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I Can't Decide!
Can't decide between a road bike and a Tri bike?
By Tom Demerly.
Read This About Our Reviews First


The Cervelo Soloist is the most versatile pavement bike available.

Sometimes choices are our worst enemy. You went to buy a bike for the road, but now there are too many choices. You can't decide if you want a triathlon bike or a road bike, and then there are all those brands (and colors!). Everything you read and the advice you get only seems to confuse you more. Now what?

You don't own a road bike. You know you want to do some road riding but you're also interested in a bike you can ride if you try a triathlon or duathlon. You might do some group rides with the local bike club or with friends. You've done some running so triathlons and duathlons are something you'd like to explore, and you'd like to do some riding on your own with aero bars, maybe a time trial. You only want to own one bike but you need it to do everything.

What you have read so far indicates that putting aero bars on a road bike is not a good idea, isn't all that safe and really doesn't work (read this). You also know a triathlon bike built around aero bars is not ideally suited for group rides. If there was only one bike that could do both, the Swiss Army Knife of bikes that is a tool for both road riding and aerobar riding.

That bike is here: The Cervelo Soloist.

No bike works for everyone. One of the most difficult things we must communicate to our customers is that not everyone can ride every bike. Some bikes (many, in fact) are just not made in a size that fits you correctly. It might fit you passably (or not), but it doesn't fit correctly- with the proper weight bias, top tube length, saddle setback and frame geometry. Fit is the best way to buy a bike and an accurate set of body measurements will do more for you in twenty minutes than three weeks of web surfing to try to determine what is the right bike for you. One thought on bike buying: Stop comparing bikes and start comparing fit.


This is the reversible seatpost head in the forward (triathlon) orientation.


...And here in the rearward road geometry position showing the adjustment bolt.

Having said that, let's imagine there is one bike that did fit your body measurements that could walk back and forth between using aero bars and being a standard road bike. It is responsive enough to ride on group rides and on hilly terrain. It goes up hills well. It is also stable and comfortable enough to use in a good aero position and even has some aero bells and whistles to shave off seconds. This is the "do everything" pavement bike. And it really works.

The Cervelo Soloist is a multipurpose pavement bike. However, unlike other attempts at a bike that can use aero bars but can also be used as a road bike, the Soloist actually works very, very well at both. No single bike can do both perfectly, but the Cervelo Soloist is so elegantly designed and meticulously built that it does an amazingly good job at one thing (being a road bike) and a better than passable job at the other (being a triathlon bike).


The Soloist makes a great, one of the
best, road bikes in this configuration.


Reverse the seatpost head and add
aerobars and here's your new triathlon bike!

We've sold and ridden the Soloist for a season now and have formed some solid opinions on it. The Soloist is not just a pinch-hitter, "sometimes" road bike: It is one of the best, most exciting road bikes I have ever ridden. On climbs it is a sensation- light, stiff and airy. It is one of few bikes I have ridden that actually accelerates well on climbs. Most bikes can hold some speed and accept some power on a hill, but not every bike has the bottom bracket stiffness, light weight, weight bias (super important) and frame design to accelerate in four pedal strokes on a climb. Of course, you have to have the horsepower, but if you do, you want to feel it through the bike and down to the pavement. Bike fit (again) is key to how the bike will ride, but if the Cervelo Soloist dimensions fit you it will be like a trampoline on hard climbs. The Soloist is not just a passable road bike, it is one of the best road bikes out there if the frame dimensions match your body.

The Soloist uses compact geometry. Compact geometry refers to the rearward sloping, reduced rear triangle configuration that became popular a few years ago. It is an attempt to reduce weight, increase stiffness and, for some companies, simplify fit. Compact geometry started largely as an idea (or was popularized) by Giant Bicycles as a design by Mike Burroughs. Some of the concepts used in mountain bike frame design were translated to the road and compact geometry was born. Compact Geometry has its advantages: If you have a super long torso and never get enough stand over height then compact geometry may work for you. But beware, it isn't for everyone.

It also has drawbacks. I've owned three compact geometry bikes and didn't like any of them. The compact geometry bikes I owned and didn't like were too light in the rear end. The back wheel lifted off the ground way too easy during accelerations. The bike really wasn't any lighter than a standard bike and the long top tube was nice but the corresponding wheelbase was way too long and the thing handled like a soggy log. An enormous amount of seatpost protruding above the top tube made the bike feel like a turd, super flexy during hard jams on the flats in the monster gears. It didn't help that the company that made those three bikes (be clear on this, I am NOT talking about Cervelo!) decided that, in contravention to everything the bicycle industry has learned in the past century, three sizes (small, medium and large) would be enough. They aren't. I would have taken a "small and a half" which, of course, didn't exist. I gave compact geometry a more than fair shake (I bought three bikes) and it didn't work for me. The main problem was a lack of sizes. A secondary problem was some pretty shoddy workmanship and overall lame components that just didn't do the job required of them. In retrospect, it is a shame the company that popularized compact geometry did such a poor job executing the design concept. It is a good thing there are companies like Cervelo, Orbea and Litespeed who have executed excellent examples of what started out as a good idea with pretty poor execution by the "originators".


This may be the best compact geometry frame ever made, it is certainly
the most versatile.

Cervelo has solved this problem by offering six sizes and by perfecting some key features that, in the case of the Soloist, don't just make compact geometry work, they perfect it. They make it better than standard road geometry.

A few companies have made compact geometry work. Litespeed and Orbea both have offerings in compact geometry with enough sizes and nice design so that they actually work. But the Cervelo Soloist doesn't just work; it excels. In the case of the Soloist, compact geometry is not a reasonable concession for fit, but a spectacular optimization of some excellent engineering that results in a truly better bike if it fits you. The Soloist is the not only the best riding compact geometry frame I've ridden, but one of the best frames I've ridden period. While Cervelo can claim some pretty impressive engineering feats, the Soloist may be their piece de resistance for most riders.

Previous compact geometry efforts (not Cervelo) have suffered from rear ends that were too low and light, ridiculous wheelbase and weight bias problems and a seat post that was too flexible laterally. Cervelo has fixed every one of these issues on the Soloist.

The Soloist has a brilliantly sized and designed rear end that is light, but not too light. It stays planted when you put power down- even while standing on a climb. The seatpost is the key to its variable geometry "tri-bike, road bike" capability but it is so stiff laterally that there is no "wet noodle" sensation to it. It doesn't flex laterally when you are rolling a big gear or trying to stay snappy with a high cadence in a light gear. At the same time there is enough surface area that it soaks up road shock more than adequately. The thing is actually comfortable. I apologize for resorting to that old bike review cliché "stiff but comfortable at the same time" but that's what the Soloist is. Picture sawing the entire seat cluster union between the top tube, seat tube and seat stays off your bike with a hack saw and throw it away. Now imagine doing that with no sacrifice in lateral stiffness or ride comfort. You just saved a half pound and your bike rides (and maybe fits) better. That is one way the Soloist works.

Mostly, the bike is exciting to ride. I took a Soloist (correctly sized for me) up a steep little hill and loved its liveliness. One thing about compact geometry done correctly, all that standover height really allows you to move the bike when you climb. That's fun, especially for smaller riders (I'm 5'8") who have never experienced that. I felt balanced and steady on this bike. It is nice and stable. Once over the top when you point the bike down the hill it is laser-guided. In each size the wheelbase seems to be just perfect. The slightly lower center of gravity gives the bike a feeling of control authority you don't get with higher top tubes. I can only speak from experience with the size that fit me, but if the others ride 70% as well as the one that fit me, they are very, very good. This is also a sneak preview into how the bike will ride in the triathlon configuration.


Part of what makes the Soloist work so well is excellent
basic workmanship. Compare this weld quality with
anyone else - you'll see why Cervelos ride so welll and last so long.

One unique feature of the Soloist (in addition to compact geometry that actually works) is the seatpost head that rotates forward to accommodate a more compact position specifically for use with aero bars. Now, sliding a saddle forward does not a triathlon bike make. But the Soloist does do a better than passable job of being a triathlon bike with the saddle in the forward attitude than just shoving your seat forward on your road bike and bolting on aero bars. Most of the reason for this is the frame design. The bike is low to begin with and the rear of the bike is long enough in each size to maintain a healthy dose of rear wheel weight bias and long enough in the chainstays for the rear wheel to stay planted even when you are in the aero bars with your weight farther forward.

Many people don't understand the things that happen when you mount aerobars on a road bike. If you do it on a standard road bike you quickly notice that hard riding mandates a forward position where you are sitting on the front 1/3rd (or less) of the saddle. Besides being uncomfortable your weight has shifted so far forward on the bike it is now hyper-responsive. You are riding a unicycle in the prone position. It is nearly impossible (and very fatiguing) to ride a nice, easy straight line in the aero position. During 1999, 2000 and 2001 I spent a lot of time on the back of a camera motorcycle shooting photos for our website at triathlons around Michigan. I learned a lot about practical triathlon bike fit. First, most people are on the wrong bike. Second, the people who bolted aerobars on their road bike and installed a forward seat post have a very difficult maintaining a straight line. The second they use the shift levers, reach for a bottle, look behind themselves or fidget in the least the bike moves laterally. For them a 40 kilometer bike ride is probably more like 41.5 kilometers counting side to side movement on the road. A road bike with aerobars and the seat pushed forward is simply not stable enough to ride in the aero position in almost all cases.


Fit is the most important factor in buying a bike.
Here we establish a road orientation using the versatile
Cervelo Soloist seatpost and check the position
of a customer over their pedal spindle. We position
everyone on their bike at delivery.

Now, there are some hazy exceptions. On a tight, technical rolling course a road geometry bike with abbreviated "shorty" ITU legal aerobars may be a good choice. Yes, I know you're confused now. Put it this way: For 97% of the triathlons you and I do you are better off on a dedicated triathlon bike with aero bars.

An important thing to remember about the Cervelo Soloist is that it is not just a road bike with the saddle pushed forward- and therein lies the brilliance of design. With the low slung center of gravity afforded by well executed compact geometry the bike maintains it stability with aerobars on and the seatpost head rotated forward. Much of the reason for this is a well designed rear end and a relatively slack 73 degree head angle, the same you find on most triathlon bikes. The fork design also facilitates stability in the aero posture.

The bike works like this: When you are on a group ride and you will be drafting in the pack it is configured with the seatpost head in the rearmost orientation and your saddle in the appropriate position for your femur (thigh bone) length to position you over the "sweet spot" on the pedals. You can accelerate, climb, brake, steer and handle effectively in this position. When you want to use aerobars and do a time trial or triathlon/duathlon you bolt on the aero bars and then rotate the saddle head into the forward orientation (after removing the saddle from the head of course) checking to confirm your reach measurement is correct. Boom, you're ready to ride in the aero bars. Two bikes in one. The frame design automatically takes care of the rest. Try that on a normal road bike and you'll have serious problems.


The bladed NACA profile downtube is only available from Cervelo.
It is a small touch that makes the bikes faster and ride better.

There may be two small footnotes. For some people (long femur bone and short torso, mostly females) you may have to shorten the stem in addition to changing the seatpost head orientation to get the aerobar position correct right. With the newer two and four bolt "front loading" handlebar stems this not difficult at all. Be sure your cable lengths are correct (we double-check every bike for optimal cable lengths with every stem change) for both stem lengths. The other catch may be reproducing your same aerobar and road position each time you make the change. This is super important. Several of our customers have purchased a second Cervelo aero seatpost with a Selle San Marco Azoto triathlon saddle on it exclusively for use with their aerobar set up. This saves a lot of time and work going between the two positions. You simply remove your existing (road- rearward orientation) seatpost, drop in the other seatpost to the prescribed saddle height with the aerobar orientation and you are ready.


No one does internal cable routing as well as Cervelo.
This is the state of the art for other manufacturers to follow.

Riding the bike in the triathlon configuration is pretty darn good. I take the 54cm Soloist and do not need to change the stem to optimize my aero position. As a matter of fact, I only have the saddle forward about 2 cenitmeters compared to the road configuration. If I tried that on one of my road bikes the bike would be too unstable. On the Soloist it really works very well. I sized down one size (from Medium to small) on the Syntace aero bars from my dedicated triathlon bikes. My only beef is that I prefer the fit with 650c wheels for my triathlon bikes, so the Soloist feels long to me in the wheelbase with its 700c wheels. For most people, however, being able to limit their bike stable to one bike (let alone one wheel size!) is such an attractive feature they may be willing to overlook some minor compromise in the footprint feel of the bike. In a perfect world I would own a Soloist as a road bike and a Cervelo P2K with 650c wheels set up in the aerobar position. Remember, I am talking about my own personal dimension here. Since yours are different a separate set of rules will apply. For a person just one inch taller than me 700c wheels may be perfect for both road and aero positions. No question though, if I had to own one bike for everything (road and triathlon) this would be it.

The Soloist is sold as a frame, fork and seatpost or a complete bike with an excellent Shimano Ultegra parts kit and nice wheels. You supply your own aerobars and we always recommend Syntace. The frame, fork and seatpost are $1199 and the complete bike is $2199. Considering you are getting functionally two bikes, this is a bargain.


The dropouts are very, very sturdy and facilitate easy
wheel removal/replacement. The deraileur hanger is
replaceable. It is hard to find any fault with this
great Shimano Ultegra parts kit.

Can't decide what to buy? Get measured and see if a Cervelo Soloist will fit your body measurements. If it fits your body dimensions you'll have one of the most versatile road/tri bikes ever designed, and one of the best riding bikes period.

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
Site Designed and Maintained by: Intuitive Business Solutions.

 
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