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Thirty Little Things.
By Tom Demerly.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The latest version of Cervelo's P3C.

 

There are icons in every type of racing: Vehicles proven by results. They generate lust from the lore that surrounds them. They are enduring designs, classics. They raised the bar in their category. They are valid. They can’t be ignored. More than any single bike in history, the Cervelo P3C is that icon to triathlon.

Based on results alone it is simply the most successful aerodynamic triathlon bike ever built.

The triathlon bike was born in 1987 with early designs by Dan Empfield that looked like a traditional round tube bike. Our sport was searching for an icon; our own Porsche, our Concorde, our 12 meter yacht. Triathlon needed its “ultimate”. The P3C maintains that distinction.


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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Cervelo set the standard for how an aerodynamic bike should look and strongly influenced the cosmetic appearance
of these bikes introduced after the P3. Few of these copies share any of the real technical benefits of the P3.

There are other “superbikes” in triathlon. The debates over aerodynamics and its relevance will never be settled among the armchair experts. You can’t ignore that the P3C is the bike against which all others are argued. The reason is no other manufacturer has achieved what Cervelo has with the P3C. For them to try they would have to start over a decade ago. This is the reason for the huge number of P3C look-alikes. The P3C is how an aero bike should look. When the wind hits the carbon, nothing is faster.

“The P3C is how an aero bike should look.”


Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
With the most successful competitive record in history the P3C has won time trials and triathlons around the world at all levels or competition.

While the P3C’s competitive record establish it as state-of-the-art it isn’t perfect- no bike is. While there are areas of the P3C’s that warrant criticism (we’ll get to that…), its performance record is indisputable- it is a matter of historical record, having won more timed cycling and multisport events than any other single production or custom bike: Ever. Here are the highlights:

    • 20+ Ironman Wins- more than any other single bike in history.
    • World Championship, individual Time Trial, 2006.
    • World Time Trial Championship, 2007.
    • Winner, Tour de France Prologue, 2005.
    • Winner, Tour de France Prologue, 2007.
    • Over 50% of Pro Tour time trials in 2006 won on P3C. The other wins divided among more than 16 manufacturers, some not production bikes.
    • Kona bike count winner by a single model against every model of other brands for two years running.
      If you didn’t count other Cervelo models the P3C would win the Kona bike count all by itself.
    • Kona bike count winner brand by a factor of 3 over the next leading brand. Over 90% of the Cervelos at Kona were P3Cs.

It is noteworthy that Cervelo only sponsors one cycling team and 23 professional triathletes- not all of them with free bikes. Almost every victory won on the P3C was won on a bike that was paid for by the rider, most at retail, a few through “pro deals” among local hot shot age groupers who work at a Cervelo dealer and entry level pros. Some unaccounted for victories are on P3C’s re-badged as other brands. Many top professionals got their start on a P3 they paid for, like the early aluminum version, and generated the results that won them a promotional contract from another company. If it hadn’t been for the results they generated while riding their P3 they may not be sponsored by another bike company. Even six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen recognized the performance edge Cervelo may offer a rider. Allen said, “…What bike would I ride if I were still trying to win the Ironman? With total confidence my answer has been the same for years… Cervélo. And this was even before Cervélo claimed top honors in the bike count at the Ironman World Championships. I feel Cervélo is the most dynamic innovator in the world of cycling and especially in providing time trial bikes that outperform all others."

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Some other brands buy P3C's from Cervelo and put their decals on them for sponsored athletes. Here is a "Bianchi" P3C.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Two athletes who established their pro careers riding P3's and moved on to larger sponsorship deals but not better results.

The three things that typify the triathlon bike are geometry, aerodynamics and construction. The P3C features new benefits in all three areas. It’s important to realize this bike was designed three years ago and these standards are still the industry reference. It is the bike against which almost every other manufacturer tests its own bikes. They claim the P3C is always “second” behind theirs. It’s an odd and recurring coincidence.

Introduced in 2005 the Cervelo P3C was the culmination of the work of two fellows who lived aerodynamic human powered machine design since they were children. Phil White and Gerard Vroomen founded Cervelo in 1996. It was a rogue start up, funded out of their hip pockets after engineering school. The pair lived in the basement of a bike shop on an allowance of $50 a month each while they honed their designs that started a bit dull. It took over a decade before they sharpened their design edge into the P3C.


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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The current version of the P3C is the product of nearly six total years of evolution in the P3 family.

The P3C is an all carbon fiber, molded aerodynamic bicycle designed for triathlons and time trials. It is the first commercially successful production bicycle designed from an aerodynamic perspective- not just the bike, but the rider position too, and this distinction separates it from previous attempts. Most high performance aerodynamic bikes have aero features, but no other production bike has been influenced by aerodynamics- both bike frame and rider position- to the degree of the P3C. Aerodynamics is about details, and the 30 aerodynamic details on the P3C are so subtle that people are confused by aero styled knock-off bikes that mimic the shape, but not the function of the P3C.The bike’s capability to support a comfortable aerodynamic position is an even greater benefit than its truly aerodynamic frame design.

Previous attempts at aerodynamic design include the Miyata Aero, the Trimble, the Lotus, the Cheetah Cat, the Corima Fox, the Zipp 2001 the Kestrel 4000 and the GT Project 96 Superbike, the Hooker Elite and others. None of these designs approached the commercial or competitive success of the Cervelo P3C. Reasons for this include lack of demand at the time of introduction- multisport wasn’t that popular when most of these bikes were introduced, difficulty with production, poor marketing, mechanically impractical design features, cost and unverifiable aerodynamic benefits along with overall poor competitive record. These early bikes hadn’t won enough big races in enough sports to capture the consumer’s imagination and didn’t have the testing to back them up or, more importantly hone their design.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Early attempts at aerodynamic design produced bikes with mechanical, supply and other issues.

The substance behind the P3C’s success is meticulous attention to detail in the design and manufacturing process and the ability to position the rider efficiently for a comfortable, aerodynamic riding position. There are 30 unique aerodynamic refinements on the P3C frame design alone- not mentioning rider positioning. The best aerodynamic design is a conspiracy of little things, and the 30 little things that differentiate a P3C from all other bike designs make a significant difference compared to other frames when taken together. If you like fine print, here is the list of 30 design elements that differentiate the P3C from all other bicycles:

1. Rounded, scalloped head tube shape. 2. Low head tube height per frame size. 3. Aerodynamically optimized, smooth, simple transition from head tube to top tube. 4. Smooth, simple transition from head tube to down tube- no edges, lines or “stall points”. 5. Smooth, aerodynamic top tube shape even across wide yaw angles; most effective in cross winds. 6. Truly horizontal top tube for minimal frontal area. 7. Narrow top tube that matches width of other frame members, no abrupt or sudden width transitions to create turbulence. 8. Bicycle specific speed designed down tube width to depth (aspect) ratio. 9. Optimal airfoil shape for bicycle speeds on down tube including sharpest trailing edge. 10. Matching top tube aspect ratio to rest of frame for smoothest transitions around entire frame. 11. Down tube horizontal section optimized for the correct angle of attack that the wind crosses over it. 12. Concealed, internal cable routing does not use a bulging external cable stop; routing is flush with frame surface. 13. Overall round, smooth shape of bottom bracket shell as viewed from all yaw angles including crosswind; no sharp edges or protruding components. 14. Smooth transition from down tube to bottom bracket without sharp or abrupt curves or lines. 15. Smooth, consistent radius transition from seat tube to bottom bracket; width increases gradually and simply. 16. Streamlined linear shape of chainstay for minimal frontal area; chainstays do bulge or protrude suddenly increasing surface area as encountered by wind from the front. 17. Narrow chainstays draft behind bottom bracket shell. 18. Seat tube cut out follows maximum circumference of wheel over entire frame seat tube length; no interruptions. 19. Shape of seat tube (cross section as viewed from above) optimized for best aspect ratio at bicycle speed with wheel in place; frame makes rear wheel more aerodynamic/wheel makes frame more aerodynamic. 20. No flat, vertical forward facing edge on seat tube. 21. Closest seat tube proximity to rear wheel for best wheel/frame interface, lowest drag. 22. Correct seat tube width to match other frame members and provide smooth transition across entire frame; no abrupt or complex width changes. 23. Smooth, nearly seamless interface between seat tube and seat post; no protruding bolts or clamps. 24. Seatpost is aerodynamic over its entire length up to the saddle clamp. 25. Seatpost maintains aspect ratio of the rest of the frame, no abrupt transition in width or shape. 26. Saddle clamp shape is optimized for best aerodynamics with no forward facing fasteners and minimal sharp edges. 27. Seatpost binder assembly is entirely rear facing and “drafts” in top tube shape; no exposed/forward facing clamp or hardware. 28. Smooth, narrow, aerodynamic transition from seat tube to seat stay maintains overall frame width. 29. Bladed aerodynamic seat stays make smooth, aerodynamic transition to dropouts; narrow shape has minimal frontal area. 30. Seat tube and head tube forward facing profiles both rounded at similar radius to avoid flat shapes facing front of bike.


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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Some of the 30 small design features that result in measurable aerodynamic benefit.

“…the P3C’s success is meticulous attention to detail in the design and manufacturing process and the ability to position the rider efficiently for a comfortable, aerodynamic riding position.”

Of these 30 design elements some bikes share some features but no single bike has all 30 features except the P3C. If each feature only saved one to three grams of drag it could total between 30 and 90 grams of drag savings. If it requires about 1.3 watts of power output from the cyclist to overcome 10 grams of drag this is a power savings of 3.9 to 11.7 watts. Depending on speed this can translate (very easily) to a five minute time savings over 112 miles. Remember- this is for the bare frame only. We haven’t even begun a discussion about the rider position on the P3C where the opportunity for larger time savings exists.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Bikes are often styled to look aerodynamic but ignore many of the basic principles of aerodynamic design.

Bikes that are styled to look like aerodynamic designs are common. This "aerodynamic styling" looks fast but is functionally ineffective at optimizing aerodynamics. There's nothing wrong with making attractively sculpted bikes, but much of the confusion surrounding the validity of aero testing is the result of marketing from companies that don't develop and make changes based on wind tunnel testing. Cervelo does more wind tunnel testing than any other bicycle manufacturer, then they test on the road. The testing happens during the design process, not after, and it shapes the bike from the earliest stage. This is an utterly different approach from manufacturers who use the wind tunnel mostly as a marketing photo opportunity. This reality is lost between the wind tunnel and the winner's circle in marketing hype, but Cervelo's testing and design are as real as their race results. No company can "market" away the race results of the P3C. It may be a coincidence every company says the P3C tests "second" to their "aero" bike, but it's no coincidence the P3C has been so successful competitively. Even the internet forum experts can't argue the race results away no matter how cynical they remain about the test results.

What is the relevance of race results? Consider this: In 2006 Chris McCormack lost the Ford Ironman World Championships to Normann Stadler by 71 seconds. If the use of a Cervelo P3C frame instead of the bike McCormack did ride in '06 saved him only a second per mile he may have won by 41 seconds. McCormack needs the help too, as his bike split at Kona in 2007, the year he won, was his slowest in three years and only 9th overall. He was faster on the bike in 2005 at Kona when he posted a 4:37:06 bike split and faster still in 2006 with a 4:29:24 bike split. It's a good thing McCormack is such an excellent athlete and runner: In 2007 his bike split was a rather pedestrian (for the pros) 4:38:11. Tactical considerations and weather play a primary role in these outcomes, but one has to wonder: What if McCormack had a more aerodynamic bike? If McCormack had a faster bike perhaps he wouldn't have to run so fast. Perhaps...

The P3C has evolved during its lifespan with changes such as the addition of the New 3T Funda Pro carbon steer tube fork, redesigned seatpost for better rider positioning and an overall reduction in frame weight by over 150 grams since its introduction in 2005. The current version of the P3C is the most advanced one and in use with the CSC Pro Team.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The current P3C is an evolution of development and refinement with improvements in every version.

The New 3T Funda Pro fork is an improvement over the previous Wolf CL fork. The Wolf CL is a good fork that uses a reliable and easy to cut cro-moly alloy steer tube while the Funda Pro uses a lighter all carbon fiber steer tube. The primary benefit of the New 3T Funda Pro fork is improved aerodynamics. Viewed from the front the Funda Pro’s blades stay very close to the wheel for about 70 millimeters- the depth of a deep section aero rim. This minimizes drag between the wheel and fork blades when using race wheels from 60 mm to 80 mm deep. This fork shape was designed by Cervelo for manufacture by The New 3T.

The current seatpost on the P3C was introduced in 2006 and gives the rider a wider “fit band” or effective seat tube angles. This was an improvement on the P3C since a rider can sit steeper with the new seat post keeping a nice, relaxed, open angle between torso and legs while pedaling even with a lot of handlebar drop.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Early version seatpost with flush leading edge and reduced effective seat angle capability.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Current Seatpost configuration with advanced seat angle capability for better aero positioning.

Through refinements in the manufacturing process the P3C has reduced weight by over 150 grams since 2005 while maintaining frame strength and stiffness.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Even with a robust 1&1/8" steer tube the P3C's head tube is only 35 mm wide. By contrast the Felt DA has an effective 1" steer tube but a portly 44 mm wide head tube.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The narrow, smoothly sculpted head tube that melds into the rest of the frame without abrupt changes is a key feature.

 

The head tube on the P3C contributes significantly to the industry leading aerodynamics of the bike. It is an elegant shape that melds smoothly with the rest of the frame at the same width. There are no abrupt changes in width or shape, no forward facing flat surfaces. The width of the head tube is only 35 mm on a P3C with a sturdy 1&1/8” steer tube for added strength. For comparison the width of the head tube on a Felt B2 Pro is 44 mm with only a 1” diameter steer/headset assembly. This is an area where most other manufacturers have made errors in design that increase drag measurably.

The top tube is parallel to the ground to reduce frontal area. Top tube shapes that slope present a larger frontal area than a horizontal top tube. The down tube is an optimized airfoil shape designed for speeds from 18-30 M.P.H. The bottom bracket shell is a remarkably smooth and uncomplicated shape despite the intersection of five frame members. Nothing bulges suddenly and there are no sharp transitions to create turbulence. This area of the bike is more important than many people realize when considering aerodynamics. Seat stays and chainstays are also thin and stay close to the rear wheel.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Thin shape throughout, horizontal top tube, consistently smooth transitions of shape.

Perhaps the most conspicuous aerodynamic feature of the frame is the rear wheel cut out. This is also the most copied but almost no one else has got it right. The bulk of the difference in cost between the P2C and the P3C, a whopping $1500, is for the wheel cutout. The P2C is made out of a mold that uses about 6 separate components. The mold for the P3C uses over 10 components. As a result it is much harder to make P3C’s than it is to make P2C’s. The wheel cut out optimizes aerodynamics by almost completely eliminating the gap between wheel and seat tube- it is actually concave. There are no forward facing flat surfaces. This effectively manages air flow around the seat tube and wheel transition. The P3C rear end is at its best with race wheels that have either a deep rim or a complete disk.

“While the jury may be out on the relevance of frame aerodynamics there is no disputing that if you ignore them you will go slower.”


Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon FiberThe wheel cutout is the predominant aerodynamic frame feature.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The close proximity of the rear wheel and complex shape makes manufacturing difficult.

The invisible advantage of the P3C is the rider position. For most riders a position that is rotated forward to a steeper orientation results in a more aerodynamic posture. Since the rider accounts for the lion’s share of drag on the bike this is where the P3C really saves you time. The front is long; there is room to put your torso between a steep relative saddle orientation and a low cockpit with plenty of comfort. It’s stable in this position. It’s not just an aero bike, it is the opportunity for a more aero position, and that is what makes all the difference. Debate the value of an aero frame all you want, you can’t dispute the value of a more aerodynamic position, and the P3C does that better than almost any current bike with its low head tube, long reach and steep seat angle capability. Because of its long front end, low head tube, steep seat angle and long front/center the P3C is one of very few bikes available that actually does facilitate a truly comfortable, stable, efficient aerodynamic position for most riders. Position is the punch in the P3C. If you do a careful and detailed survey of the geometry charts you’ll see no other company has the same dimensions.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber

The main aerodynamic feature of the P3C is the ability to accommodate a comfortable aerodynamic posture.


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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Frame aerodynamics aside the rider position is the most important factor in performance. The long reach, low head tube and steep effective seat angle capability of the P3C provide tangible benefit.


“Debate the value of an aero frame all you want, you can’t dispute the value of a more aerodynamic position, and the P3C does that better than almost any current bike…”

The component kit on the P3C is well conceived but few customers ride the bike without changes. It is a nice Dura-Ace kit with an FSA SLK Light carbon fiber crank, Cervelo label brakes (that are quite nice) and VisionTech aero brake levers. The bike comes with a VisionTech cockpit using ski bend aerobars which most people voice a preference for in fitting. The wheel set is suitable for training rides, the solid Shimano R-550. The component spec is solid but not spectacular. You don’t buy a P3C for the components; you buy it for the frame. A lot of P3C’s are sold as framesets and built up with Campagnolo Record, Chorus, SRAM Red or Force or other component mixes. The stock kit is a good starting point.

 

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The component kit of the P3C is well conceived but unremarkable.

Tri bikes have somehow gotten a bad rep for climbing and the P3C breaks that mold. It climbs oddly well for a triathlon bike. This is likely due to the low-ish top tube configuration, a better design for stand-over height than tri bikes that use a rearward sloping top tube. Another feature that helps it on the climbs is the chainstays and internal lay-up of the carbon. The bottom bracket is very stiff and the rear triangle quite small- more stiffness. The curved seat tube adds comfort but gives away very little lateral rigidity. I used a P3C at the Ford Ironman Wisconsin in 2007, a hilly course, and had a very comfortable ride on the climbs, more so than any other tri bike I’ve ridden and better than most road bikes.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Age group athletes ride the same frame as Ironman and Tour de France athletes. This is my P3C at the Whirlpool Steelhead 70.3 Triathlon in 2007.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Top pros on the CSC Team ride the stock P3C frame. This P3C is equipped with the New 3T Funda Pro fork designed by Cervelo for 3T.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Time trial phenomenon Gustav Larsson of Team CSC uses a new P3C fitted with a Funda Pro fork and the new 3T integrated aerobar.

Handling on the P3C can be described with one word for better and for worse: Stability. When you get in the aero position at cruise speed the bike is unerringly stable. There is no issue releasing one hand from the aerobars to grab a gel from your jersey pocket or grab a rear-mounted water bottle. The bike minds its manners and stays nice and straight. Now, if you are descending a bunch of switchbacks, well, did I mention how stable it is? This is a great bike for someone who doesn’t like to do a lot of high speed cornering. It will go through turns fast, but you need room to do it. This is a “carving” bike, not a criterium bike. That is what the bike is intended for- high sustained speeds for solo riding over distance. As such, it is such an advantage at Ironman distance, rolling or flat, it isn’t fair- and that’s the idea. Three words: Comfortable, stable, aerodynamic with an addendum that it climbs better than almost any other aero bike. I had my fastest bike split at Ironman on the hilliest course I’ve ever done in the worst shape I’ve ever been on a P3C. If you do the math even conservatively Ironman Champion Chris McCormack would be a two time winner instead of one and likely wouldn’t have had his slowest bike split of the last three years at Kona in 2007. For a guy like me a P3C makes Ironman easier and more enjoyable. For a guy like McCormack it could make the difference between first and second.

“…it is such an advantage at Ironman distance, rolling or flat, it isn’t fair- and that’s the idea.”

Mechanically the P3C is good, not perfect. The rear dropout screws are small and can be delicate. Exercise reasonable care with them. A very small amount of blue Loctite firms up the fit of the little screws that adjust the proximity of the rear wheel to the seat tube cut out and keep your rear wheel evenly spaced in the frame. Keep an eye on these as a regular part of preventive maintenance, checks and services.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Head tube profile with no flat, forward facing edge.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
A smooth transition around the bottom bracket with an uncluttered design reduces drag. This is an important area of the frame from an aerodynamic perspective and one where other manufacturers make frequent design errors.

The seatpost binder bolt has a large label on it that says “4 NM” for a reason: Use a torque wrench set at 4 Newton meters. Tighten the left and right screws alternately a little at a time so they engage the same amount of threads on each side. This is racing equipment- it pays to practice meticulous maintenance and mechanical practices on it, just like a race car.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
A smoothly rounded bottom bracket contour with simple, streamlined cable routing.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Flush mounted, rear facing binder bolts don't "grab" air.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
No exposed cable guides outside the smooth frame surface for lowest drag.

Cable routing is good as long as you do a good job preparing your cables and housings. I yearn for the mechanically excellent cable routing Felt uses on their B2 that is completely guided through the inside of the frame and would even give back that 150 grams Cervelo was able to remove from the P3C over the past two years in exchange for routing this mechanically flawless. We see a lot of Nokon compressionless cable sets used on P3C’s such as the CSC team bikes. This does improve shifter responsiveness and ease of shifting. It’s a worthwhile upgrade but not necessary. Nokons are a little fumbly to assemble and about ten times the cost of a normal cable and housing at around $80 for a set.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara on a new P3C.

The bane of the P3C is that its most advanced features result in benefits a customer has a tough time appreciating at first. There is simply so much rhetoric and cynicism about wind tunnel testing that people have a hard time really seeing the bike for the incredibly elegant design accomplishment it is. An aerodynamic frame won’t knock 15 minutes off your next Ironman, but the combination of an aero frame and a greatly improved bike position along with snug fitting triathlon race apparel and an aero helmet very well could.

Another sometimes unfair criticism of the P3C is delivery. Cervelo is an engineering and design company run by engineers. Insiders often boast that “there are four engineers for every one sales person” and that also points to Cervelo's Achilles heel. This is largely a matter of consumer perception. If you decide you want to buy that Cervelo P3C you've been researching for a year the Friday before your Sunday "A" race it likely won't happen, and probably shouldn't anyway. This is racing equipment. It takes time to set it up correctly and configure the fit optimally. Consumers accustomed to a grab-n-go retail experience will find this odd, but then again, when was the last time you bought a race car or custom wedding dress? Sometimes Cervelo’s do take a long time to get, and sometimes they don’t. This isn’t always Cervelo’s responsibility either- it sometimes falls on the dealer for not ordering enough bikes early enough. To their credit, Cervelo has addressed the issue of lead times and delivery. This is from the Cervelo corporate website:

“The P3 Carbon is a perfect example, in 2005 we shipped tons of them yet some people were frustrated they couldn't get their hands on one. They complained that there were many bikes from Brand X and Brand Y on the shop floor, and no P3 Carbon. They wondered why we can't make as many P3 Carbons as Brand X and Brand Y make of their bikes. But when you look at the detailed Kona count from 2005, you would see that there were more P3 Carbons in the race than there were the carbon offerings of the other Tri bike makers. Even though the P3 Carbon had only been available for a very short time. The issue is not that we make so few, we make more TT/tri bikes than anybody else. The problem is that demand is so high that as soon as they arrive at a shop, they are sold, so there are rarely any on the floor, and it appears that there are none around.”

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The current seatpost

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
Smooth, narrow contours at the bottom bracket.

Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
A very sharp trailing edge on the down tube for optimal aerodynamics.


Click to Enlarge 2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
An early spy photo of the P3C prototype in development. Gerard Vroomen drives the follow car during testing.

Cervelo has done a credible job making their bikes fast on the road creating the significant demand for them. Buying a Cervelo is like buying a high end automobile, it is a different buying experience than buying a compact car off a lot. It isn’t a generic consumer good. To their credit, Cervelo has increased orders for framesets from their manufacturers sometimes by a factor of three. It still hasn’t been enough on the high demand, high technology frames that are hand laid up and require custom molds and tooling to produce. There is only so much tooling, only so many molds, and production capacity is fixed based on those constraints. They simply can’t make enough so you have to buy them early and wait in some cases. This is a buy-product of those incredible results at the Kona bike count. The bike brands lower in the bike count are, quite simply, easier to get because they aren’t as nice and consumers don’t buy them in the same numbers. The Cervelos are better so they sell better. It takes longer to make a better bike which means there are less of them. It’s bit of a vicious circle.

Bottom line: If you want a P3C , buy it early.

Another area where Cervelo is a victim of their own success is a kind of “Moore’s Law” as applied to bicycles. Cervelo raised consumer expectations of technology so high that we consistently anticipate the next big thing. There was a P2, now there is a P3, it makes sense there will be a P4. Ambitious hucksters have run with it, some even offering fictitious versions of the P4C for sale on internet forums well before any official announcement of model specifications, pricing, availability or even a photo of a prototype are available. Customers accustomed to a long wait for P3C’s may be susceptible to this type of hoax. Cervelo acknowledges there are new bikes in development but releases no specific details about what and when. Cervelo’s Gerard Vroomen did quip in an on-line interview that there would be a bike called a “P4” but that it could be “years”. Patent application drawings surfaced on a European internet forum that depicted features of a new bike design attributed to Cervelo. No official acknowledgement from Cervelo has been made. No racing teams have been photographed testing prototypes. If there is a working P4 prototype it has been a well concealed secret. It is worth noting that when the P3C was first unveiled at Interbike 2005 it was a complete surprise and won “Best of Show” awards in several categories.

Cervelo has set an internal goal for any new developments beyond the P3C that establish the minimum aerodynamic improvement as a whopping 20% lower drag. That is a lofty goal, one that will be difficult to achieve. Cervelo’s Gerard Vroomen is fond of saying, “It’s easy to build something new, but difficult to build something better”. Cervelo only releases new product when they feel they can raise the bar so high no one else can get over it.

There is no such thing as a bike that will make a slow rider fast. If you want to take advantage of the main advantage offered by the P3C, rider position, you will need to acclimate to riding in an efficient aerodynamic posture. With the stack and reach of the P3C this will be easier than on almost any other bike but it will still take work on your part if you aren’t accustomed to riding aero. If you’re going to ride a P3C with five centimeters of spacers under your stem you probably should be on a bike with a higher head tube.

“It’s easy to build something new, but difficult to build something better” –Gerard Vroomen, Cervelo.

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2008 Cervelo P3C Review, Triathlon Bike, Carbon Fiber
The new livery of the P3C mimics Formula 1 themes and is steeped in racing heritage.

The new paint scheme on the Cervelo P3C is conspicuously similar to the 2008 McLaren MP4-23 of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 Racing Team. Cervelo can’t talk about this since any direct attribution could suggest a sticky copyright/trademark inquiry. The relationship between the McLaren MP4-23 Formula 1 cars of racing superstars Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen on Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is, ah, strictly coincidental… That said, Cervelo did well to pay attention to how the top Formula 1 racing team paints its multi-million dollar race cars since they spent tons of money figuring out what color scheme would show up best on TV screens, computer monitors and in print media against a paved background. It’s further coincidence that a few of the members of Cervelo’s engineering team come from motor racing, including Formula 1. It’s a good paint scheme from a karma perspective since the McLaren MP4-23 won the first race of the 2008 Formula 1 season in Melbourne, Australia with driver Lewis Hamilton at the wheel. There are no wind tunnel tests that prove how much time the new paint job saves you. It just looks fast. It’s also nice to see some color after last year’s rather unimaginative black and white livery.

While aerodynamics, drag coefficients and their relevance is the staple of internet forum debates the performance results of athletes who ride the P3C can’t be argued. It is the most successful bike of its type in history. This makes it a classic, a validated industry leader, and a bike that can never be ignored when considering ultimates.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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