The US$5,500 Cannondale SuperSix carbon road bike is an extension of the US maker's successful manipulation of oversized aluminium tubing into race- and award-winning racing bicycles, and to create a carbon bike that feels like a smooth steel one is no easy feat.
As one of the last major American bicycle manufacturers, Cannondale has seen its stock rise rapidly in the pro peloton, under the legs of Liquigas, Barloworld and Saeco over the years. Progressing into carbon just made sense, and based on our time with the SuperSix, those pros lucky enough to earn a spot on a Cannondale-sponsored team are in for a treat.
Ride & handling: swift, smooth and stiff
Stiffness and lightweight are major requests from pro and amateur riders alike, but to engineer the ride to feel comfortable over several hours in the saddle takes expertise and focus. The Cannondale SuperSix delivers, and despite its 15.1lb weight for a 58cm tester, maintains its steady feel to the point of almost feeling intuitive on corners and on twisty descents.
Much of this comes from a rather stout and oversized headtube/downtube/bottom bracket. Channeling positive stiffness into a mean sprint came easy for the SuperSix, and coupled with a lowish 6.7cm bottom bracket drop and 40.5cm chaintstays, the rear wheel tracked perfectly with the front. Stomping on the pedals for quick speed delivers instant results, and getting into a groove on the brake hoods when climbing ultra-steep roads was effortless.
The SuperSix handled twisty descents and corners easily, partly due to the near-parallel 73/73.5 degree seat and head angles, coupled with its 4.5cm fork rake and 5.3cm trail. The Cannondale designers understand proper handling, and there's no twitchiness here. This means less to worry about, which in itself saves energy.
Most road racers we've tested have been too stretched out on top, but the Cannondale's 57.5cm top tube felt right at home when our hands moved from the tops to the drops, giving us a better feeling of confidence when group riding. Dodging debris, potholes and wayward traffic is easier when the bike one's riding is responsive to subtle changes in steering or direction.
Pro racers are a finicky lot, and with the varied terrain they're asked to race over during a season, from the spring classics through the major Tours and into the fall, it was a privilege to spend several hundred miles riding a bike with a ride quality based on satisfying Italian cycling gods like Liquigas's Filippo Pozzato. Mere mortals like us are entitled to the creature comforts of performance riding, and the SuperSix scores big on this.
Frame: conventional feel with unconventional means
Maybe it's psychological on our part, but first glances at the big Cannondale down tube transfer made us prepare for a harsh, aluminium-jarring ride, which never happened.
The SuperSix itself doesn't look too thuggish, even with its brutally oversized front end. The svelte rear triangle seems to offset its brutish front, both in looks and ride quality. The asymmetrical chain stays acknowledge the stress placed on the frame by drivetrain forces, something made easier by formed carbon tubes.
Cannondale has chosen to use a high modulus, unidirectional carbon fibre for the SuperSix full monocoque front triangle, mated to the rear by a process called co-molding. The bulbous bottom bracket shell uses Cannondale's BB30 oversized open standard to house its incredibly stiff, narrow and light Si Hollowgram SL crankset. Ceramic bearings are press fit into the frame to reduce friction and increase spinning efficiency, while narrowing the Q-factor (the spread between the outer edges of the crankarms). This helps pedaling efficiency, which reduces fatigue, which improves the ride and saves wear and tear on ones hips.
The American manufacturer has used a tapered head/steer tube on its premium road bikes for several years, and its full carbon SuperSix fork tapers from 1-1/8-inch to 1-1/2 inches at the base of the steer tube, or crown. The stiffness gurus in Bedford, Pennsylvania understand the benefits of stiffening the steering, and by using carbon throughout the rest of the frame they've achieved a tangible nirvana for stiffness seekers throughout the peloton.
Equipment: system integration with a touch of Italiano
Cannondale was one of the first major manufacturers to adopt system integration, whereby specifics components (cranksets, headsets, bottom brackets) are designed for proprietary use. The 580g Hollowgram SL crankset certainly gets style points, and its narrow Q-factor allowed for some unique cross-chain shifting on the large chainring and low climbing cassette gears. The inclusion of Cannondale's BB30 press-fit ceramic bearings crank up the cool factor and decrease friction.
Shimano's top-end Dura-Ace 10-speed shifters, cassette, chain and derailleurs provided the drivetrain power, and for power-strokers, a racerboy-friendly 53/39-geared crankset was matched to 12-25 cassette. Cannondale's product managers curiously chose relatively unknown maker Control Tech for stem and seatpost duties, but chose the very light (and popular) Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels with Maxxis Xenith Hors Categorie 700x23c clincher tyres. Carbon Cannondale-branded brake calipers (made by Tektro) added a nice look and grabbed the Ksyrium rims without pulsing or squealing.
A tip of the Italian-acknowledging cap went to the inclusion of the Fi'zi:k Arione K:ium saddle and FSA K-Force carbon compact handlebars, smartly wrapped with Fi'zi:k bar tape. The compact bars have the right amount of drop and reach for bigger hands, and felt nearly perfect in the drops on long descents.
Summary: unconventional spec with amazing results
Cannondale's racing pedigree, starting with the Crest team of the late 1980s and currently with Liquigas and the US outfit HealthNet, has contributed greatly to the credibility and research and development of the 15.1lb SuperSix. Known primarily as a fine aluminium producer, riders will be more than impressed with the silky and responsive ride of the carbon Cannondale SuperSix. And with its unorthodox mix of componentry, this bike actually scores high because as a whole everything works as it should, and riders can enjoy the comfort as well as the performance of this pedigreed racer.