Cannondale claims that its latest SystemSix is the “fastest bike in the world”, and top line wind-tunnel testing figures certainly add some weight to that with the Cannondale SystemSix generating drag of 203 watts. That’s lower than the Cervélo S5 (206W), Ridley Noah Fast (213W) and Trek Madone (212W).
If the numbers add up, it’s partly down to the chassis, which is based on a Kammtail design.
In cycling circles, Kammtail is a teardrop shape greater than the UCI’s stringent 3.2:1 rule on design parameters. To satisfy the UCI, the end’s then chopped off and, by the miracle of physics, airflow acts like the ‘chop’ had never happened. The virtual tail keeps airflow smoother for longer thus reducing drag.
Bike of the Year 2020
The Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.
Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.
The bike features lots of aero design touches, such as an aero cover in place of a traditional four-bolt faceplate. David Caudery / Immediate Media
In fact, aero features are numerous: the front fork is asymmetric to balance out airflow from the disc and non-disc side; the seatpost is deep and aero shaped and the low-slung stays shelter behind the deep seat tube to avoid disrupting the air.
The science adds up, it looks stunning but, of course, it needs backing up with the ride.
Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra kit
Shimano’s Ultegra with a 52/36, 11-30 gear ratio. David Caudery / Immediate Media
The SystemSix is dressed in Shimano Ultegra and a racy but well-spread 52/36, 11-30 gear ratio. The only deviation from the Ultegra group is a step down to RT81 steel rotors over Ice Tech. These offer decent braking but at the expense of screeching when hot and in the wet.
Elsewhere, the Vision Metron 4D MAS flat aerobar and Vision Trimax QS stem are impressive. The bar’s super-deep top section leans forwards into a drop based on FSA’s compact drop shape, which is one of the best around, while the Trimax stem features an aero cover in place of a traditional four-bolt faceplate for drag reduction.
The wheels are from Vision, too. The new SC 55 DB wheelset is based around the same rim shape as the premium Metrons, namely a 55mm-deep, 24mm-wide rim with a 19mm internal diameter that’s both clincher and tubeless ready.
They’re tightly built but dish out a comfy ride. The SC 55s retail for £1,055, so it’s impressive to see them on a bike at this price.
Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra ride impressions
The bike’s geometry makes for the usual aero rapidity but also unexpected agility. David Caudery / Immediate Media
The SystemSix doesn’t ride like aero bikes of old. That’s heavily down to the geometry: a 580mm stack (on my 58cm test bike), reach of 398mm and a wheelbase that’s just under a metre; the frame features a 73-degree head angle and a seat angle of 73.5 degrees. It all makes for the usual aero rapidity but also an unexpected agility.
On climbs, which are often an aero bike’s achilles heel, the SystemSix impresses. Lightness helps because, despite 55mm-deep aero wheels, it’s just 8.43kg, which is lower than many of its rivals.
The stiff chassis is responsive, too, and these two variables unite for a bike that revels in out-of-the-saddle ascents.
The ProLogo Dimension NDR saddle. David Caudery / Immediate Media
As a bonus, once you’ve crested the climb, you can then take advantage of the bike’s premium handling and aerodynamics.
The SystemSix also scores well on comfort. Yes, it’s firm and stiff but it’s never rattlingly uncomfortable, even on broken surfaces – and that’s despite, on first look, the odd choice of 23c tyres. However, there’s a range rationale behind that selection…
The top-end SystemSix rolls atop ultra-aero 64mm-deep KNOT 64 wheels. Their super-wide 32mm rims have a wider internal width than the Visions, so the 23c versions on the premium SystemSix measure closer to 26mm.
This enables the air around the rim and tyre to reattach more easily and so cut drag, plus it adds comfort.
On this model, however, the smoothing of air’s diluted because of the Vision SC55’s slimmer 19mm internal width. Plus, while the graphene-infused Vittoria Rubino tyres grip superbly in adverse conditions and roll well, the narrower profile demands higher tyre pressures to avoid pinch-punctures, which dilutes comfort.
A broader tyre would help both and be more befitting of such a fantastic bike.
Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra geometry
Sizes (* tested): 47, 51, 54, 56, 58*, 60, 62cm
Seat angle: 73.5 degrees
Head angle: 73 degrees
Seat tube: 55.3cm
Top tube: 57.6cm
Head tube: 17.2cm
Fork offset: 4.5cm
Bottom bracket drop: 6.9cm
Bottom bracket height: 27.1cm
With thanks to…
BikeRadar would like to thank 100%, Q36.5, Lazer, Garmin and Facom for their support during our Bike of the Year test.