Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, March 20, 2015

Recap of Cervelo Shape of Speed Event

by Jack Mott

Cervelo's "Shape of Speed" event, which came to Austin Tri-Cyclist on March 7, included a presentation about the history and technology at work at Cervelo, a quick question-and-answer period, and free beer and pizza.

In attendance from Cervelo were Phil Houston, marketing, and Phil Spearman, product manager, who are known as P2 and P3 back at the office due to an overabundance of Phils (co-founder Phil White is P1). Phil Spearman did most of the talking, taking us through the history and technology of Cervelo.


  • 1995 - World Champion Gianni Bugno approached Gerard and Phil, founders of Cervelo, to design a time trial bike for him. The Baracchi is born.
  • 1996 - Cervelo bikes first appear in the Olympics.
  • 1998 - First professional Ironman rides a Cervelo (Paula Newby-Fraser).  
  • 2002 - Tyler Hamilton asks for a TT bike, which was disguised as a Look and then ridden by Laurent Jalabert in the Tour de France.
  • 2003 - World Tour cycling team CSC picks Cervelo as their bike sponsor.
  • 2006 - First of three wins at Paris-Roubaix.
  • 2008 - Victory in the Tour de France with Carlos Sastre, and Kona with Chrissie Wellington.
  • 2009 - Cervelo Test Team is formed, to focus more on product testing.
  • 2010 - Project California produces ultralight R5Ca.
  • 2010 - Cervelo wins world cycling road championships (Thor Hushovd) and TT championship (Emma Pooley).
  • 2012 - Ryder Hesjdal wins the Giro de Italia on a Cervelo.
  • 2013 - Victory in Kona for the P5 ridden by Frederik Van Lierde.
  • 2014 - VelocioSRAM and Bigla women's teams sponsored by Cervelo.
  • 2015 - Team MTN Qhubeka sponsored by Cervelo.


Cervelo didn't send an engineer to this Shape of Speed event, but Phil Houston did a respectable job of communicating some interesting technical tidbits. One was an amusing argument that even a generic carbon frame is more original and handmade than the typical round-tube lugged steel frame. He mentioned that every carbon frame design is a completely original shape rather than stock tubing from one of a few suppliers, and that in the end human hands are laying that carbon fiber into molds and creating the frames.

When asked how Cervelo seems to do very well in wind tunnel tests, especially at low yaw angles, he said that much of the testing Cervelo has done indicates that yaw angles averaging around 7 degrees are typical much of the time (but not always!), indicating that they tend to focus more on low yaw angles than some other companies.

A recent revolution in the process of bike design for Cervelo has been the acquisition of CFD and FEA software tools. These allow Cervelo to try frame designs and test both their aerodynamics and structural properties virtually. Rather than spending days and tons of money in a wind tunnel to try a handful of shapes, they can try thousands of iterations virtually before taking a few promising ones to the wind tunnel for refinement.

Another focus with the latest round of bikes is more "systems integration." This is the recognition that there is more to a bike's aerodynamics than the frame alone, especially once the frame is well designed aerodynamically. An interesting breakdown of the relative contribution to aero drag of various parts on an S5 was shown:

  • 30% handlebar
  • 16% front wheel
  • 16% frame
  • 9% bottle
  • 9% fork
  • 9% powertrain
  • 3% front brake
  • 2% rear brake
  • 1% seat post
This kind of data has led to Cervelo introducing their own handlebar with aerodynamic tops, and to offer some of their bikes with aerodynamic wheels standard.

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