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The Cervelo Soloist. Has any other bike ever created such a monumental shift in frame design?
[ct_story_highlights]What: The 2023 Cervelo Soloist. ||Key features: Iconic name. “Externally integrated” cable routing. Geometry borrowed from the R5. User and Mechanic-friendly. Reserve 40/44 wheelset. 12 speed Ultegra Di2. ||Weight: 7.5 kg / lb (56 cm, without pedals). ||Price: US$6,800 / £6,800 / €7,900 (Australian pricing TBC) ||Highs: Racing soul with a handling to match. More affordable aero. Light-ish. Easier to work on. ||Lows: A handful of spec choices, BBRight T-47 bottom bracket availability and creaking, could offer a smoother ride. [/ct_story_highlights]
When Cervelo first released the Soloist in 2002, aerodynamics were considered the reserve of time trials and motor racing at best and “hocus pocus” at worst. The Soloist arguably changed all that, focusing a spotlight on aero gains. That spotlight has only become brighter in the 20 years since. But despite being one of the few true gamechangers, Cervelo killed off the Soloist moniker with the arrival of the S2, S3, and eventually S5 aero frames.
Now the Soloist is back, but is Cervelo’s long-awaited sequel a Kindergarten Cop 2 or a Top Gun Maverick?
Cervelo won’t be drawn on either and are adamant we don’t call this a comeback. The original Soloist existed in a very different time and was arguably a super bike of the era. Cervelo says the new Soloist is designed for the “week-in, week-out amateur racer.” The bike is said to balance aerodynamics, with relatively low weight, and a true racing geometry.
The new Soloist first appeared back in February and now joins an already extensive Cervelo road/race bike family. Those who feared the Soloist might not be the race-focused rig it originally was needn’t worry, as the new bike clearly borrows DNA from all its racing siblings. As Cervelo puts it, the Soloist is “a hair lighter than S5, but significantly more aerodynamic than R5, and more aggressive than the Caledonia.”
As if to prove all that, the Jumbo-Visma development team has raced the Soloist all season, including CyclingTips podcast favourite Archie Ryan who raced the Soloist to second place on the La Toussuire summit finish and fourth place overall at the recent Tour de l’Avenir.
Archie was just one-year-old when the original Soloist sent shockwaves through the professional peloton, and as such, it is maybe fair to assume the gravity of Cervelo’s decision to revive the Soloist moniker might be a little lost on him and the latest generation of racers. What might also be missed by the current crop of racing talent, is just how user-friendly bikes were back in 2002.
The original Soloist might have been the first in a long line of mass-market aero-optimised bikes and equipment, but that lineage also leads straight to the ultra-proprietary, non-compatible world of bicycle components we find ourselves in today. With the new Soloist, Cervelo hopes to introduce this new generation to the iconic Soloist name and also try to squeeze some of the worms back into the can with a bike that is much more user-friendly.
Cervelo says it recognises most riders don’t have a service course or team of mechanics at their beck and call and so require a light and aero bike that is easy to work on and easy to travel with. So, despite featuring all the mod-cons you would expect of a 2022 aero bike, the new Soloist is designed with a host of user-friendly features. A threaded bottom bracket, “internally routed external cables”, and 34 mm of tyre clearance are all welcome additions.
Better yet, there is barely a cable or brake hose in sight, yet the Soloist uses a good old-fashioned two-piece handlebar and stem. The Soloist will happily take any standard 1 1/8″ aftermarket stem and any matching handlebar. Cervelo has developed its new “externally integrated” cable routing to amalgamate the clean looks of integrated routing with the easy adjustment of traditional external routing.
The cables and hoses route externally under the handlebar and stem, held in position by the bar tape and a clip under Cervelo’s stem. It’s not all good news though because from there the hoses run through the headset bearings. That said, Cervelo’s take on internal cable routing is a step in the right direction.
But if, for you, every watt is a prisoner, and you are more of a “challenge accepted” than “user-friendly” kind of person, the new Soloist is compatible with Cervelo’s ST31 and ST32 stems for fully internal cable routing. Although, you will also likely require a new internally routed handlebar to match.
Cervelo has even taken the very un-2022 decision to accommodate mechanical shifting in the new frame. For the benefit of the youth of today, mechanical shifting is gears
controlled by steel cables and tension without the “beep beep”.
It’s not just on the work stand the Soloist trumps the S5; it’s also lighter on the scales. Our 56 cm Soloist weighed in at 7.5 kg without pedals, by no means a weight weenie, but also well placed for what is technically a mid-tier aero offering. The claimed weight of 919 grams for the frame (56 cm) and 374 grams for the fork are also on par for this level. Comparing claimed weights that puts the Soloist frame and fork 261 g heavier than the R5 and 154 g lighter than the S5. Comparing measured complete bike weights, the Soloist comes in 500 grams lighter than the S5, albeit with shallower wheels.
Speaking of grams, Cervelo likes to state aero savings/losses in grams of drag, further adding to the confusion of the already complex task of deciphering the aero wheat from the chaff. Cervelo explained to CyclingTips it prefers drag grams to watts, time saved, or speed because the grams-to-watts conversion changes with speed. Power varies as the cube of speed, while grams vary as the square. For what it’s worth, Cervelo suggests 10 g of drag is equal to 1.3 watts at 29.97 mph (48.2 km/h) – its wind tunnel testing speed.
All that said, Cervelo didn’t actually make any aero claims or tout any drag figures in the initial press launch materials provided to us with the new Soloist. We were of course eager to hear, though, and Cervelo told CyclingTips the Soloist is 125 g faster than the R5 and 190 g slower than the S5.
Cervelo has designed the Soloist to be fast on the road and fast through the workshop. That we like.
We also like a racing bike to have a true racing geometry, and the Soloist does not disappoint. Borrowing the geometry largely from the R5, the new Soloist is a true racing thoroughbred with the benefit of a decade’s worth of geometry refinement. While the Soloist’s stack and reach may appear a little lower and longer, it’s pretty much a wash once the required bearing cap is factored in. At 392 mm reach and 565 mm stack for the 56 cm bike on test, the Soloist is not quite as aggressive as the S5, but it is still undoubtedly designed to accommodate a racing position.
With 73º head and seat tube angles, 72 mm of bottom bracket drop, and 57 mm of trail (again, for the size 56 cm), I found the Soloist offers a near-perfect balance of agile and nimble handling with straight line and high-speed stability. Part of that stability will be coming from the slightly longer wheelbase and chainstays, which have the knock-on effect of making the Soloist a little less reactive and snappy than it’s big brother, the S5.
That’s not to say the Soloist is a laid-back, endurance, mile-muncher; far from it, in fact. Again, Cervelo has struck the balance between stability and agility almost perfectly, blessing the Soloist with a geometry that has made the R5 a rider’s favourite over the past decade or more.
When it comes to marketing new aero frames, brands often point to CFD analysis, new aero profile tubing, integrated cable routing, or a host of other new design features. Somewhat surprisingly, Cervelo says the Soloist design and development started with the seatpost of all places. According to Cervelo, the seatpost determines the tube shapes elsewhere on the frame, including most obviously the seat tube, and says the design team worked through 30 different iterations of the seatpost before settling on the design incorporated into the new Soloist.
You could be forgiven for thinking the seatpost shape is determined by the seat tube; indeed you’d be right for many frames. But Cervelo claims its Soloist-specific seatpost balances increased compliance, decreased weight, and improved aero properties making it integral to achieving the overall design goals for the new Soloist. Lighter than the S5, faster than the R5, the Soloist seatpost profile, much like the bike as a whole, sits exactly in the middle of the R5 and S5 seatposts.
Seatpost taken care of, Cervelo says “you gotta look fast to go fast” and at least in the “eyeball wind tunnel” the Soloist ticks that box also. The truncated aero profile tubes, that aforementioned semi-internal cable routing which neatly hides almost every inch of brake hose on this Di2-equipped bike out of sight, the profiled fork crown, and dropped seatstays all complete the aero bike look.
One thing you might not expect on a Cervelo is a horizontal top tube. Form usually follows function for the brand, but with the basic performance targets checked off, Cervelo put an emphasis on making a bike that looks fast and the horizontal top tube hits that note for the Soloist design team. Clearly, the Giant Propel design team agrees, as the two new bikes share similar shapes throughout and most obviously along both new top tubes.
Cervelo is offering the new Soloist with six different complete bike build options and a frameset only for those who want to go their own way. Our review bike is the Soloist Ultegra Di2 and, as the name suggests, it is complete with Shimano’s new 12-speed Ultegra Di2 groupset. The carbon seatpost, as mentioned earlier, is proprietary to the Soloist with Cervelo also supplying the alloy handlebar and stem upfront. A Selle Italia Novus Boost Evo Superflow manganese saddle provides both the longest name of any component on the bike and a superb match for my rear end.
Cervelo has unsurprisingly equipped the Ultegra Di2 spec bikes with Reserve’s new 40/44 wheelset developed using the same Turbulent Aero philosophy that CyclingTips global head of tech James Huang tested recently with the new 52/63 aero road wheelset from Reserve.
In keeping with the S5/R5 middle-ground theme of the Soloist, the 40/44 wheels are slightly lighter than those deeper and faster 52/63 wheels, but supposedly faster, even if a little heavier, than the new 34/37 wheels from Reserve. I say heavier, but the 40/44 wheelset boast an impressive claimed weight of circa 1,400 g. The wheelset features a 25.5 mm internal rim width up front with a hair narrower 25 mm internal width at the rear. That asymmetry in the front and rear rim design extends to the external rim also, with the front rim shallower, wider, and rounder for better crosswind stability, while the rear can be taller and more aero given it is partially sheltered by the rider.
While Reserve lists all-round performance and turbulent aero technology as highlights for its other new wheelsets, the 40/44 wheelset is said to provide “all-day comfort … on mixed terrain”, suitable for tyres from 28 mm up to 45 mm, and is covered by a lifetime warranty.
Cervelo is offering plenty of build options with Ultegra Di2, Ultegra, 105 Di2, 105 mechanical, Force ETAP AXS, and Rival Etap AXS, options, plus a frameset-only option. Not pictured here is the Shimano 105 Di2 build, priced at US$5,200 / £5,000 / €6,800 with Fulcrum’s Racing 600 wheelset.
What’s it like?
In a word, great! Here is a modern race bike, with aero tubes, disc brakes, internal cable routing, at a reasonable weight and price. That said, the Soloist is not a superbike; it’s not an S5. I also have an S5 in for review, but the Soloist rides fast, is easy to work with, and costs considerably less. US$/£ 6,800 is still a lot of money, but in return, Cervelo has created a bike I could happily race without feeling at much disadvantage.
Better yet, with the user-friendly front end, I can do all manner of old-fashioned things, like adjust the exact angle of the bars, or easily try different stem lengths. The end result is I can get a perfect fit on the Soloist, rather than the “close enough” from almost every hyper-aero integrated bar stem on the market.
The Soloist was the basis for much of the aero testing we did lately for an upcoming feature with Aerosensor. Thanks to the simplified front end on the Soloist, we tested three different handlebars and two stem lengths in the space of about 90 minutes to two hours, with most of that time spent actually riding and testing. That’s a user/mechanic-friendly front end. Better yet, I ended up with a modern aero bike with classic drop handlebars. Very pro-looking, very fast-looking.
Speaking of looks, while the rest of the new Soloist colourways may or may not leave a little to be desired based on your own personal taste, the photos here do little justice to the sparkly brilliance of the “embers” colourway on show. Catch this Soloist in the right light and the paint really comes alive.
As for the ride, as mentioned earlier, the Soloist handles quite predictably given how closely it resembles the R5 geometry. Moving away from the geometry chart and out on to the road, the Soloist is stiff, harsh, and fast. Of course, it is; it’s a Cervelo race bike!
This stiffness is evident through the entire spine of the Soloist. Running from the head tube, through the down tube to the bottom bracket area and the chainstays, the entire bike is unfazed by even my least-tame accelerations. The front end is every bit the immovable object – in contrast to my very-stoppable forces – while the rear end was more than happy to take whatever watts I could throw at it, and deliver them all the way out through the tyres. Exactly what you want in a racing bike.
The 40 and 44 mm rims are shallower than what I typically ride, and as such, were always likely to feel that bit more stable in a variety of wind conditions. I also didn’t actually get the chance to test the wheels in blustery conditions. So, while I cannot comment on how stable the new Reserve 40/44s are in truly windy conditions, I can say they performed admirably through my test rides on the Soloist.
Swapping in the 52/63s from the new S5 the Soloist does have a little extra spark to it, carrying speed a little easier, and generally just sounding a bit faster. But the 40/44s are slightly lighter and every bit the performance wheelset. Out of the saddle for uphill attacks and or flat sprints, the 40/44s are plenty stiff, and the same can be said when cornering at high speed.
Again, I could happily race the Soloist and not feel at much disadvantage. In fact, I’d probably choose the Soloist over almost any other bike I’ve actually raced. That’s not to say it would be my first pick of all the bikes on offer today – I’d take the S5 first, for example – but Cervelo has gone pretty close to creating the perfect Soloist sequel.
So, performance-wise, the new Soloist feels every bit the perfect sequel to the original Soloist, but it’s not without fault.
Let’s start, as Cervelo did, with the seatpost. While it might be just right to balance aero gains with weight savings, its promise of added compliance is just not enough. As mentioned above, we shouldn’t expect a buttery smooth ride when hopping on a thoroughbred race bike, but equally, we also know Cervelo could have gone further with the compliance through the seatpost. Riding the Soloist on rougher roads, I found myself wishing they had.
Furthermore, the seat clamp bolts may look fine on paper, but in practice, they are awkward, fiddly, and frustrating to dial in the perfect saddle angle. Seat clamps are not difficult, and here at CyclingTips we have been asking brands to go for the simple front and rear bolts for years. We live in hope.
As harsh as that rear end is, it pales in comparison to the front end. All that stiffness is great for performance and high-speed descending on smooth surfaces, but bring the Soloist down a country lane with a less-than-perfect finish, and the front end is only slightly less chattery than a shopping trolley on cobbles. Again, we expect a harsh ride from a stiff bike, but the Soloist’s ride on rougher roads is a real shame as it quickly eradicates all the precision and predictability the bike otherwise exudes. Of course, dropping the tyre pressure helps, but there is only so low you can go for road racing.
A good carbon handlebar and stem might be a better solution, without compromising tyre pressure. As such, it is somewhat disappointing to see Cervelo has opted for an alloy handlebar and stem here. It’s hardly surprising, though, and an obvious path for manufacturers to take when trying to keep the final price down. Thankfully, as mentioned above, the Soloist makes handlebar changes an absolute doddle if you should choose to go the carbon route once you get your new Soloist home.
Sticking with the handlebars, while I can give Cervelo a pass when it comes to the handlebar material, I am a little less forgiving when it comes to handlebar width and stem length. Cervelo mentioned the Soloist’s racing pedigree time and time again in the press release and presentation we received, touting its perfect balance for the everyday racer and aggressive fit, only to then fit the 56 cm bike with a 100 mm stem and 420 mm bars (C-C).
The majority of the racing audience Cervelo is targeting will no doubt opt for longer stems, and if we are talking of cheap and easy aero gains, then nothing comes cheaper or easier than simply switching to a 40 cm or even a 38 cm handlebar. Granted, every rider will have their own perfect fit, but if we are talking about aero gains on aero bikes in 2022, 42 cm handlebars no longer have a place in that conversation.
Speaking of mismatched stock choices, Vittoria’s Rubino Pros are likely great tyres for reliability and grip, but they are neither fast nor light. No doubt the tyres chosen here are another cost-cutting measure, and at least as a consumable item, riders wishing to change them out for faster alternatives can either wait until it’s time to replace the Rubinos, or, put them to good use on another bike.
Potentially more frustrating is the BBRight T-47 threaded bottom bracket. While we welcome the return to a threaded bottom bracket, T47 is not without faults, not least of which will be the availability of the BBRight specific T47 bottom brackets.
Cervelo has suggested the decision to move to a threaded system “makes bottom bracket swaps a breeze (convenient if you’re burning through hand-me-down components)”, and while this is technically accurate, in reality, if the availability and pricing of the proprietary bottom brackets prove equally as prohibitive to replacement as press-fit systems, Soloist owners might still find themselves cursing Cervelo’s BB standard.
For what it’s worth, Cervelo claims the BBRight T47, which first appeared on the R5-CX, maintains the stiffness characteristics of BBRight system while simplifying the installation and replacement process for the garden-shed mechanic. Hopefully, BBRight T47 options from third-party manufacturers will increase now that Cervelo has introduced this latest standard into a bike which should far outsell the R5-CX.
More concerningly, though, my experience with T47 is of a bottom bracket standard still susceptible to the dreaded creaking it is intended to solve. Indeed, the Soloist has already whispered more than a few creaks in less than a month of riding. Thankfully, T47 creaking is much easier to eliminate than similar issues with press-fit bottom brackets. Still though, even if we assume the BBRight T47 brings increased performance through some level of added stiffness, I can’t help but think the Soloist had more than a few percentage points of stiffness to sacrifice for the simplicity of a standard English threaded bottom bracket.
Speaking of annoying noises, the Soloist on test suffered from internal hose rattle, a frustrating feature given how simple this is to avoid with a length of foam brake liner.
There’s also the matter of the D-shaped fork steerer and the less-than-confidence-inspiring compression bung. Called me old-fashioned but that bung is, well, less than inspiring.
Sign me up
Still, these are mostly minor grievances and mostly easy fixes. For the most part, the Soloist is almost the cycling equivalent of Goldilocks’s porridge. Fast, but not too heavy. Refined geometry but still a racer at heart. Stiff and harsh, but hey it’s a race bike. User-friendly, but not at the expense of marginal gains. Best of all, it’s racey, but not extortionately priced.
There are, no doubt, similarly spec’d and better-priced bikes on the market, but they don’t have the Soloist name nor are they as user-friendly. There will be faster bikes on the market, and, not to pre-empt my forthcoming review, but the S5 is definitely one. Is it £3,200 faster, though? Probably not.
All told, the Soloist has a lot going for it, and might well prove the most popular Cervelo amongst the self-funded racing cyclist crowd for years to come. But still, something doesn’t feel quite right.
The Soloist is an iconic name, with legendary status. It’s maybe best remembered for dominating Paris-Nice in the crosswinds and long solo breakaways in the Tour de France. Are we happy with the Soloist name occupying the mid-tier in Cervelo’s new road range? I can’t help but feel the new Soloist is actually the new S3.
More information can be found at www.cervelo.com.