"We didn’t want to make a road bike mountain bike.” Cervelo officially launch their ZFS-5 full-suspension, full-speed MTB

Cervelo ZFS cornering hard
Guy riding a Cervelo ZFS prototype (Image credit: Gruber Images / Cervelo)

Cervelo launched their ZHT-5 race hardtail earlier in the year, but now they’re officially launching their ZFS-5 full-suspension bike with 100 and 120mm options. Apart from the suspension layout borrowed from Pon (the umbrella company that owns Cervelo) brand mates Santa Cruz, it’s a totally new bike. It’s got much more radical geometry and a livelier ride than you might expect from the Tour de France winning road brand.

Milan Vader riding Cervelo ZFS

When Team Lotto Jumbo want a new race bike, you'd better make it a fast one (Image credit: Gruber / Cervelo)

Why are Cervelo building MTBs?

Chatting to Cervelo marketing chief, Brian Bernard, the initial impetus to create off-road options in the Cervelo range came from their bike connection with Team Lotto Jumbo. They were adding Dutch Olympic XC MTB racer, Milan Vader, to their roster and cyclo-cross star, Fem Van Empel, was also wanting to move into XCO so they needed bikes for them to ride.

Cervelo were already seeing a lot of riders – race and recreational – becoming cross discipline too, so creating hardtail and full-suspension MTBs also synced with their plan to push further into the rough than their ‘haul ass not cargo’ Aspero gravel bike. Or as Bernard put it, “We wanted to have a bike for anyone who wears Lycra and likes going fast.”

ZFS 100 sending a drop

Even the 100mm travel version of the ZFS-5 is fun to get sendy on (Image credit: Gruber Images / Cervelo)

Not just a race bike

While Olympic and World Cup race ambition might have pressed the fast forward button on Cervelo’s move into mountain biking head designer, Scott Roy, confirmed that “the bikes are definitely at the pointy end of the XCO scene but they’re still playful and fun.”

That’s confirmed by a 66.6-degree head angle on the ZFS-5 120 for proper beast mode attacks on technical trails. Reach is relatively short at 457mm (on our large sized test bike) for maximum agility rather than stretched for overall stability though. Complete bikes also use manual lockout Fox or RockShox suspension giving 120mm of travel, with dropper posts on two out of the three models and 2.4in wide Maxxis Rekon tires creating a high control 'downcountry' package.

The ZFS-5 100 is definitely a race focused bike, however, complete with remote lockout front and rear on the 100m travel SID SL (Ultimate suspension or Select+ depending on build), Maxxis Rekon Race tires and a rigid post as standard. Reach also extends to 469mm in the 100mm (large sized) build which has a 67.8-degree head angle and steep 76.1 degree seat angle for poised traction on super steep climbs.

Cervelo ZFS Frameset

It might look a familiar format, but the ZFS-5 frameset construction is pure Cervelo (Image credit: Cervelo)

Not just a Blur either

When the ZFS-5 first appeared on the circuit ‘internet experts’ assured everyone on forums that the new bike was essentially just a repainted Santa Cruz Blur. To be fair, the silhouette is very similar, as is the flex stay rear with under top tube shock design. To speed up the design process the main pivot point, seatstay pivot point, linkage pivot point and suspension mounting points are all in the same X/Y positions as the Blur in relation to the bottom bracket. They also use the same lifetime warrantied collet bearings and hardware as the Santa Cruz bike, because the user serviceable system is very well proven and to simplify getting spares. 

You could say the same about the silhouette of nearly every 29er XC FS bike since the original Gary Fisher Hi Fi Pro though. Outside of the kinematic and suspension hardware Cervelo have also leveraged their extensive experience creating superlight, hyper performance frames into the ride of ZFS-5. To be specific, the bottom bracket design owes a lot to the Aspero gravel bike while rest of the mainframe takes a lot of composite lay up and tube shaping cues from the R5. For non-roadies, that’s the 705g frame climbing bike that Jonas Vingegaard used on his way to winning the Tour de France this year. At a claimed production frame and hardware weight of 1,472g without shock (a 190mm SIDLuxe weighs 242g), the ZHT-5 is a seriously light chassis too.

Cervelo ZFS 100 complete bike portrait

The ZFS-5 100 family are the pure racers (Image credit: Cervelo)

Performance over practicality

There have been some potentially irritating practical sacrifices to get to that weight though. The most obvious one is the use of through headset cable routing. This removes the need for reinforced entry points in the frame and it looks very neat with it’s rubber ports but it adds a world of pain when it come to servicing the headset bearings. There’s no internal hose/cable trunking inside the frame either so you have to fish around to feed them in and out and sheath them to stop noise. Cervelo says it does save a noticeable amount of weight though and if these are primarily designed as bikes for pro racers they won’t be doing their own wrenching. You could argue that premium price bikes riders are likely to give the stress of building and servicing to their local shop rather than getting involved themselves. 

On the plus side, Cervelo have left their proprietary BBRight press fit bottom bracket to their road bikes and gone with a conventional threaded model. You get a neat floating brake mount to let the rear stays flex and you can fit up to a 36-tooth chaining. You still get a lifetime warranty on the frame too and all bikes get the same top grade of carbon rather than the CC / C split favored by Santa Cruz.

Cervelo ZFS 120 complete bike

The ZFS-5 120mm is more trail tough but still a very light and very fast bike (Image credit: Cervelo)

So, how does it ride?

As well as riding one of the first ZFS-5 prototypes last March, our free range tech editor, Guy Kesteven, has been secretly riding a pre-production frame in various build formats for the last few months. He’s also ridden a bunch of competing bikes like the Santa Cruz Blur, Specialized Epic Evo, Epic World Cup and Trek Top Fuel.

If you thought Cervelo’s suspension bike would be roadie rubbish or a repainted Blur then you’re in for a (very well tuned) shock. The ZFS-5 is superlight with a beautifully balanced frameset feel and pedalling/control suspension character for effortless climbing and race reaper / distance shrinker speed. Slack head angles are combined with compact reach to create an aggressive but agile ride that rewards dynamic riders brilliantly and can be pushed surprisingly hard in savage situations too. It won’t autopilot you out of every mistake though so it’s definitely still XC rather than DC at heart, even in the longer travel format. 

Simple to set up, proven durable, chaos capable suspension is balanced by weight saving cable routing that comes at the expense of easy servicing. It’s an acceptable price for lifetime warrantied exotica though and it’s sure to get people talking once they’ve got their breath back from failing to keep up.

For Guy's full verdict, check out his complete Cervelo ZFS-5 review.

ZFS-5 riding down rocks

XCO courses getting increasingly rowdy means race bikes are now properly off piste capable outside the tapes too (Image credit: Cervelo)

Cervelo ZFS-5 build options with US and UK pricing

Pricing is definitely premium, but not as sky high as we were expecting considering the Cervelo cachet and limited edition production runs at first. We've give you EU pricing as soon as we get it. For more info, head to cervelo.com.

  • ZFS-5 100 frameset (with Rockshox SID Luxe Ultimate shock): US TBC / £3,499
  • ZFS-5 100 XX SL AXS (Rockshox SID SL Ultimate fork with Reserve 28XC wheels): $10,700 / £10,499
  • ZFS-5 100 GX AXS (Rockshox SID SL Select+ fork with RaceFace ARC Offset 27 wheels): $6,250 / £6,599
  • ZFS-5 100 GX Eagle (Rockshox SID SL Select+ fork with RaceFace ARC Offset 27 wheels): $5,000 / £5,399
  • ZFS-5 120 frameset (with Fox Factory Float shock): US TBC / £3,499
  • ZFS-5 120 XO AXS (Fox 34 Stepcast Performance Elite fork, Reserve 28 XC wheels, Rockshox Reverb AXS dropper): $8,700 / £8,499
  • ZFS-5 120 GX AXS (Rockshox SID Select+ fork with RaceFace ARC Offset 27 wheels and RockShox Reverb dropper): $6,500 / £6,699
  • ZFS-5 120 GX Eagle (Rockshox SID Select+ fork with RaceFace ARC Offset 27 wheels and Race Face fixed post): $5,250 / £5,499

Studio shot of the Cervelo ZFS-5 100 XX SL AXS

The Cervelo ZFS-5 100 XX SL AXS (Image credit: Cervelo)

Tech specs: Cervelo ZFS-5 100 XX SL AXS

  • Fork: Rockshox SID SL Ultimate, DebonAir, 44mm offset, 100mm travel
  • Shock: Rockshox SIDLuxe Select+
  • Wheels: Reserve 28 XC rims on DT Swiss 240 hubs
  • Tires: Maxxis Rekon Race, EXO 120TPI, 29 x 2.4
  • Crankset: SRAM XX SL Eagle, 32T, Boost 148 DUB
  • Derailleur: SRAM XX SL Eagle AXS, 12-speed
  • Shifter: SRAM Pod AXS controller
  • Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate Stealth 4-piston
  • Handlebar: Race Face Next Carbon, 35mm clamp, 760mm width, 10mm rise
  • Stem: Race Face Aeffect Alloy, 35mm clamp
  • Seatpost: Cervélo SP29 Carbon 30.9
  • Saddle: Prologo Dimension NDR Nack
  • Sizes available: SM, MD, LG, XL
  • Price: $10,700 / £10,499
Recent updates

10:51 1/08/23 – Ride impressions added

Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven has been working on Bike Perfect since its launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. He’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and he reviews MTBs over on YouTube.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg