Cannondale CAAD12 105 review£1,299.00

Bike of the Year 2016: a shining example of how good an alloy road machine can be

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In recent years aluminium has made a bit of a comeback, with BMC, Specialized, Trek, Canyon and Rose among those developing lightweight alloy bikes. Cannondale had the very successful CAAD10 in its lineup, and now the promise of its best ever lies with the new CAAD12 – which has scooped our sister title Cycling Plus's coveted Bike of the Year 2016 award.

We think aluminium never quite got a fair crack at the top. Just as bikes were getting lighter, and stiff enough for pro riders to race on, they were swept away by carbon.

In aluminium alloy's turn-of-the-millennium heyday Cannondale was the biggest innovator with bikes such as the R4000 (CAAD4) on which Italian sprint king Mario Cipollini, after winning a stage of the 1999 Tour, declared to the cameras, "Cannondale makes the best bikes!"

Bring it on

With the new CAAD12, Cannondale seems to be throwing down the gauntlet to the competition in high-grade alloy. The numbers are compelling: the frame weighs just 1098g, which is 52g lighter than the CAAD10, while the fork – based on Cannondale's new EVO design – weighs a mere 300g. More expensive CAAD12 models get the HM fork, a scarily light 280g.

The CAAD12 features the 25.4mm diameter seatpost that Cannondale pioneered on the Synapse, and more recently the new EVO. The new Si crankset is also a Cannondale design.

The new si crankset tips the scales at 735g complete with fsa chainrings: the new si crankset tips the scales at 735g complete with fsa chainrings
The new si crankset tips the scales at 735g complete with fsa chainrings: the new si crankset tips the scales at 735g complete with fsa chainrings

The new Si crankset weighs just 735g complete with FSA chainrings

This isn't as light as its SiSL2 and SiSL predecessors, but the hollow-forged alloy construction – a process Cannondale pioneered before Shimano – results in a weight of just 735g complete with the FSA chainrings. This is lighter than Ultegra and even SRAM's carbon Force.

But in the real world, winning the weight battle is less important than the quality of the ride. Thankfully the CAAD12 won't let you down.

Our initial rides were at the bike's summer launch in Austria, but we're aware that riding on glass-smooth roads in some of Europe's most spectacular mountain ranges can cloud your judgment – so we wanted to take the CAAD12 out for hard rides on more typical territory, Britain's poorly maintained, grit-surfaced tarmac.

Bossing the rough stuff

The 12 did not disappoint. In fact, we found it even more impressive on rough roads than we expected. The new frame has all the rock-solid stiffness that we expect of good quality alloy, but it's combined with the ability to float above the noise and vibration that bad British tarmac offers.

The slender carbon fork eats up buzz yet tracks with the same directness that impressed us so much with the new EVO. More impressive still is the back end. The compliance coming from the combination of the slender seat-tube and slimline seat stays is jaw dropping, to the point that after a few hours in the saddle we had to keep reminding ourselves that this bike was not only aluminium, but also a modestly specced model with an alloy – rather than carbon – seatpost.

The slender carbon fork simply eats up noise yet tracks with the same directness that impressed us so much with the new supersix evo:
The slender carbon fork simply eats up noise yet tracks with the same directness that impressed us so much with the new supersix evo:

The slender carbon fork eats up road buzz

On the flat the CAAD12 translates every ounce of your pedal stroke into speed and acceleration, and when the road starts to rise it simply flows with your input. If you want to push on and attack, crest a rise and start to descend the CAAD12 is your ideal wingman.

It holds its line brilliantly and feels both planted yet nimble reacting to mid-corner corrections. We'd go so far as to say it's one of the most impressive-handling bikes we've tested this year, irrespective of price.

Predictable kit compromises

The CAAD12 has the typical kit compromises that we'd expect at this level. The Mavic Aksium wheels are solid performers, but they do feel narrow, and the middling Lugano tyres feel none too compliant.

The mavic aksium wheels are decent performers but feel a little narrow by modern standards: the mavic aksium wheels are decent performers but feel a little narrow by modern standards
The mavic aksium wheels are decent performers but feel a little narrow by modern standards: the mavic aksium wheels are decent performers but feel a little narrow by modern standards

The Mavic Aksium wheels are decent performers but feel a little narrow by modern standards

It's testament to just how accomplished the Cannondale chassis is that the running gear didn't hamper the ride too much. We dropped a set of wider carbon wheels running 25mm tyres onto the CAAD12 and it feels every inch as good as bikes three times the price.

The biggest issue we think Cannondale faces is punters comparing the CAAD12 to its similarly priced Tiagra-equipped SuperSix EVO – we still think we'd plump for the metal.

Its handling, weight and the wonderful ride quality are compelling reasons why aluminium is still with us long after carbon's rise to prominence. It's also worth emphasising that the CAAD12 isn't just a great alloy bike – it's an exceptional machine regardless of its material.

The minimal seatstays combine with the slim seatpost to deliver ridiculous levels of compliance:
The minimal seatstays combine with the slim seatpost to deliver ridiculous levels of compliance:

The minimal seatstays combine with the slim seatpost to deliver ridiculous levels of compliance

After all, any bike that has us questioning whether to choose it over the SuperSix EVO has to be something very, very special.

We think that Cannondale's canny designers and engineers deserve a round of applause for giving us proof that aluminium is far from finished in the world of high-performance road bikes, and even now is a discerning choice for those who prefer to keep their costs low and their cycling speeds high.

Also consider:

Giant Defy Advanced 2

The Defy Advanced 2 is a superb endurance machine with ability to spare and a great ride feel. Read our full Giant Defy Advanced 2 review.

Trek Emonda ALR6

A smooth and responsive road machine with a fine parts pick that proudly flies the flag for aluminum frame bikes. Read our full Trek Emonda ALR6 review.

Focus Cayo 105 Mix

Sporting a carbon frame proven at the elite level of riding, the Cayo 105 is a worthy canvas for inevitable upgrades. Read our full Focus Cayo 105 Mix review.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Warren Rossiter

Senior Technical Editor
Approaching two decades of testing bikes, Warren can be found on a daily basis riding and exploring the road and off roads of Wiltshire's Salisbury Plain in the UK. That's when he's not travelling the world to test the latest kit, components and bikes.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 188cm / 6'2''
  • Weight: 92kg / 203lb
  • Waist: 86cm / 34in
  • Chest: 112cm / 44in
  • Discipline: Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Big, fast descents and rough surfaces like cobbles or strada bianca
  • Current Bikes: Decade Tripster ATR, Dedacciai Temarario, Cannondale Synapse, BMC Granfondo Disc Di2, Genesis Day One CX, Parlee Z Zero Custom, Storck Scenario Comp Custom, DMR Trailstar, Bianchi Pista, Cube SUV 29er e-bike
  • Dream Bike: Bianchi Oltre Disc, Bianchi Specialissima, Cannondale Slate, Buffalo Bike
  • Beer of Choice: Brew Dog Punk IPA
  • Location: Wiltshire, UK

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