The radical design behind the Cervelo P5X

Cervelo's new bike takes a "system" approach to designing a triathlon-specific ride. It's a bold new venture for the company that's renowned for building fast bikes.

| November 7, 2016 | GEAR

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

As we continue our look at tri-specific bikes, we have another look at Cervelo's new P5X, which was launched in Kona just before the Ironman World Championship. Cervelo reps were over in Spain last weekend for its European launch.

So I am having dinner with Lesley Loughlin, Cervelo’s marketing manager for triathlon, in Frankfurt, Germany few days before the Ironman European Championship. We get talking about work, and she mentions that she really wants to get the engineers from Cervelo out to see more races so they can have a really good feel for what she’s seeing at the events. She feels that she’s working with some of the best engineers in the bike business, but there’s even more she can show them on the ground watching races.

I think nothing of that statement until I am sitting in a presentation for the brand new P5X. That’s when I realize just how much of her vision ended up in this bike. So, because it’s Cervelo and nothing can be done half way, here’s what those engineers ended up doing once Loughlin convinced them to start coming to races: They embarked on a three-and-a-half-year project to build what they feel is the ultimate triathlon bike.

  • They looked at 14,500 photos of triathletes on bikes. In examining those photos, they realize that:
  • People almost always use round water bottles (98%)
  • They tend to store a lot of food around their bike
  • There were 688 unique storage set ups – people like to do things their own way

They did focus groups with athletes and learned that:

  • For a full-distance race athletes typically carry on their bikes:
    • 1 energy bar
    • 2 packs of chews
    • 8 gels
    • 6 salt tablets
    • 3 25 oz. water bottles
  • Those athletes aim to try and take in 290 to 340 calories per hour
  • They typically carry a flat kit with:
    • 2 tire levers
    • 2 CO2 cartridges
    • 1 CO2 head
    • 1 multi tool
    • 1 tube
  • One of the biggest stressors for athletes is traveling with their bikes

After a year of research they come up with their “product scope priorities” – they need to design a bike that:

  • Has modular, integrated storage with easy access that can be set up in a variety of ways.
  • Is compatible with round bottles Is easy to fit Is easy for athletes to adjust after their initial fit
  • Is more aerodynamic than their flagship P5 carrying the same items
  • Is as stiff as a P5 Is easy and safe to pack
  • Can fit on a trainer

OK. So here’s where you really start to realize that this project is a brand new endeavor for Cervelo. When have you ever heard the company that prided itself on building the world’s fastest bikes put aerodynamics at #5 on their priorities for a new bike?

There are different mount options for the bottle on the down tube - the SpeedCase can be left out, too, if you don\'t want that extra storage.

There are different mount options for the bottle on the down tube - the SpeedCase can be left out, too, if you don't want that extra storage.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

The StealthBox is specially designed to hold a repair kit. And, no, it doesn\'t rattle!

The StealthBox is specially designed to hold a repair kit. And, no, it doesn't rattle!

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Frame and storage

Over the next two and a half years Cervelo’s engineers developed a bike to meet all those standards. The first thing they got to do was throw out the idea that this bike needed to be UCI legal. (Another huge step from tradition for Cervelo.) Then there was the priority around water bottle and storage placement. They came up with a design that allows for a water bottle to be placed between the arms, one behind the saddle and two different options for a down-tube bottle.

Top tube storage comes in the form of a “SmartPak” bento box with an optional pill box for salt tablets that actually goes down into the frame so there’s lots of room for all that nutrition triathletes want to carry. (For those days when you’re not racing, it easily fits a phone, too – even an iPhone 6+ will easily go in.)

Within the frame there’s another storage area with a “Stealth Box” that easily houses a repair kit. For those riding tubulars, you can leave the box out and use that space for a tubular tire.

There’s also an option for even more storage in a “SpeedCase” on the downtube, too.

The one piece, monocoque frames are built by HED at their factory in Minneapolis, Minnesota and will be available in four sizes – S, M, L and XL. The stand over height for the P5X is quite low compared to the P5, so women who were struggling on the smaller P5 frames will probably really like the P5X.

Disc brakes and a frame optimized for electronic shifting.

Disc brakes and a frame optimized for electronic shifting.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Cervelo chose to use disc brakes on the P5X.

Cervelo chose to use disc brakes on the P5X.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Brakes

The radical new design of the bike required a different approach to braking. Luckily enough for Cervelo disc brakes were starting to become a more popular feature on road bikes. Following on the Magura hydraulic brakes that provided such outstanding performance on the P5, the engineers decided to go with TRP road hydraulic disc brakes on the P5X, a combination of mechanical and hydraulic braking. Cervelo has chosen to go with through axels on the P5X, too.

Components

In this era of electronic shifting, it comes as no surprise that the P5X is optimized for those gruppos. A special cover for a SRAM blip box or Shimano Di2 junction is built right behind the stem, providing really easy access for charging. You can run mechanical shifting on the P5X, too – the bike is really easy to set up since so much of the inside of the frame is accessible through the StealthBox compartment.

Cockpit and fit

When it came to designing and manufacturing the bars and cockpit for the P5X, Cervelo brought in the folks from Enve. The result is an innovative bar that is very easy to fit and even easier to adjust after the fact. You can even use a 4 mm Allen key to move the aero bars up or down in exactly the same way you’re used to moving your seat post.

Cervelo brought super-fitter Matt Steinmetz from 51Speedshop into the design process, too, and he's been an integral part in making sure the bike will be a bike-fitter's dream when it comes to dialing in correct fit, and making small adjustments on the go.

The base bar can be positioned in two different ways, too, providing even more customization. The bar is made in two halves so that it can easily be folded down for travel …

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Speaking of travel

Cervelo left nothing out when it came to aiming to meet the desires of those focus groups. The P5X even has its own bike case made by Biknd. The custom made Helium case is a breeze to pack and provides outstanding protection for the bike. You remove the front end, seat post, wheels … and you’re off.

The numbers

So did the Cervelo engineers get it done? They did – the P5X tests 25 percent stiffer than the P5 in terms of lateral stiffness, and is equally as stiff at the bottom bracket.

Cervelo spent 180 hours in the wind tunnel testing the P5X and figure it’s faster than the P5 and any other bike they could test it against with three water bottles and other storage. They also made sure to test the various storage components to ensure that those didn’t add any extra drag to the system.

The ride

In the end, though, numbers and the story won’t help if the bike doesn’t ride well. In this case that’s not a concern – the P5X is extremely comfortable and easy to ride.

The bike responds really well to steering and is extremely easy to ride in the aero position, which is exactly where you’re supposed to spend you time in a triathlon, right?

Climbing on the P5X or pounding down on the pedals in a hard TT effort is a joy – the bike is laterally stiff so you feel like all your energy is pushing you forward. You get all that performance on a bike that rides very smooth and is extremely comfortable. We did find the cross winds were tougher to handle with the Enve 7.8 front wheel our test bike – if you’re going to be racing, say, in Kona, you might want to think about a slightly less-deep front wheel, but in virtually any other scenario you’ll likely be more than happy with the Enve 7.8.

Once you get used to the water bottle storage options you’ll quickly become a huge fan of this system. Even fully loaded up the bike doesn’t feel heavy (even though its heavier than the P5), so you’ll never hesitate to pack all three bottles for a long ride.

Pricing

The P5X will be available in two different configurations to start with:

  • With Enve 7.8 wheels and SRAM’s Red eTap gruppo: US$15,000
  • With HED Jet 6.9 wheels and Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 components and a Rotor Flow crank: $11,000

The end result

What Loughlin envisioned all those years ago was a bike that took into consideration all the demands she was hearing from athletes – both pros and age groupers. The engineers at Cervelo delivered. The P5X is a bike that is very different from anything else on the market right now, but incorporates so many of the things that athletes want and that you’re seeing come out on more and more bikes at this time.

It’s a very different bike for Cervelo, but one that serves the company vision well. For years Cervelo was renowned for making fast bikes, but lots of other companies make really good, really fast bikes, too. In the same way that the company forged a new direction with the P3 back in the late 90s, the P5X is taking bike design in a new direction, too. It is somewhat ironic that the brand new P5X, with a completely new set of engineers, has a lot of similarities to the Baracchi that Phil White and Gerard Vroomen originally put together as their first Cervelo design.

The new P5X embodies so much of what Cervelo is famous for, in a brand new way.

This story was originally published on October 4.

The rear water bottle is designed to fit close to the saddle for aerodynamics, but has lots of adjustability, too.

The rear water bottle is designed to fit close to the saddle for aerodynamics, but has lots of adjustability, too.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Cervelo worked with HED and Enve on the design and manufacture of the bike.

Cervelo worked with HED and Enve on the design and manufacture of the bike.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Packing the P5X in the Biknd box is very easy and the air bags ensure the bike and wheels are protected.

Packing the P5X in the Biknd box is very easy and the air bags ensure the bike and wheels are protected.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

The Baracchi was the first bike Phil White and Gerard Vroomen designed under the Cervelo banner.

The Baracchi was the first bike Phil White and Gerard Vroomen designed under the Cervelo banner.

Photo >Cervelo