A Very Modern Classic

The next generation of a familiar and trusted time-trialing favourite is put through its p…

The next generation of a familiar and trusted time-trialing favourite is put through its paces by Alex Malone

It seems like no time at all since entire batches of Cervélo P3s were rolling out shop doors as quickly as overworked bike mechanics could build them. The contemporary version at the time – six years ago to be precise – was an attractive proposition. The bike won races, lots of them, and it wasn’t some out-of-reach super machine only available to the professionals. It was a standard P3 that could be bought from your local dealer. We (the shop I worked at) were one of them and moved numerous units to triathletes and time-triallists during that period.

Cervélo is in the fortunate position of being beloved of both the triathlon and road cycling worlds. The two groups may be joined by a common interest in testing themselves against the clock, but image, appeal and usability doesn’t always lend itself to products being shared across markets. Cervélo, however, gained traction as a wind-cutting performer long before being ‘aero’ was the must-have feature it is today.

Part of this acceptance, at least in this tester’s eyes, stemmed largely from the success and TV time of Team CSC (Tinkoff-Saxo). The team was run on a tight budget, and whatever you may think of Bjarne Riis – a Tour de France winner and former owner – it cannot be denied that he got the best out of his riders and equipment. Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was one of the standouts, and the outright king against the clock during those years. He did it all: TDF stages, World Championships and an Olympic TT title, all aboard a P3. Of course every age grouper wanted one for their bike leg after seeing him crush the competition. That hasn’t changed.

The P3 was one of the ‘winningest’ bikes on the ProTour (WorldTour) during Riis’s CSC reign, and yet it wasn’t just Cancellara and co providing Cervélo with high-gloss images in magazines. The bike was quickly establishing itself in triathlon and its position as one of the industry leaders endures today. There are some serious players in the TT market, and each of them comes to the table with a highly competitive package, but regardless of others’ technology, success and marketing appeal, the P3 had been able to push through. History and a long-standing relationship in the discipline will do that.

The P3 of that time was relatively affordable for what was the top offering and arrived in the same format as used by the paid professionals. There was a simplistic appeal to the entire package despite the internally run cables, dual-position aerodynamic seat post and adjustable rear wheel position. One could, if desired, fit a regular drop handlebar and set it up for road use. There were no real proprietary parts necessary to keep it in tip-top order and that meant little hesitation from consumers in throwing down to own one.

Entering the new age

Fast forward to the 2014 season and manufacturers who fail to mention yaw,
Kamm tail, foil, slippery surfaces or drag will be put to the sword for failing to keep up. Luckily for Cervélo, they’ve been doing this for long enough to have cemented a place amongst their followers and they’ve left little with which to take issue in this latest instalment. The on-test package price of $6,000 is also enough to ensure the brand remains within reach for many and competitive in an increasingly price-hungry environment.

A dropped downtube with integrated frame bumper to prevent handlebar and top tube contact, a further extended seat tube cut-out to minimise turbulent air around the rear wheel and more mechanic-friendly cable guides are just a few of the areas that have evolved. Additional features like standard mounts for after-market storage and hydration solutions and a more reliable and user-friendly seat post and saddle clamping arrangement – for that millimetre-perfect fit – tick a few more boxes. 

Having tested the various incarnations of the S-series and P-series in road and TT events respectively, I can only applaud the brand for continuing to push the limits of the UCI’s arguably restrictive requirements as far as possible. Those with a passion for solo-minded events outside of triathlon will notice the UCI-approved sticker firmly attached under the clear coat and this should be a no-brainer if you’re looking to enter road sanctioned TT events in the lead-up to race day.

Coming from a mechanic’s background and having built and serviced well in excess of 10,000 bikes, I have a serious appreciation for the simplicity of the P3. Assembly, set-up and adjustment are three key elements that often get overlooked by the consumer, and yet these can be big factors in making life either blissful or extremely difficult for the travelling sportsperson or budding home ‘wrench.’ Cervélo have ensured they keep these elements intact.

Usability has always been an important factor in the buying decision process and the P3 appeals greatly for this reason. Sure, the internal cable routing across some of the range hasn’t always been exactly how some might have liked, but that’s also part of the development process that has helped the new P3 reach where it is today.

Behind the bars

Our tested model fitted a Shimano Ultegra Di2 11-speed electronic groupset and pair of Magura RT6 hydraulic brakes may seem daunting at first, given they are still quite new, but don’t be afraid of new-age technology. There’s no cable stretch and fewer hassles when travelling with an electronic gruppo. Gear wires or cables in a mechanic ensemble are often the most difficult part to manipulate when dismantling a bike for transit, yet with an electronic it is not so. Simply disconnect from the under-stem junction box and the bars can be safely tucked beside the frame. On arrival the wires only need to be plugged in again and the gears will work just as they did prior to flying.

There is little else to say about the Shimano transmission other than it handles just like its lighter but more expensive big brother, Dura-Ace Di2, but at a fraction of the cost. The penalty for the dollars saved is a few more grams but the reliability, shifting performance and gearing options remain top-notch.

An area that has thankfully remained unchanged is the conventional centre mounts for the brake calipers – in case one ever wishes to install a mechanical brake system. Given the highly responsive yet subtle feel of the Magura RT6 there’s little chance you would ever make that decision, but the option remains. Not all courses are a simple out and back, and let’s face it, most of the time is spent training, likely throughout our busy cities, so an effective set of brakes is a must.

What else do we know about the still-new package? P-series bikes win. Rider, discipline and terrain may change, but not the result. This success is not through chance or fortunate sponsorship alone. The P-series framesets and modules have never been left to rest on laurels and the latest variation of P3, with bento boxes full of trickle down-technology from what is now the top-of-the-line P5, is proof that Cervélo isn’t willing to sit back and let someone else take the Kona crown without a fight.

Whether or not all of these upgrades and updates create the fastest frame in the world seems to be more a question for marketers than engineers these days, but one thing is certain: the P3 is a modern package that delivers history, value and mountains of set up options. That’ll do me. 220