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Cervelo Aspero 5 review – "Haul ass, not cargo"

Cervelo’s Aspero 5 gravel racer is designed for maximum all surface speed but just how fast is it?

Cervelo Aspero
(Image: © GuyKesTV)

Bike Perfect Verdict

Ferociously fast gravel weapon with aero aesthetics, gorgeous paintwork, and sweet detailing but handling and frame are race, not relaxation, focused and it’s as pricey as it looks.

Pros

  • +

    Muscle maxing power transfer

  • +

    Super responsive and accurate handling

  • +

    Fully internal aero aesthetics

  • +

    AXS Wireless gears with power meter

  • +

    Sweet component and geometry detailing

Cons

  • -

    4k just for the frameset

  • -

    700 x 42mm max tire size

  • -

    Uncompromising ‘sport’ ride and handling

  • -

    Minimal luggage fixtures

Cervelo has built its reputation on uncompromisingly rapid bikes that have won countless glorious victories in top tier, pro road, triathlon, and cyclocross as well as Sunday club runs. The Aspero took Cervelo into the gravel sector and the Aspero 5 takes Cervelo's desire for speed a step further.

Our testing explained

For information on Bike Perfect's testing procedures and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.

No surprise then that the latest Aspero is lighter and more aerodynamic than its already race-ready predecessor and it loves nothing more than flat-out speed. While it might be one of the best gravel bikes in terms of flat-out speed, Cervelo make no bones about it not being suited for casual bikepacking though and it's not joking.

Cervelo Aspero UCI

Nothing says 'race ready' like a UCI homologation sticker (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design and geometry

If it wasn’t for the fatter tires you’d probably think the Aspero was an aero road bike. The forward offset bars smuggle the brake cables (and shift wires on analog/Di2 setups) through the stem and into the oversized head tube frame completely out of sight. That saves 32gms of aero drag over the original Aspero but also makes a clear statement of intent about the Aspero 5.

The big downtube is designed for all-angle wind management as much as precise and powerful responses to bar and pedal inputs. The full width press-fit bottom bracket and deep symmetrical dropped chain stays are obvious powerhouse pieces and the seat stays blend into the squared seat tube well below the top tube. The seat tube is also scooped away at the base to keep the back end as short as possible and tire clearance maxes out at 42cm for 700c. You can go to 49mm on 650B though and reversible tabs for the front axle change trail to keep handling feel comparable on either wheel size.

Geometry alters across the usefully wide 48-61cm size range too, with smaller bikes getting slacker head and steeper seat angles. The Aspero attitude is definitely much closer to the road, rather than off-road, inspired though, with a 72-degrees head angle on my 56cm sample. Frame weight isn't far from road bike levels either with the 48cm frame clocking in at 920g for the plain paint jobs (the metallic finishes add weight).

Cervelo Aspero cockpit

The Aspero 5 cockpit has fully internal routing, a distinctive forward bar offset, and optional stem plate 'out front' accessory mount (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Specification

It’s important to note that the integration of the cables on the Cervelo has a restrictive effect on cockpit choices. Not only is the upper steerer oversized at 1.25in, but it also uses a U-shaped indented channel that matches Cervelo’s own stems. The distinctive bar, which extends its aero edge forward from the clamp section rather than trailing back from it, is a Cervelo-specific design too. You’re already getting the best lightweight carbon option from its range though and the bars range from 38-44cm top width depending on bike size with a 16-degree flare adding 8cm across the lower tips. The slim, layback top seatpost is a Cervelo piece as well with a GoPro camera mount tab on the twin bolt head (more on that later). There’s a slot in the stem plate for a computer/camera/light mount arm and the stems are available in 70-130mm lengths if the size-specific one supplied doesn’t work for you. Aspero 5’s framesets ($4300/£3999) come with a dedicated (aero, of course) Smartpak 400A top tube storage bag.

Reserve rims are also a house brand of the ever-growing Pon Cycles empire, with tech, generous inner width, and lifetime warranty coming from the wheels debuted on Santa Cruz mountain bikes. The careful composite layup means they're relatively mellow in feel for a deeper section wheel but they still cut wind well enough to boost overall Aspero 5 velocity. Mine came laced to DT Swiss wheels but versions with Zipp hubs are also available. Panaracer's Gravel King tires were some of the earliest all-road designs produced but they're still a benchmark for traction and toughness with decent speed on all surfaces. My bike was mostly on the money for the excellent SRAM Force AXS 1 XPLR, power meter boosted spec the bike is meant to come with. It did have a 10-36T cassette rather than the 10-44T listed on the website.

Cervelo Aspero crank

The Aspero 5 loves power riding and it can measure it too (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Performance

It says a lot about the character and capability of the Aspero 5 that I rarely realized I was basically running a road block with the big 40T chainring. From the very first press of the pedals it’s clear that the Aspero 5 wants to go fast. No, not that fast, faster. Yep OK, not bad, but I think you’ll find there’s at least another wireless gear ‘snick’ to go before the Cervelo shows any sense of contentment. In fact, it made me laugh how much it reminded me of the brand's original Soloist aero road machine, which I remember describing as a brutally uncompromising battle-axe of a bike.

Even when I tried to cruise on long days out the Aspero reacted like a sulky teenager, twitching its steep head angle angrily and slamming rough surfaces up through the ProLogo saddle like a bedroom door. It also displays a deep mistrust of rough, steep off-road sections where a more stable, slacker head angle would thrive, and loose drifting gravel corners create considerably more sphincter contractions than normal. That sharp head doesn’t enjoy having a loaded bag on the saddle either, but obviously don’t tell Cervelo I even tried that as I’m pretty sure it has a strike drone primed and ready to take out anyone who dares to even think of putting a bar bag on.

Given how well it transfers as much power as you can provide, it’s not as totally rigid as you might expect in terms of ride quality. Ride smoothness definitely depends largely on what pressure you put into the 38mm Panaracer tires. At 70kg (155lbs) I ended up with 27psi front, 30psi rear to give some softness on hard-baked/rougher surfaces and suck up the front squelch out of the saddle. Adding speed always helps the Aspero skim rather than stutter and slam and feeds into the whole velocity vibe the bike reflects so viscerally. Or to put it in less flowery language, for hardcore racers when you bend your elbows and press the pedals as hard as possible the Aspero 5 couldn’t be happier.

The faster you go the better it feels too, with the sharper steering allowing micro-adjustments as it skims and slides through corners on the impeccably precise feedback. The upward spiral of reward for increased energy investment is dangerously addictive too and it won’t take long to realize that the GoPro mount faces backwards because that’s where all your mates will be. They’ll probably be pulling the kind of pain faces that are worth recording in 4k too, because if you hadn’t gathered by now, the Aspero is a properly uncompromising speed machine. The longer they can hang on your wheel though, the more the vibration that the speed breeding stiffness creates will dig into your palms, shoulders and soles. So if you’re looking for a multi-day or epic distance bike you’d have to be a masochist to pick an Aspero.

Cervelo Aspero 3/4

Colour shift chameleon metallic sparkle paintwork looks absolutely amazing in real life (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Verdict

As I said at the start, Cervelo has a reputation for creating blisteringly quick race bikes and it hasn’t deviated from the script with the Aspero 5. It’s got the power delivery for violent velocity gain and the aero tweaks to hold that gained speed noticeably better than most machines. The handling is equally aggressive, for juggling traction and being the gap exploiting predator in gravel race groups too. There’s some really nice frame, component, and accessory detailing built into the Aspero 5 as well, and the paintwork is definitely aspirationally exotic. If you’re looking for a pillow smooth, relaxed-handling bag carrier this is definitely not your bike though and you could get some of the best complete gravel bikes for less than the frameset price.

Tech Specs: Cervelo Aspero 5 Force XPLR eTap AXS

  • Discipline: Gravel/road
  • Price: $7500 / £7799  (frame only $4300 / £3999)
  • Head angle: 72 degrees
  • Frame material: Carbon
  • Size: 56cm
  • Weight: 8.27kg
  • Wheel size: 700c
  • Drivetrain: SRAM Force AXS 12sp wireless shifters, mech, 10-36T cassette
  • Cranks: SRAM Force Power 40T chainset 
  • Brakes: SRAM Force HRD brakes with 160mm rotors
  • Cockpit: Cervelo Carbon AB09 16deg Flared bar and ST32 Alloy stem
  • Wheelset: Reserve 32 rims and DT Swiss 370 hubs
  • Tires: Panaracer Gravel King SK 700 x 38mm front and rear tires
  • Seatpost: Cervelo SP19 27.2 Carbon seatpost
  • Saddle: Prologo Dimension NDR T4.0 saddle

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting 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. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg