2016 Cervelo C3 C5 C-series gravel adventure endurance road bikes

With an explosion of interest in road bikes that can tackle more than perfect pavement, it was only a matter of time before a major brand jumped in with an ultralight bike to push the upper end of the gravel market a notch (or three) higher.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Cervelo is that brand. The all-new Cervelo C3 and C5 road bikes do just that, albeit disguised as more of a gran fondo racer than pure off-road bike. At just 850g with paint and hardware, it’s definitely on the light end of performance bikes for any type of road, but thanks to revised Squoval 2 tube shapes, it’s both stiff and compliant in all the right ways.

Skip past the break and head on down a new road…

2016 Cervelo C3 C5 C-series gravel adventure endurance road bikes

The bike borrows a lot of development tech from their ultralight R5 Project California road bike, including the fork. But, the C-series gets a slacker head angle, longer rake and thru axles in a disc brake specific design. It also gets a full 1-1/8″ to 1-1/2″ tapered headtube.

That front end combines with a lower bottom bracket to increase overall effective stack height by up to 22mm (depending on frame size). That means a more stable bike with a lower center of gravity and slightly more upright riding position. Protecting that lower BB is a bolt-on rock guard.

2016 Cervelo C3 C5 C-series gravel adventure endurance road bikes

Out back, the chainstay length is pushed back a bit to, along with the lower C.O.G., improve stability. Like the race-oriented R3 Disc, which will see peloton time under MTB Qubeka in 2016 thanks to relaxed UCI rules about testing disc brakes, the C-series also uses a one-piece rear triangle to optimize stiffness and light weight. Those stays are set wider than their non-disc road bikes which, when paired with the thru axles, increases BB stiffness by a claimed 25%. That’s a big part of how they’re able to make the bike so light without it becoming a noodle.

The dropped seatstay/seat tube junction, exaggerated arch design and super thin diameter all contribute to better vertical compliance, making it the most comfortable bike they’ve ever made…especially for the C3.

2016 Cervelo C3 C5 C-series gravel adventure endurance road bikes

Compared to the R3 Disc introduced at Eurobike, there are some similarities and differences. Both bikes share the flat-mount disc brake standard and thru axles, including the floating derailleur mount design that ensures perfect alignment for the wheel/rotor. They also share the asymmetric seatstay design, which pushes the non-drive side back a bit further to provide clearance for the disc brake caliper.

Differences include the BB/downtube rock guard, a chain catcher and chain guard, and hidden fender mounts. The C-series will also handle substantially larger tires, up to 700×32. You’ll also get a choice of two frame levels and five complete bike builds, whereas the R3 Disc is only available with Ultegra 6800.

From a pure numbers perspective, here’s how they compare in a size 54:

R3 Disc C3
Headtube Angle 73.1º 71.1º
Fork Offset 43mm 53mm
Front Center 575mm 598mm
Rear Center 405mm 420mm
Max Tire Size 25mm 32mm

2016 Cervelo C3 C5 C-series gravel adventure endurance road bikesTwo versions will be offered, the standard C3 and the top of the range C5. The C5 gets a premium layup with the impressive 850g frame weight and a U.S.-made 350g Project California fork. Because the fork is handmade in their Project California lab, it has cool additional features like smooth brake hose entry on the shoulder and has a different shape than the C3’s fork. It’ll come in two builds, one with Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 ($9,000) and Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical ($7,000). Both get hydraulic disc brakes, a Rotor 3D+ crankset (50/34), FSA carbon cockpit (bar, stem, post, headset), Fizik Antares saddle, HED Ardennes Plus LT Disc wheels and Continental Gran Prix 180tpi 700×28 tires.


The C3 gets a bit heavier layup, coming in at 975g (size 56) and fork (415g), but that allowed them to play with the tune more since they could use lower modulus fibers. The result is a frame that’s just as laterally stiff as the C5, but has a more finely tuned ride feel.

It also adds a 1x group to the build options. Pick from either Ultegra 6870 Di2 ($5,500), Ultegra 6800 mechanical ($4,300) or SRAM Force 1 ($4,500). All three get hydraulic disc brakes, HED Ardennes Plus GP Disc wheels with Continental Grand Sport 700×28 tires, and an FSA cockpit mix of carbon and alloy parts.


In stock dates for the C5 are the end of December, and the C3 follows in early 2016.



  1. Agree completely with tessar. A few more mm clearance and I would have seriously considered this bike for cross. Heck, even many gravel tires are bigger than 32mm. Wondering if Cervelo is worried about the frame holding up to rough terrain.

  2. Agreed about the tire clearance. My gravel bike can handle 44’s. I would have at least like to have seen 35’s or 38’s… but they know what they’re doing and if it’s a huge issue for people, it won’t be popular

  3. Yep, tire clearance is a fail. Cervelo just defined ‘bandwagon’ with this one. Stick to pure aero road frames if you’re not going to lift a finger and do some market research, at least.

  4. Add one more vote in the tire clearance fail column. They already have a road disc bike, why not design the C3 and C5 so that they can accommodate larger tires? Would have been a nice time to get rid of that silly bbright bottom bracket as well.

  5. Agree with Ck, and not sure why people are so up in arms. There are plenty of big tire clearance gravel bikes, CX even drop bar hardtail MTB’s.
    This seems a gran fondo/everything road bike, which will easily handle bad roads and sections of gravel roads. No, it probably isn’t the bike to do that epic 70 mile pure rough limestone chunk gravel ride, and every “gravel bike” need not be that either.

    • Because they are dumb? 28C is quite big, good for railtrail and still no loss of high speed on road, 32 or 35 is way too slow and heavy unless only on gravel, this is not a cx/gravel bike!

  6. Its a gravel race bike. Not a gravel-exploration-bikepacking bike. 32 mm clearance is all you need for fast gravel rides.

    BMC put a ton on clearance on their grand-fondo and people are riding it as the worst geo cx bike.

  7. Regardless of clearances the bike doesn’t really seem all that impressive. Seems like a company that makes road bikes thought there wasn’t much difference between such and gravel. Which their Open MTB frames proves.

  8. Cervelo got the tire clearance wrong on this one. If you want a gravel race bike or an all road bike check out the Open U.P. Bike by Gerard Vroomen.

  9. This is a perfect winter training bike, 28mm tires and full fenders, light and road bike handling with the capability to do some gravel rides and rough pavement. The problem with gravel bikes and tire clearance of 45mm is that they are stupid slow on pavement and corner like garbage.

  10. Totally agree with the criticism on tire clearance. I own a BMC GF01, 28 mm max. Far too narrow for our gravel roads here. But I didn’t know better at that time. Frame compliance is great though.

    I don’t know what Cervelo’s frame design constraints are but up to 38 mm would be perfect. 32 mm is too narrow. If 32 mm are sufficient you won’t need a dedicated gravel road bike anyway. Would it really be so difficult to provide more clearance?

  11. @Papadopoulos Gerard brought the same frame cracking issues Cervelo had to Open. Both companies also have the same principles of making everything crazy light but at a cost.

  12. For all you complainers about “why not make more clearance to make it suitable for cross?”. Here’s why, a cross bike does not have a low BB that’s why, a cross bike does not have such a slack head angle that’s why. Cyclocross bikes are different designs. Want a cross bike and want to ride gravel roads? Then buy a cross bike? What to ride gravel roads then buy a gravel road bike. Simple. As for 32mm tire clearance, okay I do agree here. I like 35-38mm on my gravel road bike. 32mm tires sink into wet gravel/dirt roads. Come on Cervelo!! Although they do call it a “gravel race bike” as someone commented on above. Although I can see that they want to stay mainstream here, to go big tires means longer chainstays and I can hear all the weekend warrior wannabes crying already that longer stays aren’t stiff enough, and are no good for cornering and criteriums…..Long chainstays are awesome. This bike should have 440-450mm rear centre, not 420mm. Oh but wait, that would have added 20 grams!

  13. -“before a major brand jumped in” & “shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Cervelo is that brand” – You can’t be serious. Being an obvious fan-boy is one thing but this is a bit much. Cervelo will never be considered a major brand, they’re far too small. I’m certain that TrekGiantSpecializedCannondale have had very similar models to this for at least two years. It’s clear you really like Cervelo but let’s be honest here.

  14. for all the big tire people – just slap a set of 650b rims on there. Done (except maybe the fork, but that is also a problem easy to solve). Disc make this easy and wide 650b tires are very nice.

  15. This is a FONDO bike. NOT a gravel bike.

    Go back to whining about why you can’t clear 42c tires somewhere else… that doesn’t involve sub-1000g framesets that are meant to still ride in an exciting manner on the road.

    This is an awesome bike, and all the complaints being presented are easily resolved by the Open UP… which involves a non-compete with Cervelo, and therefore why all you people whining will never get what you want.

  16. If Cervelo is denying that this is a gravel bike, maybe someone should introduce their engineering team to their marketing team. The launch video on Cervelo’s website is nearly 100% dirt roads. That rock guard sends some serious backroad signals, too. If the brand that built it can’t figure out what it’s for, how will consumers?

  17. For the same kind of money you could buy a nice custom titanium which won’t look like crap after 2 seasons of rough road and gravel riding.

  18. @Harry,
    Yup, ti. So it can look like crap from the get-go, while being underwhelming and overwheight and overpriced, and likely have substantially worse manufacturing tolerances than this one…

  19. A few more millimeters will make this bike great for cross tires but not cross riding. It’ll need a good 1.5 cm of extra clearance and probably a higher BB to make a good cross bike. I still think they should make one but this wouldn’t be it. It would be nice to have a 32mm tire with fenders though

  20. Hilarious to read all the “but it’s not a cross bike” complaints, when most “all-road/any-road/gravel” builders are merely re-badging their existing cross frames. SMH

    Case in point, @Chicken Sandwich, two of the hallmarks of a gravel bike are the slacker front end and a lower bottom bracket. A gravel bike isn’t supposed to be a one-hour-wonder with twitchy geometry and no design for long-term comfort. Mad props to Cervelo for “getting it”.

    Sheesh, if you guys want cross bikes, there must be thousands of options by now.

  21. Disc should of opened the doors to bigger tyre clearance on all road bike so I was hopeing road frames would have at least 32mm space and gravel bikes should have space for at least 42mm tyres otherwise what was the point of using discs,the limitations of using calipers have been lifted maybe the engineers need to be reeducated on why skinny road tyres were so popular before everyone decided aero was the reason,New forward thinking is the way for the new generation of disc road/gravel/fondo/adventure bikes

  22. Agree with the 32mm looking stingy. However, it does come with the widest road tires available så 32mm tires will measure considerably wider. Also, if they claim 32mm will fit that means the widest on the market need to fit – we all know brands vary a lot. So I suspect clearance might be better than it looks on paper. If it takes 35 Cross Bosses I want one. If not, not so much. Really hope testers will try out what that spec really means.

  23. It’s an Endurance/ Grand Fondo BIKE!!!! Not a CX or Gravel bike!

    Do you also complain that your 29er can’t fit 4 inch tires? NO, cause you buy a Fat bike to fit 4 inch tires.

    I’ve done thousands of miles of gravel on 32’s and 28’s, man up.

  24. Didn’t read every comment above, but I’m guessing White and Vroomen worked out a non-compete clause when they broke up – White obviously sticking to the road end of the spectrum. This would only make sense. And bigger tire clearance would tempt riders to take it on rocky trails, something I wouldn’t do with such a delicate frame. It’s a fondo bike – all the complainers above are missing the point. If a cross bike ever comes out it will come from Open.

  25. Perfectly said Mudrock. Looks like the perfect bike to spend a long day in a saddle on and not worry about coming across some broken asphalt or al little gravel.

  26. You guys are missing the point with the tire clearance. Adding room for wider tires would screw up the ride they were going for, which is something akin to a fast road bike, but on gravel. The problem is that this magical ride quality is basically impossible to do with 700c tires (despite your personal experience riding your 700c gravel bike all over your favorite country roads).

    Cannondale fixed this the way the people fixed it for decades before – by using smaller wheels. If we could break free from 700c hegemony, then we could all get the rad bikes that we really want – ones that ride fast and quick, with legit wide tires that roll as fast as a 700x25c. Only small makers and Cannondale have demonstrated the chutzpah to design the bike right in the first place (though I think that there are a million problems with the Cannondale).

    That said, depending on chainstay clearance, one might be able to jam some 650c disc wheels with some 38-42c tires in there and get the bike to ride like the designers wanted it to.

  27. if you love big heavy slow tires so much that means you love going slow! this is a fast bike for road and some smooth gravel roads and railtrail! dumbass goofballs.

  28. You guys amuse me. I rode a C3 at BWR and I wasn’t the only one, furthermore the 31 Vittoria Cross XN Pros I rolled on did wonderful in the mix of on and off road. One guy ran the stock 28 Contis! The off road was a total mix and most riders took far less in terms of gravel/CX frames or much more than 28’s into that stuff.

    Sure for pure rock gardens, DK mudbaths or chunky gravel paths there are better solutions, but I gladly take this bike off road and have a blast!

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