Has the passage of time and the reduction in cost of carbon fibre bike frames done anything to change the view that the real performance bargains are alu bikes at the £500 and £1300 price points? Cannondale have been keeping themselves busy searching for the perfect aluminium frame for the CAAD 8 and have combined this with an outstanding finishing kit package. But can they fend off the advance of carbon fibre?
It's rare to see an aluminium frame made outside Taiwan these days, but the Cannondale R800's production, and almost all of Cannondale's production, is still done at their US Bedford PA facility. The R800 is based on the race proven CAAD 8 frame.
The tubes are butted throughout and are profiled to simplify the welding process. This ensures that the quality of the welded area is consistent around it s circumference. The welder's torch makes a second pass across the weld to make a smooth joint of the butted and ovalised tubing area.
In our experience, there were some variations in the weight of the CAAD 7 frames - up to 40g between samples , with the lightest being 1180g. While a little more than our R800 frame at the 56cm size, this is nevertheless commendably lightweight for an aluminium frame. A full carbon fork, as opposed to one with either an aluminium or bonded-on carbon steerer tube, is usually unheard of at this price, but that's exactly what you get with the Cannondale. The Slice 100% carbon fork is very similar to the one we tested on the £3699 Cannondale Black Lightning model.
Aside from butting changes to make it more comfortable to ride, the CAAD 8 has a stronger rear replaceable hanger than the CAAD 7's frame. Prior to the application of a clear lacquer finish, each frame gets a rub over with an emery cloth to get the brushed finish that you can see here, though it's also available in a satin black.
Cannondale, like Storck, produce high-end carbon fibre frames, while still maintaining the use of aluminium for their out-and-out performance products . Other companies, such as Giant, Specialized, Trek, Bianchi, Pinarello and Colnago only use carbon fibre on their high-end bikes. Cannondale's CAAD 8 frame is probably the best aluminium frame that we've tested. Compared to the CAAD 7, the ride is perceptibly smoother and has retained the sense of bottom bracket stiffness that characterises a modern performance aluminium tubeset. Indeed, a couple of test riders felt the R800 had the ride character of a carbon bike over poorly surfaced roads. The steering is the very definition of stability and even the heaviest testers found it hard to criticise even on fast descents. The differences are subtle, though - the refinements to the length of the butting make the CAAD 8 easier to live with than the CAAD 7 over longer distances; finding that essential spot of comfort was made easier by the provision of a larger number of headset stacking spacers to determine handlebar height; and the setback seatpost allows a good amount of saddle adjustment.
Cannondale has always succeeded fairly well on spec level, and exceptionally well with finishing kit. With the differences between 105 and Dura-Ace less than they were before the groupset became a 10-speed system, the R800 is an even bigger bargain than the CAAD 7/ R900 nine-speed version that we tested two years ago.
The stem and handlebars were deemed to be correct and well judged for a frame of this size. Though they wear the Cannondale badge, we reckon they look very like Syntace's well-regarded high-end line. These components have a very fine sandblasted and anodized finish that looks good against the brushed frame finish, and also proved to be easy to adjust throughout the test. While the wheels are certainly worth upgrading, the bar, stem and seatpost combination is something that's usually unheard of at this price. The inclusion of a Shimano 105 crankset and callipers is a bonus - some manufacturers cut costs here by specifying other brands. The Cannondale's Fizik Aliante Sport saddle was a hit with the testers, though we noticed that it needs very careful positioning as you can't move fore or aft on it as well as on some other saddles, such as Fizik's Arione. But for the price, we're not going to argue.
Mavic have mastered coming up with great wheelsets and the Aksium is one that defies the weighing scales in terms of the rider's perception of speed and acceleration. These entry level wheels, fitted to the Cannondale, can be found for as little as £100 a pair. While they're not especially light at 2.8kg, including cassette and tyres, they rode like wheels 400g lighter. We're not quite sure why this is but it could be down to the rims which are lighter than we've come to expect of entry level wheels, and there's very little dishing effect on the rear
The Cannondale's level of equipment exceeds similaly priced bikes in quality and, in real terms, it's a lighter bike than most of them too. In addition to that, it rides just as well as as comparably priced carbon machines.