December 19, 2009

Cervelo Soloist Carbon (S2) Frame Review

I bought a Soloist Carbon (basically the same bike as the current S2, but with different cable routing) at the beginning of the 2008 season. First new road bike in more than 10 years and I figured it was time. Liked the idea of a Canadian manufacturer, although unfortunately not Canadian (or US) manufactured. Liked the price too - pretty reasonable for a pro-tour frame that had some credentials. I obsessed for a while about whether to get the aero Soloist Carbon frame or the more conventional R3 frame. By all accounts, aero is the way to go a little faster, so I went aero. Initially, it looked odd to me, but now it looks normal.

Built it up with SRAM Red and went riding. Wow. What a difference from my carbon frame from the early 90's. Very fast. The most noticeable difference was on the hills and sprinting. When you put out some watts, it just takes off. There was a huge difference when standing and it felt like the bike was surging forward with each pedal stroke. That massive bottom bracket area is probably partly responsible, as is the stiff SRAM crankset. Time to race.

Well racing takes lots of training. I was a bit concerned that the ride would be harsh. But it was fine right from the start. Now this is a high performance road racing frame, not a touring bike, so it is not a plush ride. But it is a very reasonable ride that I find perfectly comfortable, even on fairly rough roads for 3 and 4 hours. I like the ride.

I don't have a Time Trial bike and have been using this bike for that purpose (hoping to rectify that at some point). The bike is pretty aero, but I found that the handlebars were too high to get my head and shoulders low enough for a good TT position. When I bought an adjustable stem that allowed me to get my handlebars lower than with a fixed stem, my times improved significantly.

I have also used this bike in crits and it corners very well. I feel very confident diving into corners and generally corners are my strong suit in a crit. I have also ridden it at over 90 km/hr in a road race downhill tuck with no shimmy issues. The bike takes everything I throw at it.

In terms of weight, it is not the lightest bike out there, but it is a light bike. With nice parts, it is reasonable to get this bike under 16 lbs. SRAM Red, light wheels, you are pretty much there. Mine weighs 7.2 kg (15.9 lbs) and I use aluminum handlebars and stem, Fizik saddle, 1300 gram wheels. Nothing extreme. You cannot get it to the super light sub-UCI legal weights of some bikes however. But if you race, you can't use bikes that light anyway.

In spring 2009, Cervelo recalled my fork. They replaced it with a new one for no charge. No problem.

Now that I have a couple of seasons on it and I'm past that initial infatuation, I can identify a few issues. In big crosswinds, the bike does get thrown around a lot more than a conventional non-aero frame. Not a surprise for an aero frame I guess. Maybe it needs to be more toroidal like the newer high profile wheels. It definitely is not bulged like those wheels. In a windy road race, I need to race with conventional wheels, nothing aero. Wind gusts just push it around too much when you are in tight quarters. I have ridden it in some very windy weather though and never felt like I had to get home because of it. And we do get lots of wind around here.

The second issue is a bigger one. My rear dropouts are not quite aligned. Now I didn't really notice this with conventional wheels. But when I stuck in a pair of HED Stinger 6 wheels, the minimal clearance meant that even a millimeter out was quite noticeable. Now I notice it with conventional wheels too. I put a strip of adhesive plastic film in the dropouts to center the wheel. I haven't tried to claim anything on warranty yet.

This brings me to the third issue. Chainstay width. The chainstays are too tight for the new Zipp and HED wheels on the market that are about 28 mm wide. Yes, I can use my HED wheels, but not if I expect to be doing any sprints or hard hill climbs. I only use them for TTs. I did a TT with five 180 degree turns (sounds odd, but it's true) and chainstay rub caused me grief there as well. I had to back off a bit coming out of each turn. The wheel rubs on the frame in hard efforts. I decided to measure chainstay clearance in a common unit of measure - the music CD. I cannot fit 2 CDs between the rim and the chainstay - on either side. I'm guessing it is about 1.5 mm clearance a side. That is pretty tight and it is easy to see that the wheel will rub with even a tiny amount of frame flex. My frame has the scars to prove it. (note: I contacted HED and frame flex causes chainstay rub, wheel flex causes brake rub. Makes sense if you think about it). The wheels do flex more than 1.5 mm at the brake, but that's easy to fix. Just widen the brakes.

Incompatibility with the better wheels on the market is a problem that hasn't been addressed by Cervelo, even in the 2010 S2. What particularly bugs me is that they chose to fix the S3, but they did not fix the S2 (or their TT bikes). I can't imagine adding a few mm of clearance to each chainstay is all that difficult. They changed the cable routing on all their bikes at once, this is a more meaningful frame upgrade. 

I really am a Cervelo fan. I like the way they have taken on a pro team and the concept of more fan access, product development, etc. But I can't help wondering if they have taken their eye off the business. I see other manufacturers responding quickly to the standards that Cervelo set and blatantly copying their ideas. Cervelo is now going to have to respond if they wish to stay ahead of the game. Their product line is mostly looking dated. There is an obvious fix to chainstay width needed for several of their frames which would have been a clear upgrade. But for 2010 they simply picked a new color scheme for most frames (except for the S3). Yikes.

Would I buy it again? Although there are lots of good points, probably not. Good price for this quality of performance. Although it does ride well, I will not buy any new bike with tight chainstays that are incompatible with new Zipp and HED wheels. Maybe that's not an issue for you but it looks like wider profile carbon wheels are here to stay. The slight misalignment of the rear dropouts bugs me too. Going up to the S3 to get better clearance is an option, but at that price point, there is a lot of choice and the S3 is not a clear winner. An S2 with better chainstay clearance like the 2010 S3 would be a tempting ride, but that is only a dream. Maybe Cervelo is listening - give me a couple of more mm clearance a side please. How hard can it be?

Aug 3, 2011 Update: Well there have been a number of changes since this was written. Cervelo has updated their bikes and the new S5 looks pretty interesting. Seems to come in two versions - a cheaper Soloist/S2 version and a more expensive S3 version. Both with the same geometry, just different weights and layups. The R line of bikes has also been upgraded. Glad to see Cervelo progressing. 

By the way, still racing and training on the Soloist. And with my Reynolds wheels it is below the UCI weight limit of 6.8 kgs. It is a bit battered and scarred now from various incidents including one significant crash and poor placement on the bike rack causing another bike to rub on it, but there has been nothing that it couldn't handle. Very durable bike. I wish it was a bit easier to thread the shifter cables through the frame though. Next spring I may take a look at the S5. Or maybe not.

January 15, 2014 Update: Well the frame is still going strong. Has been crashed a handfull of times, occasionally very painfully. But no problems, no creaking, no cracks. I have handed it down now, but it is still in the family and is still a nice bike.


Anonymous said...

Hey mate,
I just bought myself a 2010 S2 and have noticed the same problem that you mentioned. I have zipp 101's on it, and there is hardly any clearance down near the chainstays and it looks as though on one side it is closer than the other.
Did you attempt any warranty claim, or is the frame supposed to be like that?
I dont think it is rubbing when climbing but the thought is still in the back of my head.
Let me know your thoughts, its annoying that a company that is sponsored by zipp, doesnt build frames that can accomodate the new wider wheels.

BikeHabit said...

Sorry, I don't think there is a warranty claim there. That is the design from the get go. To be fair, lots of other bikes have the same issue. Its just something you need to consider when you buy your bike and when you buy your wheels. Make sure they are compatible - including that future purchase you are saving up for.

Anonymous said...


How would you say the Soloist holds up against the current S models? Solid contender or has the technology come far further and worth spending the extra 2K? Please let me know. thanks.