The Cervélo R3 is a performance bike that's different to the R5, making it better suited to those who enjoy some added comfort. The frame feels slightly more sluggish and is ultimately compromised by the budget wheels.
Compromised by its wheelset
The Cervélo R3 doesn’t come with the same high-tier specification, the same racing credentials or the same top-end price tag as the Cervélo R5, but that doesn't limit it as an entry-level version of the brand's race bike, and Cervélo has always argued that there's a nuanced difference between the two.
For starters, both bikes were launched at exactly the same time, the R5 didn’t come first and the R3 didn’t come after; it was simultaneous launches for bikes of equal merit.
What’s more, just because the R5 has the racing credentials and is the race bike of the Sunweb team doesn’t make the R3 the brand’s endurance bike. Rather, the R3 is the well considered stablemate of the R5.
Buy now: Cervélo R3 at Sigma Sports for £3299
Aesthetically, the two bikes are almost identical, and the R3’s chunky carbon tubing is instantly recognisable as Cervélo’s R-series, and with its distinctive squared down tube and oversized bottom bracket the R3 subscribes to Cervélo's ‘bigger is better’ philosophy when it comes to its tube-shaping.
The main difference lies in the carbon layup, which is, according to Cervélo, designed to be more comfortable than the R5, dampening more of the road without sacrificing stiffness.
I’ve tested both the R5 and the R3 now, and there is a nuanced difference between both bikes in their compliance and their attitudes. The R3 doesn’t feel as aggressive as the R5 – its stack is 8mm taller – and if you were to make me choose between them for a 100-mile ride, the R3 would get picked because of it.
The other big difference between the two bikes is that the R3 doesn't transfer as much of the road through to the rider as the R5 does. It offers a more numbed feeling but, and I think as a result of this, it doesn't feel nearly as fast. It’s a noticeable difference in the ride quality of both of the bikes, and the R3 feels more sluggish than its more sporty sibling.
That feeling of speed is compromised further by the DT Swiss P1800 Spline wheels that are well below the bike's RRP. They're an entry-level set of wheels and as a result they're slow to accelerate and sluggish on the hills. On one ride in the Kent lanes my riding mate remarked at how quickly I seemed to slow down as soon as I stopped pedalling, and it certainly felt like I was having to output more power to remain at a consistent speed.
I swapped the DT Swiss set for some Roval CLX 50 wheels and there was a real noticeable improvement – showing what a difference high-end carbon wheels can make. Considering the bike's price, it'd be nice to see a higher level of wheel specced.
However, much like the R5, the R3 is handy on the descents, sticking close to bends and relaying a real feeling of speed. For summer riding, or if you push bikes hard on descents, I’d swap out the Continental Grand Prix tyres and add something a little more supple. Certainly the addition of a set of S-Works Turbo Cotton tyres made a big difference.
I’d also argue, as I always do, that disc brakes would make the bike come alive on the downs. The Ultegra rim brakes are good but unfortunately they’re not direct-mount which offers more powerful braking. The rim brake model also doesn’t get the same whopping tyre clearance because of the brake bridge between the seat stays. Fortunately, the Cervélo R3 is available with disc brakes, if, like me, that’s what you’d prefer.
The R3 is also differentiated from the R5 by its specification. Neither bikes are available below Ultegra level (except as a frameset), making them both a premium option but the Cervélo R3 tops out at Ultegra Di2 whereas the R5 goes to Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 or even SRAM Red eTap AXS.
My test bike came with a mechanical Shimano Ultegra groupset which was as excellent as it always is. In particular, it came with a 52/36 chainring, which is my preferred size. I find it complements a performance frame far better than a compact size, giving you more return on your efforts. On our 75km commute back from the office, where the gradient is nearly completely flat or slightly downhill, the larger chain rings really came into their own. It is worth noting that the bike actually isn't available with a compact chainset, but the 11-30 cassette should give you a bit of wiggle room if the road pitches steeply upwards.
Ultimately, the Cervélo R3 is more comfortable and less harsh than the Cervélo R5 but doesn't lose the lightening handling that makes it such good fun to ride. It is more sluggish though, and it's hampered by its budget wheels and tyres.
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