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2008 Cervelo P2C.
By Tom Demerly.

Read this first about our reviews

Bikesport - Felt B2 Pro Review
Cervelo's 2008 P2C represents value and performance with industry leading aerodynamics and proven, Kona winning design.

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 on that…

 


Subtle aerodynamic refinements like the scalloped aero head tube appear throughout the frame.


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. No more.

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 body dimensions.


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 sizes.

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.

This 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 charge.

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 equipment wheels.


Do follow Cervelo instructions and have a torque wrench handy to set your binder bolt to precisely 4 Newton meters.

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.

If you've 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.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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