Cervelo Aspero Force eTap AXS 1 Disc

8
£5,299.00

VERDICT:

8
10
A very fast gravel bike with sleek looks but short on versatility
Weight: 
8,300g
Contact: 

Cervelo's speciality since it founded in 1995 has been high-end road race bikes, but that all changed this year with the launch of the Aspero, its first foray into the gravel bike market. What we have here is a rapidly fast full-carbon gravel racer that marries the performance of Cervelo's road bikes with some smart details that create a multi-surface capable bike, chief of which is adjustable fork offset. A few details are missing to make it the all-round package it could be, though.

  • Pros: Fast, looks, geometry adjustment
  • Cons: No mudguard mounts

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Ride and handling

This is a flat-out fast bike. Not as fast as the 3T Exploro perhaps, but right up there with the speediest gravel bikes I've tested. It's fast everywhere, on the road, gravel, climbs, descents and through the corners.

The handling with these wheels and tyres is excellent. Sadly, I've not been able to chuck another set of wheels in (Cervelo couldn't supply the necessary adapter) but compared to the many other gravel bikes I've reviewed with the same wheel and tyre size combination, the handling provides pin-sharp steering and quick responses to your inputs.

The steering is quick and nimble and makes for a lively ride, quicker than many slack angle gravel bikes. The stretched top tube and short stem – an idea borrowed from mountain bikes – in combination with the long wheelbase and low bottom bracket give really good stability when you're riding at speed on loose surfaces. It feels planted and it takes a hell of an impact to jolt it off its line.

Position and fit-wise it feels very familiar to an endurance road bike, despite the short stem (that's the long top tube for you) and if you're coming from a road bike and want to retain that fit and feel, you'll like the Aspero. It's got reasonably fast handling to make it engaging and sprightly at speed, but it doesn't possess the mile-munching cruising comfort of some more off-road-focused gravel bikes.

On rougher terrain it's not quite as bump-absorbing as the Open Wide that I reviewed for our sister site off.road.cc, with its massive 650B tyres, or the Cannondale Topstone Carbon with its unique rear suspension (I've not reviewed this bike yet, but you can read my first ride impressions here). It's more at home on well-groomed gravel and dirt tracks than dealing with big roots and rocks and technical descents, though a set of fat 650B tyres might give it more comfort in the rough.

The frame stiffness means it's excellent at transferring power, and that plus the low weight means it climbs very well – provided the gradient isn't so savage that the gear range doesn't become a limiting factor.

I think Cervelo has succeeded in designed a gravel bike that follows the trend set by its many race-focused road bikes, and as such will likely appeal to the same target customer. For getting around a gravel race circuit quickly the Aspero won't disappoint, but for exploring, adventuring and bikepacking through the wilderness it feels out of its comfort zone.

Frame details

It's built for speed. Cervelo calls this a bike designed to "Haul ass, Not cargo". Make of that what you will, but it explains some of the design decisions. Big tube profiles and a press-fit bottom bracket, no mudguard mounts... those sorts of decisions.

Cervelo has built a carbon fibre frame and fork that carries over some of the tube profiles and general appearance from its R Series road bikes, only giving it the necessary details demanded of a gravel bike. There's clearance for up to 44mm tyres on 700C or 49mm on 650B wheels, it's compatible with 1x and 2x drivetrains, has full internal cable routing, flat-mount disc brakes and 12mm thru-axles. It's also light – a claimed 1,100g for a size 56cm frame with a 450g fork.

There are many bottom bracket standards to choose from. Cervelo developed its own a few years ago called BBright, an oversized press-fit design that allows the down tube and chainstays to be enlarged for maximum stiffness and aerodynamics. Cervelo has focused on ensuring the frame has a high level of stiffness for optimal power transfer that racers demand, and a slippery shaped down tube for reducing drag.

Given the punishment a gravel bike is expected to deal with, Cervelo has sensibly added a plastic bash guard to the underside of the down tube to protect the carbon from rock strikes. You won't find any hidden mudguard mounts, though. Cervelo is gunning for speed and performance not winter versatility.

You will find three bottle cage mounts for hydration needs, and a top tube feed bag mount with the holes neatly hidden under a smooth plastic cap. No ugly exposed bolt heads here to ruin the clean lines.

Dropped seatstays are a common design feature these days, as is a skinny 27.2mm seatpost. It's nice to see a proper external seat clamp as well – no fiddly internal wedge design that is awkward to adjust and doesn't hold the post securely.

The Aspero has an interesting party trick up its sleeve: adjustable fork offset. It's called Trail Mixer and there are two positions for the fork axle, with 5mm difference between the forward and rearward settings. The idea is to maintain the same 62mm of trail regardless of wheel and tyre size, so the handling doesn't do anything strange when you swap from 700C to 650B wheels or from 42 to 30mm tyres. (If you want to understand trail and why adjustable geometry might be a good thing on a gravel bike, read this feature.)

The adjustable trail makes good sense. Different wheel and tyre sizes will influence the handling of the bike, so developing a system that retains the target handling by flipping a chip to cater for different wheel dimensions is a smart idea. No wonder we're starting to see more gravel bikes take a similar, if not identical, approach.

The test bike was supplied with 700C wheels and 40mm tyres, but unfortunately Cervelo wasn't able to supply the brake adapter it has developed to enable the change to smaller wheels, so I wasn't able to ride the bike with 650B wheels and a change of fork offset. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to ride this bike with 650B wheels and experiment with the Trail Mixer, but the 700x40 setup provided a good comparison to the many gravel bikes I've tested with a similar, or the same, wheelset/tyres combo.

The other key geometry detail is a slightly longer top tube designed around a shorter stem, to give more stability with a longer wheelbase. It's mountain bike-inspired geometry and some other brands are going down this same route too. The chainstays remain short, just 420mm, not much longer than many endurance road bikes, and there's a low bottom bracket.

Build and equipment

There are three complete bike builds available, and a frameset option. The frameset costs £2,299, while the cheapest complete bike is £2,699 with SRAM Apex 1, which looks a bit of a bargain compared to the frameset price. Sitting in the middle is a Shimano GRX model at £3,599, with this top-end SRAM Force eTap AXS model costing £5,299.

It's generously equipped with DT Swiss GRC 1650 Disc carbon gravel wheels, Donnelly XPlor MSO tubeless tyres, Easton finishing kit including a flared drop handlebar, a Prologo stubby saddle and SRAM's second-tier wireless groupset. It's a 1x setup with a 36t chainring and 10-33t cassette.

The groupset worked well. The shifting is smooth and precise, the brakes powerful and quiet. The large hoods – compared with Shimano – are a benefit when riding rough off-road trails.

For the most part, the gearing range was good. On the road and fast gravel tracks there is ample top end speed – you can exceed 40kph before running out of gears – but you might want to size up the chainring if fast, flat rides are your bag. The steps between the gears presented no problems, and the fluid damper in the rear mech provides excellent chain retention and keeps noise to a minimum.

However, having spent time on SRAM's whopping Eagle 10-50t mountain bike cassette on the Open Wide, I did feel the overall range of the 10-33t was lacking when getting properly off-road and encountering challenging gradients on loose surfaces. There's a case for a slightly wider range cassette to sit between these two extremes, a 10-42t perhaps.

The kit is all solid. The DT wheels are carbony loveliness and provide a bit of extra aero, the Donnelly tyres work well on the road and gravel, and the Easton flared drop bar felt great in the hands.

The stubby Prologo saddle wouldn't be my first choice, but saddles are a personal thing and you might get on with it just fine.

Rivals

The Aspero isn't cheap, but it's not wildly overpriced. Yes, you have to pay a bit more compared to some rivals, but it's not outrageous.

Shopping around reveals you could buy Cannondale's top-end Topstone Carbon with the same groupset and carbon wheels, complete with the comfort-boosting Kingpin rear suspension, for £4,799 – a whole £500 less.

> Buyer's Guide: 22 of the best gravel and adventure bikes

For less cash, there's the Rose Backroad with a SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x groupset and upgraded carbon wheels for £3,793.

Conclusion

If you want a gravel bike right now you are spoilt for choice, there are so many good bikes to choose from. But what if you want a bike for going as fast as possible and not being bogged down by concerns of versatility? This new Cervelo Aspero might be the bike for you if you want something that's fast on the road and can handle smoother gravel.

We might not have a gravel racing scene here in the UK like they do in the US, but I can see the Aspero appealing to fast roadies who like the idea of a bike that can handle dirt tracks and gravel paths, but maybe don't aspire to the bikepacking/adventure side of the gravel coin.

Verdict

A very fast gravel bike with sleek looks but short on versatility

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Cervelo Aspero

Size tested: 56

About the bike

List the components used to build up the bike.

Cervélo All-Carbon, Tapered Áspero Fork

FSA IS2 1-1/8 x 1-1/2

DT Swiss GRC 1650 Disc

Donnelly X'Plor MSO 700x40 Tubeless

SRAM Force DUB 36t

SRAM DUB BBright

SRAM Force 12 spd

SRAM Force eTap AXS 12 spd

SRAM Force XG-1270, 10-33

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD 12 spd

Easton EC70 AX

Easton EA90

Sram Force HRD

SRAM CenterLine XR 160mm

Prologo Dimension NDR T4.0

Easton EC70

Easton Computer Mount

Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

Cervelo says: "A new breed of rider is emerging - one who loves the freedom and exploration that gravel culture was founded upon but who has a hunger to ride wild, to go full bore, and to explore not just geography but personal limits. This frontier requires a new kind of gravel machine, one engineered not to roam the trails, but to slay them.

"For these athletes, we created a machine engineered for pure, unapologetic speed, ready to take down finish lines, KOM leaderboards, PR's, and FKT's. A single bike that first generates maximum speed and then second, controls that speed across the variable conditions gravel athletes must conquer. A machine built without limits, for the riders willing to test them."

Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options

It's the top dog in a three-bike lineup. The range starts at £2,700 and there's a frameset option for £2,300.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

Very nicely finished product with a great paint job.

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

Full carbon fibre frame and fork.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

It's long and low but a little steeper in the head angle than many gravel bikes; it's not a million miles away from the company's C Series endurance road bike.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

I found the fit and reach perfect with the short stem and wide flared bar.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

It's comfortable enough and you can run the tyres nice and soft, but there are gravel bikes that deliver more comfort.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

Stiffness is very clear when you stamp on the pedals thanks to the oversized bottom bracket, down tube and chainstays.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

Very well.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?

None, helped by the long front centre.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Fast.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

The steering and handling are on the quick side making for an entertaining ride, it's not slow and relaxed like some gravel bikes.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

I'd change the saddle for more comfort.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?

The carbon wheels add to the speed and low weight.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The gear range is a bit limited in some instances, but generally it's fine.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
9/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
9/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
7/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for value:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for value:
 
7/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
7/10

Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?

I really liked the flared Easton drop handlebar but didn't get on with the saddle.

Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)

I feel there's a bit of a need for a slightly bigger cassette from SRAM without resorting to the massive 10-50t Eagle mountain bike cassette.

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? For racing, yes.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? To a racing friend, yes.

How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

It's a little more than some rivals but it's not ridiculously priced.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
5/10

Use this box to explain your overall score

If you want to go fast, this is a really good choice.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 31  Height: 180cm  Weight: 67kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

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