Cannondale's System Six Liquigas is a tour de force of US-made frame excellence coupled with great components and fine looks. The US-built, carbon/aluminium co-moulded flagship SystemSix is designed for riders who want something stiffer and even more exciting than the once range-topping Six-13. We'll find out whether this new lower price pointed version sets a new benchmark for value.
Producing an entirely US-made product to meet the needs of a partisan American consumer, when everyone else is sourcing from much cheaper Taiwan, is no mean feat for Cannondale. The entire production of their SystemSix frame is carried out in-house, where a CAAD 9-welded, aluminium rear triangle is mated to high modulus carbon top-tube, head-tube and down-tube sections. This slightly odd combination, known as co-moulding, was first used by Specialized on their Tarmac models and is designed to increase stiffness. The head-tube accepts a dedicated oversized lower headset bearing and the fork steerer tapers outwards at the bottom which is claimed to increase strength. The SystemSix comes in eight sizes, ranging from 48cm to 63cm.
Cannondale usually win in the equipment stakes, and the SystemSix is no exception. It has the usual smattering of their own branded items, including the stem and handlebar, made by Syntace, and the black anodised finish is second to none. The stem features a pair of U-shaped clamps that are lighter than one cap and, like all things made in Germany, they've done well in tests that subject them to repeated loadings.
The 105 ST control levers are light and easy to operate, although, as with other 10-speed systems, the gear indexing requires very careful adjustment to prevent the odd mis-shift when changing gear on uneven road surfaces. The 12-26 cassette provides sufficient go on the gradients for those who participate regularly in sportive events, and beginner riders are well catered for, though a couple of experienced test riders felt that the fast and agile SystemSix should also be made available with close cassette ratios for the more experienced roadie.
The Cannondale sports Shimano WH-R550 wheels, highly popular on all Shimano 105-equipped bikes. These wheels take their design cues from the hugely successful Mavic Ksyriums, based on a radial drive side rear spoke pattern and crossed left hand spokes. As with the Fulcrum R7s, the traditional elbowed spokes are available over the counter at all good bike shops. The Vittoria Rubino Pro 23mm tyres hang on particularly well in the wet.
Cannondale claim that their co-moulded frame makes the SystemSix “the lightest, most explosive bike” Cannondale have ever produced. It's certainly more like a purely race-orientated ride than their softer and more remote handling Six-13; and stiffer and more firmly planted to the road than their sportive-friendly Synapse carbon monocoque model. Even so the SystemSix is easier to live with over longer distances than the comparable Isaac Kelvin - perhaps more like the stiff and responsive Scott CR1.
Cannondale have to be commended for getting the unorthodox SystemSix to work every bit as well as the best carbon monocoque frames at this price and the finishing kit specification is excellent. The handling is top notch too, and when ridden with the appropriate clothing those Liquigas team graphics will make you feel like a god even when it's raining.