Cervélo to cover all seven P5 fit ranges within just four sizes on the P5X.
The chart below gives an overview of the armpad stack and reach range for each size, and it is clear to see the overlap between the four sizes.
With the riser post fully inserted and the aerobar bracket in its forward position it is undoubtedly a ‘long and low’ bike. However, with the aerobars in their rearward position and the riser post in a higher position it is also possible to set the bike up in a ‘short and tall’ position too. It is an educated guess but I would expect 90-95% of triathletes would be able to achieve a perfect fit on this bike.
Bike fitter to several top pros, Mat Steinmetz, was brought in to consult on the P5X project at an early stage by Cervélo and he feels it will be a game changer in terms of both the range and ease of adjustment.
The bike will be available in four sizes – S, M, L, XL.
The bike will be available to order at launch from selected Cervélo UK retailers and is priced at $15,000 for the SRAM eTAP build with Enve wheels, and $11,000 for the Ultegra Di2 with Hed wheels build (GBP prices to be confirmed at time of writing).
This bike will divide opinion, both on looks and the choice of components. Personally I love the aesthetic. It looks like the bicycle offspring of a Mercedes Formula 1 car and a Ducati superbike.
Disc brakes will be controversial to a triathlon audience. Why do you need better brakes on a TT bike? Disc brakes are heavier and more aero aren’t they? Cervélo feel disc brakes are the future and having ridden the bike it certainly provides a level of braking confidence that I have never felt before with rim brakes on carbon wheels.
More and more races are leaning towards adventurous bike courses, Norseman and Alpe d’Huez are obvious examples, and the more confidence in your braking on technical descents the more speed you can carry into corners.
At these price points I think the brand are clearly not aiming at the mass market and the existing Cervélo triathlon range – the P2, P3 and P5 – will remain inline.
Whenever Cervélo launch a bike it tends to leap frog other brands in technological advances and the other brands scramble to catch up. I would say having spent time up close with this bike, Cervélo have pulled off the trick again.
It will be interesting times in the industry over the next couple of years to see if the Canyons and Treks of this world abandon their dual use UCI TT/Triathlon designs for triathlon only frames.
The bike will certainly be improved once fully hydraulic TT brakes are introduced and I would like to see a frameset only available as many potential customers for this bike at this price will almost certainly have their preferred choice of groupset. On that note, a glaring omission from the range is a Shimano Dura Ace Di2 option and with Zipp launching deep rim disc brake equipped wheels I see no reason to restrict consumer choice on wheels either.
I was lucky enough to test ride the bike under varying conditions here in Kona and it was very impressive, I have written a full review of my experience and thoughts here.