Only a short time ago flat-barred road bikes were a breed apart. Once the personalised steeds of streetwise couriers, these mutant machines mixed and matched parts from road bikes and mountain bikes to offer the best of the both worlds. Splicing the speed of one with the riding position of the other turned out to make a whole lot of sense, and it wasn't long before manufacturers were lining up to offer their take on the formula.
In fact, the flat-barred setup appeals to many. You might be an older roadie looking for a more upright, comfortable riding position without too much loss in performance; a commuter who enjoys a fast turn of speed on your ride to work, as this same geometry offers an improved field of view through traffic; or indeed anyone new to cycling - flat-barred cockpits, with their improved braking and easier shifting, plus the visibility bonuses, are more confidence inspiring. Lastly, they're also a bridge to those heralding from an MTB background - a familiar riding position only with a slicker, faster ride.
Tapping into the appeal of the inclusiveness of the setup, there's now a whole range to choose from. Some are effectively road bikes fitted with flat bars, offering a simple change in riding position for weekend escapes. Others are more evolved solutions, often with city use more in mind. It's worth pointing out too that speccing a flatbarred setup should save you money too, as rapid fire shifters are considerably cheaper than more complicated STIs for drop bars.
We've tested Cannondale's Synapse in its drop-barred guise before - the Carbon 105 Flat Bar (£1499) is the highest in their flat-barred range.
As the name suggests, the Synapse 105 Flat Bar uses the standard Synapse frame as its starting point. In doing so, it inherits all the carbon technology Cannondale have packed into their wellreceived range of comfort performance bikes. Slightly more relaxed angles, longer chainstays and longer headtube mark it out for long distance riding, while its light weight and an impressively stiff bottom bracket ensure it's responsive too out of the saddle. It also shares Cannondale's SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) system in its forks and hourglass-shaped chainstays, designed to reduce high frequency vibrations from the road. With their usual attention to detail, Cannondale haven't stopped there. The full carbon fork used on the Flat Bar has a greater offset than its drop handle barred stablemate, for a more confident, stable ride. Don't expect any eyelets or clearance for mudguards though - this is Cannondale's take on a comfort road bike, and the emphasis is still very much on performance. Likewise, the trademark all-black finish and carbon weave looks great, but isn't up to being locked up against lampposts.
We took the Synapse on a few long outings and were immediately impressed by how incredibly silky smooth it rides, ironing out typical UK road dimples as if they weren't there. A shorter, steeper stem and flat bars means it's some 20mm shorter in length and 50mm higher than the standard Synapse. The more upright riding position also helps in all day comfort, while a slightly slower steering than conventional road bikes ensures a stable ride that's still involving too, and no hint of toe overlap. Yet although the frame helps eliminate road vibrations at the rear end, the flat-barred position is naturally limited in terms of hand positions - and this becomes more noticeable after a few hours.
We'd recommend fitting a set of bar ends, something like Cane Creek's excellent Ergo Bar Ends, to provide more variety and help reduce numb fingers over long rides. Unlike many distance bikes, which can sacrifice weight for comfort, it's noticeably light too - less than 18lbs - floating up climbs with the minimum of resistance and happily munching up hilly 100km audaxes.
With its full carbon, high-tech frame and Cannondale cache, you'd expect the Synapse to cost the earth. In fact, £1500 gets you a decent level of kit, including an Ultegra grade 50/36T compact chainset, mated to a 10-speed, sensibly spread 12-27T cluster. Plus, it's £150 cheaper than the list price of the drop version. We're big fans of the new 105 Shimano kit as it's such great value for money with little weight penalty, excellent performance and great looks. The 105 theme extends through the front and rear derailleurs, as well as brakes, offering crisp gear shifts and powerful, confident stopping. The flat-barred specific shifter pods are Ultegra in quality, and there's some cheap but comfortable full-finger brakes, with an integrated bell and rubbery Cannondale grips. Atop the basic FSA seat post sits a Fizik Wingflex Nisene, that's proved its worth on longer rides.
We're seeing Mavic's Aksium Race wheelset crop up on a lot of bikes - largely, we suspect, because they look so much like the higher end Ksyriums. In fact, they're a perfectly capable all round set of wheels that are suited to training rides. We had no problems with Hutchinson's Top Speeds, a 23c tyre with an elastomer layer to help puncture proofing.
Kona Phd Latest and lightest in Kona's stylish flat-barred lineup, features Easton Ultralite Race tubing, Aksium wheels, FSA Gossamer triple, Conti Ultrasport 23c tyres, rack and 'guard eyelets too.
Trek 7.6 FX WSD With 700x32c wheels, the 7.6 is good for city and light rough stuff, while still having the look and feel of a flat-barred road bike. There's clearance for mudguards too.
Genesis Day 03 The classic flat top boasts sleek looks, lightweight aluminium frame and fork, Shimano Tiagra triple, R500 wheels and rack eyelets - all without worrying the bank manager.
Trek Soho Hit town in style: Avid BB7s for all-weather breaking, single chainring for minimum maintenance faff or cost, rubber frame protectors, upright riding position and there's even a thermos for your skinny latte too...