I actually bought this Cervelo R3 frame way back in the summer; it’s just taken me far too long to get a piece up on it. I’d rather be riding it than writing about it, but on a damp windy January day I thought it best to take the opportunity to cobble together some thoughts on the switch from aluminium to carbon and from an ‘entry-level’ frame to a Tour de France level one (albeit an old TDF model).
I went for the change partly due to being a bike tart and really wanting a Cervelo and partly because the Canyon Roadlite I started on was always intended to be just that – a start. It was a fantastic package for the money and I always thought that if I really got into cycling I could always upgrade the frame to something more exotic.
Following regular scans of eBay for high end frames going cheap I’d started to think that a bargain didn’t really exist in cycling. Pretty much all of the sexy carbon frames I was seeing with low starter prices were going ballistic in the last couple of days of bidding. I spotted one Kuota Kharma frame that was hovering around £100 for ages. It wasn’t the brand I really wanted but it looked cool and seemed a lot more aero than my aluminium Canyon. I watched that auction like a hawk only for it to cruise up to over £400 in the last few hours. These cycling boys were on it!
I was thinking of just giving eBay a miss, maybe saving up some cash or going down the never-never route and get a bike on finance. The local shop had some lovely Giant Propels in that were very tempting. Then lady-luck chimed in. A Cervelo R3 in my favourite colourway appeared on eBay on a 5 day listing. It was just the frame and seat-post (perfect for me as I was planning to keep a lot of the Canyon components) and had been in a minor knock so was going cheaply. The eBay user seemed very open and honest about the damage showing photos of a scrape along one of the chainstays which was the only damage to the frame. I think this damage was the reason I ended up grabbing the frame for just over £200. I think a lot of people are wary of buying damaged carbon. There seems to be a lot of hocus-pocus rumours about the integrity of the structure being easily damaged in minor collisions and the structural problems can be ‘hidden’. I wasn’t too worried by this. It was a bloody Cervelo R3 for £200! A bloody Tour de France frame….! I was overjoyed.
The bike arrived and I was like a kid, bouncing off the walls and cradling it in my arms. I cleaned it thoroughly and then polished it with a rotary polisher (over-kill I know – but it made it shinier!) I then sealed it with some long life car wax – this baby was starting to look good. Being a bit of a novice with push bikes I then got the good guys at Cycle X to swap the components from my Canyon over to the new machine, they did a great job. At this point I was gagging to ride it but work commitments and planning our wedding had to come first. I did get the chance to weigh it and was amazed at the difference, to the point where I’m not sure the luggage scales I used can be trusted. The weight difference was as follows;
Canyon Roadlite 6.0 in standard spec (105 + Mavic Aksiums) = 8.3kg
Cervelo R3 Frame + Carbon Seatpost with all other components donated from the Canyon = 6.9kg
1.4kg drop from just swapping out the frame and seat post!?! It did feel a hell of a lot lighter. When you lifted the bike via the top-tube the weight now felt greatest at either end where the wheels were. Almost like a see-saw. Whereas with the Canyon frame in place the weight felt more evenly spread. As the natural thought process of a bike tart goes I was now thinking….. I need new wheels! They could wait though.
As a tester my first ride was just 10 miles or so. I needed to dial in things like the stem height and saddle height so I didn’t want to go too mad. Was there much of a difference between the two frames ride wise? In short: yes, a massive one. The Canyon Roadlite is a very good aluminium frame, this is backed up by pretty much every bike mag in the world, but my first ride on the Cervelo showed me how good carbon can be from a ride quality point of view. Even bearing in mind that the Cervelo R3 frame I have is about 4 years older in terms of design, it simply wipes the floor with the ally Canyon. And so it should really – brand new it was about four times as expensive.
The biggest difference is the way the Cervelo massages out the smaller bumps. When riding on a gritty road surface the Canyon would buzz, zzzzzzz through your saddle continuously. Hitting the same sections on the Cervelo and you just don’t feel anything, someone next to you riding an aluminium frame could be complaining about the poor road surface and you would be wondering what the hell they were on about. The R3 is better over bigger bumps as well, it feels like it undulates over them, softening the blow. There’s no jarring feeling when you hit a pot-hole or go over a rough drain. I used to avoid drains at all costs on the Canyon because they used to hurt or annoy me. On the R3 they don’t bother me at all. So I think this is the biggest difference and certainly justifies my decision to upgrade.
Is it faster?
In honesty… yeah but not by much. The frame is smaller than the Roadlite. I’ve got a 54 R3 and the Roadlite was a 58 (a 56 top tube – so a 56 for most manufacturers), this automatically gives a lower, racier position up front. Plus the R3 is a race designed bike, so the front end is lower than the Canyon anyway, and this actually took some getting used to. I had mild neck ache for a little while after the first few rides but that soon went away. So the racier position does make it feel marginally faster on the flats. I feel like I can hold speeds above 20mph for longer – definitely. But this might purely be down to the frame size rather than the frame itself.
However I do have some empirical evidence which suggests that the R3 is quicker up hill. There’s a segment in Beaulieu that I often use to gauge fitness. It’s a steady 3% hill that often appears at the end of rides and it’s always a good challenge to push tired legs as hard as possible to catapult you up. On my first meaningful effort on the R3 I beat my segment time by 10 seconds. A PR that was the result of a year or so’s riding.
And the R3 does feel sprightlier up the hills. You can notice the lack of mass helping you with each pedal stroke when the gradient gets steeper.
The only downside I’ve found with the R3, and I’m not sure if this is true of all carbon bikes, is the comparative lack of feel and response in sprints. The Canyon felt incredibly stiff behind the pedals and almost pushed back when you got out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals. The R3 in comparison feels a little numb. I’m not sure if this makes it slower when sprinting but it definitely doesn’t feel as responsive as the ally Canyon. Perhaps this is something you have to live with as a trade off for the buttery smooth ride?
Overall I’m very pleased with the R3, every time I look at it I want to take it out for a spin – and I think that’s the test of a good bike. It’s so comfortable that you genuinely feel pretty fresh after rides of 50 miles or more, the only problem I have now is finding some time to do more of those long rides…. Hopefully spring will be along shortly to help me out with that.