Cervelo's Áspero-5 Is More Than Just a Head Turner

Every now and then I just can’t wait for a news embargo to lift. That’s the case with this bike today, because it’s a breathtakingly beautiful bike, and because the bike is a perfect match for a theme I think is becoming more obvious in our sport. The Áspero has gotten itself aero, and when gravel bikes get aero there’s really not a lot of need to choose between aero and endurance anymore, is there?

Why is this bike called the Áspero-5, as in the "-5" part? Because first there was the Caledonia-5. Cervelo’s news today is the 5-ing of the Áspero.

If you look at the Áspero-5’s front end it’s the Cal-5’s front end, but gravelish. Yes, the handlebar is different – a gravel bar with gravel’s width and flare – but the stem, the stem’s accessory mount, and the way the hydraulic lines run through the stem is exactly the same as the Cal-5.

You might be excused for thinking it’s the Cal-5 but with tire clearance and that’s not a completely unfair way of looking at this bike. But let’s talk about that clearance. The Áspero-5 can accept a 45mm-wide tire on a 700c wheel. That’s a lot of tire. Too much tire in my opinion (if I’m riding 700c I’m opting for a smaller tire), but if you want it you can have it.

The Áspero-5 can take a 49mm tire in 650b and that’s not too much tire. I believe Cervelo is at least slightly conservative in its clearance claims. I put a set of HED Emporias on the bike in 650b size, with 50mm Schwalbe gumwall G-One Speed on that wheel and there was loads of room. Then I got cocky, and put on a set of 53mm G-One Bites. They fit. Barely. You could ride them if your wheels remained perfectly true. Once you put 650b tires wider than 50mm on the Áspero-5 it depends on how aggressive are the outer blocks on the tread.

The Cal-5, remember, is a Classics bike that is also very aero. This is my idea of the modern road bike, where you don’t have to choose between comfort & stability on one hand, and speed on the other. The Cal-5 has it all. Why, then, this bike? Does the Caledonia-5 mean you don't need this gravel bike I'm writing about here? No, because the Cal-5 is a Classics bike, and is really made for the road, the pavés, light gravel. In another sense, the surface it's really made for is your tush. If you want all the benefits of aero, and all the benefits of comfort, you don’t just jack up the front of the bike and call it good (which too many bike makers do). You leave the rider’s position alone, and you just build a comfortable bike, with appropriate gears – and appropriate tire size & style – underneath him or her.

The Áspero-5 is just further along the use-case gradient. I can’t ride the Cal-5 everywhere I want, because its max-34mm tire width does not grant me that freedom. The Áspero-5 does. Almost. The one lament about this bike is that I do often like an even larger tire for where I ride, but that’s just not the Áspero-5. There’s a gravel bike out there for my occasional obscure needs, and this isn’t it.

But to be fair, it’s got more clearance than most gravel bikes. Above is a close-up of the Áspero-5 with its standard issue Panaracer Gravelking in 38mm, on a 700c wheel, and as you can see that tire’s got a lot of room to “grow.” Below is the Áspero-5 with a set of HED Emporias in 650b, and those 50mm Schwalbe gumwalls, which was a hoot to ride around on.

If you look at these images, you can see there’s a pair of shoes in a lot of them, and to be honest with you my very first impression when I took the Áspero-5 out of the box, was, Cervelo made a bike for the Shimano shoes! I’m not overly style-driven but I went bonkers for the Shimano RX8 gravel shoe in purple/green when I first saw it. That shoe and this bike were made for each other.

That said, Cervelo has made the Áspero-5 in 3 colorways: Lime Shimmer, Purple Sunset, and Five Black. There are several ways you can get the complete bike, and let’s talk about the spec hits and misses. This bike outfitted with Áspero-5 GRX RX815 Di2 (the electronic 2x version of Shimano’s breakout excellent gravel groupset) features a 48/31 chin ring pairing and an 11-34 11sp cogset. That 31x34 is a plenty fine low gear.

This build is available in Purple Sunset and Five Black, and will cost you $7,100 complete. That’s a mighty large number, but if you compare premium bikes with premium builds that carry this groupset, it’s priced maybe $1,500 below what I expected. This build is, in my opinion, the winner of the bunch.

There’s also a pair of 1x builds, SRAM RED eTap AXS and Force eTap AXS. This bike with these build kits cost $9,000 and $6,900 respectively. The cogset is a 12sp, with a 36t single ring in front and a 10-36 in the back. Okay, yes, 1:1 gearing is pretty low as a low gear, and it just depends on where you live. East of the Rockies you’re probably fine. In the Rockies, or west of them, maybe, maybe not. I like that smaller gear. For my own private, selfish needs if I was going to spec a 1x yes, SRAM is the groupset, but I’d have chosen to pair those Force eTap AXS crank and shifters with an Eagle RD and a 10-50 cassette.

Let’s talk about geometry and fit for a moment. The Áspero-5 comes in 6 sizes, from 48cm to 61cm, and it is the most interesting fit geometry of any gravel bike I’ve seen. This bike is long. While I ride most bikes in size-58, I would ride this in a 56 because it’s so long. The best way is just to show the tallest 3 sizes side-by-side, with the geometry charts of both the Cal-5 and the Áspero-5:

As you see, the Áspero-5 is a centimeter longer, in every size, versus the Cal-5, and that actually suits me. I don’t ride a different position on my road bike than on my gravel bike, and if you ascribe to the idea that you can own one bike that works both for gravel and road, then you believe that too.

The Áspero-5 has fit geometry almost identical to the road bike I just built up, which is an aero road bike, and that bike – the Quintana Roo SRsix – and the Canyon Aeroad, and the Cannondale SystemSix (aero road bikes all) pretty much share the Áspero-5’s *fit* geometry. To which I say bravo. The one thing, though, is you must choose your Áspero-5 based on frame stack and reach. The SystemSix and the SRsix each have a stack/reach of 580mm and 400mm respectively, but in size-58. (Because each of these companies has chosen to size their bikes based on the frame stack: 580mm frame stack = 58cm = size-58. Get it?) Cervelo has not done that, and that’s fine. Just realize that a 56cm in an Áspero-5 is a 58cm in a lot of other bikes.

One more thing about geometry. A number of companies have placed a tunable dropout on their fork end, where you take out the dropout, flip it around, and change the fork offset. Cool idea. Gives you some freedom, as a user, to choose a handling style. Cervelo did this (called the TrailMixer) with the Áspero-5, but it isn’t just so you can pick a handling type, cafeteria style. It realized that if you ride a 700c wheel with a 38mm or 43mm tire on it, that’s a mambo-sized wheel radius, like, approach 360mm or something, versus the typical 336mm we used to ride back in the days when we all rode 23mm or 25mm tires. If you have 2 wheelsets for the Áspero-5, and 1 is that wheel that comes with the bike, with the tire that comes on it (or larger), you may want to use that TrailMixer, which adds/subtracts 5mm of offset.

Let’s quantify it. If you ride that bike as spec’d, 38mm Gravelking on that Reserve 32 700c wheel, and you ride with that TrailMixer option giving you the longer front/center, that shortens the fork offset by 5mm. That gives you a trail of 61mm. If you have the TrailMixer oriented the other way, you risk shoe overlap and you increase the trail to 66mm. However, if you ride a 650b wheel with a 47mm tire, that set up yields a wheel radius 10mm smaller (343mm to 353mm). If you swap out that TrailMixer, which shortens the front center, but adding fork offset, you keep the trail pretty similar (63mm in this case) and the bike handles similarly. If you leave the TrailMixer alone, the trail is now 58mm, and the steering on your bike sped up a little bit.

If that is all too much for you, and you just want to ride the bike, let me make it simple. I don’t mind my steering sped up a little bit, and if your second set of wheels is a set of road wheels, you probably want your steering sped up a little anyway. So, orient your TrailMixer toward the longer front center (and shorter offset), and just leave it there. Don’t change it.

Last week I wrote about the Blurred Lines Between Drop Bar Bikes. This bike is a prime case in point. It sits along a gradient. Not a fit gradient. A comfort and clearance gradient. Whether you’re sitting in your Ferrari or your RAM 3500 the distance from your car seat to the gas pedal and the steering wheeel remains the same. What changes is the car’s fitness for rolling over pavement or rocks and mud. The road surface, and perhaps the pitch of the climb, is the key to the bike you choose, whether an R5, an S5, a Cal-5 or an Áspero-5. Cervelo understands this, and that small gears are allowed on fast road bikes, and aero features are allowed on Classics or gravel bikes.

A case in point, as expressed in the details of these bikes, is the front ends of the Caledonia-5 or an Áspero-5, pictured above. While they share a common stem, the Áspero-5 has a more traditional, round terminus of its head tube while the Cal-5 has a more stylish finish.

When Gerard Vroomen and Phil White left the company they founded there was legitimate concern that the secret sauce was no longer there, and this was just another brand owned by an industrial conglomerate. Sometimes new owners of august brands pleasantly surprise you, and Salsa Cycles comes to mind, and those who run the brand I founded (Quintana Roo). There may have been a wilderness period for Cervelo immediately post-ownership-transfer, but Cervelo found its balance several years back and its brand managers became comfortable and confident in their skins. Cervelo just can’t seem to make a bad bike these days.

It is my opinion that Cervelo understands road, tri and gravel as well or better than any brand, of any size, and the only person designing bikes today who can perhaps outthink Cervelo’s designers might be Cervelo’s founder Gerard Vroomen, who’s got some really nice bikes he’s fronting over at 3T and OPEN Cycles. And with that….

The only thing in my life that was ever perfect, right out of the bike, was Kraft Maraconi & Cheese. But Cervelo’s bikes have been coming pretty close lately. You can read more about the Áspero-5 here, or you can look at the Áspero-5 on MyBikeShop.com’s pages devoted to that bike.