If Cervelo's R3 can win the world’s toughest road race – the legendary cobble-infested Paris-Roubaix – not once but twice when it has only been around for two years, then it must be pretty special. When that same bike wins mountain stages in the Tour de France as well, it’s clearly in a class of its own.
Frame: unconventionally designed to be uncommonly stiff
Canadian manufacturer Cervelo has never followed convention, and it has taken a unique ‘load led’ approach to the R3 design. The squared-off Squoval main tubes and chainstays are basically so stiff that the seatstays don’t need to add any vertical strength, just torsional stiffness. Cue totally flat leaf spring rear stays for long-haul comfort. The front of the frame is reinforced with feathered carbon and Kevlar against head tube impacts, too.
Ride: super-comfy despite pavé-proof build
It’s the minimal weight that’s the most overwhelming first impression to most people. Children can lift this bike with one finger, and it really does have a flattening effect on hills. Having ridden lighter über bikes, the R3’s unique mix of stiffness, strength, comfort and minimal mass makes it one of most outstanding bikes we’ve ever ridden, and a must-have for this test. As well as being tough enough to tackle cobbles head-on, and do some proper ‘don’t be stupid enough to try this at home’ trail sections during testing, it still manages to stay surprisingly comfortable in the rough or after eight hours on the road.
There’s enough room in the frame for up to 28c tyres too, for extra cushioning. Having ridden lightweight road bikes so flexy that they refuse to go straight and feel like your pedals are curving under the bottom bracket every stroke, the laser-accurate, rock-solid drive and steering stiffness of the R3 is gobsmacking. You won’t believe how fast you can kick this bike up any hill in any gear, even at the end of the longest day.
Wrap the whole package together and you’ve got a supple frame that still retains stunning drive stiffness for stratospheric acceleration, but won’t fracture at the first sign of a Sustrans trail. Before Cervelo goes ballistic with us, don’t treat this as a cyclo-cross bike, slam it into potholes or take it to Glentress. It might be tough among its peers, but it’s still a 15lb road bike, okay?
Equipment: top of the roadie tree
In the UK Cervelo is distributed by Ultimate Pursuits who also distribute Shimano, our R3 came fully loaded with Dura Ace, which is as good as it gets in road component terms – unless you're a Campag fan. Even the ultralight wheels survived green lane and cobbled farm tracks in the deepest Dales. Obviously it’s up to you what you build it up with, but you won’t go far wrong with what we had – although limper legs might prefer a 50/34-tooth chainset.
The best road bike we’ve ever ridden (and we’ve ridden plenty), but still tough enough to survive cycle path and back-lane action when normal Tarmac seems too tame. It’s not versatile in a cyclo-cross/commuting/touring sort of way, but the R3 is almost certainly the ultimate mountain biker’s road bike for those who can afford it.