Cervelo Diet - Ultimate Mods for the Ultimate Bike, the Cervelo R3 - By Twain Mein

I purchased a used Cervelo R3 frame from a poster in RoadBikeReview classifieds in March of 2008. Luckily, it was in mint condition and I got a great deal on a phenomenal frame & fork. The R3, though now 3 years old, is still one of the lightest available frames. The performance is amazing; the frame somehow combines incredible stiffness yet still has a buttery smooth ride. It does this by having massive down tube, chain stays, and bottom bracket. But it has very thin and compliant seat stays which help it to absorb shock. It is no exaggeration that this bike climbs like nothing else! It also descends incredibly well with a feeling of confidence I haven't had in years. It feels as comfortable as an old steel frame yet climbs and accelerates like a super stiff aluminum one. It's no wonder it's won so many awards, including RoadBikeReview's "Best of 2008" with an astounding 4.93 average rating. I freely admit that it doesn't look drop dead "beautiful" but it is engineered for performance, sort of like a Porsche 911.

Over the past year, I've tried to get the weight down but not make it "stupid light" with high maintenance and fragile parts. This is review attempts to capture the quest to build the ultimate in "smart light"--upgrading with lighter weight parts that would continue to improve performance.

This is a multi-part review and each component will be graded on three criteria with a 1-5 scale.
  • Performance. Does the new component improve the performance of the bike?
  • Weight. How significant is the weight savings?
  • Overall Score (mostly empirical, slightly subjective)
In the Beginning...

The Frame and Fork
The claimed weight is just over 2 pounds. This one actually weighed less than that. The 56cm size came in at 1pound, 13 ounces, including headset. The True Temper Alpha Q "sub 3" fork is supposed to weigh 300 grams but actually weighed 375 grams; a lot of weight goes into the star fangled nut implementation which requires epoxy and a special internal spacer to set.

I initially set this up with Dura Ace 9-speed and various components you can see in the table--and it came to 15lbs 2 ounces.

The only major hitch with this frame is the seat post; it is a 32.4 diameter and the stock FSA seat post, though beautifully made, is a portly 260 grams (the R3 SL and 2009 R3 feature a traditional 27.2 seat post diameter). Fortunately, U.S.E. makes a seat post adapter that reduces the diameter -- and it weighs just 30 grams, so you can substitute a standard 27.2 seatpost and still save a lot of weight.
(Note: picture has different saddle, cranks, brakes, and wheels).

Part 1: SRAM Red 5-Piece upgrade
  • Includes: Double Tap brake/shift levers, front and rear derailleurs, 1090R chain, red cassette (11-26)
  • Gruppo weight: 915 grams
  • Cost: $1236
  • Better ergonomics
  • Significant weight savings
  • Quick shifting, fantastic gear ratios
In October of 2008, I decided to upgrade from 9-speed to 10 with SRAM Red. You can read more about my pro-review here. But the summary is I've stuck with Shimano 9-speed Dura Ace because I have accumulated 4 road bikes that I continuously swap components with. With the Cervelo, I finally decided to take the upgrade plunge with SRAM Red.

In short, SRAM Red cut nearly 250 grams off the Shimano DA 9-speed. In addition:

- The 11-26 SRAM cogset offers a much bettter range than DA 11-23 and in many ways obviates the need for compact gearing. It is a wonder that their competitors didn't offer gearing like this long ago.

- Pricing competitive with Dura Ace 7900/CCaampy Record.

- Shifters cables don't stick out like DA 9-speed and 7800 series

- If you had to pick just one SRAM componeent for the greatest weight savings--choose the shift levers. They are 155 grams lighter than Dura Ace 7800, have a sweet ergo design, and of course, have the internally routed cables. Additionally, the less expensive Rival and Force models offer similar weight savings.

On the performance side, the shifting is fast and intuitive and the shifters are extremely comfortable. Only two complaints

- The chain is noisier and seems to have mmore friction than good old Shimano.

- The derailleurs take time to dial in. Thhis gruppo is meant for pros who spend their time in the big ring. So the front derailleur is optimized to trim in the big ring, not the small. You'll need to adjust the front derailleur accordingly.

Check back tomorrow for the next part in the series, Easton EC90 Cranks!