Cervelo C3 Review

Posted by Philip Cavell

18th January 2017

C3 Side

Cervelo C3 - Ultegra £3899
We have been waiting to write this for a good while. But I think it is fair to say that Cervelo are very late to the Endurance Party. Maybe because their 21 history is just about pure speed, aerodynamics and the new model of bike dynamics and aesthetics? The little company from Canada and the co-founders Gerard Vroomen (now at Open Cycles ) and Phil White, were true innovators of their time and changed the perception of how race bikes look, feel and behave.

Slow to the Endurance Party, but worth the wait?
How do you inject your mainline hi-speed DNA into a bike whose defining feature must be comfort? Cervelo's take is to make the C3 and C5 the lightest endurance frames in the world at 850 and 975 grams respectively. Weight is one of the golden criteria that is hard to question - other things being equal light bikes feel better than heavier ones - we discuss this in an earlier Weight is for Grocers blog. Never mind the hard numbers of how much a light bike will save on a climb, a light bike feels more satisfying to ride - mainly because you are used to interfacing with your own weight, but reacting to something you are carrying or riding is dynamic and complex.

Endurance according to Cervelo
In most ways Cervelo follow the endurance path well-trodden by Specialized Roubaix (designed by Ben Serotta) and Trek's Domane (a product of their collaboration on fit). That means that bottom-bracket is a little lower to reduce a rider/bike overall centre of gravity, which in turn gives increased descending/cornering confidence. The C3/C5 bottom-bracket height is only 7mm lower than Cervelo's C5 (68mm v's 75mm) but the feeling is profound. As an aside we often design custom bikes with 80mm BB drops for clients, often they don't realise what we have done, but most folk come back and remark how "in the bike" and secure they feel. We use this design strategy on most titanium winter bikes. The C3 also uses longer chainstays than R5 (420mm v's 405mm) to achieve the twin goals greater tyre clearance and overall wheel-base for high speed stability.

The Numbers - Stack and Reach - Size 56cm

Cervelo C3595382
Cervelo R5580387
Trek Domane SLR591377

The overall effect is to shorten and elevate the Stack and Reach of the C3 compared to the already very reasonable R5. The C3 is 15mm higher and 5mm shorter than the R5 and 4mm higher but 5mm longer than Trek's industry leading 2016 Domane

Anything Else
Other design features that are worthy of mention because they probably impact the ride are:

Cervelo's signature Squoval front triangle to maximise stiffness v's aero.
Single-piece rear triangle and wide curved (coat-hanger thin) seatstays for comfort
Thru-axles for optimal disc alignment and transverse stiffness
Rock guard hints at off-road gravel use?
Flat-mounted discs
Cervelo History2

Cervelo changed the trajectory of road bike design with their focus on aerodynamics

Pure Cervelo 101
I don't think I have ever ridden a more reassuring, or should I say immediately easy to ride race bike. The Trek Domane SLR is a very competent tool for delivering race-bike aesthetic and feel to the everyday rider who isn't necessarily interested in human origami. But the Trek does require you to understand and adjust to the IsoSpeed Decoupler, if you want to get the best out of your ride. No such adjustment for the C3 as it all feels beautifully balanced, simple and quiet. Love the feel from the 28 Conti's and no-fuss discs operating through perfectly controlled thru-axles. Whilst Fizik's Antares is not my own personal choice, it is a good choice for this bike and continues Cervelo's theme of providing quality complementary brands to its own. 

Just maybe the Domane SLR has the edge over cobbles and huge potholes (but only if you are the saddle remember), but the delicate wire-thin stays of the C3, coupled with the huge chainstays supply just the right balance of suppleness and directness. And this dichotomy is pure Cervelo 101 - delicate topline and Popeye undercarriage, i.e. bottom-bracket and chainstays. This is both visually attractive and explains the Jekyll & Hyde ride that Cervelo has built its reputation upon, and keeps its fans coming back. That Cervelo DNA (that many are now copying) is there in the C3 but in a magnificently controlled and mannered form.

In a parallel universe

Okay as a thought experiment what would I change?

Cervelo History3

BB drop is everything! We are big fans of lower bottom bracket heights for inspiring confidence

The toptube is a little long for 'endurance' geometry. The reach is 4mm longer than Trek's equivalent 56 Domane SLR and the latter is probably better for it - especially since the Shimano ST-R685 levers are so flipping long themselves.
Lower BB's are great for rider confidence. Push the boat out and lower again by 5mm to 80mm drop? We do it all the time on our custom designs and the results are startling.
The big companies are all missing a trick by not shortening cranks, especially on their endurance models, where riders may have hip-range issues. We would love to see 170's as standard on a size 56
The aesthetics are pretty good in real life but a departure from Cervelo's minimal hand-writing. This is a shame and a little confusing.

Luxury travel, Friendly service, Not a Domane
The C3 is a great bike, maybe about 5mm too long considering it is disc only and therefore somewhat constrained by Shimano's own ugly and over-long ergonomics. It is pretty light at 8kg and cousin to the alleged lightest endurance frame in the world, Cervelo C5. However the C3's greatest asset may be that is it isn't a Domane SLR. I mean that in the nicest way. The Domane SLR takes its own very technical route to luxury travel, whereas the C3 gets to almost the same destination with ultimate simplicity and friendliness. Plus the C3 has been designed from the hubs up as a disc only bike and is built around that concept. the greatest compliment has to be that it feels so familiar and controllable that you find yourself planning routes off-road and up bridleways and farm tracks.

C3 Decal
Shim Disc
Shim Disc2

About the Author

Philip Cavell

Director - London Store