When new bikes are released, we fully expect refinements to the previous package, but what about true innovation?
Does 2008 hold some real changes for the cycling world, or are we looking at a reflection of the past swathed in a new layer of carbon?
Keen to capitalise on the popularity the Soloist has with teams like CSC that use this model, the Canadian firm Cervélo has created a range-heading SLC-SL version that fills the void between its lightest model, the R3, and the standard issue Soloist. It aims to be the ultimate road frame, providing an aerodynamic improvement over a round tube. Cervélo employs a similar unidirectional ultrahigh modulus carbon as used on the R3, which allows an exceptionally thin wall to the tubing and an aero profile similar to a NACA (National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics) profile - the Cervélo's profile is similar to an aeroplane wing, but optimised to work at rather lower speeds - and keeps the frame under the 1kg weight threshold that's crucial for superbike status. The aero seat-tube fits with a precision we haven't seen before. The True Temper Wolf SL fork is made exclusively for Cervélo, a 100 per cent carbon design with aero profile blades.
Cervélos aren't strictly sold as a complete package but ours was decked out with the Pro branded handlebar/stem that, like the frame, also comes from distributors Ultimate Pursuits. Being of a single piece construction, the bars cannot be adjusted, so they aren't for those who like - as many do - to angle the handlebars forwards and upwards, but this kit suits the Soloist SLC-SL's sleek lines perfectly.
Aero-section seatposts such as the Soloist's have a tendency to slip down in the frame but we needn't have worried as this one is a reassuringly firm fit. The Selle San Marco Aspide saddle offers firm support that works best for powerfully built riders, but it is far more comfortable than it looks.
The Shimano WH-7801 wheels on the Cervélo are well matched to the capabilities of the frame and fork, and Shimano has taken a leaf out of Campagnolo's book for the new design. It uses an asymmetric rear rim to increase lateral stiffness and reduce brake block rub when climbing, while making the wheel less susceptible to spoke loosening. Magnesium is quite a brittle metal for a rim but they are heavily reinforced at the spoke holes. The hubs have 10mm wider flanges than before and the bearings are the tried and trusted boron-coated cup and cone design.
The Soloist represents the ultimate expression of what a lot of riders are looking for in a team issue bike. The ride is unmistakably firm - even harsh - but we can only think of one bike that is as fast point to point and that's the £10K Storck Fascenario. Press hard on the pedals uphill and the speed with which the Soloist SLCSL responds to your input reminds you that this is a highly effective hill climbing tool as well as a master of the flat stages. Point it downhill and again the level of steering control is exemplary, but then we would expect no less for the asking price.
No frame manufacturer before Cervélo has ever created a design that is so alive on the climbs and yet so adept at setting a blistering pace at the front on the flat sections of a race, so it's no surprise that the Soloist SLC-SL is the frame to have in the pro peloton right now. In many ways Cervélo has created the equivalent of a Formula 1 racing car here, so while it has an uncompromisingly stiff ride it is probably the most exciting bike we've ridden in our 15-year history, and bear in mind that it came without any special lightweight components.