Younger siblings have a way of distinguishing
themselves. It’s as though they have something
to prove, a shadow to rise above. That was the case
with Cervelo’s P2C. It was s bike looking for
validation. The P2C got that validation this year by
winning the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
The Cervelo P2C has always been a best buy. What customers
haven’t picked up on is that it is also a best
bike regardless of price.
The P2C kills almost every other company’s
highest end aero triathlon bike, but at a few thousand
dollars less. With a new 2008 Shimano Ultegra version
at $2499.99 the P2C beats almost everything south of
$4000 if it fits you correctly.
The Cervelo P2C has been around for over
a year. It’s spent most of that year in the shadow
of its pricier, curvier relative the P3C. In its first
year some reviewers quipped that the P2C was good enough
to win The Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona,
Hawaii on. This year the Cervelo P2C did exactly that,
and it did it before its older, more expensive relative
the P3C did.
The P2C is a misunderstood bike. Few people
realize how truly great it is- at any price- until recently.
The overall win at Kona helps. The P2C could not have
been born had it not been for the time, research, expense
and insight Cervelo put into the more expensive P3 family.
Think of the P3 as a necessary step on the way to the
P2C. The older P3 family started life as a working prototype
in aluminum, graduated to the full-blown, molded aerodynamic
version; the P3C and goes into 2008 much the same with
a new paint scheme and a few grams missing mostly due
to the change in finish. The P2C uses exactly the same
front end configuration as the P3C with changes in geometry
on certain sizes. These geometry changes make the P2C
a better choice for most people- keep reading for more
Subtle aerodynamic refinements
like the scalloped aero head tube appear throughout
New graphics for 2008 mimmic
the shape of the frame's aerodynamic design.
The P2C is a fully molded carbon fiber
bike with Cervelo’s meticulous attention to aerodynamic
detail including their proprietary head tube configuration,
frame member thickness and profile. The P2C has Cervelo’s
lifetime warranty, a testimony to the time and expense
Cervelo has put into durability and fatigue testing
on their molded carbon frames. This testing and durability
is one reason professional triathletes and the local
hotshot age groupers often buy Cervelos even when they
could get something else cheap or free.
For 2008 Cervelo is building the P2C in two configurations:
The Dura-Ace kit we review here and an Ultegra kit at
a category-killing $2499 price point.
|The first question most people ask about the P2C is
“What is the difference between a P2C and a P3C?”
It is a reasonable question given the $1500 difference
in price between the two bikes. The Dura-Ace P2C is $2999
and the identically equipped P3C is $4500. It becomes
especially curious when you consider the parts kits: They
are identical. For $1500 you’d think there would
be sweeping differences in component spec. There are none.
Christina Wellington of Great
Britain wins the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championships
on a Cervelo P2C.
So where is that $1500 difference? Surely, it
must be in the frame.
The P3C is 150 grams lighter than the P2C. That is 5.3 ounces
or the weight of four energy gel packs. The P3C also has a
more aerodynamic rear end including the seat tube cut-out,
seat stays and seat tube transition.
That’s it. Those are the differences.
For most consumers it is tough to justify
those differences being worth $1500. That money is better
spent on snug fitting, aerodynamic race apparel, an
aero helmet and race wheels.
Cervelo told us the molding at the rear
of the P3C is the primary reason for the additional
cost over the P2C. The curved seat tube of the P3C is
very complex and difficult to mold according to Cervelo,
and that additional manufacturing difficulty is responsible
for the difference in price between the P2C and the
P3C. It is simply easier to make a P2C. Even Cervelo
inside sales reps say the P2C is the “Bigger bang
for the buck”.
The P3C is longer and lower as it gets
into larger frame sizes; the P2C is more proportionate
in top tube length and head tube height in those bigger
sizes above size 51 cm. At size 51cm and below the P2C
and the P3C share identical stack and reach dimensions.
A deep, aero wheel cut-out and wishbone seat stay along
with sturdy box-shaped chainstays make the rear of the
bike aero, stiff and comfortable.
Dan Empfield, the widely accepted inventor of
the modern triathlon bike, pioneered an industry standard
basis for apples-to-apples comparison of bicycle fit dimensions.
Cervelo is one of few manufacturers with the insight and responsibility
to post their stack and reach dimensions on their website.
As you read through the stack and reach dimensions for the
P3C and the P2C you see the 51 cm frames are the same at 48.2
centimeters of stack and 40.5 centimeters of reach. As you
go up to the 54cm frame size the difference becomes 1.4 centimeters
less stack for the P3C- the frame is lower on the P3C. The
head tube is 1.5 centimeters lower too. As you go up in sizes
to the 56cm, the 58 and so on the differences become greater.
This difference in dimensions between the P2C
and P3C means the wise consumer, and faster athlete, could
actually be on the P2C, especially if they have an average
to short-ish torso. It does take a relatively long torso for
the P3C to work optimally. The P2C fits a larger range of
The small differences in fit
from the P3C to the P2C can benefit some riders with
greater comfort and a shorter reach measurement in some
So what is the ultimate difference in
performance between the P2C and the more expensive P3C?
The odd flip-flop is that for many customers the less
expensive P2C will actually be faster if it is fitted
accurately. That’s right- if the P2C fits you
better you’ll be faster on the less expensive
P2C. It is a matter that will boil down to fit and position.
If your body dimensions predispose you toward the higher
stack and shorter reach measurements on the 54 cm, 56
cm, 58 cm, and 61 cm frame sizes in the P2C then you
will have a more stable, better handling, more comfortable
and more powerful position on the P2C. If you have to
use an 80 mm stem and four centimeters of headset spacers
with a 17 degree rise stem and the seat slammed all
the way forward on a 56cm P3C, you’d be a better
fit on the higher, shorter 56cm P2C. This is a difficult
difference to understand if you only look at the top
tube lengths in the geometry chart on Cervelo’s
website. If you read over four columns on that same
geometry chart you see the actual differences in stack
and reach not seen in the top tube length.
There is a mistaken axiom in triathlon bike
fit that lower is always faster and more aerodynamic. It isn’t
always correct. Triathlon bikes for the rank and file triathlete
like you and I operate in a wide speed envelope from as low
as 6 M.P.H. grinding up a hill at Ironman Wisconsin to a high
end of 45 M.P.H. down the back of that very same hill. The
math and physics mean we spend more time grinding up that
hill than zooming down the other side. This means even if
a lower position was faster the key aspects of fit as related
to speed are power output and enough comfort built into the
position so that power output can be maintained throughout
the performance envelope. If an athlete is positioned too
low in the front end under the mistaken impression that a
lower front end is somehow faster they may be giving up practical
considerations like being able to pedal more efficiently and
even being able to look up the road to see where they are
going. The P2C has a low enough head tube to facilitate a
solid aerodynamic position for the ride who wants to go low
in front, but also has a touch higher head tube in some sizes
for the rider who doesn't want to ride a P3C with 5 centimeters
of headset spacers on a 56cm frame size. .
The slightly higher head tube dimensions of
the P2C as compared to the P3C mean most customers will fit
better on the P2C and use less head tube spacers under their
stem, a practical and aesthetic consideration. Additionally,
the P2C reach measurements run slightly shorter than the P3C-
which is to say they are average for most people. The P3C
seems to favor those with rather longish torso lengths, the
P2C more down-the-middle and shorter torso people. Your bike
fitter is the one who will sort this out for you. This difference
in dimensions is one reason the 2007 Ford Ironman World Champion
Christina Wellington of Great Britain used a P2C instead of
a P3C to win Hawaii.
is a parts kit Cervelo has used with success for some
time. Shimano Dura-Ace drive train and FSA's SLK Mega-Exo
crank. A new Ultegra version features the FSA Gossamer
crank at $2500.
The P2C’s Dura-Ace kit is indicative of
industry wide Dura-Ace spec. They’ve put the Shimano
Dura-Ace parts where they need them to improve performance
but stopped short of using the expensive cranks, bottom bracket,
brake calipers, chain and cassette. You won’t miss it.
The Full Speed Ahead (FSA) Carbon Fiber SLK Mega Exo crank
is a solid crank with nice chainrings that provides excellent,
repeatable front shifting. The test of any crank is shifting
from small ring to big and the FSA SLK more than holds its
own here. The bottom bracket is durable and dependable. There
was some rumbling on internet forums about these FSA bottom
brackets having short life spans until shops started reading
the maintenance and installation instructions and following
them. No more problems. Cervelo speced the Shimano Ultegra
10 speed chain on the P2C and I’ll argue that is a better
choice than the more costly Dura-Ace chain that seems frail
by comparison to the Ultegra.
The FSA brake levers
are a nice addition to the 2008 parts spec.
|For 2008 Cervelo listened to customers
and retailers and up-speced their brake levers to my favorite
brake lever, the FSA crab-claw brake lever. This little
aerodynamic gem has been re-worked for improved ergonomics
and comfort. It has a nice feel, is oh-so-aero/narrow
and looks quite smashing. Cervelo uses a Tektro caliper
branded by Cervelo that is absolutely proven. I wouldn’t
spend a dime to change them- they are excellent.
Shifters go with the derailleurs
and are Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed. The rest of the cockpit
is one of the few remaining well-conceived aerobar set-ups
from any manufacturer. Thank you Cervelo for getting
this right. Cervelo uses the FSA/Visiontech ski bend
aero extensions on the P2C and P3C. They also use the
excellent aluminum FSA/Visiontech base bar which I like
better than the carbon version due to better stiffness.
Cervelo does have an odd tendency to spec all the aerobars
too short. The FSA/Visiontech Aerobars come in 230 mm,
250mm, 270 mm and 290 mm sizes. Cervelo uses a lot of
230’s and 250’s which we wind up switching
out for longer aerobars to fit customers. Few shops
go to the extra work of sizing aerobar length like we
do so I wager most people never notice. We swap out
for the right length and cut to size at no additional
The fork on the Cervelo P2C is the Wolf
CL, a nicely done carbon fiber fork with aerodynamic
blades and sturdy dropouts. It uses a reliable and easy
to cut alloy steer tube. This is a good choice since
almost any shop can handle sizing the steer tube correctly.
Cable routing on the P2C is aerodynamically
excellent and mechanically adequate. It was among the
industry standard until Felt introduced its luxurious
fully guided internal cable routing on the B2 platform.
The cable routing on the P2C is clean and gets the job
done. I see nothing wrong with it. It is important for
your mechanic to use the correct housings and ferrules
for cable housing installation.
The cable routing is clean and
generally easy to maintain. Routing the bare cable out
the hole in the bottom bracket the first time might
take a try or two.
Front and rear derailleur is Shimano 7800 Series
Dura-Ace 10 speed. We don’t need to say much here. The
stuff works. Cervelo was wise enough to spec an all-steel
durable Ultegra cogset on the Shimano R-500 wheels for every
day use. You’ll want to consider a Dura-Ace cogset with
its lighter weight and titanium upper cogs on your race wheels
but do your training on the Ultegra cogset with your original
Do follow Cervelo instructions and have a torque wrench
handy to set your binder bolt to precisely 4 Newton
The Seat post binder bolt
assembly on the P2C (and P3C for that matter) is a solid
design when used correctly. The two binder bolts thread
into inserts that are molded into the frame. The torque
spec for these, 4 Newton meters, is etched into the
top of the binder clamp. Do use a torque wrench to tighten
these to the correct torque and check to be sure the
same amount of threads is showing between the clamp
and the frame on each side. If you somehow strip these
you may have a manufacturer return situation. We have
installed and adjusted hundreds and hundreds of these
and haven’t seen a single problem. I’ve
actually never heard of a problem with this so the design
is reliable and trustworthy. You should be using a torque
wrench on everything on your bike now anyway.
The seatpost is the massive
wing shaped aerodynamic Cervelo variable geometry post
used in the P3C. This is a fine design that is easy
to adjust, light and reliable. The 7 centimeter depth
of the seatpost makes attaching a saddlebag a trifle
tricky. I do it on my Cervelo by using an extra four
inches of Velcro strap to hold the saddle bag under
my seat as the strap wraps around the aero seatpost.
Easy. The P2C comes with the Selle Italia SLR T1 style
saddle made by Selle Italia for Cervelo. This saddle
is good enough to sell as an aftermarket triathlon saddle.
I raced two seasons on it and like it. Most people will
find this saddle totally acceptable if not downright
comfortable even after long Ironman distance training
rides in the aero position.
Having raced over a season on
this saddle I know it works. Cervelo's 7 cm deep aero
seatpost is also shared by the P3C. The purpose of the
two little holes at the back remains a mystery.
A good look at the wheel cut
out, aero seat stay assembly and Cervelo branded brake,
which is a fine brake caliper.
The back of the bike features
a trademark wheel cut-out and Cervelo’s well known
horizontal rear-facing dropouts. There are little dropout
screws in the dropout itself to adjust the distance
of your rear tire to the frame. These screws have always
struck me as a trifle frail so I handle them with care.
They seem loose in their threads and that is a little
worrisome. It bears mentioning they are only for placement
of the wheel and the quick release skewer is what really
holds the wheel in place. The rear dropouts themselves
will lose some paint with wheel installations and removals
which is normal on any race bike.
never ridden a molded carbon triathlon bike that fits
you accurately you're in for a treat. The P2C combines
that unusual combination of comfort and stiffness while
staying light and incredibly durable that has made molded
carbon the go-to frame material.
Ride quality on the P2C is the standard against
which all other carbon triathlon bikes continue to be judged.
It is indiscernible from the costlier P3C- I have ridden both
extensively and can’t feel any difference in ride characteristics.
That makes the P2C seem pretty attractive. The bike feels
transparent in a headwind and you do develop this sensation
that the aerodynamic frame really does make a difference once
your cyclometer reads 18 M.P.H. or faster. If you can average
18 M.P.H. or faster at a triathlon bike leg this frame’s
aerodynamics will save you some time. The boxy chainstays
have a bowed-in curve for heel clearance and ride quality.
The trailing edge of the wishbone seatstay assembly is like
a carbon fiber sword. Handling is stable and quiet. You can
reach for a water bottle or gel pack with total confidence
on the P2C even at speed. It will hold its line.
We like the Shimano R-500 wheels even though
they are relatively ubiquitous among bike manufacturers now-
you see them on everything. There’s a reason for that-
they are inexpensive, dependable and perfect for everyday
use. They are also a reason to convince you to buy race wheels.
With a bike this aero a nice wheelset is a race day must-have.
Remember- you just saved $1500 by buying the P2C instead of
the P3C so you have money burning a hole in your pocket. Buy
a snug fitting race outfit first, an aero helmet next, and
then some race wheels and you have no more bike split excuses.
The P2C is the best Cervelo triathlon bike when
considering cost and benefit. The P3C is lighter by the weight
of four gel packs and slightly more aerodynamic-something
that won’t make a difference except at higher speeds-
but the P2C leaves $1500 in your pocket you can use to make
more significant improvements in your race equipment like
aerodynamic race apparel, aero helmet and race wheels. The
more you think about the P2C, the more the P2C becomes the
thinking man’s triathlon bike.