Cervelo Caledonia Long Term Review

When Cervelo announced the Caledonia in late summer I was very enthusiastic about this bike, and they sent me one to ride. Now that I’ve spent some time on the bike, here are my impressions.

There's a compelling story to the midrange priced bikes in the Caledonia series and we'll get to those. The bike in my possession – alas, I must send it back this week – is not midrange in price. It’s a $7,000 bike, all in, because it’s the Caledonia 5 frameset – all cables internal – with SRAM Force eTap.

The stem that came with the bike was too short for me, and I asked for a longer stem, which Cervelo sent, and that’s what you see on the bike pictured here. It’s also got a ratty old Selle Italia saddle because I just don’t do well on these newer wide-flange short-nose Specialized Power saddle copies, which is what this bike comes with and which is all the rage. The saddle in the images is older than Moses, but this is how I rode this bike.

One point of order: There is the Caledonia – which is a more traditionally-designed road bike (with untraditional road geometry) – and then there’s the Caledonia 5, which I’ll shorten to Cal5. The Cal5 is what you see here; it's what I've been riding. It has more cable and electronic mount integration features. It's higher end. It costs more. The Cal5 frame & fork is about 5 ounces lighter than the Caledonia frameset, but both framesets have the same geometries, and same stiffness profiles. They are quite similar in how they handle.

I have this bike in size-56cm because the “stack” of the 58cm (my typical size) is too tall for me. But I can ride a 56cm because the front center is longer, and I explain this in my initial article on this bike, and more so when I drilled down specifically on its geometry. In short, it's got touring/gravel/classics geometry, with a shallower head angle and a lot of fork offset. The bike is comfy, but the front center is longish, which is to say, the front wheel is pushed a little further out in front. This is why I can go a size down and be aboard a bike that has a front end low enough for me, but also has enough length.

Once I got the new stem on the bike the cockpit fit me nicely, and I could go on longer rides with a well-fit bike. I did make a wheel change. There is a wheel brand, Reserve, that is attached at least strategically (if not formally) to the PON brands (Cervelo and Santa Cruz in particular). The wheels are fine. But you know me. I’m wedded to tubeless. While the Reserve wheels are tubeless ready, I already had some new Zipp 303s, hookless bead tubeless, and some 30mm Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless that mate well with hookless beads. I know this wheel/tire combo to be great for rideable dirt as well as pavement, because I previously had this on a gravel bike. I found this an improvement on the rather dead-feeling OE set up, but, in fairness to Cervelo these Reserve wheels were not delivered tubeless, but tubeless-ready. I don’t think the Reserve wheels will come into their own until you rip the Vittoria Rubino Pros off the bike and set it up tubeless, with a first-rate tubeless tire.

The Caledonia 5 is a great bike. Just flat great. The gearing goes very low – and I mean ride-up-a-wall low – and that suits my riding these days, which tends toward “adventurous ascendency” (finding roads unfamiliar to me that go uphill, usually at grades beyond my capacity). It goes up those hills well and, because of a very stable geometry, goes down those hills well. It’s also the theme you see in the 3T Exploro Racemax. These are obviously two very different bikes for different uses, but they ask and answer the same question: why can’t a bike be quite aero, while also capable on very tough terrain?

Beyond that, my set up included Speedplay Zero pedals, a Wahoo ELEMNT head unit and a Garmin Varia rear radar.

So, what’s not to like? Well, I’ll tell you. The more things cost, the less adjustable they are. That’s just a reality in the bike world these days. Seems counterintuitive, but, there you have it. Let me explain.

First, on the Cal5 you’re limited to the stems Cervelo has made, which is okay, except if you want something different. You take Zipp for example, look at the lengths and pitches of the Service Course SL. This is the kind of variety a completely anal guy like me appreciates, and you want these stems readily available, all the time, never sold out. Imagine that all bikes had fully integrated front ends, and somebody came out with the “stem.” It would be all the rage!

Now, for sure, what you lose with a regular stem is the internal cable routing, which is very sexy. I’m the first to admit it. However, if you look at the way the cables get from the bar into the stem, you need that particular Cervelo handlebar. Failing that, you need a bar that has a hole right in the center of the bar, inside the stem’s handlebar clamp, that’s got an access hole for the hydraulic brake cables to exit the bar and enter the stem. So, you not only have a limited supply of possible stems you can use, you also have a limited supply of handlebars. Me? I’m growing quite fond of gravel bars, and I want to put a gravel bar in this Cal5. But I can’t, as you see. I also can’t just say, "screw the internal routing, I’ll route it like a traditional bike," because this bike really only has one way to route the hydraulic lines.

Which leads to another issue, which is this: If you want to change the stem – let’s say there are scads of stems available and your LBS has all the Cervelo stems in stock – you have to unscrew the compression nut out of the brake lever, and cut off the final 12mm or so of housing, because the hydraulic line runs through the stem. You replace the stem, route the hydraulic line back to the lever, insert new needle and olive, tighten down the compression nut, and bleed the brakes. If you disagree that you really need to do all of this in order to change a stem, fine, but according to SRAM (for example) they disagree with you on how to use their equipment.

Which brings me to the thing you see in the background of this image, and I’m excited to have just gotten it. I’m ready to deploy it and you’ll be reading about how all this goes. It’s an in-line hydraulic quick-connect from Formula, and they make a system both for Shimano and SRAM. Let me tell you the problem, though, with this system you see here. The Cal5 only has its hydraulic line exposed right at the lever, or right as the line goes from the handlebar to the stem, or at the other end, as it exits the frame (or fork) and enters the caliper. The system as you see in from Formula doesn’t have that quick-connect at the places it would need to be to work on the Cal5.

I bring all this up for the following reason: In the future, bikes like the Cal5 here – and there are a lot of them on the market – that have internally routed hydraulic lines, cannot continue to cause us all this kind of hassle just because we want to make the bikes fit correctly. They will all need to have hydraulic quick-connects in-line. I’m talking about tri bikes, road bikes, gravel bikes. If the line runs through the stem, this is a must, in my opinion.

But this isn't all on Cervelo. Formula will need to come up with a way to make this tech work on a Cal5, or SRAM or somebody is going to need to match this tech. The arc needs to start to bend back toward bikes becoming less like motorcycles – where fit and sizing just aren't any longer a thing – and more like, well, bicycles.

So, bottom line, the Cal5 is a terrific bike and I love this bike, and I’m going to be sorry to give it up. However, for most of you, if what you want is to get the maximum value out of the Caledonia series, with the maximum availability of aftermarket parts, and a minimum of hassle when you change those parts, you’re really looking at the Caledonia, which is the more affordable version. Furthermore, you’re looking at the most affordable of those, because the Di2 Ultegra version of that bike doesn’t have that really low gearing you need for a full-blown, go-anywhere, climb-anything adventure bike. The lowest gear on that Ultegra Di2 Caledonia is a 36x30, certainly low for a road bike, but the 105 and Ultegra mechanical versions – at $2,900 and $3,500 – go all the way down to 36x34 as the lowest gear. Many of you won’t need a gear that low, so, a $4,500 Ultegra Di2 bike might be perfect for you, if you can swing that price. But that $2,900 bike, yes, that’s still a lot of money to spend on anything, but that’s just a great bike at a great value.

Alas, I checked, and the quickest bikes to sell out were those two mechanically-shifted Caledonias.

The regular Caledonias also have a round seat post, rather than the aero post, which is fine by me. The head tube top is also different from the Cal5, and in the image below you’ll see the custom, form-fitted dust cover when I turn the bike.

The dust cover turns too. This is the case with a lot of fancy bikes these days. It’s in-line with the frame until you turn it. Then it’s not. Whatever. Just, round is always in-line, regardless of whether the wheel is turned or not. I know, I’m sounding like the guy who says, “I’ll just drive the 1966 Chevy pickup; it’s fine for my needs,” but quite honestly the Caledonia is fine for my needs. I don’t need the Cal5. The one thing that I wish, though, is that I could get that drivetrain on a Caledonia frameset. I really like the SRAM Force eTap with 12sp and 30x36 as the low gear. I carry a spare battery with me in the behind-the-seat bag in case one of the derailleur batteries takes a dive.

One thing on the accessory mounts. This bike was really the first, as far as I know, to build in GoPro-style accessory mounts front and rear, as spec’d from the factory. Since I wrote about this bike two products have become known to me: the FormMount, which we are about to review; and the Zipp QuickView which is just terrific, and I’m going to put the Service Course SL and the QuickView faceplate on every bike I ride that uses a standard stem. This relieves me of the need to buy a Cal5 just to get that feature. I can put the Zipp hardware aftermarket on a Caledonia and I now have that GoPro mount functionality for lights, head units, action cams. I’m still missing that function on the rear of the bike, which you get with the Cal5 (I need that for my Varia), but at the current pace or product introductions I’m pretty sure something will come along.

What I’m writing above is about value judgments. I’m really, really, really, picky about ergonomics. I’ve been after handlebar companies for about a decade to abandon “round” as the shape for handlebars, so that they can make road bars exactly the way they are best made, and I mean not only above the hood but below it. Round is a smart shape for seat posts. It’s less a smart shape for handlebars. Anyway, point being, I want exactly the handlebar I want; exactly the handlebar geometry that I want; and so on, and if I try a longer stem and it doesn’t work out and I go back to a shorter stem, I don’t want to have to go thru that rigmarole every time. But you might be different. You might not be as picky as I am about handlebars. You almost certainly aren’t. (Almost nobody is.)

The Caledonia series, both the Caledonia and the Caledonia 5, is a great motif, and a triumphant bike design. It’s just that a Caledonia 5 reads from the same sheet of music as do most of the better road bike makers: the more you spend, the sexier the bike, but woe unto you once you commence trying to switch things out.

I could imagine a Caledonia (the non-Cal5 frame), with the Zipp stem hardware described, and a 3T Aeroghaia gravel handlebar (yes, a gravel bar on a road bike). And the SRAM Force eTap groupset that's on the Cal5 I'm riding. That sounds a lot like my dream bike. It will be interesting to see if Cervelo explores more options like that for this superb frame platform.