bicycle tubes used to be round, at least when they were made of steel that was the general idea. however, just to throw water upon that statement however briefly, i was once the owner of a muddy fox mega which purported to feature oversize tubing (though not by modern day standards) which joined in a square manner. i believe the reason employed at the time, and possibly derived from offroad's pace engineering was that such a cross-section allowed a greater area with which to join the tubes together, thus creating an altogether stronger structure. of course, i highly suspect that there was more marketing involved than engineering, if only because the shape did not pervade the frames of muddy fox for very much longer.
but here we are, well into the second decade of the 21st century and square rears its now less than ugly head once more, but this time fashioned in carbon fibre and re-badged as 'squoval', a term that i fear undermines the efficacy of its geometry made manifest. 'square' in its loosest sense, pervades virtually every tube of cervelo's r3 frameset, ironically giving it an attractively slender appearance in the face of intrinsic stiffness. you will have derived from the word 'squoval', i trust, that tubes such as that along the top, morph from a square cross-section to a tentatively and definitely narrower oval section where it meets the seat-tube.
not to be outdone, the seat-tube itself is round at the meeting point, if only to contain a necessarily round seatpost, but as it attractively and asymmetrically tapers outward towards the bottom bracket area, that square shape reappears with a vengeance. the down tube is square from top to bottom offering very little change in girth at either end, though the head tube from which it begins is not only round, but encases a tapered steerer, thus necessarily tapering itself outwards towards the fork crown. everything is square at the bottom bracket, engineered to enclose press-fit bearings from a bbright bottom bracket.
the chainstays are substantially square (rectangular if i'm totally honest) at this juncture, offering significant resilience where it is apparently required, though it takes little passage before they alter to a more tiddly round section on their way to the dropouts. these too are asymmetric when viewed from above, the drive-side flaring outward if only to take account of the ten speeds available at the rear. in the face of all this square and oval ampleness, the seatstays appear contrastingly anorexic. the clever part, however, has been to incorporate all the foregoing in a seamless manner, one that can unashamedly be referred to as attractive, particularly in the light metallic grey paint scheme.
the cervelo branded forks, with their flashes of red on the inside face are anything but round; flat squoval would be an apt description, blending beautifully with the lower portion of that tapered head tube.
in contrast to many another bicycle in the r3's peer group, the componentry appears to have been deliberated over for more than just a few minutes. gearing and braking are from the tried, tested and proven shimano ultegra range. as this is the 2013 model, still with ten sprockets at the rear. however, in a welcome break with uniformity, the chainset is a rotor 3d aluminium, but with round 52/36 rings rather than the oddly shaped toothed objects for which they are more renowned. sadly in my opinion, rotor have taken nothing from the current fashion for the crank arm to meld smoothly into the spider. in this case, it resembles a very retro stronglight, though painted black, its crank arm standing decidedly and chunkily proud of both rings.
and flying totally in the face of logic, but delightfully so, the seatpost is a carbon slk model from fsa topped with a black fi:zik antares saddle. the integrated headset is also sourced from fsa. total conformity is again thrown to the canadian winds by the fitting of a tecno tubo turino (3t) matched stem and ergonova alloy handlebars. and rather than matching the parts from shimano's ultegra set with a pair of similarly monikered wheels, cervelo have opted to fit fulcrum's alloy racing fives, shod with a pair of vittoria diamante pro light 23c treadless tyres. and there's the bonus of a fitted elite bottle cage.
given the very reasonable purchase price of the r3 as a complete bicycle, it would be a very fussy customer indeed who took exception to what i believe might be referred to as the finishing kit. it is also worth noting that the naming of this particular bicycle has a deft ring to it. somehow a machine with r3 emblazoned on its squoval top tube portrays a workmanlike yet aesthetically pleasing machine. it's a trivial point, but one i think other manufacturers might do well to observe. marketing doesn't just stop at the magazine ad.
i'm going to use the word taut to describe the frame's resilience if only because i think that stiffness is a heavily over-used term, and one that doesn't always do justice to the bicycle frame it is intended to describe. according to cervelo's website, the r3 has had more than just a single podium place at paris -roubaix, a palmares that would tend to suggest a level of compliance that is perhaps not shared with others in the range. i cannot deny a smidgeon of initial disappointment when the ride proved just a tad more robust than i was expecting.
it would be entirely wrong of me to say that it was uncomfortable, for truly islay's dishevelled roads would test the mettle of pretty much everything on two wheels. this is less the case due to large chunks missing from the surface, and far more because of the way in which the iniquitous surface dressing degrades. after a year or so, the apple crumble atop smoother tarmac becomes a progenitor of the chattering classes, gradually wearing the rider down with its insistent rumbling 'neath the tyres. some carbon has the ability to tease this out of the equation, but that can also be equated to a loss of sensitivity, a temperament that you really rather want in a race bike.
for here surely is the misapprehension; though most of us are racers at heart, few of us take part in real life, yet we are eager to ride bicycles born, bred and descended from those that do. the r3's lineage is undeniable, and as my mother was often wont to remind me "pride bears no pain". thus, the cervelo's awareness of minute lumps of worn tarmac might be considered something of an inconvenience, but if we wish to experience just how enervating it is to throw a bike through corners and test its gravitational pull both up and downhill, then karma is going to want its few grams of flesh.
that said, there is a most gratifying sense of being aboard a bicycle that might be your equal, or more likely, your better. a bike that will easily accommodate any minor or major improvements in speed or technique you may be fortunate to gain, yet it's never going to snigger if those abilities are of more modest proportion. if i have inadvertently engendered notions of discomfort, then i must apologise, for even during a 120km ride, though i may have finished past my sell-by date, i was pretty much as well constituted as i had been at the start.
however, i have to admit to breaking my more usual rule of not swapping any componentry on a review model. generally i would hold this to be sacrosanct, for though i might be in possession of accoutrements that i feel more exactingly meet my needs, if the bike as supplied is as it will be purchased, then that ought to form the basis on which it is reviewed. sadly, on day two with the r3, i hit a small pothole many miles from home, necessitating a quick tube replacement in order to finish the trip. the rear diamante pro light tyre subsequently seems to have developed a dip in its circumference that, though i was sure it hadn't been there pre-deflation, refused to subsequently go away. though the r3 may have been born to ride the cobbles, i'm pretty darned sure it didn't do so on these tyres.
doubtless fulfilling the definition of light, i swear we have thicker toilet paper than these particular tyres. definitely not rubber for the hebrides. i therefore swapped not only the tyres, but more for convenience' sake, also the fulcrum racing five wheels. this was intended as no reflection on the latter's ability to complement the frame, simply a case of alleviating some minor faff in the workshop. at 23mm wide, the vittorias offered ample rear tyre clearance between those squarish chainstays, but i was pleasantly surprised that the replacement wheels (wheelsmith race 24s) and tyres (700 x 25c clement strada lgg) still offered a modicum of clearance when in the same dropouts. there wasn't a heck of a lot of spare room at the back, but enough for it not to prey on the rider's mind.
though perhaps a strange point at which to start, the most blatant feature of the cervelo's squoval frame was that of the braking. i've ridden shimano ultegra calipers on several bicycles and on many different wheels, but i've never been so aware of the braking power as i was on the r3. given that these were applied on two different braking surfaces, i can really only put the very impressive stopping power down to the specific build of the frame. all the more surprising when you note that the seatstays are little wider than a drinking straw. whoever decided that hydraulic discs were required on a road bike ought to have tried one of these first.
i do, however, have to publicly undermine my ability as a competent reviewer; the brakes were cabled up continental style and it took me two days to notice. i had thought something initially odd about the braking, and it was of some relief to realise just what that oddity had been.
at one time, chainsets arrived with an almost standard 53/39, and it is still possible to purchase such a combination even now. but the increased importance of the sportive and lessening ability of some riders has engendered the now ubiquitous compact setup, more usually preferring a 50/34 combination. however, those numbers ignore the 14 tooth difference of the original, dropping it to a gap of twelve and by practical implication necessitating a bit more up and down changing when shifting from inner to outer ring. the rotor 3d set on the cervelo maintained this twelve tooth gap, but placed it higher up the ladder with a 52/36 combination.
though it has its moments, islay is relatively flat, a feature that seemed far more equitable to this chainring setup than the 50/34, but i can't help agree with those who argue for either a 48/34 or 50/36 setup, something that mostly can only be achieved to special order or purchasing at least one new chainring. shifting at the rear was handled in shimano's usually imperious manner; smooth and all but silent. shifting at the front was a delight, far better than anything i've previously achieved mechanically. electronic shifting is just cheating.
the engineered chunkiness of both bottom bracket and opening salvo from the chainstays meant not a whimper was heard, seen or felt when giving it some welly. i would be the first to admit to being a fully paid up member of the league of ten stone weaklings, but i have delusions of less than frail power output when it really matters. even with stupidly close rear calipers, no amount of small cog/big ring and heavy breathing would persuade the brake pads to rub on the wheel. nor, indeed, was there ever a hint of chain rub on that outer ring no matter the choice of sprocket at the rear. and as if you really expected otherwise, the ultegra shifting never skipped a beat once.
my posterior has an uncanny knack of being best friends with the majority of the saddles on the planet and thankfully the fiz:ik antares was no exception. though thin, narrow and not overly endowed with padding, while the rest of my body may have been groaning at my meagre exertions, not once did i have cause to regret cervelo's choice of armchair. and without any scientific evidence, i'm placing the onus squarely on the saddle and fsa carbon pillar combination. the 110mm 3t stem however, was just a smidgeon too short for my liking. though it may truly be an old domestique's tale, i am firmly of the belief that if you can view the front hub from a normal seated position, then the stem is too short. that said, i can't honestly say i felt in any way cramped; with the saddle rails centred on the seatpost, even those 120km gave no cause for anguish. however, 120mm would have eased my disquiet.
i have not reviewed sufficient numbers of bicycles, nor am i well enough versed in related scientific principles, but i can't help thinking that, instead of marking bikes out of ten or by numbers of stars (which i rather obviously don't), it would be highly beneficial to have a scale of chuckability. and any bike, of which the cervelo r3 is one, that encourages or even demands that the rider raise him/herself from the saddle on the least incline of road, would be near the top of that scale. it always takes a while for the analytical brain to take a back seat, making room for the happy chappie that just wants to ride a bicycle as fast and as hard over ups and downs and twists and turns as possible. that's when the fun either starts or simply doesn't.
if i admit that i kept the bike for about a week longer than i really needed to, that ought to give some indication of its final score.
the cervelo r3 as tested was the 2013 model which has been subsequently replaced by a newer model for 2014. as i understand, the principal changes relate to internal cable routing to satisfy the demands of an electronic groupset should one be fitted, and minor alterations to the carbon layup. if i'm a really good boy, the might just send me one of those to try. retail price for the bike as tested is around £3,200.