Our writer, Dean Koh has his ‘fanboy’ moment as he got the opportunity to speak to Phil White, CEO and Co-Founder of Cervelo, who was present at this year’s Taipei Cycle Show.

Phil White and Gerard Vroomen founded Cervelo in 1995. Cervelo was one of the pioneer companies which started making road bikes with aerodynamic tube shapes (or commonly known as aero road bikes) with their Soloist Team model as early as 2002. Today, almost every major bicycle company has an aero road bike model in their product line-up.

At the Taipei Cycle Show this year, the brand new Cervelo RCA was unveiled as well, their lightest road frame ever, developed at Cervelo’s Project California engineering lab. The RCA frame comes in at a featherweight 667g for a size 54!

Phil answered Dean’s questions meticulously and through the process of speaking to him during the 20-minute session, Dean realizes that Phil is at really an engineer at heart and always wanting to push the boundaries in bicycle design and development!

Tell us more about the new RCA. How does Cervelo manage to get the weight so low yet maintaining a high level of stiffness? 

Our job is to keep pushing the envelope. Engineers keep ‘playing’ and don’t stop having ideas-ideas on how to make the bikes lighter and stiffer. We were approached by 3M to make the Powerlux material, a toughened resin system which was lighter but did not compromise on shear and compression strength. Also, the new nano-nickel technology on the fork steerer is good for clamping (the stem) and is still very light with the carbon fork. This is the materials story.

For the engineering story, the engineers developed a process and modified 15 different parameters. As a result, we developed 93 different frames before reaching the final shapes of the RCA.

There are classic Cervelo models like the Soloist, P-series bikes and even the R3, which has 3 Paris-Roubaix victories to its name. What’s next for Cervelo? 
The RCA may cost too much for the average cyclist but we will be able to use the processes learnt from the creation of the RCA for better bikes in the future. This is the advantage of having our own development facility in California. For the aero side of things, it’s a “fortunate accident” that the R-series bikes have the best aerodynamics for a classic road bike. [Sketches various tubes shapes and explains that the squoval shape is the best compromise between stiffness and aero]
We also realized that the seat stay shape does not have much influence on the overall aerodynamics of the bike, so it is something we will pass on to the S-series bikes. The technology and knowledge acquired from the development process of the RCA will be transferred to the S-series. For Project California, it’s a concept bike that sells and it allows us to perform testing for future products. For the RCA, there is a limited run of only 325 frames to be produced.
Cervelo has been sponsoring professional teams-Team CSC, Cervelo Test Team, and now Team Garmin-Sharp. How did this relationship with professional teams start? Any interesting stories to share? 
In 2003, one of the riders at Team CSC wanted to use Cervelo TT bikes and at that time we were also developing the original R2.5 lightweight climbing bike. Former professional French road cyclist Laurent Jalabert came in 2nd for a TT stage on a Cervelo bike, a discipline that he was did not usually perform well in as he was more of a climber and sprinter.
At Team CSC, team manager Bjarne Riis wanted the best equipment for the team-these included FSA cranks, Cervelo frames and Vittoria tires. During the period of the Cervelo Test Team (2009-2010), it was partnering with Rotor cranks and the feedback and information from the professional teams was good for product development.  It allows us to transfer knowledge from the pro team to the end consumer. The pro-team development process helps Cervelo make better products.
Well, sometimes it can be frustrating to work with pro teams as they always want the best. I’m rarely home because of the travelling as pro-teams go to different parts of Europe for their races. However, all these are necessary as working with pro-teams is a big part of development.
What current projects are you working on?
 
2013 is a big year for us, with the recently unveiled RCA and the P5 being the leading triathlon bike in the market now. All these and the collaboration with 3T for the Aduro bar on the P5 give us a leading edge product line. Also, we received good feedback for the new paint job for the 2013 Cervelo bikes.
I wanted to own a Cervelo bike at some point of time and 2 of my friends own Cervelo bikes: the classic aluminium Soloist and the SLC-SL. What do you think makes Cervelo bikes so desirable? 
 
Actually, the carbon lay-up and development for the SLC-SL was done in Asia. There were a total of 9 bikes made for the team (Team CSC) and I took 1 myself. It was the last bike I worked on my own fully for the lay-up and development. These days the engineers at the company at getting better and better and my job is more to develop them. Bikes are getting more complex, using computer software for lay-ups and aero bikes use CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) software. Nowadays, there are complex tools available for the development of bikes.
I think what makes Cervelo bikes desirable is the authenticity of an engineering company. We are dedicated to making better bikes and have built up relationships with customers over time. It’s really a simple story. Our bikes are a result of engineering and allow cyclists to go faster and have a unique feel.
We would like to thank Phil White for taking time to speak to us! A special thanks to Bikes N Bites who arranged the interview for us!