The last time I was riding the dust and gravel of Tuscany’s Strade Bianche was at last year’s L’Eroica. In that event I was riding a full-steel 10-speed of the mid-sixties.
I’m out again upon the same roads. But this time I'm astride a sub kilo carbon-framed Cannondale with top-flight all-carbon clinchers and a swathe of cutting edge design touches.
Ride & handling
In a sector that’s becoming more and more congested with some very special bikes, the Synapse needs to be seriously good to compete with the Specialized Roubaix SL4, clever Trek Domane, sporty BMC GF01 – and let’s not forget the sublime Giant Defy Advanced. Strade Bianche roads can be as hard-packed as they come, rolling almost like concrete, or they can be loose and/or deep like sand dunes. Water bars, deep ruts and cavernous potholes make the riding hard and the impact on a bike huge.
So it’s a confident company that would release a ‘comfort’ orientated endurance bike to the world’s press on terrain like this. But Cannondale have proved themselves just that, and with good reason.
The comfort, geometry and handling on the new Synapse is superb
The Synapse’s new geometry is lower at the front than the outgoing model, yet a little longer too – though not quite as low and long as the brilliant SuperSix EVO. Vision’s superb Metron 40 clinchers, fitted to the test machine, only enhance the Synapse’s low weight and sweet, reactive behaviour. Over two days of riding the broken chalk roads – and some slick smooth tarmac climbs and descents – these brilliant wheels didn’t put a foot wrong.
We’re more than confident that Cannondale have got the handling right on the new Synapse. In fact, with its sharp cornering and trustworthy responses, we're almost convinced that this is a better proposition than the SuperSix Evo for 95 per cent of riders.
While handling of this quality is a surprise on a bike designed for the ‘endurance’ market, smooth, compliant ride quality should be a given. The Synapse doesn’t disappoint here either.
High-frequency road buzz is all but eliminated, yet you can still feel the road. It's feeding back just the right amount of information through is fat, slick tyres on tarmac.
The big-volume Schwalbes shod on the wide rims of the Metron 40s encourage extreme cornering at lean angles and ever quicker velocities – not something we’d have said of the older sportive style bikes around. On ruts, holes and bars the Synapse takes the sharpness of impacts out of the equation: the fork's active movement fore and aft is as impressive as we’ve seen, matching the suppleness of Trek Domane IsoSpeed.
Shod in high-volume Schwalbes, the Synapse soaked up the chatter from the gravel roads
It was my second chance to give SRAM Red 22 a decent run too. The smooth roads of Malibu flatter any bike and drivetrain; the constant chatter and bumps of Tuscany’s chalk roads certainly do not. That said, my 22 set-up never missed a shift, staying put – and the mechanical brakes offered ample feel and stopping power (though I’d love to try the hydraulics on terrain like this).
Frame & equipment
Cannondale's 2014 Synapse isn’t a mere update; it’s a complete ground-up reworking. It’s claimed the new frame is stiffer, smoother and stronger. Its certainly much lighter – at 950g for the frame, this is just about the lightest endurance (sportive) chassis around. The clever offset dropout of the front fork sharpens up steering responses.
My test bike is to all intents and purposes a Hi-Mod SRAM 22. The production bikes will have Ksyrium wheels; mine, however, has the new Metron 40 clinchers from Vision. Cannondale’s pro team ride the tubular versions, and the wheels are found on the range topping Black Inc. version of the Hi-Mod.
We rode a Synapse Hi-Mod 2 Red with production spec except for the wheels
With no issues at all they stayed true, rolling smoothly on full ceramic bearings. Even the braking was impressive; yes, they do tend to grab a little more when heat's built up over the best-in-class Zipp 303’s, but they aren’t far off … and we can see these becoming a favourite around here.
We expected the new Synapse to impress; the outgoing Synapse is still a favourite of ours. That it’s so far above and beyond our expectations is more surprising.
The smoothness the frame exerts whether seated or standing is hugely impressive, and the handling balances a sharp racey edge and stability with uncanny ease. The Synapse is one of the most perfectly balanced bikes we ever had the pleasure of riding.
If you’ve only space for one road bike in your life then the new Synapse Hi-Mod should be at the top of your list. Right now it's simply one of the greatest all-rounders we’ve ever tried.