By Dan Cavallari
During last year’s race season, Cervelo’s redesigned flagship aero bike, the S5, flew under the radar of many race watchers for a good long while because it was hard to notice any changes with anything less than a deep look. Of course, as the bike of choice for the Jumbo-Visma team, quick glances were all many could get since the bike was among the most successful on the 2022 WorldTour calendar. Eventually, careful examinations revealed the type of subtle details that matter a lot at the highest levels of the sport.
Those changes included a claimed 65-gram drag reduction over the previous S5, with 1.5 percent more surface area for aerodynamic optimization and a lower weight—all of which were an obvious boon to team riders like Wout van Aert and Primoz Roglic. But, what’s the impact for the everyday cyclist?
The redesign of the S5 was born from UCI rule changes. The much-maligned 3:1 tube-shape rule (dictating that a tube could not measure longer than three times its width) meant that manufacturers could only make the fastest bike within those constraints—not the fastest bike possible. Thankfully, the 3:1 rule is gone, and Cervelo’s engineers were free to make the new tube shape possibilities as impactful as possible.
One way to do that was by using a design called “compensation triangles.” You’ll find these at the bottom bracket junction; previously these triangular reinforcement shapes would’ve run afoul of the 3:1 rule, but now they allow designers to use thinner, lighter tubes without compromising strength in key areas. Additionally, the head tube also extends further forward. It creates what Cervelo calls an aerodynamic nose, and it’s intended to decrease drag on the frame’s leading edge. All of those longer tube shapes mean an overall surface area increase by 1.5 percent over the previous S5. Despite all that extra real estate, the updated S5 actually weighs less than the previous iteration.
And about the changes that are intended to reduce owner frustration? Well, look no further than the cockpit. When the previous S5 hit the market, the integrated cockpit garnered most of the attention due to its Starship Enterprise shape. Cervelo claimed this new design would shave some watts, again in the key leading-edge area of the bike.
But, the unique design also served another purpose: it allowed more logical cable and hose routing through the handlebar, stem and into the head tube. Ultimately, the design worked as intended, but it created some frustrations when it came to setup and adjustment. Different bolts were necessary to secure the system to the bike, depending on your stack height.
To eliminate as much complexity as possible, Cervelo entirely redesigned the unique stem/handlebar combo, which curiously resembles the triangulated Bullmoose handlebars seen on some early ’80s mountain bikes. The design has the cockpit parts secured with a single bolt, and it’s now possible to change the stack height with the included spacers. Although it took just a few minutes of adjusting and tightening to get the stem set up, woe is the mechanic who has to run all-new hoses through the cockpit.
Despite their appearance of not allowing any adjustability, we were surprised to find that the handlebars can rotate from 0 to +5 degrees by loosening four bolts on the bottom of the bars. The transition from the handlebar to the brake hoods is also changed to create a flatter surface to place your hands.
In keeping with modern trends, Cervelo has equipped the S5 with a spacious tire clearance that allows rubber up to 34mm. That said, the stock Reserve 52/63 wheels are optimized for 28mm tires. Speaking of those Reserve wheels, Cervelo says the combo of the 52mm-deep front wheel and 63mm-deep rear wheel shaves off a significant 50 grams of drag. The front wheel has a slightly wider inner rim width at 25.4mm, while the rear clocks in at 24.4mm.
Perhaps testament to Cervelo’s laser focus on aerodynamic gains, the S5 is an acceleration machine, and once it gets going it holds onto its speed. You’re likely to not notice the difference between the previous S5 and this updated version—until you’re vying for a high-speed sprint win in a race or cranking out watts for a long day in a solo break.
That’s the true joy of the S5. Rapid acceleration, hard sprints, and long tempo efforts, the S5 offers a platform for success in all of those situations. Due to some exceptional power transfer, it’s no slouch on climbs either. At over 17-pounds the S5 is not gossamer light, and it lacks some of that liveliness you’ll glean from less dramatically aero tube shapes, but the S5 isn’t pretending to excel in those areas. It can hang and it can threaten, but ultimately climbers will need to find their bliss elsewhere. With the new S5, gone are the days of sluggish aero bikes that only shine in a straight line. The S5 may not feel quite as lithe as a pure climber’s bike, but it’s easy enough to change lines quickly and dive into corners with minimal wander off your line.
Riding the new S5 feels an awful lot like riding the previous version. That’s great news for the bike’s handling, and just okay news for the bike’s compliance. The ride quality also feels a lot like the old S5. It’s not a harsh ride, but compliance certainly isn’t the priority of the bike’s design. Road chatter is minimal, probably thanks to the wider tires that can be run at lower pressure, but if you’re after a buttery-smooth ride, it’s best to look elsewhere.
Owing to the frame’s bigger surface area on which the wind can have an impact, when you get a side-wind blast, the bike will require your full attention. Gone, however, are the days of the wind having its way with your aero bike at less severe yaw angles. There was very little front-wheel wander in most winds, and true white-knuckle moments were few, which would have been commonplace on any aero bike like this just a few years ago.
It helps to know what kind of rider you are before jumping on the S5. The S5 may not be your best choice if you prefer climbs that never end and an uber-souplesse ride feel (Cervelo’s offering for that would be the round-tubed R5). While the lines are blurring between aero-oriented and all-around bikes, the S5 still feels like an aero beast. So, if you’re after explosive acceleration and a solo-breakaway flyer, look no further. Although the new S5 is far more compliant than any of its previous iterations, just don’t expect Cadillac comfort here.
However, with either high-end model (spec’d with a SRAM Red AXS or Shimano Di2 Dura-Ace drivetrain), you can expect a Cadillac-like price of $13,000. Looking for something a tad less expensive? The 2023 S5 is also available with your choice of either a Shimano Di2 Ultegra or SRAM Force AXS drivetrain for $9000. For the home builders out there, a frameset sells
• Well-balanced handling
• Ride quality is a bit harsh
• Explosive acceleration
Weight: 17.37 pounds
Sizes: 48, 51, 54 (tested), 56, 58