Gerard Vroomen, one of the two founders of the company, started researching bike dynamics at the Eindhoven University of Technology (The Netherlands). He took his knowledge to Canada to continue the research in McGill University. In 1995, Vroomen and Phil White founded Cervélo Cycles. The name Cervélo is a portmanteau of cervello, the Italian word for brain, and vélo, the French word for bike.
In May 2011, Vroomen sold his stake in Cervélo to pursue new projects, although he is nominally still involved with the company at the board level. Cervélo is now owned by Pon Holdings, a Dutch company that also owns Gazelle, and Derby Cycle, owners of Raleigh Bicycle Company, Univega, and Focus Bikes.
Cervélo's sponsorship of elite athletes has led to widespread recognition of the brand.
In 2003, Cervélo became the bike supplier to Team CSC, at the time the 14th team on the world ranking. Cervélo was by far the smallest and youngest bike company to ever supply a team at this level. Team CSC was crowned the world’s #1 pro cycling team aboard Cervélo for three years. The partnership lasted for six years, until the end of 2008.
In 2009, Cervélo became the first bike manufacturer in the modern era to have its own cycling team at the highest levels of racing, Cervélo TestTeam. The team had a stated goal of not only competing successfully on the international level, but also encouraging collaboration between the team members, Cervélo, and other product sponsorship partners in order to develop better products. There was also a strong focus on fan interaction and experiences. The team's most renowned riders were 2008 Tour De France winner Carlos Sastre and 2010 World Champion and 2009 TdF Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd. Heinrich Haussler also took many of the team's headlines, with his impressive performances at Paris–Nice, Milan–San Remo, and his stage win in the 2009 Tour de France .
In 2010, Emma Pooley and Thor Hushovd won the UCI Women's Timetrial and UCI Men's Road Race respectively. Success was also achieved in a number of ITU Triathlon Races and the Ironman 70.3 and long distance events.
For the 2011 season, Cervélo has joined forces with Slipstream sports to form the Garmin-Cervélo team, which also includes a women's team. This partnership lasted until the end of the 2014 season.
Since the 2015 season, they have provided bikes to MTN-Qhubeka (known as Team Dimension-Data for Qhubeka since 2016).
On 13 October 2007 triathlete Chrissie Wellington of the UK won the Ford Ironman world championship in Kailua-Kona, HI. Her bike in the 180 km ride was the Cervélo P2C with which she posted the quickest split time [for pro women] of 5:06:15; four minutes faster than her nearest opponent.
On 27 July 2008, Carlos Sastre of Spain won the Tour de France on SLC-SL and R3-SL Cervélo framesets. It was Cervélo's first Tour win.
From 2003 to 2008, Cervélo enjoyed the partnership with team CSC/Saxobank with whom they achieved a number of wins on the professional racing circuit. Wins from Fabian Cancellara in the UCI World Timetrial championships, Olympic road and timetrial podium finishes for both Fabian Cancellara and tradeteam teammate Gustav Erik Larsson. In addition to these high-profile victories, Cervélo bikes were also ridden to overall success in the Tour de France team classification and ProTour team classifications.
Cervélo are one of the few manufacturers who have produced an aluminium frame that achieved success against carbon fibre road bicycles. The Cervelo Soloist Team/S1 from the 2003 - 2005 UCI ProTour season was ridden to success by Team CSC in some of the historical cycling races held in Europe such the Criterium International and the Paris-Nice stage race.
Cervélo are the only manufacturer to produce an aero-road frame that has won on the cobbled road race classics with wins from the S-series bicycles notably in the 2009 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and 2010 Tour de France by Thor Hushovd.
In 2011, Garmin-Cervélo rode the updated (BBright bottom bracket and tapered head tube) R3 frame in the cobbled classics, with Johan Van Summeren winning Paris-Roubaix.
Today, Cervélo is the world’s largest manufacturer of time trial and triathlon bikes, as determined in industry counts including decisive wins for the past twelve years at the prestigious Kona bike count. The winner of the 2008 Tour de France, Carlos Sastre, did so on a Cervélo. At the Beijing Olympics Cervélo bikes were ridden by over forty Olympic athletes, resulting in three Gold, five Silver and two Bronze medals – a record. In 2011, the Cervélo S3 received numerous awards from cycling publications including being selected as Editors' Pick in VeloNews' Aero Road Bike Test and Best Race Bike in the Bicycling Magazine Editors' Choice Awards.