Over three years, 180 hours in the wind tunnel, an analysis of 14,500 photos, countless interviews, comparisons and deliberations… it took all this and much more for Canadian bike giants Cervélo to launch the P5X, dubbed ‘the ultimate triathlon bike’.
Fascinated to see if it would live up to its billing (and that whopping £13.5k price tag), we jumped at the chance of a test ride at the European launch in southern Spain.
Before test riding commenced, Cervélo marketing manager Antoine Ballon dissected the incredibly detailed development process behind the P5X in one morning. First, we were told the reasons behind the delayed release of the project, which was supposed to be 140.6 days (geddit?) after the 2015 Ironman World Champs: “We didn’t take this decision lightly, but we knew it was the right decision. Our philosophy is at the core of everything we do, so we put innovative product development ahead of a marketing deadline.”
Cervélo were keen to stress the P5X is very much what they believe to be the ultimate ‘triathlon’ bike as opposed to a time-trialler (for TT, Cervélo have released a new P5 model), and there are numerous differences.
The presentation was heavily balanced towards nutrition and storage, where we learnt that thousands of athlete photos were analysed to determine the most popular combination of fluid and nutrition storage on-bike, a process that took over a year. The designers had seen gels taped underneath top tubes, huge cockpit set-ups and various other impractical formations and wanted to solve this evident storage problem among cyclists. According to Cervélo, the P5X is the ‘solution for the greatest number of triathletes’.
“Different frame designs have become more popular,” added Ballon, “but this bike wasn’t setting out to be ‘different’ or a beam bike as such. We looked at the science and arrived at this shape, we didn’t just go out thinking ‘let’s make a beam bike’. It was led by study and engineering, not the other way round.”
The geometry was built around what Cervélo believed would be the most practical for the thinking you were riding an aero road bike; until the crosswinds hit, where we inevitably felt some instability. This was no better or worse than any tri bike with deep-rim wheels, despite the absence of seatstays and the huge slab of monocoque carbon at the front end. We’re interested to see how the bike fares with shallower wheels for the particularly windy conditions we faced on our second ride, although the bike was still very rideable with Enve’s 7.8s.
On flats the P5X is thrilling, powerful and stable. You do hear some light whistling from that huge front end, which can be unsettling, but if we felt at all unsteady our mind was put at ease by the brilliant SRAM aero brakes. The stopping power is markedly better than rim brakes and, if Cervélo’s upcoming white paper does more to suggest they’re no less aerodynamic, then we don’t see why they won’t appear on many more tri bikes in the near future.
SRAM Red eTap shifting is largely as good on a tri set-up as on a roadie, and it’s absolutely seamless shifting from the end of the aerobars. You can also shift via buttons on the inside of the base bars, and while we did find them a bit tough to click underneath the bar tape, it’s great to have so many options.
The top tube feels completely robust and strong where it meets the seatpost, and we could feel no movement whatsoever. Cervélo claim they only managed to get 3mm of flex out of it during testing when loading the saddle with 300kg.
We went for the full storage set-up on our bike, with the down tube ‘Speedcase’, three bottles and a computer mounted on top of the between-the-arms bottle cage. We found the bottle mounted horizontally on the Speedcase was difficult to access and would take some practice before we felt confident enough to use the same set-up on race day. The computer mount also didn’t work for us or our fellow test riders, as you have to duck your head right down to catch a glimpse. Our preference would be either to mount on the aerobars or remove the front bottle cage completely to accommodate an out-front mount, such was the computer’s redundancy on our test ride. We managed to get two tubes, a mini pump, a phone and a wallet in the Stealthbox and Speedcase, leaving the top tube ‘Smartpak’ free for nutrition. The Smartpak is extremely spacious, and there’s even an extra partition for salt tabs.
Of course, no triathlon bike test is technically complete until you’ve run off it… and we can report no back spasms or unusual aches and pains on a 15km run following our second test ride. For such an extreme-looking machine we found the P5X remarkably comfortable, with the adjustability options meaning you can set the bike up as aggressively or conservatively as you want.
So is the Cervélo P5X the ultimate triathlon bike?
So, all things considered… do you need this bike, even if it does mean splurging your life savings in one fell swoop? There’s no point denying that the astronomical price will put off all but the wealthiest multisporters (we hope to see the technology trickle down into more affordable models over time), with retail prices of £13,499.00 for the eTap version and £10,499.00 for an Ultegra Di2 set-up with HED Jet wheels.
We were a little perturbed that Cervélo didn’t approach that price hurdle at all during the European launch – the prices were dropped in matter-of-factly, and nothing in the presentation suggested the P5X is simply a vanity project – with Cervélo fully expecting to sell it, and are confident their customers will appreciate they’re buying the best triathlon bike money can buy, born of countless hours of research.
It simply isn’t possible to give the P5X a score based on 100 miles of riding, and we’ll be waiting until we can get our hands on a test bike here in the UK before giving a final verdict. But our initial thoughts are that the P5X is thrilling to ride, and perhaps the most carefully considered tri-specific bike yet. But there’s room for improvement while the disc-brake technology catches up and even more testimony is submitted with regards to storage and hydration options.
All of this means the P5X is perhaps just the beginning of Cervélo’s ‘ultimate tri bike’ journey, rather than the ultimate solution.