In the latest instalment of our BikeRadar podcast, we meet with Cervélo’s director of product Maria Benson to talk all things Cervélo, from the bold new Áspero 5 to the award-winning Caledonia 5 and what’s next for the legendary brand’s race bikes
You can read some of the highlights from our interview below or listen to the full Q&A here or by downloading the BikeRadar Podcast to your chosen device on iTunes. Alternatively, it can be streamed via Spotify and all the other usual podcast services.
With the original Áspero and the new Áspero-5, Cervélo has concentrated on making a decidedly race-orientated bike. Does Cervélo see gravel as a fast sport and different from the adventure, touring and bikepacking scene?
“We specifically targeted events that have a competitive nature to them, the most notorious being Unbound Gravel (formerly known as Dirty Kanza). At the time that we came up with the idea of Áspero, that race was still being won on cyclocross (CX) bikes. It seems that there was, and still is, a big appetite for gravel bikes that make riding over rough terrain ‘easier’ and had the ability to carry things on the bike, rather than in your jersey pocket.
“However, this typically results in a bike that handles slower due to slacker HTAs [head-tube angles] and longer trail. Couple that with big tyres, and you’ve got yourself a Cadillac. This is, of course, great if you’re bikepacking or touring.
“We found that when things got spunky, it was more fun to be on our old CX bikes that handled quicker and put us in a more aggressive position. That’s when we realised that there was a market for a gravel bike specifically targeted for racing/competitive type of riding.
“There is, of course, a crossover of riders that would prefer a more stable-handling bike than a quick and nimble handling bike within all types of gravel riding/events. However, we’re well-positioned to provide a tool for the latter.”
What you need to know about the Áspero-5
- The frameset is 10% lighter than the original Áspero
- The Áspero-5 shaves 32g of drag from the standard Áspero
- Integrated frame protection saves the down tube from rock and stone strikes
- Electronic-only design keeps cables hidden
- Fully-internal brake hose routing
- Three models: SRAM Force AXS, Red AXS and Shimano GRX Di2
- All models have the power meter upgrade included
- Cervélo carbon Reserve wheels come as standard
Aerodynamics have always been a key element in Cervélo design, from the aero P-Series, to the road-focused S bikes, and even the road lightweight R-Series. It’s the same with the Áspero, so how key to gravel do you consider aerodynamics to be?
“Aerodynamics are in our DNA. If there are gains to be had by reducing drag, we’ll take them. Within the gravel space, aerodynamics can make a big difference.
“The American Midwest or the lowlands of Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, are prime for gravel riding that’s exposed to winds. So, when you find yourself without a group to tuck yourself into to hide from those winds, wouldn’t you want a bike that’s giving you some ‘free watts’ so to speak?”
The Áspero design was developed using the Cervélo frame tube library. Could you give us an idea of what that is?
“Over the many years of studying aerodynamics on bicycles, we have built up an extensive library of tube shapes, all of which we have an understanding of; not only how well they perform in the wind tunnel, but also how they affect ride quality.
“We are able to take from that library the shapes that perform the best for a given use case.”
When it comes to aerodynamics you seem to have taken some big steps from being effectively a frameset producer to now having a much more holistic and integrated approach with the ST32 stem and ABO9F bar. Not to mention the Reserve wheels brand as part of your wider organisation. Is the future of Cervélo’s bike design further down this much more integrated approach?
“There will always be the need to balance market demands with the development process, of which many things have to be taken into account.
“The most obvious of these are price, ease of use and maintenance. The balance we look for is when the performance gains of an integrated system do not overshadow the other factors.
“Áspero-5 is just one great example of finding this balance. We never stop looking for improvements either, so you can expect that we will continue to find places that an integrated system creates an advantage.”
The Áspero-5 is impressively light (another Cervélo touchpoint). How key do you see light weight when it comes to gravel (plenty of your rivals see weight as more of an afterthought)?
“The more mass that we have to propel with our legs, the more watts are required. There are a lot of places around the world where gravel roads and trails do not have much flat terrain, and climbing with less mass is an advantage.
“Gravel bikes have to be tested to a higher durability standard than a road bike meant only for pavement. This inherently requires more material, adding weight. However, we have our own engineers with carbon expertise; couple that with a strong manufacturing partner and we are able to achieve a weight that is well within the realm of even a lightweight road bike.”
What elements of the Áspero-5 project were the toughest? Was it the aerodynamics and integration, or the low weight/stiffness/comfort balance all while retaining sporty, fast handling?
“Luckily, the first Áspero was quite successful right out of the gate, so we had a lot of feedback to go off straight away. We knew we couldn’t mess with the key attributes that have made that bike successful: handling, and that stiffness/comfort balance. At the same time, we were confident that the bike was fast aerodynamically.
“The biggest challenge was hitting our overall system weight goal (frame/fork/bar/stem/seatpost). We had developed the ST32 stem for Caledonia-5, and the SP19 seatpost has been in our line already for a handful of years. That left the frame/fork/handlebar to bear the full responsibility of the weight goal within this development cycle.”
Cervélo has more recently spread into gravel while retaining Cervélo’s DNA, and the Caledonia platform blends your race heritage and endurance with spectacular results (and it has tyre clearances big enough to handle a bit of gravel). Is the future more convergence or diversity?
“It’s a really exciting time to be making road bikes. The market has changed a lot over the last three-quarters of a decade. Road riders used to be very focused on one type of riding: racing/endurance/triathlon etc. But today, being a ‘roadie’ has a far more dynamic definition.
“You might be racing your local unsanctioned crit on Wednesday nights, but then taking your gravel bike out for an all-day slog on Saturday. We want to embrace and encourage riders to have these varying experiences.
“We will always maintain a strong focus on the core of Cervélo, which are the S, P, and R platforms, but we’re excited about how the more experiential type of riding will drive our development in the future. You will likely see some changes in the depth (as opposed to breadth) of what we offer across our portfolio, with a shift towards deeper offerings in those experiential categories.”
Okay, so how would you like to describe the Áspero-5 to our readers?
“A first of its kind. Áspero-5 is the first high-performance, fully integrated, gravel race bike.”
More from the BikeRadar Meets Podcast
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- Luisa Grappone | Hunt Wheels engineer
- Wyn Masters | World Cup downhill pro
- Geraint Thomas | 2018 Tour de France champion
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- Alberto Contador | 7-time Grand Tour winner
- Diego Costa | Team Ineos-Grenadiers mechanic
- Chris Porter | Mountain bike suspension guru
- Nico Vouilloz | 10-time downhill world champion
- Graeme Obree | Former hour record holder
For more episodes of the BikeRadar Podcast, head to our archive page and browse through the entire back catalogue.