In 2014, the Cervélo R3 chassis – with the inclusion of a Shimano 105 groupset, Shimano R500 wheels and a smattering of 3T components – can be had for little more than the frame and fork alone cost back when it was first released in 2008.
HIGHS: Wonderful frame provides stunning handling
LOWS: The R3 needs and deserves better wheels
Now the higher models in the R3 range get an all-new chassis derived from the groundbreaking RCA frame, but the fact Cervélo has kept this older design (and not one to be sniffed at) in production in order to be able to offer a cheaper model should be applauded.
The frame itself is designed around Cervélo’s own Squoval tubing concept. The main-tubes are square in cross-section with highly radiused corners. Cervélo claims this adds so much stiffness at the heart of the frame, through the down tube and chainstays, that the seatstays needn't offer any strength in the vertical plane and just help with the torsional integrity. That means they can be made significantly smaller and flatter than normal offering a leaf-spring quality to the rear end (the original R3 was designed around the Belgian cobbled classics). Up front a special ‘feathered’ carbon layup and Kevlar infusion adds plenty of strength and stiffness too.
In its day the R3 was about as cutting-edge as things got, and there's plenty of design and tech at the heart of this frame that has influenced many of today's bikes. The last time we measured an R3’s frame weight it dipped under 900g: that’s still light for any bike, and for one at this price is almost unheard of.
When we’ve ridden previous R3s, its always been with a component package that’s matched to its calibre of frame – so its been a interesting experiment to ride one that’s so modestly equipped. Ride a sub-7kg complete bike and you're going to focus on the lack of mass, because that’s whats going to shout out at you.
The first thing we noticed with the R3 is just how flighty it feels. It’s a sweetly blended mix of drivetrain stiffness, smoothness through the saddle and accurate handling that sets the R3 apart in what is a very crowded market. On the hills you can still feel the lightness at the heart of the bike – that’s even if it's running fairly modest wheels in the shape of Shimano’s R500s.
We hit short steep slopes: attacked, the R3’s responsive frame revels in out of the saddle efforts. Unfortunately most of the vigour is flattened on longer climbs, the weighty R500s and poor-in-the-wet Rubino tyres akin to equipping Fred Astaire with Dockers steel toe-cap boots.
Elsewhere though we’re happy with the components – the 3T cockpit is a decent highlight and the rarely seen Selle Royal Seta saddle didn’t throw up any unwanted surprises.
Would we still recommend the R3? Wholeheartedly yes: the frameset is superb, quite simply one of the best around, even if it’s a six year old design. The problem is that while plenty of bikes can prove perfectly good with very basic wheels, the R3 is a steed that’s all about lightness and response. That gets somewhat dulled by its rolling stock. To get the best out of this brilliant Cervélo you really need better wheels, but factor that into your costs and it’s still a definite bargain.