Cervélo P-Series Ultegra Disc tri bike review
Cervélo are one of the most innovative bike brands in tri, and the P-Series brings plenty of their top-level tech down to more affordable price points. So is this mid-range triathlon bike ready to race?£3,899 Skip to view deals
If the Ironman World Champs was taking place in 2020, you can almost guarantee that perched comfortably at the top of Dave Jewell’s annual Kona Bike Count (a tally of every bike being ridden at the championships) would be Cervélo. Some 489 bikes that lined up for the 2019 edition were manufactured by them, with Trek coming a distant second with 258.
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So, what makes Cervélo so popular with triathletes? We’d theorise that whether you just want something entry-level and easy to live with, one of the most cutting-edge tri bikes available or any number of options in between, the Canadians have you covered. That’s not forgetting the lengthy list of professionals both past and present who’ve had so much success aboard one of their bikes, including Chrissie Wellington, Anne Haug, David McNamee and Frederik Van Lierde.
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The P-Series Ultegra Disc on review here falls in the ‘in-between’ category, borrowing tech and integration you’d find on their higher-tier models, while coming in at a price that’s within the realms of possibility for some of you (the average anticipated spend of our long-course readers’ next bike is £2,706). With 35mm-deep semi-aero wheels and integration for nutrition and storage included for the price, this is the kind of cash that’ll get you a tri bike from one of the most renowned tri bike brands that’s pretty much ready to go, unless you’re really reaching for the podium.
Cervélo’s tri and TT bike hierarchy doesn’t quite ascend in order, as the P-Series is kind of its own standalone UCI-legal, disc brake-only model, all built around the same carbon frameset with five different spec levels. Cervélo’s rim-brake tri bike options are the P2 and P3, while the disc brake-only P5 has a more aggressive geometry than the P-Series, and a carbon layup that, according to Cervélo, results in around 12% more stiffness around the bottom-bracket area.
This extra stiffness isn’t something us mortals are likely to feel on the road, but the less aggressive geometry and relatively more affordable price means that the P-Series has answered demand for a modern, disc brake TT/tri model from Cervélo. If you want to rip up the UCI rulebook and invest in one of Cervélo’s flagship tri-only models, you’ll need to spend north of £7k on one of their P3X or PX-Series bikes.
The P-Series geometry is effectively the same as the P3, with some major upgrades compared to the mechanical Ultegra version of the bike we reviewed back in 2018. The hydraulic disc brakes are without doubt better at stopping you than rim brakes and, as an extra bonus, losing rim brake calipers makes for a tidier front end – the only hint of exposed wires on our test bike are the shifting cables from the extensions that disappear into the head tube, and part of the front brake cable.
The Zipp Vuka Alumina base bars with Zipp EVO extensions aren’t as light or integrated as some very high-end carbon set-ups, but it allows for loads of adjustability, which is advantageous to those who haven’t quite nailed down their ideal position yet. The saddle rails allow for seat angles from 75° up to a steeper 79°, and the stack and reach of the P-Series is average for a triathlon bike. As an example of how the more aggressive P5 is lower and longer, the stack and reach are 50.2cm and 41.7cm, respectively, while it’s 52.2cm and 41.2cm for the P-Series here. Even so, Cervélo claim the ‘handling experience’ should be about same on both models.
As the geometry chart suggests, on the road we found that the P-Series is a bike that can be ridden all day without destroying your back. A very aggressive TT bike such as the P5 begs to be ridden fast all the time and, while this is what top racers might require, for us a bike we can race and also ride more casually to our open-water swim training venue represents far better value for money. The P-Series hits that sweet spot, plus the seat and bar adjustment options mean that a very low and aggressive position is achievable if that’s what you want.
While a total bike weight of 9.53kg on our scales isn’t exactly featherweight, it’s comparable to other tri bikes with disc brakes and doesn’t feel heavy when climbing. The P-Series is stiff where you need it to be, aided by Cervélo’s BBRight bottom bracket with oversized axle that allows for beefed-up tube sizes around it.
The gears and drivetrain largely consists of mechanical Shimano Ultegra R8000 components, with TT shifters courtesy of Microshift. There’s also some cost-cutting in the brakes, with the calipers, rotors and brake levers provided by TRP rather than pricier Shimano options. While you can get tri bikes with electronic gears for less, this mix provided us with reliable and crisp shifting over the test period and the braking was impressively snappy. When you get into the really high price points with both tri and road bikes, returns increasingly diminish and it becomes a case of what you ‘want’ rather than what you really ‘need’. For us, the P-Series has a component mix that provides everything an age-group triathlete realistically needs to be competitive.
Vision’s Team 35 alloy wheelset was a solid performer throughout the test period, with the 35mm depth offering some aero benefits and the freehub pleasingly loud enough to properly alert fellow triathletes as you race past them (it’s a shame we couldn’t really try this out during our socially-distanced test period). Of course, a deeper-carbon wheelset is a tempting upgrade but, as above, the wheels this bike comes with are perfectly adequate unless you’re looking to really maximise your watt savings.
The Continental Grand Prix tyres are dependable and feel reasonably fast yet, according to various independent tests, the rolling resistance will cost you a few watts compared to a tyre such as Continental’s own Grand Prix 5000. This is an area we’d consider upgrading to get the most out of the frame and, as the Team 35 wheels are tubeless-ready, this also opens up the option to convert to tubeless tyres
if you’d prefer.
The split-nose saddle, a new in-house model from Cervélo they’ve simply called the ‘Tri Saddle’, is very tri-specific and offers similar levels of comfort and pressure relief to various other very good tri saddles we’ve tested recently (see p60). While saddle preference is one of the most personal items on the bike, Cervélo’s saddle worked for us and we think there’s a good chance it’ll work for a wide range
When it comes to triathlon-specific integration, the P-Series offers plenty, including top-tube storage, an integrated rear bottle cage mount and its own proprietary 500ml aero bottle on the downtube, fittingly called the Aerobottle 500. Cervélo claim that the bottle and ‘Smartpak 400’ bento box on the top tube actually save you watts compared to just riding the bare frame, and there’s room for about six energy gels or a couple of inner tubes in the Smartpak.
Our main criticism is that, despite the cleanness and impressive aerodynamics, the Aerobottle 500 is quite tricky to live with, and clicking it back into the mount is difficult at speed. It’s something Cervélo are aware of, telling us they believe ‘the function of the bottle and cage shape’ is leading to some difficulty in use according to their current user feedback. The location on the downtube is the same as a standard bottle mount so, if you’re finding it problematic, you can always forgo some aerodynamics and affix a standard round bottle cage. Unless you add an aftermarket bar-mounted hydration system, you’ll also have to be comfortable using rear-mounted bottles if you’re targeting middle or long-distance races, as there’s no place to affix a second bottle cage within the frame’s main triangle. The P-Series Ultegra Di2 Disc comes with Vision’s Metron Hydration System integrated at the front, but that model will cost you £5,799. Which isn’t surprising. Cervélo aren’t in the business of offering bargain-basement prices, which means there are cheaper rivals out there. Ribble’s Ultra Tri, another previous 220 bike test winner, is available with Shimano Ultegra Di2 from £3,199, while you can get a Canyon Speedmax CF 8.0 with mechanical Ultegra for £2,999, although both are rim models.
Verdict: All in all, there’s not a great deal to dislike on the Cervélo P-Series Ultegra Disc. Yes, there’s that hydration anomaly, but otherwise it’s pretty much everything we’d want on a tri-specific bike in 2020. While it’s not the cheapest, the P-Series frame geometry can offer day-long comfort, the components and finishing kit are high quality, and it all adds up to a bike that’s a blast to ride. And fast. 85%
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