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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
It is a small touch that makes the bikes faster and
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
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
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.