Cervélo Spends Big on New Rca California-Made Frame

The engineering-focused brand spared no expenses while developing the premium, limited-run concept bike

By Nicole Formosa

Cervélo announced today the second generation of ultra-lightweight, ultra-pricey carbon-fiber frames to come out of its Project California skunkworks lab. The Rca replaces the R5ca, which, three years ago, was the first frame to be developed at the Southern California R&D and manufacturing facility.

At 667 grams for a painted size-54 frame with hardware, the Rca is now the lightest frame on the market, and at $10,000 a pop, it’s also one of the most expensive and exclusive.

 Cervélo rented a house  in the posh Broad Beach neighborhood of Malibu to show off the Rca. Not pictured is the swinging bed in the backyard.

Cervélo rented a house in the posh Broad Beach neighborhood of Malibu to show off the Rca. Not pictured is the swinging bed in the backyard.

Cervélo only plans to manufacture 325 frames, and will retire the model after those are sold, similar to the R5ca, which took about two-and-a-half years to sell through.

Designer David Killing, left, and Cervélo co-founder and CEO Phil White frame their latest lightweight masterpiece.

Designer David Killing, left, and Cervélo co-founder and CEO Phil White frame their latest lightweight masterpiece.

Over two days last week, Cervélo invited journalists to see and ride the frame on the serpentine canyons rising out of the tony town of Malibu, so long as we signed a 7-page non disclosure agreement promising to keep mum on the Rca until this morning.

Cervelo was serious about its embargo. Journalists signed a 7-page NDA before seeing the Rca.

Cervelo was serious about its embargo. Journalists signed a 7-page NDA before seeing the Rca.

The new version is the result of specific marching orders from Cervélo chief Phil White to his engineering team: Shave weight from the R5CA and make the frame more aerodynamic, but don’t compromise stiffness.

“It was a pretty difficult challenge,” said David Killing, Rca designer. “We had to come up with a way to understand the frame and a way to make these compromises between aero and design.”

Killing used various software programs to analyze and test 93 frame designs for structural performance and aerodynamic performance before building any prototypes, the first time Cervélo designers have relied so heavily on CAD in frame development.

By slightly modifying the “Squoval” tube shape and integrating more convexity, Cervélo reduced aero drag by 7.4 watts. The frame itself uses six different materials, including a nickel-reinforced carbon fiber called Powermetal Nanovate made by a Canadian company that Cervélo used to strengthen the fork’s steerer tube. After spending $1 million buying and replacing forks due to a recall back in 2008, White prioritized finding new technology that could beef up the critical part.

It may look like aluminum on a $10,000 frameset, but that is actually a nickel-enforced carbon fiber Cervélo used to strengthen the steerer tube, which has been a weak point on Cervélo forks in the past

It may look like aluminum on a $10,000 frameset, but that is actually a nickel-enforced carbon fiber Cervélo used to strengthen the steerer tube, which has been a weak point on Cervélo forks in the past

Cervélo also partnered with 3M to inject its new nano silica filled resin to its carbon to toughen up the downtube behind the headtube and the back of the seattube. It’s the first time the system has been used in composites, but it’s also seven times more expensive than typical epoxy resin, so Cervélo used it sparingly. Other Rca features include internal cable routing with click-in stops for mechanical or electric systems and an integrated power meter magnet.

Ready to roll. We tested the Rca on the Malibu's winding, and that day, wet, canyon roads.

Ready to roll. We tested the Rca on the Malibu's winding, and that day, wet, canyon roads.

In many ways, White views the Rca as a concept bike because its development allowed engineers to experiment with new design processes and materials, knowledge that will eventually trickle throughout Cervélo’s entire line.

Sure, it’s more expensive to build bikes in California than Asia, but it allows for more control of the finished product and for engineers to constantly push to make better products.

“It’s not a profitable business running this operation,” White said of the Garden Grove facility. “It’s profitable in terms of what we learn, but in dollars it’s not the best decision.”

Garmin-Sharp riders will compete on the Rca this season, and frames sized 48 to 61 will be available in retail shops next week.

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