Cervélo S5 review

Wind-beating weapon

BikeRadar score4/5

Cervélo started the aero road bike genre, and they’re still very much at the forefront with the S5. The latest evolution of the species is spectacular in terms of raw aggression and savage speed.

Ride and handling: Incredibly rigid, powerful and fast but at the price of comfort

When it comes to the rear end of the chassis you couldn’t get much sharper-feeling than the Cervélo. The first time we pushed the pedals hard, pulling out from a junction, we almost got left behind as it flung itself forwards with shocking immediacy.

Despite a relatively weighty frame, it’s the same story whatever speed and gradient you press the pedals at. Whatever wattage you can deliver, the S5 will use it to fire you down the road as firmly as if you were pressing your carbon-soled shoes directly onto the tarmac. Launching out of a corner or leaning on the big chainring as hard as possible up a calf-bursting climb, the Cervélo is like dynamite in terms of its dynamics.

In fact, unless the road surface is pretty perfect, you’ll need measured muscle twitch just to keep the tyre sitting on the ground rather than ripping itself out of traction with sheer torque.

Considering the normally rock-solid steering manners of Cervélo bikes, we were surprised by how flighty the front end felt. While the steering angles are nothing untoward and the bars are rock solid, the handling is surprisingly quick and unnervingly flexy.

The tall, skinny head tube and slim tapered top tube contrast very obviously with the brutally stiff back end. For a start, it means a smooth pedalling rhythm is needed to stop the front end snaking in time with your pedal strokes. This is particularly noticeable if you throw in a crosswind as you put the power down.

The approximate rather than accurate front end tracking is also at odds with the naturally super-rapid descending speed of the S5. That means we had some proper held-breath, hammering-heart moments slotting between potholes or coaxing through tight corners in the Dales. It’s something you get used to but it definitely favours more experienced, less easily spooked riders, and the twitchiness is noticeable through clip-on tri bars too.

While the slim top tube takes some sting out of the vibrations when the front wheel hits stuff, there’s no such respite from the road surface at the rear. Any jolts or jarring from the rear wheel wallop straight through the saddle, which again makes keeping a smooth tempo on rougher road surfaces something of an art form.

We noticed that although the heart rates and speeds we were hitting (and holding) due to the bike’s aggressive nature were seriously high, our overall fatigue levels were also up there, even after relatively short sessions.

Cervélo s5: cervélo s5
Cervélo s5: cervélo s5

Frame and equipment: From spec to geometry the S5 is built for purpose

‘Cutting edge’ is the right phrase to use when describing the new S5. The head tube is as slim as the slightly tapered fork will allow. Its height is offset by the shorter than usual fork, which fits flush with a notch in the down tube. The top tube tapers towards the seat mast.

The down tube starts as a deep blade then fattens to shroud the bottle before swelling into a massively deep, box-section, tri bike-style bottom bracket. The rounded seat tube that curves back round the wheel before heading up vertically to the saddle is another signature Cervélo feature.

The aero seatpost also lets you set up the saddle conventionally or with a run-friendly forward seat angle. Cables all run internally with neat Ultegra Di2 control options and a flush fit cam wedge for the seatpost. The brakes are conventionally mounted on the front of the fork but partially hidden by the rear stays.

The s5 comes with di2 electronic shifting, with the battery tucked away under the massive chainstay: the s5 comes with di2 electronic shifting, with the battery tucked away under the massive chainstay
The s5 comes with di2 electronic shifting, with the battery tucked away under the massive chainstay: the s5 comes with di2 electronic shifting, with the battery tucked away under the massive chainstay

The Di2 battery is tucked under the massive chainstay

Chainstays big enough to be mainframe tubes on most bikes ensure undiluted power delivery, and the short bladed seatstays are shaped for speed, not comfort.

While they’re all shaped essentially the same, there are three grades of S5: we tested the heavyweight ‘basic’ version (£2,499.99, frame and fork). There’s also a Team version, which saves 100g for another £500, or the S5 VWD, which saves 270g if you fork out another £1,500 on top.

Whichever model you choose, the S5 will come as a frame, fork and seatpost chassis that you build up, but the build here is worth commenting on. The ultra smooth, seamlessly slick Ultegra Di2 electric shifting suits the urgency of the bike superbly. Well-placed wire ports make it a neat installation, although the massive front mech isn’t the most aero shape. 

The Pro Vibe Carbon bar and stem are brutally stiff for locking your shoulders into and letting rip on sprints or climbs, which suits the bike’s character. The Dura-Ace wheels are smooth but slightly heavy and noisy when combined with the box-section frame. A more forgiving saddle than the riveted San Marco could offset the stiffness of the bike, though.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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