This time last year the bike industry was fretting about the impending shortage of carbon while launching bike ranges awash with the stuff. In 2007 there is even more carbon around and no-one is talking about shortages of the black stuff.
This year's prediction from the doom mongers is the demise of aluminium as a high end frame material - not without some reason, the Kinesis factory has made its last bike frame (for Storck)... we'll see. 2006 was a year of consolidation for most manufacturers; we didn't see many new bikes but we did see a lot of top end frames moving down the price points decked out with lower spec kit. Good stuff for buyers, but we are still hoping for more from the 2007 crop.
Cannondale's all new,all aluminium CAAD 9 frame shows that the news of the death of high end alu hasn't made it to Pennsylvania yet. Even so, at £1299 this bike has a lot to live up to; the CAAD 8 it replaces was a fine machine and carbon bikes are getting cheaper all the time - bikes like the Pedal Force QS2 which sell over the internet for £1140 with Shimano 105 and a feathery frame weighing, in our test bike's case, a mere 12g over the kilo.
At first glance, the Cannondale's CAAD 9 is outwardly similar to the CAAD 8 that it replaces at this price point - but look closer and the tubes have been oversized further to increase stiffness. Like the R800 model before it the tubes are ovalised to harmonise the different tube sizes where they join and the brushed alloy finish is complemented by metal flake paint panels.
The gear cable stops are simply welded onto the side of the head tube, and in the absence of adjusters here Cannondale use in-line cable adjusters that we at first found a little confusing - figuring out which way to turn them. The loop-over gear hanger is the strongest in the business, and unlike a lot of bikes we've seen lately, the seatpost also fits perfectly and stays that way.
Cannondale reckon that the CAAD 9 is torsionally improved and has a stiffer bottom bracket than the CAAD 8, which was felt by some to be a little lacking in these areas. In our view these improvements are only evident in the hands of a strong elite level rider but it has nevertheless brought the flagship CAAD frame into line with the more expensive high-end aluminium tubing such as Columbus Airplane. The CAAD 9 dispatches climbs and slight gradients with ease but such is its stiffness that on level ground the rear wheel has a tendency to skip sideways - so a smooth power delivery is advisable when sprinting over poor road surfaces. The improvements to the CAAD 9 are a little more evident when braking hard and turning on fast, full attention descents but you'll have to be going some to notice the difference.
The Shimano WH-R550 wheels on the Cannondale are quite typical on a bike up to this price point and cost around £100 per pair at retail. They are shod with Vittoria Topazio Pro tyres that impressed us with exemplary wet weather grip. The Shimano wheels look good but the CAAD 9 deserves better and we noted significantly better response on climbs when we upgraded to a pair of Mavic Ksyrium ES wheels.