Anyone who is passionate about bicycles has heard a little bit about Cervélo. This legendary brand, set up in a bedroom by two mechanical engineers, has been the watchword for innovation in the world of cycling since the late 1990s. The brand is now the bicycle partner for the Team Sunweb racing squad. We will likely see major victories on the bikes in the near future. Time to look at how Cervélo became the force in cycling which they are today.
Cervélo: a student project
Two engineering students, one Canadian, one Dutch, set up Cervélo while they were at McGill University in Toronto in the mid-1990s. Phil White and Gerard Vroomen met each other in the composite materials lab and they soon realised that this was the way to design and build a special bicycle. But, being engineers, they had to test it first. “We spent all our money in the wind tunnel, before we even had a bike,” said Phil White in a recent interview on Voice of America.
“Gianni Bugno, Italy”
Once they started out and had product to sell, Cervélo needed to get some brand attention in the cycling world. “Gerard was a big fan of Italian professional cyclist Gianni Bugno, but had no idea where he lived,” explains White. “So he wrote a snail mail letter and an envelope which just said: Gianni Bugno, Italy. And he received it! Those guys were some of our first supporters and they gave us the confidence that perhaps we were more than just a couple of tossers at university.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
To Make Riders Faster
Phil White’s wife, Anna Dopico, wrote a book, which was published in 2018. Its title is the company’s mission: To Make Riders Faster. It details the trials and tribulations of the company, including the legendary shouting matches between the two founders. These ‘discussions’ never got personal, by the way. The book is a testament to a start-up which has since become one of the biggest names in cycling.
This ‘engineering first’ approach to bicycle-making was unheard of at the time. Now, of course, every top-end bike is made of carbon fibre and tested in a wind tunnel, but not back then. “Our bikes were designed to perform best first, the design followed: very much like the way Formula One racing cars are made,” said White. In doing so, Cervélo turned the industry on its head. They almost went bust at the same time. Their biggest issue in the early days was always cashflow. That all changed in 2012 when Pon Bikes took the company over. Cervélo finally achieved financial stability and Phil White and Gerard Vroomen moved back to less hands-on roles at the firm.
Aero before anyone knew what aero was
What Vroomen and White understood in the 1990s was that aerodynamic efficiency is one of the most important factors in cycling. Today, everyone talks, rides and thinks aero. Back in those early days, that was totally different. Back then, the world of road cycling was conservative. “So we turned to triathletes,” said White. “They would ride anything to go faster.” And following their success in the world of triathlons, Cervélo went on to win in the Tour de France, the Olympics and the Ironman. Cervélo is one of the most ‘wannahave’ brands in cycling.
Cervélo are Team Sunweb’s bicycle partner in 2019. “We want to challenge at the highest level for the world’s most prestigious titles in pro cycling and Sunweb is the perfect partner to achieve that with,” said Richard Keeskamp, Cervélo’s Sports Marketing Director, when the partnership was announced. “Cervélo shares similar values to our own and we’re proud to welcome them to the team for next year,” said Team Sunweb CEO Iwan Spekenbrink. “We’re driven to keep challenging to excel as a team and we’re always pushing to be the best we possibly can. The S5 race bikes revealed by Cervélo emphasise their commitment to helping us achieve that goal.”
The S5 and the PSX
Two Cervélo bikes stand out as being at the peak of the latest cycling technology; the S5 – which the Team Sunweb squad will certainly be riding. And the PSX, which is only for triathlons. These two machines represent the ultimate in the cycling engineering of today. And Vroomen and White can be justifiably proud that they started a tectonic shift in the world of cycling which is still making aftershocks even today.