In 2008 Cervélo began an ambitious engineering project in California to push the composites R&D envelope. This facility is where we prove our leadership in innovating faster, stiffer, lighter and stronger bikes. Here we create new manufacturing techniques and improved design processes, including new bicycle-specific layup and ply analysis software. Our final step is strength and safety tests at least 20% higher than industry standards, executed for maximum security and quality.
As an engineering company focused on making fast, light, and safe bikes, we know that we get the greatest benefit when we bring technology inside the company. While other companies have subcontracted outsiders to develop their leading-edge bikes, Cervélo has developed the people and technologies internally. This focus on leadership means that every Cervélo is built to the same standards, and receives many of the benefits, of the advanced carbon fibre layup and technologies in our most advanced project California frames.
In 2010 Cervélo launched the R5ca: 100 grams lighter than the nearest competitor, and 30% stiffer (Tour magazine, Nov. 2011). The R5ca showcased our Project California development process and was the outcome of our reality-based test protocols. It proved itself less than two years after its launch with Ryder Hesjedal’s victory at the 2012 Giro d’Italia. We followed that up with the original Rca in 2012. This new frame weighed in at 667 grams and maintained the stiffness levels of its predecessor. It also introduced our CASE method: our Concurrent Aero & Structural Engineering (CASE) approach which brought our Toronto and California teams together in a cross-disciplinary process.
This design process involved two steps: first, we performed a cross-disciplinary parametric design study to determine the sensitivity of aero, stiffness, comfort and weight to the systematic dimensional variation of 15 different design areas of the frame. This involved creating 93 different frame shapes and running 279 FEA analyses. Then, with optimum aero, stiffness, comfort and weight goals firmly in our sights, we began an iterative design process to engineer the first Rca frame shapes. This process is a cycle: design, virtually test, redesign, test again. With each iteration, the new design comes closer and closer to the goals, step by step. We used this same process to improve on the original Rca, and launched a new frame in 2014.
Bicycle engineering and composites are highly dynamic fields. In the two years between the original and the new Rca frames our engineering team researched many new materials and techniques, allowing for new possibilities in structural engineering. We revisited some of the key engineering innovations that made the Rca such a spectacular project in the first place, and worked to make them even better.
The new Rca layup schedule is the most complex in Cervélo’s history. Where some bike frames involve a couple dozen steps as most, at Project California we lay over 500 individual pieces of carbon. Each individually cut piece of aerospace-grade carbon fibre is weighed and recorded before it is laid into the Rca moulds. Each completed Rca frame and fork is then weighed before and after paint, and again after final assembly to ensure consistency.
The Project California Fork
The Project California engineers have also focused extensively on fork design. As tested in the lab, the California-made fork delivers significant performance improvements: 15% stiffer laterally, and 7% more compliant longitudinally. The new design marries complex shapes and materials. Boron filament increases compression strength at the crown/bearing seat, while carbon septae increase stiffness of the ultralight fork blades. Use of syntactic foam at the brake receiver reduces weight overall without impacting fork strength.
See the full details on the RCA here.