Cervelo now has a mountain bike

Can’t say we saw this one coming.

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that the discipline of cross-country mountain biking is back on the up. Marathon events are abuzz with participants. Bike companies have bolstered their offerings. And Red Bull TV, the former broadcast host, even revealed that it received more viewers for World Cup cross country than it did for the more thrills n’ spills-heavy World Cup Downhill. 

This renewed interest is related to the boom in gravel cycling, which has helped bridge the gap from road bikes to going off the road. Add to that the drawcard of superstar riders like Tom Pidcock, Matthieu van der Poel and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, winning across multiple cycling disciplines. And with all this multi-discipline interest, it makes sense that we’re seeing several once road-specialist brands hit the dirt. 

Cervelo is the latest brand to announce its entry into the mountain bike space – and it’s a somewhat surprising one given that Cervelo’s parent company, PON, already has the mountain bike-specific Santa Cruz brand, along with GT and Cannondale, under its banner. 

Why?

According to Cervelo, their entry into mountain bikes is to answer a request from Team Jumbo-Visma, who recently signed Dutch multi-disciplinary talent Milan Vader. And that answer isn’t too different to why the company now offers a dedicated cyclocross bike.

However, there’s undoubtedly more to the story here. Just like several other road brands to recently offer mountain bikes, Cervelo likely realised that it has a loyal customer base who would consider extending their allegiance to a Cervelo mountain bike if it was offered. Cervelo’s entry to the segment is aimed squarely at the racing crowd, and I don’t doubt it’ll pull some existing Aspero gravel bike owners over into the cross-country world. 

And what of Cervelo’s stablemates? While sibling brand Santa Cruz plays in the cross-country race space, they don’t offer a lightweight hardtail quite as aggressively race-focused as Cervelo’s new ZHT-5

What is it?

Cervelo’s first mountain bike stays true to the brand’s performance-orientated approach to bicycles. The ZHT-5 is a 29″ wheeled carbon hardtail designed with World Cup cross-country racing in mind. 

Built around a 100 mm suspension fork, the geometry sits at the quicker and more aggressive end of things, with all four frame sizes offering 69-degree head angles, 74-degree seat tube angles, and low stack figures. This is closely aligned to the likes of the Canyon Exceed, Giant XTC Advanced, and Factor Lando HT, and not as slack or long as the Santa Cruz Highball.  

The geometry offers common figures for a top-level XC race bike.

Cervelo claims a medium frame weighs 907 g, a competitive figure within a large scoop of tubeless sealant compared to the top-tier frames from Specialized and Mondraker

Love it or hate it, concealed cabling is one feature that road brands are quickly bringing to the mountain bike world. The Canyon Exceed was one of the first to run its brake hoses through an oversized 1.5” headset top cap and then alongside the regular fork steerer tube, and it has been copied a number of times since. Cervelo uses a similar approach and will offer different top caps to suit various cabling configurations, although its own available builds do feature wireless shifting. 

Otherwise, the carbon frame is rather conventional. The bottom bracket is a regular 73 mm wide (mountain bike standard) English threaded number – a welcome surprise given the offset press-fit-loving brand name on the downtube. The seatpost is round and 30.9 mm in diameter. The wheels are Boost spacing (another mountain bike standard). The derailleur hanger is SRAM’s Universal Mount, one that is rumoured to allow direct fitment with SRAM’s expected next drivetrain release. And there’s room for at least 29 x 2.4” tyres. 

Cervelo currently offers its ZHT-5 in two-build kit options. There’s the US$9,000 ZHT-5 XX1 AXS with all the fancy trimmings including a 1×12 SRAM XX1 AXS group, Reserve 28 XC carbon rims on I9 1/1 hubs, and Raceface Next SL handlebar.  Meanwhile, for nearly half the price (US$4,800) you can get the ZHT-5 GX Eagle AXS with SRAM’s entry to 12-speed wireless shifting and RaceFace ARC wheels. Both bikes have rigid (non-dropper) seatposts and 2.4” wide tyres as stock. 

What’s next?

No doubt more road brands will continue to enter (or return) to the mountain bike world. Some brands, such as Factor, haven’t been shy about their plans to grow their presence and offerings within the mountain bike space. Other brands, such as Cervelo, are more likely to stay within their tight race-focused lane. More choice isn’t bad, but I’m also hopeful that we will start to see more affordable options come to market, too. 

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