The R3 was always Cérvelo’s classic race machine. Its list of wins extends from the Paris-Roubaix to the Tour with many victories besides. Though the advent of the R5 meant the R3 became the choice for the privateer and less affluent teams when it came to racing.
- The Cérvelo R3D Ultegra is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
Cérvelo R3D Ultegra frame
This new generation R3 has stepped away from racing a little further for 2018, it's not that it's become any less racy, it's just that Cérvelo has changed the R5 into a more aggressively positioned racer giving the R5 what it's calling ‘Pro’ geometry.
The R3, on the other hand, gets classic Cérvelo geometry (which was always a few millimetres taller than the competition) this is now termed ‘Race fit’. That means a stack of 605mm and a reach of 396mm; compared to a classic yet racy endurance bike like the Cannondale Synapse (610mm/393mm) you can see it’s a little lower and a tiny bit longer.
Squoval tubing (the unique shape that blends a square tube profile with ovalized corners and curved sides, top and bottom — square and oval — squoval) has always been a key part of the R-Series story, but for the new R5 and R3 the company has further developed that original idea.
Cérvelo design manager Graham Schrive explains: "on this version we’ve gone after every single tube section, profile, and junction, maximizing the qualities of the structure in terms of weight, stiffness, and even aero considerations."
Compared to the previous R3D, the 2018 model has shaved a few grams, Cérvelo has been subtle in how this has been achieved, with hidden technical features like the compressed carbon dropouts shedding a few grams and the Squoval Max tubing being evolved slightly. This means the frame is down from 1,059g in its previous incarnation to a very svelte 890g.
The fork, however, has been reshaped allowing for bigger tyre clearance and improved stiffness, which means a rise in weight from 349g to 388g. Cérvelo also claims that the revamped tube profiles have meant a reduction in drag aerodynamically losing a few hundred grams of drag over the 2016 model.
Cérvelo R3D Ultegra kit
One of the criticisms laid at disc brakes is that traditional thru-axles with the threaded closure can be slow to change a wheel. Cérvelo knew that racing would be a big part of their R3’s final destination so it's chosen to adapt Focus’ brilliant RAT system, this fast release thru-axle with its T-bar end and quarter turn lock and unlock is among the best, and certainly the fastest.
Though Cervélo has revised the design to make it a little lighter, more subtle and to give its spring a little more resistance. its axle is now heavily labelled so it's now pretty much idiot proof to fit and release.
On the road the R3D is a sublime experience, it almost feels casual to spin the bike up to serious speed on the flat. The ride position is at the race end of endurance, yet it doesn’t feel like a compromise between the two it just feels sublimely comfortable.
The way in which you can instigate a rapid direction change with a simple weight shift at your hips puts it on par with gloriously sharp race bikes like Cannondale’s legendary Evo, yet it can do this with a smotheringly smooth ride that’s akin to bikes like Cannondale’s Synapse.
When the road starts to rise, the R3D is so adept and responsive you can ride it how you want. It's just as at home for those who like to sit in a spin, or if you prefer to stand and grind out some power strokes on the pedals the R3D just takes it all in its stride. When you head back down again the precocious blend of stability at speed and fast handling make it a glorious companion for going downhill fast.
The drivetrain and brakes are new Ultegra head to toe and are pretty much faultless. The Dura-Ace-like shifting is swift and spot-on, and the choice of 52/36 and an 11-28 cassette (though Ultegra can now take a wider cassette should you want it) is pretty much perfect, offering plenty of flat and downhill speed potential and a low enough gear to get you up the steepest slopes.
I’d reserve particular praise for the new 8070 brakes when combined with the all-new Icetech rotors (in a sensible 160mm diameter), these feel simply brilliant and are among the best I've experienced and, just as important, their near silent operation is just what I’ve always wanted from road discs.
Cérvelo R3D Ultegra ride impressions
Now the R3D is an expensive proposition, the chassis is worth every penny however and the no-nonsense and no-compromise groupset specification should be praised too.
Some will question the mid-range alloy FSA Energy bar fitted and the use of Mavic’s Aksium Disc (which you can find on bikes at least a grand cheaper).
First the bar. Yes it’s a fairly basic level bar, but FSA knows how to shape a bar well and the compact drop is shaped so that even riders (like me) with big hands can get down into the drops easily, and the ovalized top section is comfortable to hold too. A little more flex would be welcome, but the front end never felt overly stiff or harsh, which is testament to a brilliant chassis (as it's running fairly modestly sized 25c tyres too).
The wheels are what you’d consider a second tier set, but to Mavic’s credit the latest Aksium Disc is a damn fine wheel; stiff, smooth and with a slightly wider rim profile that shapes a 25mm tyre well.
The Conti Gransport 25s are also a very decent tyre, they may not be the lightest or fastest around but the grip is consistent and they are supple enough to make a difference ride-quality-wise. The R3D has plenty of space to spare should you want to upsize your rubber though.
The R3D is one of those bikes that you just feel immediately at home aboard, its mix of handling, comfort, smoothness and excitement means I think it's set to be one of the greats.
Cérvelo has been clever in giving a full-fat groupset, meaning mechanically it's just superb even if that’s meant a few compromises elsewhere. Those compromises however I just can’t get upset by.
When a chassis feels this damn good in every important area and in any ride scenario it's simply a case of the whole being far better than the sum of its parts. This is one of the very few bikes from this year's Bike of the Year test that I will be genuinely sorry to see go back. It's simply a wonderful, wonderful experience.