What's Cool In Road Cycling

Cervelo Soloist Carbon: Pez Test CSC’s Workhorse

Cervelo have a real problem on their hands… While they have several models of bikes, and they make lighter or leaner or more expensive, they can’t seem to make a better all round bike for racing than the Soloist Carbon [Ed Note, this review is from June 06′]. Pez get a leg over…

The Giro was pretty much a one man show. Only something terrible would have blown the Killer B’s (Basso and Bjarne) race this year, as they learned the one lesson that kept this year’s victory from being a repeat of 2005. Bring your own food…

Cervelo’s Soloist Carbon – click the thumbnail at top for the BIG view.

Something they’ve always seemed to have is good gear though, yet one funny part of the mix for technodorks like me is that their “super-light climbing bike” seemed to be completely optional in the Giro. Chalk one up for the UCI and (lots of folks will hate this) their GREAT WEIGHT LIMIT RULE. It seems Basso and Bjarne have decided on alternating bikes, but with the weight limit in place, Cervelo and CSC have chosen to forgo the marketing BS and instead of adding useless weight for marketing purposes (and then calling the media to come look), Basso has chosen on lots of stages (mountain included) to simply have a better performing all round bike in the Soloist Carbon.

When we got the tester, the first thing we noted (after the fact that it had two flat tires) was that this bike just appears big. The deep profile tubes seem even larger with the bright red paint making the entire bike stand out… I’ve come to appreciate paint again, as everyone has a raw carbon look on offer these days. I also like that the bit of carbon that does show on the Soloist team is left as the simple functional prepreg that just peaks through the reverse graphics enough to let you know this isn’t the old Aluminum model.

There are some differences from our tester and Basso’s actual Giro beater…

Adding It Up
Make no mistake that Basso would not have been on this unless it sat very near the UCI minimum… To do that, they would have needed to shave more than a pound and a half off of our tester. To lighten up, CSC use FSA’s lighter cranks (and it’s probably flooded with Ceramic, and a few other tweaks needed to be made. I didn’t bother swapping out cranks, but it was a no-brainer to use both Tubular and Clincher ZIPP wheels for test, as well as the American Classic wheels I use as a bench mark for all bike tests (That Cervelo don’t partner with Zipp for an optional OEM wheel is really silly). CSC also use a lighter bar, bottle cage (singular) and as Speedplay trade pedal weight a bit by putting the cleat on the bike and more weight in your shoes, that shaves a few grams on the bike too. Ready to ride, our tester was a bit more than 17 pounds, as weight adds up fast with a few grams here and there (even the fact that I use a bit more steer tube and a couple spacers add weight)…

The weight on the test bike feels a bit lighter than it shows on the scale and that might be fairly well explained as it’s just plain harder to feel frame weight when it sits low in the frame. That seems to be the case with the Soloist Carbon. Both the weight being low on the frame and the stiffness that comes with it should be no surprise when you take a peak at the Bottom end.

Comments about big bottom brackets are a dime a dozen. But even among the large, the Soloist stands out a bit as it stays wide further up the down tube and seat tube than even the other “large” bb’s do. It’s also hidden a bit, but the reinforcement of this extends a little below and behind the BB area.

Cervelo worked very hard to make this a performance-oriented bike. They looked at the Aero performance of the frame as well as the stiffness and really put more of the potential benefit of carbon fiber to use than they have in the past. In fact using their own r2.5 as a comparison, the Soloist is extremely stiff. But using their own comparison choice alone doesn’t do the Soloist justice, as this is a stiff frame compared to a lot of bikes.

On the Aero side, Cervelo do a far more aggressive shape with the Soloist than a lot of other manufacturers do, and it’s in keeping the weight of the bike down to reasonable levels despite the large profiles and stiffness that is really impressive.

The soloist is not light compared to other “light” bikes It’s probably 1-2 hundred grams heavier than several light carbon frames. But because Cervelo combine variable wall thickness and several types of Carbon, a frame with this stiffness and aero benefit seems like it should have added 2-400 grams instead of 1-200.

The Aero shape is not just in the very deep down tube. It shows from the head tube…

and the seat pin

All the way through to a very tight tooshy…

Note the Drop outs are machined to make for a VERY deep profile. This lets the stays sit just that little bit more to the outside, for stability…

The stays seem fairly straight as you look from the side, but this bike would definitely not please Sir MixAlot. As baby don’t “got back”. The seat stays do curve a bit, but they stay very tight to the wheel to maintain a narrow profile.

There is some meat on baby’s bones though, especially in the chain stays. They also stay very tight to the wheel to keep a low profile and maintain heel clearance, but they stack up pretty high (note the stays are taller than the fairly large profile of the crank…)

And they stay stout out to the nicely machined and very industrial looking drops (drive side replaceable).

A good partner for this frame is Cervelo’s choice of fork. The AlphaQ Sub3 makes for a light option, but what’s really the benefit here is in the flex it allows. Not too much but despite its straight profile, its rake mated with the head angle allow enough front to back flex that it compliments what might be too rigid a chassis otherwise.

OK, so now I gotta go ride it like Basso… Fat Chance.
We actually had this quite a while before the Giro started and found it a nice surprise that Ivan the Terrific decided to give it such a positive nod. It’s a great “racer’s type” machine that does pretty much everything a bike should when earning a paycheck is what you do with your bike.

For those stages where you have several passes to mess with, something with the aero properties of the Soloist make for a nice thing, when getting back down in a hurry is just as important as getting up.

The seat and head angles are nothing crazy on the Soloist… 73 / 73.

On the surface the 73 degree head and seat angles look about right for the 54. What’s different is they are the same angles through the entire size range except for the Minibike 48 where the compact nater requires a tweak. Most manufacturers have a steeper head tube and more relaxed seat tube as the size range grows, and the more important of these sometimes being the seat angle, as saddle position relative to the BB is the first measure that all other measures should revolve around.

73/73 worked for me with some adjustment, but for some it’s worth considering more carefully. Cervelo do offer a reversible seat post, but that makes things steeper, not less. And the Seat post and seat tube in the Soloist is proprietary, meaning you only have a Cervelo option for set back.

Next to the Aerodynamics and also touching a bit on the geometry above is the design of the bike it’s self, and that means another peak at the Bottom Bracket area… But first let’s take a look at the Orbea, which is built like most bikes. Note where the green x crosses (and note the SRAM ..hehe).

This is where the seat tube and down tube centers meet, and on the Orbea, (also note I took the picture at a bit of angle) and it’s very close to the BB center.

Now note the Soloist…

The size and shape of the BB have been mentioned in other places, but it occurred to me that there was more to meet the eye than “shape” and “oversized” as the center of the down and seat tubes come together substantially above and in front of the BB center…

Fit is the first thought as the 73 degree angle of a seat tube is pretty generic, but moving the whole thing forward a bit isn’t, especially on larger sizes, as some guys look for a tad more room off the back and Cervelo’s seat post option gets steeper.

The second thing is a positive where stiffness is concerned. The BB area of the Soloist, having that extra material above the cranks helps the stiffness, as the frame resists deflection further up the seat and down tubes.

And it’s hidden a bit, but pushing things forward and up meant that Cervelo needed to (and did) give more reinforcement to the transition from BB to chain stays…

So you get the theme… Stiff and Aero.

Add better wheels than Cervelo offer OEM and you have a hell of a bike if beating someone up is what you have in mind. A wheel with too much flex will stand out on this bike, and it was a great addition to have the Zipp 303 and 404 sets. They were great in the hills, especially in carbon Tubular form – their great profile helps them shine on the flats as the best Aerodynamic wheel we’ve seen tested. The bulging profile also helps the wheels smooth out the bumps. And this bike needs that.

Things designed to whoop ass tend to be hard. The Soloist is no exception there.

I’ve read a few reviews where folks would argue that this is a comfortable bike. I am thinking that it might be a perspective thing (or lack of) in commenting on high end bikes for some review points. In the past few months I have ridden; a Colnago c-50 and c-50 hp, a Look 585, two Serotta’s (including a stint on their Meivici), a Seven, a Crumpton, a Ridley SuperDomacles, Specialized Tarmac, 2 Treks, a CSK, a Vellum, Kuota Kredo, BMC SLC, Orbea Opal and Orca and more… All with miles in, and all tested with the same wheels and tires…

So I have a medium amount of perspective, and with that I would say that the Soloist Carbon is NOT bad! It’s just not as smooth as many other top line carbon bikes, transmitting both more road buzz and a bit more big bump feel. It’s not enough to spoil a ride, but it is noticeable in comparison to other bikes in the price category. You should be very happy that Cervelo understand that using different Carbon types in different areas can make things more comfortable and or stronger / stiffer. Had they not spent a large amount of time and money developing this bike, they could have very easily had this thing weigh a pound more and be less comfortable than it is… This bike trades a bit of comfort for a bit of stiffness and Aero profile, and that’s a plus for those looking in that direction.

What the Soloist is, and without reservation, is a great all rounder and one of the best race bred machines tested to date. It is a tool that should be strongly considered for any rider type in the flat to rolling parts of the country, very strongly considered by any powerhouse guys that like being off the front and certainly a contender for combination Tri / Road bike of the year with it’s changeable seat post allowing you to go to TT position and actually giving you some aero benefit. Mid and Large size guys, needing a more solid platform, will love it heading into the hills and love it even more heading back out.

Commenting on handling is always sketchy, as I fit the bike one way and you might fit it another, and based on where our center of gravity is, we might find different things. While I have learned better than to call a bike “fast”, I can surely call this one stiff. That stiffness might make some bikes a little jittery or skippy on high speed corners, but this bike feels pretty comfortable there. I know I lost the interest of some of you when I said this bike weighs a bit more than 17 pounds. That’s your loss, if you’re one of the pathetic few who thinks a “win” happens in the shop on a scale. The weight on this bike is placed where it helps, in stiffness and the provision of stability and better aerodynamics. And you could have this bike sitting pretty in the 15’s and 16’s with a couple of parts swaps with NO PROBLEM AT ALL.

Cervelo have dealers across the USA and you’ll find a few price points in your never ending electronic efforts to beat up your LBS on price, but you should find this bike, as tested (Not with the Zipp wheels though) for some place near $5200.

You can get more information at Cervelo’s Site.

Have Fun.
Charles Manantan

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