Cervélo is a brand with a proud racing background and the new Áspero draws inspiration from the Canadian company’s road race heritage, while offering the adaptability and tyre clearance that’s come to be expected from a gravel bike. The result? Straight off the mark, the Áspero is different from your average gravel machine.
To recap on the key details from the A Series launch, the Áspero’s carbon fibre frame has a claimed weight of 1,100g (56cm, painted) and is compatible with 700c and 650b wheels, in turn offering clearance for 42mm and 49mm tyres respectively.
The tube shapes are inspired by the R Series, while the fork has a ‘Trail-mixer’ dropout that alters the offset by 5mm fore and aft. That, according to Cervélo, allows you to keep the handling consistent whether running 700c wheels with relatively slim tyres, or 650b hoops with chunky tyres.
But how does it ride? I ventured north to Scotland to find out.
The Áspero mixes road bike performance with off-road ability brilliantly. Gruber photo
A Series or R Series?
On day one’s ride, on a route from Glen Fruin to Arrochar that was surrounded by stunning scenery, the first few miles were on a sinewy ribbon of tarmac and here the A Series felt ,well, like a road bike, and like a Cervélo road bike at that. If it wasn’t for looking down upon a 40mm wide Donnelly gravel tyre I’d have sworn that team Cervélo had given me an R3 by mistake.
The handling responses are quick; this is one sharp turning and sweet steering machine. It does this with a resolute feeling of stability, too.
On the road it feels firm and stiff, which had me wondering how the bike would cope once I got off the surprisingly smooth Scottish singletrack lanes and onto something altogether dirtier.
The gearing is well suited to off-road riding and the Donnelly tyres impressed on everything from wet muddy trails to loose gravel surfaced climbs. Gruber photo
Thankfully these concerns proved unfounded, with the bike coping with the choppy rutted surfaces brilliantly. Much of that feel is down to the excellent compliance of the Donnelly tyres and the DT Swiss hoops that offer plenty of give on big hits, unlike some lightweight carbon gravel wheels I’ve tried.
The Áspero’s handling inspires plenty of confidence and I ramped up the speeds on the rolling dirt-road terrain with ruts and bumps providing plenty of opportunity to get airborne, and that’s not something I can honestly say I’ve thought of doing on any previous Cervélo bike launch I’ve been on.
The Áspero’s confidence-inspiring handling, not to mention speed, meant I wanted to go for it whenever possible. Gruber photo
On the first section of singletrack, which included a killer steep climb that was made even trickier by the heavens opening, making the surface slick and traction limited, the Áspero’s smart geometry came to the fore.
The ride position is race-bike aggressive with a low 580mm stack on the 56cm, but with my weight shifted slightly backwards this meant seated climbing was an option. When I got out of the saddle, the long reach (397mm on a 56cm) and short stem meant I could stand more centrally, putting more weight on the rear tyre, and I found the A Series much less prone to rear-tyre slip when really grinding up the steep slopes on a loose surface.
Force 1x offers a wide range from its 10-33 spread over 12 cogs; it’s the equivalent of an 11-32 in an eleven speed but with a bit more range at either end. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
Force AXS comes to the fore
The Force AXS eTap in a 1x setup offers a decent range with a lowest gear of 36/33 and a top gear of 36/10. It’s the perfect setup for off-road jaunts and the drivetrain was perfectly quiet and free of chain-slap on even the roughest of surfaces, with the clever Orbit tech in the rear mech – a fluid-damper that is contained within the pivot at the top jockey wheel.
The principle behind the damper is that the faster it moves the more the resistance builds (think of pushing your open hand through water slowly as opposed to as fast as you can and how the resistance increases). This means the rougher the road, the more the mech should bounce, so the more the damper stiffens acting like a physical clutch (like on mechanical 1x SRAM groups).
On the road the gearing was decent with the progression through the gears comfortable. I did on occasion find myself spinning out on very fast road descents, but that’s certainly not a deal-breaker, and AXS’s simple shifting is perfectly suited to 1x set-ups: right shift harder, left shift easier.
The Donnelly X’Plor tyres impressed in the rain and in the dry on plenty of mixed surfaces. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
The wheel package, combining smooth running, light and lively DT Swiss carbon hoops with Donnelly X’Plor tyres, is brilliant and helps the bike to have a nimble, lively feel. Plus there’s the smattering of quality Easton carbon parts and one of my all-time favourite saddles in the form of the short ProLogo Dimension, which makes this Áspero a complete bike. I really couldn’t find anything I’d quickly want to change or replace.
I usually ride a 58cm bike, but I found the 56 in the Áspero a perfect fit, so it’s definitely a bike to try before you buy.
Of course, whatever goes up must come down, and steep, twisty descents are this bike’s bread and butter, though I couldn’t help but think I’d have liked Cervélo to have fitted a dropper post given that the frame is designed to take one.
Cervélo Áspero Force eTap AXS first ride impressions
The Áspero does exactly what Cervélo set out to do. This is a race bike first and foremost, but one that’s aimed at gravel. Its closest competition is from 3T and Open, with the Exploro and UP (or newer UPPER), and on the two days of riding I’ve had so far on it I think it’s some very serious competition for both.
The chassis is smart and feels firm, stiff and efficient, yet doesn’t feel unmoving or neutral (even a little dead), like some of the pricier lightweight-carbon gravel rigs I’ve tried.
The Áspero fork offers plenty of tyre clearance in both 700 and 650b guises. Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media
I also like that the Áspero has one single frame and fork package across every model, and I wouldn’t be averse to recommending buying the cheapest bike in the range and upgrading over time — and let’s face it, gravel equipment is going to have a harder life than a standard road bike.
I need to get the A Series back on home soil to get a better feel for it on more familiar terrain – but so far, so very impressed.