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Behind the scenes at Cervelo Cycles in Toronto

Posted by Robyn Urback / May 14, 2012

Cervelo Bikes TorontoCervélo might just be the most innovative bike company in the world — and its Toronto-based headquarters is the type of place to send a tingle up and down the average roadie's spandex-clad back. One wall is entirely whiteboard — with sketches, equations, and complex diagrams offered as an inadvertent equivalent to decor. Men with rings on their pinky fingers spend their days tinkering with the latest and greatest in software applications, trying to find that optimal balance between strength, stiffness, and aerodynamics. And needless to say, there's more than enough storage on site for those who decide to cycle to work. This is where all of that P5, S5, and R5 magic starts before it makes its way to the European pro peloton.

Cervelo TorontoCervélo was started by two engineers back in 1995. Phil White and Gérard Vroomen took their existing knowledge of time trial bikes and assembled a team to design and construct a superior model, with an specific focus on aerodynamics. The company launched two road and two time trial models the following year, a humble beginning that would eventually lead to an exclusive deal with Team CSC, a tier-one pro cycling team that took home the 2008 Tour de France, and a reputation as one of the most advanced companies in the cycling industry.

Cervelo TorontoThat reputation in mind, I expected a mild confrontation of statistics, simulations, and numbers as a greeting during my trip to Cervélo's headquarters. And, that's exactly what I got. I'm welcomed by Peter Donato, who leads me over to the "engineers' corner," which is set to a literal backdrop of dry-erase geometry. It looks like a capture from A Beautiful Mind, but with references to fortification, carbon fibre, and the odd sketch of an aero head tube cross section. "This is where it all happens," Donato says with a smile.

CerveloThe engineering, that is. While the Cervélo frames are actually manufactured in Asia — as is the case with most North American bike companies — the innovation (and assembly) happens here in Toronto, just north of the Castlefield Design District (how fitting). The company was formerly located in a pre-condofied Liberty Village, until it simply outgrew its space. "We had about eight people working here in the early 2000's," Donato says. "That has now grown to about 80."

Cervelo BikesUnsurprisingly many of these employees cycle to work, and Donato shows off the racks where the staff park their steeds for the day. Of course, the majority are Cervélos (lots of R3s), though we do notice the odd alien brand. "Those people are new," an employee passing by quips. "That'll change."

Although this is place seems as much about aerospace engineering as it does about the putatively simple act of cycling, there are signs everywhere that the staff are bike nerds. Everyone's drinking out of their company-branded water bottles, cycling caps are a common sight, and one can't help but get the sense that, if freed from their desks, most of the folks here would drop the average enthusiast on a steep climb.

Team-building exercises for the Cervélo gang naturally come in the form of regular rides, which are held two to three times a week during the warmer months. But there's another cycling morale-booster that's made obvious to me right from the onset of the tour: staff desks sit below suspended examples of the company's many competitive successes.

CerveloThere's Thor Hushovd's S3 from the 2009 Tour de France, at which he rode to win the Green Jersey, Tyler Hamilton's Soloist from his 2003 Liège-Bastogne-Liège breakthrough (the first major pro-tour win for the company), and perhaps the most significant of all, Carlos Sastre's 2008 Tour de France-winning R3, complete with its iconic yellow handlebar tape (nerdy note: Sastre rode Zipp 404s across the line in Paris, while this bike is outfitted with 202s).

Cervelo BikesBeyond the workstation is Cervélo's manufacturing and testing area, where senior engineer Damon Rinard explains the complex aero concepts in layman's terms on our behalf. He shows us a test mule for a wind tunnel assessment and a cross section of a tapered head tube (pointing out the variable thickness of its walls in order to emphasize the importance of knowing what carbon to use where). "We have aerospace engineers — people who used to work on rockets — constantly trying to find new ways to make these bikes even better." And he says that with Pink Floyd's "Eclipse" perfectly timed in the background.

Cervelo BikesWe then make our way over to the engineers' computers, where graphs show us the effects of 12 different iterations of a particular frame section on the bike's overall weight, stiffness, and aero characteristics. We watch Computational Fluid Dynmaics software in action, simulating a wind tunnel to measure air flow/resistance to produce a honed list of test mule formations that actually make it to the physical assesment. "In part, with this software," Damon says, "we were able to get better improvement from the P4 to P5 [time trial bike] in two years, than we were from P3 to P4 in four years."

Cervelo Bikes The enthused engineers I meet at Cervélo tell me that quest for improvement will never reach its saturation point. And while its bikes certainly don't come cheap (think $2500 as a starting point), you can be guaranteed there are brains working behind the scenes to make them evermore light, sleek, and strong. Superior enough, that is to say, to merit a suspended spot above their computer stations.

Photos by a still-drooling Derek Flack



Buttes / May 14, 2012 at 09:28 am
I had no idea this was a Toronto-based company. No wonder why they're so expensive.
Bikeroo / May 14, 2012 at 09:36 am
This was a really neat article to read
Andrew / May 14, 2012 at 09:45 am
Neat article. I wondered where they moved after they left Liberty Village... I'm on my third Cervelo. Great bikes!
Dan replying to a comment from Buttes / May 14, 2012 at 09:47 am
Cervelo bikes are often lauded for their value - most pro-tour level bikes ridden in the pro peloton retail for over $10k (some as high as $16k) whereas you can get a pro-level Cervelo for a shade over $6k.
Paul / May 14, 2012 at 09:59 am
I miss when Cervelo was in Liberty Village. The highlight of my lunch hour was walking by the assembly area and ogling the bikes through the window.
Derek / May 14, 2012 at 10:16 am
Not that Cervelo doesn't get its fair share of attention, but this really is one remarkable Toronto-based company that deserves loads of credit. From an innovation and design standpoint, no one can touch them — and that's saying something given how competitive the high end bike market has become.
bill / May 14, 2012 at 11:28 am
That s3 is drool worthy.
Grant / May 14, 2012 at 11:38 am
" Cervélo frames are actually manufactured in Asia — as is the case with EVERY North America bike manufacturer"

Not quite....I realize the short length of the article makes it difficult to explain the manufacturing process, but it's completely false to suggest that "every" brand makes product in Asia. By definition, a North American manufacturer makes products in North America. (Cervelo isn't a North American manufacturer) There are dozens of examples, from Canada's Marinoni, Devinci, Rocky Mountain, and even mega size Trek makes many of their carbon road models in Wisconsin. Please replace the "every" with "many"...
Jeff / May 14, 2012 at 11:41 am
Love their bikes. I'll be buried with my Super Prodigy, thanks. Pity they don't make steel frames any more. I always feel proud seeing the Cervelo name under a pro rider, no matter where they're from, but it's extra special now with Canadian pro Ryder Hesjedahl riding one whilst leading the Giro.
Derek replying to a comment from Grant / May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am
Change made. Lest we get too high on Trek, however, the vast majority of their bikes are made in Taiwan.
Derek replying to a comment from Jeff / May 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm
Yeah, that's nice timing. He looked really strong again today. It'll be fun to see him fight to keep it in the mountains.
V / May 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm
Again.... Why cant articles give the exact freakin address? Do you guys NOT have access to google maps or GPS or a map ??? Help out people who do not know every single neighbourhood of TO / GTA
Come on people, be more informative in your posts. Gawd...
Derek replying to a comment from V / May 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm
This is not a retail outlet. We have intentionally withheld the address so as to spare the Cervelo staff having to deal with people like you.
manufacturing / May 14, 2012 at 01:25 pm
It's really cool to see things actually being designed and built in this city.
Frankie replying to a comment from V / May 14, 2012 at 01:29 pm
Every review on this site that I've read has the address, phone #, and a map on the right side of the page. How can you have missed this?
Dave replying to a comment from Buttes / May 14, 2012 at 02:40 pm
They're "so expensive" because of the tech and engineering that goes into the bikes. All the frames are made overseas which likely keeps manufacturing costs reasonable. Compare Cervelo with other brands in the same range and you'll find them to be competitive. Seriously, ride an RS and you'd buy it at any price, but compare it to anything else in it's price range and it's still a superior bike.
Dave / May 14, 2012 at 02:41 pm
Keep in mind, folks, that while Cervelo is based in Toronto they are no longer wholly Canadian owned. They sold to a Dutch investment firm a few months ago.
Grant replying to a comment from Dave / May 14, 2012 at 02:53 pm
While the ownership may have shifted overseas, the operation of the company is still Canadian (headquarters, design, most employees, etc).
Frank Kinlan / May 14, 2012 at 05:45 pm
Try buying one for christs sake, only 9 S5,s in the UK. They take exclusivity to a new art form. Nice bikes but zero sales because there are no bloody bikes.
Farm out production to the far east as clearly you don't have a Skooby Doo. (clue)
Alan / May 14, 2012 at 06:12 pm
While it's true the majority of Trek bikes are manufactured overseas that's mainly because they are a full line bicycle company, selling kids bikes, city bikes and whatnot. The Trek bikes that compete directly with Cervelo are manufactured in Wisconsin.

You can add Calfee, Parlee and Serotta to companies that manufacture carbon frames in North America.

V replying to a comment from Derek / May 14, 2012 at 06:52 pm
"People like me" - What does that mean? All I did was ask for an address to orient myself as to their location and you start acting out so immaturely. Go figure...

Kudos Derek, for giving out snarky comments like in middle school. Please act more professionally and be courteous in your replies to a reader of this site.
Joe / May 14, 2012 at 07:04 pm
Having had two brothers that worked there, both in assembly (one still works there, the other is a mechanic still working on Cervelos), I've been told that the frames are cut from a single piece of Carbon fibre in Taiwan, then assembled in Toronto. Also the design is done here, with some wind-tunnel testing in California. .
Joe / May 14, 2012 at 07:12 pm
...also, GO RYDER! Real men wear pink!!!
Derek replying to a comment from V / May 14, 2012 at 07:43 pm
You had a temper tantrum and I disciplined you — so, yes, just like middle school. If you're going to comment on these forums, behave yourself and you won't receive any snark in return. The feigned exasperation of your initial comment was preposterous.
Zulhazri / May 14, 2012 at 07:50 pm
Just got my S5 a couple of weeks ago... Feels like I m riding like T Drekker!!!...Great bike . Initially I was tempted to go for Pinarello. At last Cervelo that really caught my interest.
Lance replying to a comment from Derek / May 14, 2012 at 07:52 pm
V replying to a comment from Derek / May 14, 2012 at 09:11 pm
Wow, if this is the kind of response from Blogto to a reasonable comment from a reader...
Shawn / May 14, 2012 at 10:30 pm
Well, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who had no idea Cervelo was Torontonian.
bikeroo / May 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm
@Derek - have an upvote
Markus / May 15, 2012 at 03:52 am
Any jobs vacant there at the moment? :D :D
brutal / May 15, 2012 at 02:50 pm
Derek, you're way over your head.
Cris / May 15, 2012 at 04:38 pm
you guys make great bikes and listen to pink floyd at work? where do i sign up?
justin replying to a comment from Alan / May 18, 2012 at 10:24 am
I've heard from more than a few people the only Trek bikes made in Wisconsin anymore are the Madone 6.9, everything else is made over seas. So now can we argue Cervelo makes their bikes in North America again because the R5CA is made here?
Leo / May 27, 2012 at 04:56 pm
I'll have to look into one of these.
Daniel Ostler / January 15, 2013 at 08:12 pm
I flew from Bogota Colombia at 10 a.m local time and arrived at miami Florida 12:45 p.m with a return flight to Bogota the same day at 5 p.m local time, why ? bought my first cervelo, R5 VWD, it turned out to be cheaper than importing it through a courier service, sounds ridiculous but i am loving every second on this beauty! would i do it again? no, i have found my bike for life at last!
Thank you Cervelo team! good luck this season 2013.
Care Simons replying to a comment from Andrew / December 3, 2014 at 04:49 pm
Both my husband and I have a lot of trust in the Cervelo brand. We both race competitively and we're going on our second bikes! Question for Andrew
Did you sell your previous bike(s) or hang on to them ? Advice from experience user would be appreciated.
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