Project Liberty: Cervelo S5 VWD
article & images by Nick Salazar
Oct 16, 2013  hits 276,875

Liberty: 12.2 pounds of Cervelo S5 VWD awesomeness. Not your average road build.

What youíre looking at here is Liberty: my Cervelo S5 VWD project build that is meant to be an ultra light, highly aerodynamic road bike. This baby is 12.2 lbs as pictured, and is as slippery as anything on the road. It also happens to have the ability to become a complete TT machine with the addition of the aerobar extension hardware, for a weight penalty of just 200 grams more. Thereís a LOT of custom work going on here, and Iím going to take my time to describe it to you. Not every choice I made on this bike will appeal to every reader, but thatís not the point.

The name I chose for this build, Liberty, refers to the fact that it was meant for me, and I exercised complete freedom in choosing how to make it, without concern for the journalistic implications of any eccentric choices I made. From start to finish, the process of building this bike has been extraordinarily fun. This bike really is everything I wanted it to be. At every step of the build, I just did what I thought would be cool; I figured the end result would have journalistic merit anyway, even if I wasnít specifically focused on what that merit was.

Here's a quick video showing off the bike in action:


So, what is this thing, anyway? Well, the original inspiration for the bike was this crazy little number that Trek built up for Chris Lieto back in 2010. Ever since I saw that bike, Iíd wanted to make a dedicated road bike, built with an aero base bar and aero brake levers. The primary concept is to forego the traditional drop bars in favor of more aerodynamic ones, while still preserving road-specific geometry. Why? There are a few reasons. First, I rarely use my drops, and figured that swapping the typical ram horns for an aero base bar would yield a pretty huge aerodynamic improvement. Getting the body lower can be accomplished just by leaning down, no drops necessary. And Iím not a sprinter, so I donít have need of that particular position on the bike. The aero base bar would be the perfect starting point for this otherwise decidedly road-specific bike.

Refining the Concept

The first requirement for Liberty was a nude carbon bike. Some people find this look to be a bit weird, but to me it's the most beautiful finish possible. I just love getting to see the raw carbon construction. So we had a professional paint shop strip the bike down. The black Cervelo logo was actually painted on with a stencil, and then clearcoat applied to everything.

Okay, so step one was building a road bike with an aero base bar. After that, it surely follows that weíll want the rest of the bike to be reasonably aerodynamic as well. Letís go with a full aero road frame, aero wheels, the whole deal. Maybe those wheels will be aero but not too deep, because this will be a bike intended for all-conditions riding. Sure, if you wanted to race with this thing, you might pick a different wheelset depending on the course. But this bike is primarily going to be a daily rider, not a race-only purebred. So weíll be looking at something in the 30-45mm range, and there are a lot of great wheels in that category.

But, because Iím a bit of a weight weenie, Iíll try to make this thing fiercely light. Despite the penalty that usually comes with aero parts, Iím determined, at the very least, to break the UCI weight barrier of 14.99 lbs (6.8 kg). Careful minimalism in component selection and a little help from my friends at Dash Cycles will help us get there. And because this is going to be MY bike, and Iím being utterly selfish in the direction of this project, Iím going to make sure that virtually everything on the bike is finished in naked carbon fiber. In my opinion, thatís the most beautiful paint scheme there is. I especially love it when you can get a frame in nude carbon WITHOUT a cosmetic layer of fabric over the top of everything. I like to see the details, where one layup schedule comes in contact with another, where fabric changes from unidirectional to 3k, and where seams come together from different parts being bonded in. The best way to get this kind of detail is to start with a painted bike, and remove the paint. Manufacturers rarely bother to put a cosmetic layer of carbon on top of their frames if theyíre going to paint them anyway.

At the end of the day, this this bike is light, stiff, aero, and just a ton of FUN. I'd say the mission was accomplished.

Now, the idea of a road bike with an aero base bar was an easy one to conceptualize, but once you get there, youíve got the problem of how to add shifters. On the Lieto bike, linked above, Trek opted to go for a single-speed without shifters. But I wanted a much more usable bike than that. So how do you add shifters to a bike that only accepts aero brake levers? The solution, of course, is Di2 (or Campagnolo EPS). That will let us get this bike shifting beautifully, without needing anything too weird or custom. But of course, this is an all-out build, so (spoiler alert) I ended up making the shifting hardware custom anyway!

I think thatís sufficient for an overview of how I came up with the concept for the bike. Hit the jump for how it was all executed, and finally on page three, weíll go over the ride quality of the finished rig, and a review of the Cervelo S5 frame at the heart of the build.


  • Project Liberty, all finished and looking beautiful.
  • This is Project Liberty.
  • Front angle on Liberty.
  • Liberty is a very different-looking bike, but I absolutely love it.
  • The cervelo S5 VWD frame. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a TT frame.
  • We stripped the paint from the S5, leaving the nude carbon construction visible.
  • I absolutely love the way the nude carbon looks.
  • Cervelo's BBRight standard is actually very, very good. It allows for very stiff frames, and very light overall systems.
  • Down tube and head tube of the Cervelo S5 VWD frame. I just LOVE the nude carbon construction, visible beneath the glossy clearcoat.
  • The 1 x 11 drivetrain: Dura-Ace 9000 rear derailleur and chain, Lightning SL crank with Fibre-Lyte custom chainring, and Recon alloy cassette.
  • One of the beautiful little details comes from Fibre-Lyte, who built us this custom 44-tooth carbon chainring for single-ring use, complete with TriRig 'TR' logos between each pair of chainring bolts.
  • Down tube of the Cervelo S5 VWD frame.
  • Seatpost cluster.
  • From the front, there is startlingly little frontal area, and virtually no cables visible. But this is a fully-cabled and working bicycle.
  • TriRig Sigma +35mm stem. I also used a tiny headset dust cap and a 6mm steerer tube spacer in bright orange, as a kind of signature to further identify this as a TriRig build. Also, from underneath you can see how the Alpha's aero nut inserts (which keep the top of the bar flush) are held in place: each one gets just a single M5 bolt, in aluminum to save weight.
  • The TriRig Alpha aerobar, clamped by a TriRig Sigma stem, make up the majority of this bike's front end. The Sigma keeps all the cables and wires neatly tucked away and out of the wind, while also providing ready access to the Di2 junction box.
  • We selected Profile Design ABS Carbon aero brake levers for their astonishingly low weight. At 68g for the pair, they're just about the lightest on the market. They're also very low profile, showing almost nothing to the wind. We could have used Shimano Dura-Ace 9071 levers, which have a bit more mechanical strength, but the Profile Design levers are still strong enough to lock up a wheel if needed, so we went ahead and took the weight savings. You can also see the custom shifter we made for Liberty, affixed to the lever.
  • Our custom Di2 shifter weighs in at just 5g. Yes, that's FIVE grams, which includes the custom pips that I designed and 3D printed to provide a bit more purchase underneath the thumb. This allowed full Di2 functionality, at a weight almost 60g lighter than the stock Di2 hardware.
  • Rear cluster of the bike, comlete with the TriRig Omega brake.
  • We used Alligator iLinks housing for this build, which helps preserve smooth cable movement even through tight paths and around small corners. The iLinks housing was easy to set up, and works really well. A dedicated mini-review of the system will probably be written in the near future.
  • Rear cluster. We used Alligator iLinks housing for this build, which helps preserve smooth cable movement even through tight paths and around small corners. The iLinks housing was easy to set up, and works really well. A dedicated mini-review of the system will probably be written in the near future.
  • Another look at the 1x11 drivetrain.
  • Does it get any better than this? I don't think so.
  • The Lightning SL crank, carbon spider, and Fibre-Lyte custom chainring are all finished in 3K carbon weave, for a beautiful and unified look. The crank is amazingly light, but this setup should be pretty aero as well. It was the clear choice for Liberty. And of course, we finished it with TriRig Mercury pedals.
  • Have you ever seen a bike - road OR tri - with this little frontal area? I haven't.
  • Liberty is as clean as it gets, no doubt.
  • Frontal angle on the Liberty.
  • Non-drive side of Liberty's front end, showing how the cables route.
  • Di2 front junction and cables hidden in the TriRig Sigma stem.
  • Beneath the TriRig Sigma +35mm stem, I added a single bright orange spacer, as a kind of a signature. This one is from Chris King, and adds just 6mm of stack height. The bike would have fit great without it, but I just loved the look, so it stayed on.
  • Just a generic bottle cage from eBay, which we attached to the frame with some aluminum M5 bolts.
  • Another look at the rear closter.
  • The Dash Cycles integrated seatpost, complete with Tri.7 saddle.
  • The Dash Cycles Tri.7 saddle, mounted atop the Dash integrated Cervelo-compatible seatpost.
  • Dash Cycles front hub, Elle, affixed to the bike with the Tune Skyline bolt-on skewers.
  • From this angle, you can see that virtually nothing of the Skyline skewes remains exposed to the wind.
  • Shimano Di2 9070 rear derailleur.
  • The 11-speed Recon alloy cassette actually shifts very well, and the one-piece aluminum construction means that it weighs next to nothing.
  • The rear Omega brake, mounted in the traditional location. It's simple to service, and it's beautiful.
  • Rear angle on the Liberty.
  • The TriRig Sigma +35mm stem. We printed a custom stem cover for Liberty, replacing the aluminum stem cover for a plastic one that helped save lots of weight.
  • The 3D-printed stem cover isn't the only customization on the stem; see that Torx-head bolt keeping the stem cover on? That's a Schmolke Carbon screw, which weighs in at less than one gram!
  • The TriRig Omega brake sitting up front, right on Cervelo's beautiful S5 fork, the FK26UL. Even the Omega got special treatment. See the blue bolts securing the front plate on the brake? Those are aluminum. And the main thru-bolt was replaced with a titanium versino as well. The whole build was all about reducing weight to the bare minimum, without making one step that would compromise aerodynamics.
  • Closeup on the Zipp Tangente tires, complete with the tiny oval Zipp logos. I put a 21mm tire up front, 23mm in the back.

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