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The Cervélo P5X: Three years in the making

What went into developing the ultimate triathlon bike? In the first of four excerpts from Intervals magazine, Lead Designer David Killing explores the real-world research and testing that fused personalization and performance like never before.

Our task was simply stated: “Design the ultimate triathlon bike.”

No UCI rules, no requirements to refresh a previous design, no need to conform to a trend. Not just a frame and fork — a complete, cutting-edge system encompassing everything from customizable storage to optimal fit to stress-free packing. Plus, it had to be faster than any other superbike on the market. Our benchmark: the Cervélo P5.

Best engineering project ever, right?

Not so fast: This kind of freedom can go from being very exciting to very daunting when you realize that the challenge isn’t about coming up with innovative design ideas, but rather choosing the right ideas to implement. Despite our extensive experience in triathlon we decided to start from scratch. To come up with data-driven requirements and design opportunities free from personal bias and assumption, we decided to re-examine every point that had become “common knowledge.”

Starting in early 2013, we devoted more than a year to researching race and training environments to understand the problems we were trying to solve. This included taking more than 14,500 photos at seven Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events; interviewing scores of athletes, fitters, coaches and bike dealers; conducting real-life ride tests with prototypes; and collecting on-board data in a range of conditions, from the extreme wind and heat of Kona to the hills of Ironman France. At the end of this exhaustive process we had a terabyte-sized database of real-world information, which we catalogued and analyzed to create a list of goals. Only then could the designing and engineering begin in earnest.

At this point, we knew we couldn’t simply select the bike design that performed best in tests measuring weight, stiffness and aerodynamics. For the first time in Cervélo’s history — for the first time in history, period — the unique needs of every triathlete, whether training, racing or travelling, would truly be front and centre.

Next: Part 2 — How the P5X frame took shape around the needs of every athlete.

Check out the rest of Intervals for more on Cervélo’s latest bikes and the teams and athletes riding them to glory. Our Fall 2016 edition is available at your local Cervélo retailer. To find one near you, click here.