Cervélo S3 Ultegra review$4,000.00

Revamped with a stiffer, faster frame

BikeRadar score3.5/5

The S3 is one of Cervélo’s longest-standing bikes, introduced in 2008, and one of the Canadian company’s most successful racing designs, including a world championship – Thor Hushovd riding his to victory in 2010.

It has, though, evolved considerably during its long history. And according to Cervélo S3 is now ‘even better than before’. Well, to paraphrase a Sixties paramour, ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they’.

On the surface it doesn’t look radically different, but it has actually been pretty much redesigned from the ground up. Revisions have been made to the carbon layup, and it features a new fork and head tube, and a new back end derived from Cervélo’s exclusive RCA bike. (NB – since we tested the S3, a new 2016 edition has been released, with a slightly different paint job but virtually identical spec.)

Rigid road rocket

This means less weight and a claimed increase in compliance. It’s also ready for electronic shifting systems. Clearances also have been upped to meet the current trend for 25mm rubber. All these aspects have kept the bike desirable if you're someone looking to get into the aero-road bike arena.

What’s immediately apparent when you get astride the S3 is just how planted it feels. The front end is solid with no lateral give – living up to the claimed 16 per cent increase in stiffness.

The S3’s frame has been entirely redesigned

Not only is the bike frantically fast in a straight line, you can also carry that momentum through the bends without having to back off. This sensation of stiffness matches the direct feeling you get through the pedals.

Related: Cervélo finally embraces disc brakes with R3

Pickup on your pedalling efforts is met with superb efficiency, and the S3 rapidly gains speed. It’s like every minute piece of your effort goes into ever-increasing velocity.

Comfort-wise the S3 is good: the back end works very well at reducing road buzz to a murmur, helped by Fizik’s classy Antares saddle. But when the road is rough and broken, the bike’s slender 23mm Mavictires – slim even for 23mm rubber, and measuring closer to 21mm on the narrow Cosmic wheels – do allow a fair amount of buzz to reach your hands through the alloy 3T bar.

Dated rolling stock

We think it’s criminal for a bike specifically designed to take a larger, more comfortable and faster tire to come with some that are so narrow. Come on Cervélo, let’s make the best of a top-class frame.

The alloy aero Mavic Cosmic Elite S is a solid, stiff wheelset designed with wind cheating in mind. As a package including tires and tubes it tips the scales at 2380g, so not the lightest of hoops, but not bad for the price either.

Annoyingly, the skinny mavic wheel/tyre combo translates to a buzzy experience up front:
Annoyingly, the skinny mavic wheel/tyre combo translates to a buzzy experience up front:

Annoyingly, the skinny Mavic wheel/tire combo translates to a buzzy experience up front

We would though consider the Cosmic alloy design a little long in the tooth now, and would prefer to see a more modern, wider rim (and tire) to get the best of the frame’s smoothness. As part of the test we switched in a set of wider Zipp 30 alloy wheels with 25mm tires, and guess what? Yep, they transformed the ride.

Gearing is spot on for a fast road machine, but one with a small nod to the sportive or endurance rider, combining a 52/36 chainset with an 11-25 cassette. For longer climbing days and steeper ascents we’d prefer 11-28. Shimano Ultegra, as ever, is smooth-shifting and dependable, and in real terms we wouldn’t bother looking for anything higher up the groupset food chain such is Ultegra’s reliability.

Speed-wise the S3 absolutely flies on higher quality aero wheels, but it really isn’t that shabby in the speed stakes in this standard guise – it’s just not the smoothest.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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