Friday, January 25, 2008

Review: Cervelo SLC-SL

Frankly, I’m not sure which is more interesting: Cervelo’s web site or their bikes. I’ve always admired bike companies that will take the time to explain the thinking behind their products. It’s rare that a company will discuss the development of a product in any real depth. Rarer yet is the company that will help a consumer evaluate which bike might be most appropriate for said consumer. If all the company offers are mountain bikes, road bikes and the odd time trial bike, no real assistance is needed because if someone can’t decided between off-road or on or crits vs. triathlon, well, they need more help than a bike company can offer.

That’s what makes the Cervelo site so much fun. Frankly, there’s so much information, so many articles and presentations, I have yet to see it all. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is the presentation “Col de la Tipping Point.” It’s an examination of whether a rider is better off using an aero bike vs. a super-light climbing bike … even on a mountain stage of the Tour de France. They examine Frank Schleck’s choice of the SLC-SL on the day he won the stage up l’Alpe d’Huez. The math involved seems solid enough, though some of the assumptions may be up for some debate.

Their determination: The SLC-SL gave Schleck the advantage he needed to win, more than he would have gained with an R3 SL.

Verifying this sort of advantage, unfortunately, is nearly impossible. There’s no way to control for all the variables you’ll encounter in rides in order to test one bike against the other. And that’s the frustration with this bike. Riding a bike that is unusually light, or at least lighter than your daily rider, is immediately apparent. And while I’ve seen plenty of nerds do the math to show that losing 1.5 lbs. off a 15 lb. bike is a less than 1 percent change in weight once you factor in the weight of a 150 lb. rider. This is bunk. The difference between a 15 lb. bike and a 16.5 lb. bike is immediately apparent. That 10 percent increase in weight is significant enough to be noticeable to any rider.

But what about aerodynamics? I could ride the SLC-SL back to back with a bike of equal weight but inferior aerodynamics for weeks and am not sure I’d be able to define the difference. In my rides on the SLC-SL a funny thing did happen, though. Every time I was at the front of a ride, I started to wonder if the bike was giving me an edge. Ah yes, the power of the placebo effect. And every time I had that thought, I felt ridiculous.

A small note on the internal cable routing: It rattled worse than my nerves in an earthquake. After two hours I was homicidal over the noise. As the bike wasn’t mine and I didn’t have it for a month, I didn’t have time to find out how to shut it up.

And while this review is about the Cervelo and not about the Shimano Ultegra-SL, I need to take a moment to say how impressed I was. If I had not known the components were not Dura-Ace, I might never have figured it out from their performance. The weight was impressive, shifting performance was excellent and brake response was adequate, though it seemed not quite as easy to modulate as the Dura-Ace stoppers.

Inevitably, the question of why someone would ride an aerodynamic road bike instead of a time trial bike comes up. After all, time trial bikes use designs that maximize the bicycle’s aerodynamics. And while better aerodynamics is faster, the fact is, aerodynamics aren’t everything. The best time trial bikes aren’t as stiff as the average road bike is at the head tube. This is to give riders improved comfort over long time trials (such as the Ironman), something they can afford given their events don’t end in sprints.

My lasting impressions of the SLC-SL were these: The SLC-SL handled with great agility, but enough stability to keep me out of trouble. The bike had great torsional stiffness, nearly that of the Specialized Tarmac or the Felt F1. However, the aero seatpost was as stiff as any of the integrated seatmast designs I have ridden so far. It was extraordinarily stiff vertically. The term vertical compliance came up only in the negative. It’s a great bike, just not for a century. I’m aware that CSC riders are capable of covering 150 miles on this bike, but we have the power of choice. Were I racing crits and trying to ride off the front, this would be a first-round draft.


Rich W said...

a friend has a soloist aluminum...the rattle is a deal breaker. It's loud, constant and will drive you nuts.

plus: it's Made in China, not a deal breaker but worth knowing none the less.

they seem to be nice bikes other than the rattle.

Anonymous said...

I test road the SLC-SL at Interbike and hated it. The fat chain stays resulted in heal-strike. Nothing is worse.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why people complain about the rattle, as it is extremely easy to solve. You put 2-3 cable donuts (like on a mountainbike) on each cable and it is solved. You can slide them on easily (and into the downtube) with a piece of housing. Takes 30 seconds, and the problem is solved.

With regards to the Made in China, the SLC-SL is made in China, as are the Pinarellos, Scotts, Specializeds, Ridleys, Orbeas, and virtually all other high-end road frames. Unlike some of these brands though, Cervelo owns up to that fact and doesn't have them painted in Italy just to call them "made in Italy", or shipped to Taiwan to change the label to "made in Taiwan".

As to 1.5lb just being 1% of 150lb being bunk, I think the point is not that you cannot feel a difference, the question is if it makes you faster. First off, the difference between the world's lightest frame and the SLC-SL is only 0.5lb (and the lightest one, some would argue, is also a Cervelo). And I am sure that if you jump from one bike to one 0.5lb lighter, you MAY feel a difference but you won't feel faster. If you do, then THAT's a real placebo effect.

scottg said...

Lots of high end bikes are Chinese.
I'll have to content myself with mid price rides, Pegoretti, Sachs, Kvale, Goodrich maybe even a Lynskey if I need a rain bike.

Rich W said...

People complain about the rattle because a high end bike SHOULD NOT RATTLE! I don't care if there's an undocumented easy "fix" or not.

A half pound lighter bike may or may not "feel" faster but the fact is you *will* be faster.

here's an interesting link about cervelo:

Anonymous said...

Nice review on Cervelo. Regardless of whether a Cervelo is right for someone or not, I for one like the approach that the company takes. Their website has a number of forums with the head guys themselves making comments and taking in feedback. No running and hiding as most companies do, bike related or not.

I have an R3 and love it. I also road the Soloist carbon. It too was a great ride but I found it to be vertically unforgiving compared to my other bikes, and especially to the R3. The R3 is stiff, but there is plenty of vertical compliance.

I would consider purchasing a Cervelo again, but I would also look at other companies as well. Cervelo seems to have cleaned up their quality issues in the last few years, some of their previous generation products were problem ridden.

Unknown said...

The placebo effect is real, even the pros feel it. What's fast and what looks and feels fast are different. Remember the aero tail fins on cars a few decades ago? I bet they felt fast. Weight? the differences at this level are pointless. Put any pro into the peloton on a 19 lb. bike and they will do just fine. China? sorry to see it, I'm not buying it. Don't mean to be negative, I enjoy your blog and respect it. Craig

Eric Silva said...

"And while I’ve seen plenty of nerds do the math to show that losing 1.5 lbs. off a 15 lb. bike is a less than 1 percent change in weight once you factor in the weight of a 150 lb. rider. This is bunk."

It's not bunk. It's entirely correct. The total mass is what matters when racing up hill. Gravity doesn't care how much mass is in the bike and how much is attached to your waistline.

"The difference between a 15 lb. bike and a 16.5 lb. bike is immediately apparent. That 10 percent increase in weight is significant enough to be noticeable to any rider."

That is correct. It certainly is noticeable. However, there is no prize for noticing your bike is lighter :).

If you reduce the total mass going up hill by 1%, you'll get to the top of the hill--at most--1% faster. That's 18 seconds for every half hour you're climbing.

Sure, the bike will feel nice and light though!

Ron George said...

I see a comment linking my blog. Cool..thanks Rich W.


Thanks for reviewing the bike. I was looking for a first hand survey.

Now to look for 100 other reviews to arrive at a decision :) !

Rich W said...

An update: my buddy's Soloist rattle problem turned out to be mostly a missing mavic spacer on his cassette. His housing/cables still rattle a little but it's not that bad now.

Anonymous said...

The soloist isn't "century" bike? What exactly is a century bike anyway? All this talk of riding in winter against formidable weather and then the first bike with "negative vertical compliance" makes you want to head to the coffee shop early. You seriously need to man the f**k up.

- Sven

jas said...

I have a soloist team for crits and training, a carbon for the road... Rattles were easily solved, and yes - other bikes have rattles and seat post/headset whathaveyou issues... But they are two of the best bikes Ive ever owned, and thats going back to the 70s. That means Im old - and I can put in 100+ mi on either cervelo. I think you need to change your seat or adjust something else... Ever ride a canondale?

'nuff said

Anonymous said...

I have the Cervelo SLC-SL and love it. I have no rattle at all. Maybe in the miles to come it will start to rattle but for now I have non. The bike climbs like a dream for me. It has really helped my climbing. I do feel more fresh after a century than I did on my 2000 Trek 5200. I am glad to spend the bucks for this bike. Plus it is "man pretty"

sm2000 said...

I have an SLC SL - the rattle of the cables on the head tube is a bummer I would not expect out of the box with this machine. Solved through addition of cable ties. Not a great solution for a high end bike.

It is a harsher ride than some (even in comparison to my old aluminium cannondale) but it is FAST. I'll happily keep riding it on century outings.

My main complaint is that it feels a little "flaky" at times on descents but it might just be my old Ksyrium wheel set. I can't remember feeling this with some Zipps on. Any one else have any problems here?