We’re going to kick off the showdown with the super top-secret bike, the Cervelo ZFS-5. Well, I guess it’s not a secret after today. Cervelo may be more well known for their road and gravel bikes. In fact, they’re probably still buzzing from their 2023 TDF win just a few weeks ago. They’ve recently taken a stab at the MTB world with a hardtail and now the ZFS-5. So how did they do with their first full-suspension mountain bike? Stick around to find out.
Cervelo ZFS-5 Geometry and Details
Let’s cover a few basics before we go ride. The ZFS-5 comes in two versions. The 100 ultra-XC version and the 120 which we have here. While this particular model is called the 120, it has 115mm of rear wheel travel. The 120 designation comes from the fork travel, which is a bit weird if you ask me.
It’s probably not a secret, but the same parent company owns both Cervelo and Santa Cruz bikes. That’s probably why this bike looks so much like the Blur. Rest assured, this is not just a rebranded Blur. the geometry is different, and the suspension is very different. The ZFS-5 120 has the slackest head tube angle in our test at 66.7° in size XL (tested). The reach numbers are a bit on the shorter side on the 120 version as it uses the same frame as the 100. The extra travel from the longer fork effectively reduced the reach measurement.
The ZFS-5, like all the other bikes in our test, uses a flex stay suspension design. That doesn’t mean it behaves and performs the same as all the other bikes in the test, though. There’s still a lot of flexibility for Cervelo to tune that design to behave the way they want.
On the climbs, the first thing I noticed about the ZFS-5 is the fit and feel are much closer to what I’m used to with longer-travel bikes. It fits a bit more like a comfortable trail bike than an ultra-racy XC whip. It has a taller front end and a more relaxed riding position. Especially when compared to bikes like the Giant Anthem, I appreciated the fit of the bike. It still has plenty of front wheel weight and traction, though. Even on the steepest climbs, I didn’t find the front end wandering and lifting. For me, it finds the sweet spot between comfort and performance. For folks who want an even more aggressive riding position, I’d suggest looking at the 100mm version — it’s quite a bit steeper, and the stack height is significantly lower.
The suspension on the ZFS-5 falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between efficient and active. It’s active enough to smooth out some of the trail chatter and provide some rear-wheel traction, but it’s not as efficient as a bike like the Orbea Oiz. It doesn’t have that ultra-quick acceleration feel that some of the other XC bikes have.
I did struggle a little with rear-wheel traction on this bike on the steeper, looser, and chunkier climbs. It’s worth noting this bike had the most aggressive tires (Maxxis Rekon) on it out of our entire test too. Apart from the back wheel slipping when I’d stand to put some power down, the ZFS-5 handled technical climbs very well. The body position allowed for a ton of control and agility. It was easy to navigate tight corners and rocky bits.
Overall the ZFS-5 climbs well, with a bit of a trail bike fit and feel. The suspension is active enough without feeling slow and inefficient.
I wouldn’t have pictured a bike with the word “Cervelo” painted on the downtube being as capable of a descender as this. It has the slackest geometry and the most aggressive build out of all the bikes in our test. Kudos to Cervelo for thinking progressively with their first full-suspension offering.
The first thing I noticed on the descents aboard the ZFS-5 is how smooth and quiet the bike is. It’s insanely quiet — so quiet, in fact, that it threw me off a little bit. I could hear myself thinking, which is rare on a mountain bike. Not only is the bike audibly quiet, but it also rides fairly quietly too. It smooths out bumps and compressions very well. Although it wasn’t the smoothest bike in our test, for whatever reason, the Blur felt smoother despite the two bikes having similar leverage curves and geometry. It could boil down to the difference in shocks.
The ZFS-5’s geometry does an excellent job of keeping the bike stable through rougher terrain and at higher speeds. The slacker head tube gave me the confidence to hit some steeper lines and rockier trails without too much thought. It is probably the most stable bike in our test, which would make sense considering it has the longest wheelbase. That longer wheelbase comes from a slacker head tube angle as well as slightly longer chainstays than anything else in the test.
Overall the Cervelo ZFS-5 descends with the best in our test. It has that comfortable and confident trail bike feel.
Who is the Cervelo ZFS-5 for?
I like the ZFS-5 for folks who want an excellent climbing bike with a more traditional trail bike fit and feel. Keep in mind this is the 120 version. The 100 is going to be much racier for those looking to actually race XC competitively. Not to say the 120 is slow; it just offers a bit more comfort and control for the average rider who isn’t racing full-time. Folks who focus on fitness, long rides, and climbing performance will all enjoy the ZFS-5. The bonus here is that when the trail gets rougher, the ZFS-5 has your back with a fair amount of stability. It’s not a trail bike, but it’s about as close as it gets while still bearing the XC name.