2021 Cervelo Caledonia Ultegra Di2 review: the true all-rounder
An in-depth review of Cervelo's new do-it-all road bike. Here we focus on the mid-priced version with fewer bells and whistles.
An in-depth review of Cervelo's new do-it-all road bike. Here we focus on the mid-priced version with fewer bells and whistles.
Cervelo’s Caledonia isn’t like the other all-round road racers we tested in Victoria’s High Country. A wholly new model for 2021, the Caledonia is somewhat of a drop bar jack-of-all-trades that’s an oddly shaped peg for any existing hole. And many of us at CyclingTips believe it’s where many road bikes will be headed in years to come.
We’ve previously taken a deep dive into what the Cervelo Caledonia is and isn’t. We’ve also shared some early impressions about how the pro-level Caledonia 5 rides. However, what we wanted to know was how the more affordable Cervelo Caledonia (without the “5”) performs, and if it too is a game-changer of a bike.
And so we got our hands on the new Cervelo Caledonia Ultegra Di2 for review. This more affordable version does miss a few tricks compared to the more expensive version but it’s still a highly intriguing bike.
The Cervelo Caledonia was released in July 2020, and while it superseded Cervelo’s previous endurance road bike, the C-Series, it’s not your typical endurance bike.
It’s actually closely comparable to the famed Cervelo R3 Mud, a pro-only bike that was built specifically with winning Paris-Roubaix in mind. That frame took the company’s all-round racing platform (the R-series) and sought to make it more stable and compliant for smashing over cobbles. In this sense, the Caledonia will be what Cervelo’s sponsored teams take to the cobbled classics.
With that concept at its core, the Caledonia then borrowed a number of aero cues from the air-smoothing S5 and S3 bikes. The top-tier models have the cables fully concealed, while almost every frame tube is a truncated airfoil from Cervelo’s bookshelf of previously-proven-fast profiles.
And then the Caledonia was designed to handle light gravel riding in the event the Aspero is overkill.
All of this is to say that if you were to draw a Venn diagram of Cervelo’s S-Series, R-Series, C-Series and the Aspero gravel bike, the Caledonia would sit squarely in the middle. A tough bike to define indeed.
To be more specific, this is an aero road bike with a fit and geometry that’s more relaxed than a flat-out race bike. Perhaps most important is the room for at least 34 mm tyres with the ability to fit full-length fenders. And better yet, those fenders mount via stealthy and entirely removable mounts – clever.
Cervelo offers two levels of the Caledonia. The Caledonia 5 is the premium offering, it features a cockpit with fully concealed cabling through (the middle of) Cervelo’s own handlebar and stem. It has a compliant D-shaped carbon seatpost. And it offers a claimed frame weight of 936 g, with the fork at 370 g.
By comparison, the more basic Caledonia moves to a traditional handlebar and stem with the cables and brake hoses run externally until they enter the frame. The seatpost is a common round 27.2 mm alloy item held with a regular external seat clamp. And the frame weight increases to a claimed 1,031 g with the fork at 432 g. That’s 158 g more than the Caledonia 5.
One thing the cheaper Caledonia gains that the 5 misses is a mounting point on the top tube for a Bento bag. Not many of the staff here use such a feature, and Cervelo thoughtfully provides a simple plastic cover to let you pretend the mounting point is not even there.
Otherwise, things are extremely similar between the two. They share the same geometry. The same tube profiles. The same tyre clearance and clever removable fender mounts. And Cervelo even claims the stiffness is unchanged. However, that stiffness claim does ignore the seat post, and as I’ll come back to, the Caledonia 5’s D-shaped carbon item does indeed contribute to a more comfortable ride.
Do be sure to check out our previous write-up about the Cervelo Caledonia 5 if you’re keen for more juice than what this squeeze provided.
When put next to a modern race bike it’s quite obvious that the Caledonia is a little endurance-y in its ways. In its lowest form, our 54 cm sample offers a stack height of 555 mm and a reach of 378 mm. By comparison, many modern race bikes of this size will sit about 15-20 mm lower in the stack and 2-10 mm longer in the reach.
Not unlike Cervelo’s racing bikes from a previous generation, the Caledonia was designed to find a happy fit for nearly all. The stack is just low enough to keep the pro riders happy once they equip a negative -17º stem, while those seeking a more relaxed position can fit the taller 20 mm headset top cap (supplied), use up to 40 mm of headset spacers, and even flip the stem (although the air may be thin when you’re up this high.)
Meanwhile the handling of the Caledonia is kept roughly in the ‘eager racer’ realm. The head tube angle is a slightly slackened 72º but it’s matched to a long 50 mm fork offset. These are figures we’ve seen on quite a few gravel bikes in recent years and together they produce a trail figure of 60 mm with the stock 30 mm tyres fitted, or 59 mm with 28 mm tyres – numbers that are shorter (quicker) than the likes of the Canyon Ultimate and BMC Teammachine race bikes.
Cervelo intends for the Caledonia to be used with tyres that measure an actual 30 mm or wider. For this the bottom bracket is placed at a relatively-but-not-extremely low 74 mm.
Things are a little longer in order for Cervelo to hit its generous tyre clearance with fender figures. The chainstay length (rear centre) on all sizes is 415 mm, the fork length is 385 mm, and the wheelbase is almost a metre (995 mm for a 54 cm frame).
The Caledonia starts from US$2,900 / £2,799 / AU$4,300 for a Shimano 105 build, while the model we tested is the Shimano Ultegra Di2 version at US$4,500 / AU$6,900 / £4,199. This is the top-level Caledonia before moving up to the Caledonia 5 range, which starts at US$5,000 / £5,299 for an Ultegra mechanical build.
Our 54 cm test sample weighs an actual 8.55 kg without pedals. And while that figure is surprisingly heavy, it’s worth looking at what makes it so.
For a start, the stock 30 mm Vittoria tyres are shod on DT Swiss’ E1850 23 Spline wheels. These wheels are surprisingly basic for a bike of this money, and offer an actual paired weight of 1,750 g (770 g front, 980 g rear), while the tyres are 382 g a piece. And then there’s the fatter inner tube, too. Thankfully these aluminium wheels do offer a modern 20 mm internal width, even if they lack any sign of aero design.
The gearing accounts for some of the extra grams, too. All of the Caledonia models are set up with a semi-compact 52/36T crank matched with a 339 g Ultegra 11-34T cassette on the rear. And Shimano Ultegra Di2, while wonderfully reliable, isn’t the lightest thing out.
Then further weight sits in the aluminium seat post, stem and handlebars, all of which are begging for you not to notice them. Oops, you just did.
Perhaps proving that my old weight-weenie days aren’t fully behind me, I also couldn’t help but notice the unbranded thread-together bottom bracket that Cervelo has fitted into its BBRight press-fit shell. It’s an interesting addition given that Cervelo has continually said that it believes its BBRight system is the best balance of weight, stiffness and compatibility … but then undoes all potential weight savings by fitting a chunky aluminium press-fit bottom bracket that screws into itself. But hey, at least it didn’t creak.
Putting the weight and complete lack of aero parts aside, there are some really nice elements here.
For a start, Cervelo has done a great job of cleanly setting up the Di2 to run through the handlebar, and as a result, there’s only one exposed wire going from the bar to the frame.
Also worthy of note is the included integrated (and modular) computer and accessory mount that bolts to the stem faceplate. It can easily be removed entirely, or set up to securely hold a mixture of common GPS computers, a GoPro, and/or many front lights, too. It’s a little detail that goes a long way to making the bike feel and look premium.
And then there’s the removable fender mounts that give the frame a clean uncluttered aesthetic for the dry condition riders. But those living in wet climates are fully catered for too. Cervelo’s approach is to use small ring adapters that bolt to the fenders and then slip in between the ends of the thru-axle and the frame. The (plastic) seatstay “bridge” is then bolted in place. All of these adapters can remain bolted to your fenders for quick fitting as each season turns.
Jumping from focussed race bikes to the Caledonia gives an immediately more laid back vibe. The stock fit of the bike has the handlebars that are a little bit higher, while you’re less stretched out, too. Dare I say, it’s the type of fit that many keen road cyclists should be using – myself included.
Sure you can slam that stem and achieve an aggressive fit, but I suspect most buying the Caledonia aren’t seeking that. Instead the provided fit allows you to achieve a position that’s somewhere between a recreational endurance fit and a race fit, and does so without having to resort to an ugly number of headset spacers or *gasp* an upright stem.
What’s most obvious is the longer wheelbase that immediately gives a sense of straight-line stability and an eagerness to stay on the path it’s pointed down. And it’s worth noting that this extra length means that there’s no toe overlap when running 30 mm slicks (without fenders) – it’s an achievement that few other sporty-feeling road bikes can claim.
The Caledonia strikes a nice balance between feeling calm and collected while also retaining a familiar agility that makes a performance road bike enjoyable to ride. The bike can still be dipped and tipped without much effort, while the frame offers plenty of stiffness to feel efficient while Strava tracks your movements.
That stiffness profile (torsional and vertical) is said to closely match Cervelo’s gravel race bike, the Aspero, and having tested both in the same year that doesn’t surprise me one bit. I previously complained of the Aspero lacking compliance for its off-road purpose, but by contrast the Caledonia’s intended purpose means the provided compliance is actually pretty good.
That said, I do believe that Cervelo is underselling the comfort difference between the base model’s aluminium 27.2 mm seatpost (tested here) and the D-shaped carbon post found on the pro version (Caledonia 5). They say it’s under a 10% difference, but in my opinion, most astute riders should be able to feel the difference. Similar D-shaped seat posts as used by Specialized, BMC, Giant, etc. almost always provide a visible amount of comfort-inducing flex, while the Caledonia’s alloy post provided no such isolation.
While I don’t think Cervelo is trying to deceive its customers, it does make sense that they’re quiet about there being a difference at all. The Caledonia 5 is the flagship product that helps sell more of the standard version, and ride comfort is an important purchase decision for a bike like this.
Thankfully the stock tyres do a respectable job of fading away the road buzz and so I wouldn’t describe the Caledonia as ever feeling harsh. Better yet the rims are awaiting lower pressures through the use of tubeless tyres, and of course, there’s room between the frame tubes to add far more comfort again.
And then it’s worth reiterating that this compliance complaint merely comes from Cervelo cutting costs through the use of an aluminium seatpost. There are plenty of comfortable 27.2 mm seatposts available for purchase that would equalise the compliance of the Caledonia with that of the Caledonia 5, and that’s not a hugely expensive upgrade to make. And similarly, the standard front end with regular cable routing means you can just as easily fit a RedShift ShockStop stem or similar.
The options to add more comfort are plentiful with this bike, but perhaps only warranted if you plan to turn this into a do-it-all, all-road speedster.
Cervelo’s Caledonia is indeed an ultra modern performance all-road bike, and I truly believe this bike will mean different things to different people.
In one sense it’s an aero road bike for the masses – a bike that offers aero cues and a sporty ride while not forcing you into the mould of an ultra-athletic and aggressive fit.
To other riders it’s a bike that’s ready to accept wider tyres and have its stem dumped to then link alpine tarmac and well-kept gravel roads at impressive speeds. The roadie’s exploration machine, if you will.
Others in the Northern Hemisphere will surely see it as the perfect dedicated winter bike to compliment their fine-weather racer. It has the tyre clearance, the mud protection, the disc brakes, and easy serviceability to suit this purpose quite wonderfully.
The Caledonia isn’t perfect. Some of the components featured manage to feel a little dull for the money, and a bike of this price really is begging for a lighter aero wheelset to bring it alive. Nonetheless, the fact that this bike will be of interest to such a wide audience makes it extremely interesting and certainly, it’s a path that a number of road bikes will eventually follow, too.
When you consider the more accessible fit combined with the still-sporty nature, there just aren’t that many competing in this space. For example, popular endurance bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix and Trek Domane offer noticeably taller stack heights than the Caledonia.
The new Merida Scultura Endurance is another that fits closely with the Caledonia, but there were a few too many things I didn’t love about the well-priced Merida to put it at the same level.
BMC’s Roadmachine certainly springs to mind as one to consider in this space, and while it offers more seated comfort than the Caledonia, it perhaps isn’t as aero and certainly doesn’t have the same combined fender and tyre clearance.
Meanwhile, Canyon’s Endurace is another that’s worth comparing to. It too is effectively a toned-back race bike and beats the Cervelo in terms of weight and seated ride comfort, but then loses ground when you assess the aerodynamics, total frame stiffness, and the versatility through tyre clearance that the Caledonia offers.