Cannondale are past masters in the art of aluminium bikes, so it’s no surprise that the CAAD 9 105 Compact is an even-tempered and accurate road machine.
Ride & handling: Whoooosh!
Its Liquigas team livery hints at a bike bred for long days in the saddle in European stage races, and this is exactly what we find. The Cannondale CAAD 9 105 Compact bowls along effortlessly on the flat, charges enthusiastically downhill and chomps relentlessly at climbs like a Staffie crunching through a tasty bone.
It might lack the hectic snap of a super-stiff carbon frame but as one tester said: “What’s nice about the CAAD 9 is that it feels as much like a really good steel bike as an aluminium bike can.”
What he’s talking about is the forgiving road feel and spring of a great steel frame, but since great steel frames are now rare and spendy items, what Cannondale offer here is impressive and unusual: a classic feel for a sensible price.
It manifests best when you’re speeding through quiet country lanes with the sun shining and the birds singing. Okay, most bikes feel pretty damn good on days like that, but the CAAD 9 floats along, eating up the miles with almost no need for attention from the rider.
There’s a calmness about the CAAD 9 that’s very comforting. Put the power down on a climb and it doesn’t lunge forward, but surges pleasantly. It’s not ultra-stiff and over-eager, it’s relaxed and balanced.
This is a bike with decades of development in its frame (Cannondale were one of the earliest companies to make large-tubed welded aluminium frames, way back in the 1980s) and it shows.
It’s guided-missile accurate on the descents too. Belting down our favourite steep West Country hills, the CAAD 9 took a thrilling encounter with the 80kmh region in its stride. It felt like it was asking: “That all you've got?”
But it’s not intrusive. The CAAD 9 lets you forget the details of braking, shifting and steering, and immerse yourself in the pure experience of wheels, motion and tarmac. Billy Connolly once said that what he loved most about cycling was adding that whooshing noise to the landscape. The CAAD 9 begs you to go whoosh.
The only fly in the ointment is a bit of shoe/tyre overlap that caught us a couple times in town. It's a minor point, but it does make the CAAD9 less suitable for stop-trackstand-start city riding. That's a pity because its calm manners would make it a great fine-weather commuter.
Frame: Highly evolved
Cannondale’s experience in aluminium – the company popularised it as a frame material – shows in the CAAD 9’s tidy lines. Over the years Cannondale have developed their frames from the hugely stiff rolling crowbars of the '80s to the sane tube sizes of the CAAD series.
There’s a refreshing lack of wacky tube shapes and other gimmickry about the CAAD 9. The main frame tubes are round, and the only place where you could accuse marketing of topping engineering is the curvy seatstays. Cannondale claim these improve comfort, but it seems highly unlikely that they flex enough to make a difference that’s not swamped by the tyres. They look nice, though, and do no harm.
Beyond that, the CAAD 9 frame has what you would expect: an external seat collar so you can replace it if you strip the thread; a replaceable rear derailleur hanger; two sets of bottle bosses; and a full complement of gear cable stops.
If we’re seeking desperately for a small frame detail to gripe about, then the rear brake cable stop under the top tube is hostile to anyone who has to carry the bike upstairs to their flat. It would be nice if it was on top of the top tube instead of its current shoulder-digging position. Yeah, I know, reaching…
Equipment: Compact & bijou
A full complement of Shimano 105 components powers the CAAD 9. Gear shifting is positive and reliable, and the brakes provide plenty of stopping power without grabbiness or squealing.
The gearing is dominated by a compact 50/34t version of the 105 crankset, which gives you some handy low gears in combination with the 12-27t sprockets. The downside is that the gaps in the gear range are a bit big and we often found ourselves hunting for a ‘just right’ gear that didn’t exist.
A bike like this has two likely groups of riders: relative beginners, who might not be very fit, and more experienced riders looking for a second bike for training. The first group will welcome the lower gearing and won’t mind the gaps, but experienced riders will find the combination annoying and should think about swapping the cassette for an 11-23t.
Shimano’s RS-10s are good midweight wheels with excellent hubs and the Vittoria Zaffiro tyres are decent as inexpensive tyres go, though not the lightest.
The bars and stem are Cannondale own-brand items. The fitted stem was a shade on the short side, making for a rather cramped riding position, but a swap to a longer stem fixed that and should be easy to arrange with your dealer.
A comfortable Fizik saddle on a Cannondale-branded two-bolt post rounds out the contact points. The seatpost is a nice touch – the clamp is infinitely adjustable so you can get the saddle angle just right, something that can make a big difference to your comfort.