Dec. 10, 2014 — The art of balance is a skill cyclists learn early but endlessly work to improve either consciously or sub-consciously.  Whether its weaving down your favorite descent, maneuvering through a pack of riders on a local group ride, or simply avoiding that pothole down the street, balance keeps us riding and smiling.  For cyclists there are a number of exercises you can do to improve balance, for frame builders, balance isn’t quite that simple.  There are materials, angles, tube lengths, and tube shapes to be considered and after it’s all said and done there is rider feedback that just might ask you to start all over again.

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When Cervelo launched its hand built Project California Rca last year it seemed to many they had achieved what all builders seek, the ultimate in balance – light, stiff, comfortable, aero, predictable – all in one bike.  Yes, there is little doubt Cervelo got it right with the Rca, they found near perfect balance, except for the one area many care most about, the bottom line.  At $10,000 for the frameset alone this bike was easily out of reach for most folks with any sort of fiscal responsibility.

The Details  
But wait, there is hope.  This year Cervelo has offered its $10,000 technology, or at least a portion of it, via trickle down to its R5, R3, and R2 bicycles.  We got our hands on the latest R3 priced at $3750 and couldn’t wait to log some miles on “The People’s Rca.” The R3 comes in the middle of Cervelo’s R Series lineup, which also includes an R5 that can be purchased with a Dura Ace build for $7,000 and an R2 that comes with Shimano 105 for $2,500.

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Our R3 came built with Shimano’s mechanical Ultegra 6800 group – FSA stem, bar, post, Rotor 3DF BBright 52/36 cranks, and Fulcrum Racing 5.5 wheels.  The Ultegra perfromed flawlessly and is by far the best-valued group in Shimano’s line.  The Rotor 3D cranks are a good touch bringing added value, performance, and curb appeal to the R3.  Fulcrum Racing 5.5’s are suitable for long training miles, but you should look for something lighter if you frequently ride in the hills area or like to pin a number on. The bike’s unimpressive 16.3pound performance on the scale is severely hampered by the Fulcrums.

Frame features that have found their way down from the RCA are the Squoval shaped tubes, pencil sized seat stays, BBright bottom bracket design, and of course geometry.
Squoval tube shapes are exactly what they sound like, not square and not oval, but closely resembling both.  Cervelo claims this tube shape is both aerodynamic and torsionally stiff, with each in the appropriate place, to translate power into speed and responsiveness.

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The Ride
While as usual, it is nearly impossible to test the aerodynamic claims in the field the road test was extremely promising.  On varied terrains the R3 is a fierce competitor, most noticeably when descending at speed.  The stable platform felt exceptionally comfortable when the gears were wound up through the apex of sweeping corners. The R3’s RCA borrowed geometry places the rider in a comfortable and powerful position over Cervelo’s BBright bottom bracket. When climbing it allows for a malicious tempo to be tapped out without much consideration for others. The pencil sized seat stays along with a 27.2 seat post provide a smooth ride experience on rough roads.  Out of the saddle the R3 doesn’t perform as rapidly as the RCA did, acceleration is muted on initial wind up in a sprint, despite the 8 percent increased stiffness at the bottom bracket from earlier R3’s.

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Modifications riders might consider aside from a wheel upgrade, which is mandatory to get the most out of the bike, would be the FSA Energy Compact bars that came spec’d on the R3.  They measured 42cm in the drops but 40cm center-to-center on the hoods, which is probably a bit too narrow for most riders on a 56cm frame. We know aerodynamics are always a factor at Cervelo and narrower usually equates to less drag but a wider bar presents more control and better balance resulting in a better rider experience.

The Rider
While the Cervelo R3 isn’t an RCA, it’s a worthy choice for buyers looking for a turnkey solution under $4,000.  With the full bike that is more than $6,000 less than the price of an RCA frameset the Canadians at Cervelo have found a great balance and position inside the product line. The R3 is a worthy contender at an incredible value.

Bottomline
Price: $3750
Weight: 16.3lbs
Specifications: Ultegra 6800 with Rotor 3DF Cranks, FSA cockpit, Fizik Antares saddle, Fulcrum Racing 5.5 wheels with Vittoria Diamante Pro Light tires.
More: cervelo.com