The Cycle Life

One Perfect Thing: Cervélo RCA

This 4-year-old bike is still at the pinnacle of road engineering

One Perfect Thing: Cervélo RCA

Still the best. Photo: JJAG Media

We spin through new test gear faster than dirtbags on a Patagonia closeout rack, and much of it is admittedly excellent. But a few select pieces are so good that they make it into long-term, regular rotation. This column is a series about the finest gear that has stood the test of time.

It should come as no surprise that the Cervélo RCA, which costs $10,000 for frame and fork alone, is one of the finest-riding road bikes money can buy. It was engineered to be the ultimate specimen, as light as a pure climber at just 667 grams for the frame, but also stiff and aero for all-around performance. What’s astounding, however, is that a bike launched four years ago is still at the pinnacle of development.

Many companies have played catch-up, with bikes such as the Cannondale SuperSix Evo, Trek Emonda, and Fuji SL 1.1 now pushing the RCA on weight and undercutting its price. Yet no manufacturer has been able to appreciably improve on the Cervelo's performance, a fact that suggests advancements from cutting weight are marginal at this point. That’s why so many companies have turned to aerodynamics, with bikes such as the Specialized Venge ViAS, Trek Domane, and Scott Foil at the forefront of today’s market. The gains to be made from weight savings these days are infinitesimal relative to the huge leaps to be had in aerodynamics.

Since the bike is already an extravagance, I went all out on a recent build for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, a high-alpine climbing race in Colorado. If there’s any equal to the frame, it’s the Lightweight Meilenstein tubular wheels. At 47.5-millimeters deep, these wheels slice through the air like Boeing wings, yet they weigh only 1,100 grams for the set, which is lighter than many single wheels stocked on production bikes. Yes, they cost an eye-watering $5,600, but they are also a revelation: outrageously stiff but not harsh, incredibly stable in the wind, and more poppy than the majority of shallow climbing rims.

For components, I favor the precision and immediacy of Shimano Dura Ace Di2, including the climbing and sprinter shifters. The ability to shift from any position without moving your hands might sound like a little thing, but once you get used to handling pace changes from the tops and drops, you’ll never go back.

As built, the RCA is as smooth as whipped butter on flats and rollers, but still wildly peppy on steep climbs. Despite the deep wheels, the RCA flicks over effortlessly when climbing out of the saddle. And on descents, even with heavy cross- and headwinds, it soars like an arrow from a compound bow. While many ultralight bikes can feel nervous and fidgety, the RCA rides as solid and confidently as bikes several pounds heavier.

Do you really need a 13-pound carbon bike that costs north of $20,000? Of course not. But like all halo bikes, the RCA matters because the technology used to make it trickles down. The R5 is a near identical copy that sells for 55 percent less because it’s made in Asia instead of California and is just slightly heavier (83 grams). And the R3 and R2 can be had as complete bikes for $3,500 and $2,400 respectively, and clearly the layup know-how and shaping used to produce them derive from the RCA.

Ultimately, this RCA is like the finest MotoGP bike or America’s Cup yacht: a pure expression of speed and refinement. It’s like driving a Ferrari—fun as hell but probably not something most of us will buy, especially not for everyday use. Then again, if you can afford it, an RCA like this one might just be the ultimate choice.

Filed To: Road Bikes

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