Cervélo dabbled in the then emerging gravel scene when it launched the C Series back in 2016. That bike was an endurance-biased bike with high levels of compliance, plus it had, for the time, a generous amount of tyre clearance and was the first real mainstream rival to GT’s Grade. Now Cervélo has gone full throttle on gravel racing by launching the Áspero.
In the intervening seasons, between the C Series and this new A Series, things have changed in the gravel world. Tyre clearances have increased, there are plus-sized tyres on 650b wheels, and a divergence in gravel has taken in everything from long distance multi-day adventures to epic ultra-races, and riders just wanting to get off the beaten track and have some fun.
The gearing is well suited to off-road and the Donnelly tyres impressed on everything from wet, muddy trails to loose gravel surfaced climbs. Gruber photo
Áspero means ‘rough roads’ and, coming from Cervélo, a brand that’s never made anything but bikes built for speed, it wouldn’t take a mastermind to realise that the Áspero is a racing machine first and foremost. The 1,100g claimed weight of the carbon fibre frame is testament to the bike’s performance intentions.
The bike is aimed squarely at competitive riders looking at events such as Grinduro and Dirty Kanza for their racing kicks. Plus, according to Kevin Franks, Cervélo’s marketing head, gravel now provides up to 80 percent of Cervélo’s North American dealers’ drop bar bike sales — and that’s in both urban and rural stores.
Franks reasons that this is because gravel is an inclusive pursuit, yet also competitive, and that the riding is away from traffic.
Cervélo’s head of engineering Graham Strive adds: “From a personal point of view, back in Canada I’ve found that dirt roads and trails that would be boring on a state-of-the-art MTB are suddenly exciting on a gravel bike’.
Maria Benson, Cervélo’s director of product, goes on to explain: “The question I have been asked most over the last few years is ‘When are Cervélo going to make a gravel bike?’ And that’s because gravel riding and racing has become a staple of competitive riders everywhere.”
All about the A Series
We quizzed Strive about the Áspero and what sets it apart from the wide variety of gravel machines available today and he says that Cervélo’s main focus was speed. “We don’t want to mess around,” he adds. “We just make fast bikes, but speed in a gravel context is a variable thing.
“If you look at Dirty Kanza as the bench mark, [Cannondale’s] Ted King has won it on a Super X with 33c tyres, and since running 40c tyres. But on seriously rough terrain, even using a 40mm tyre you could end up in serious hot water. Fundamentally we wanted to create a bike that is fast across the board, whatever the surface.”
As a result, tyre clearances are pretty generous with the 700c setup allowing for 42mm, and the 650b version rising to 49mm.
The tube shapes are very reminiscent of Cervélo’s R3. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
Meanwhile, when you look at the frame details, the tube shapes look familiar, as does the bike’s stance. It is all very R Series, Cervélo’s all-round, lightweight race bike – and a nod to the Áspero’s racing DNA.
Strive says: “The tube shapes all come from our tube library [thousands of iterations designed in house as the building blocks for Cervélo’s design, which take into account strength, compliance, weight, and even aerodynamics] and we aimed at stiffness and torsion figures that are absolutely equal to our road bikes. So the Áspero is road-bike stiff where it needs to be.”
The Áspero has been designed to be a bike that handles as quick as a road bike, so it was important to keep the handling consistent when dealing with inconsistent tyre sizing. “We had to go deep into the trail of the fork,” says Strive. “The trail is the key to a bike’s handling, but trail changes on a bike depending on tyre size. It’s for this reason we came up with the new fork dropout we’ve called the ‘trail-mixer’.”
The ‘Trail-mixer’ dropout alters the fork offset by 5mm fore and aft depending on which way round you fit it. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
Another adjustable dropout?
We’ve already seen and been impressed by Rondo’s twin-tip fork design, where flipping the dropout insert switches the bike’s ride position between an aggressive racing position and a more upright endurance position. That was followed by GT’s twin-tip design on the new Grade, the idea of which is to keep the handling consistent between a standard bike and one laden down with plenty of luggage.
Cervélo’s take on the fork insert alters the position fore and aft by 5mm horizontally. As a result, Cervélo says when the bike is running a relatively slender tyre on a 700c wheel it will feel the same as when running a 650b wheel with a big 2-inch plus tyre.
Shape of things to come
The A Series geometry approaches a long-front-centre shape, which we’ve seen from the likes of Whyte where it uses a longer top-tube and shorter stem. This is combined with a ride position that’s closer to the R Series and in particular the R3, which uses Cervélo’s performance geometry — not the fully slammed pro R5 shape. And though it’s not pro-low, it’s certainly a lot more aggressive than most gravel bikes that are much more your tall and short sportive-style position.
The A Series’ ride position needs to be consistent across the sizes, so unlike most bikes this one doesn’t have a static seat angle. The seat angle changes across the board and Cervélo sees the traction improvements gained from its ride position key to the A Series’ ride. Weight distribution is slightly biased to the rear to improve grip, especially when climbing.
To further aid this, larger sizes get a zero offset seatpost. The fork offset switches between 46mm and 51mm on sizes 54 and up, on the 51 its between 49 and 54mm, on the 48 it’s between 52 and 57mm to make sure there are no toe-overlap issues and to keep handling consistent across the sizes, too.
The Áspero fork offers plenty of tyre clearance in both 700 and 650b guises. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
Unlike most dual-wheeled size chassis, such as the Open or 3T, Cervélo hasn’t gone down the asymmetric stay route — where the driveside drops much lower to stay out of the way and give ample clearance for the chain line.
Instead it’s gone for a double dropped design, which works around standard wheels and uses Cervélo’s long-time bottom bracket standard, BB Right.
Weighing up the fittings
For all Cervélo’s talk of the Áspero being a racing machine, it hasn’t skimped on fixtures. The frame (which is the same across all models) features three bottle cage bosses, with a dual position on the down tube, a bolt-on tube guard above the bottom bracket shell, a bento box mount on the top tube, internal cable routing and routing for a dropper post, too.
The front mech mount is removable and, unlike the RAT-equipped axles on the rest of Cervélo’s range, the A Series uses standard threaded thru-axles — though you can upgrade to RAT should you prefer.
The frameset in a 56cm fully painted and with all parts fitted weighs a claimed 1,100g.
The A Series Áspero range
All of the A Series models share the same frame and fork, with tubeless-ready 40mm tyres fitted across all models too.
At launch, there are three models available, starting with a SRAM Apex 1 equipped bike, a 2x Shimano Ultegra bike with the clutch-equipped RX rear mech and, topping the range, a Force 1 eTap AXS model running on carbon DT Swiss wheels.
Later in the year we expect the range to be filled out by a new Shimano GRX-equipped bike.
Cervélo Áspero Apex 1
The new Cervélo Áspero range starts with this Apex 1x equipped model. Cervelo
Spec highlights include Alex Boondocks 7-D wheels, Donnelly X’Plor MSO 40c tyres, SRAM Apex 1 (40/11-42) drivetrain, Easton EA50 AX handlebar, Easton EA50 stem.
Price: £2,699 / $2,800 / €2,999
Cervélo Áspero Ultegra RX
The middle model is this Ultegra-equipped bike with the clutch-equipped RX rear mech. Later in the year we expect it to be superceded by a new Shimano GRX model. Cervelo
Spec highlights include Easton EA70 AX wheels, Donnelly X’Plor MSO 40c tyres, Easton EA90 chainset (47/32), Ultegra 8000/Ultegra RX gears, Easton EA50 AX handlebar, Easton EA50 stem, Prologo Dimension NDR saddle.
Price: £3,599 / $4,000 / €3,999
Cervélo Áspero Force eTap AXS
The top of the range Áspero gets Force eTap AXS 1x 12-speed gearing and carbon DT Swiss wheels. Cervelo
Spec highlights include DT Swiss GRC 1650 wheels, Donnelly X’Plor MSO 40c tyres, SRAM Force (36/10-33, 12-speed), Easton EC70 seatpost, Easton EC70 AX handlebar, Easton EA90 stem, Prologo Dimension NDR T4.0 saddle.
Price: £5,399 / $6,000 / €5,999