'Are my tyres losing air?' The first few minutes on a Cannondale SuperX is an almost surreal experience, as the carbon frame soaks up rough vibrations to the point that something feels out of place. I checked my tyres twice the first time I rode this bike on a cyclocross course.
Brilliantly designed and damped frameset
Cannondale engineers have done an admirable job with carbon road frames recently; the Synapse is perhaps the plushest endurance bike I’ve ridden recently, and the SuperSix is a coiled spring of a race machine. The SuperX feels like a bit of both. Yes, it embodies that tired bike industry saying: laterally stiff yet vertically compliant. But it’s true!
What’s impressive about the SuperX is that the frame provides the suspension, not the seatpost. On the Synapse, for example, the very long and very narrow (25.4mm) post flexes visibly under load. Here, it’s the flattened seat- and chainstays that mop up the chatter.
Cannondale employs its own compact cranks with the 'cross-standard 46/36 rings
In this age of compact frames, the SuperX sports a relatively tall seat tube. Also, the traditional horizontal top tube combines with the extended seat tube collar to leaves very little seatpost exposed – at least for riders like me with relatively short legs. The bike shown here is a 56cm with a 76cm saddle height. I’m 6ft/183cm.
The high and level top tube is great for dismounts, and the flat underside shoulders easily, with that aforementioned high top tube opening up the front triangle for plenty of room to maneuver.
Like many of the bikes at this price point, the SuperX 105 has Shimano R685 shifters paired with BR785 hydraulic calipers, 160mm rotors and 105 mechanical derailleurs. Also similar to most ’cross bikes, the gearing is 46/36 and 11-28. There is a good reason for this: it all works very well.
While 1x remains en vogue for ’cross – SRAM is certainly pushing hard marketing it – I’m a fan of the front derailleur for quick jumps in gearing, such as sharp downhill-to-uphill transitions. Why push one lever four times and pedal to move the chain across the cassette when you can just push a lever once and pedal a single rotation?
The 785 calipers on 160mm rotors proved flawless. Hard, last-second braking into corners is easy, and you can only really lock up the brakes with intentional effort, such as when you want to slide the rear around a corner.
External routing leaves cables exposed to muck
Combining the solid braking with this frameset – which tenaciously holds traction as the stays flex with the choppiness of the course – translates to heaps of confidence.
While the front end is hyper-stiff laterally, the bottom bracket area isn't quite as road-race-bike stiff. There is a bit of side-to-side give, perhaps because of the absorbent 425mm chainstays. However, the feeling that this bike wants to stay glued to ground more than makes up for this; a hyper-stiff frame doesn't do you any good if your rear tyre is skittering across the ground.
Rolling stock niggles
I have two small gripes with the bike. The quick-release wheels are heavy and non-tubeless, and the cable routing is external.
Although virtually all cyclocross bikes come set up as clinchers, the more progressive brands sell them with tubeless wheels so you’re only looking at tyres (and perhaps rim strips and valve stems) before you have a race-ready machine. Yes, you can race clinchers, but you have to overinflate your tyres to avoid pinchflatting, sacrificing suspension and traction in the process. I switched to other tubeless wheels for racing. (The frame's setup for quick releases instead of thru axles attests to its age; the SuperX was launched with rim brakes back in 2010.)
The external cable routing is a smaller issue. I like internal routing because it generally keeps the cables clean and smooth-running, and it removes them from your gripping surfaces when dismounting and shouldering the bike. Truth be told, though, when racing, I didn’t notice the cables or the rear brake line on the top tube at all.
I loved racing the Cannondale SuperX 105 frameset, but I swapped out the wheels for better, lighter, tubeless options
Back to the wheels. Yes, you can race the Formula CX20/Maddux CX 2.0 wheels as is with the beefy 35mm wire-bead Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres. You’ll just have to add about 15-30psi over what you could get away with using tubeless.
Also, you can do a ghetto tubeless job with the wheels using Gorilla Tape. I could get one Bontrager CX01 tubeless tyre to mount using a floor pump and Schwalbe Easy Fit. The other one required an air compressor. I had decent results when riding at 35psi. Below that though I could burp the rear. But bottom line is that they are cheap, heavy clinchers that I knocked out of true pretty easily.
I like the Fabric Spoon Shallow Elite saddle. It fits well enough and it’s simple to clean – always a plus on a ’cross bike.
The rest of the cockpit is unremarkable, with alloy house-brand stem, bar and seatpost doing their respective jobs without distinction, positive or negative.
To sum it up, the star of the show is the frameset, which basically acts like a soft tail, complemented handily by Shimano’s hydraulic brakes and dependable 105 drivetrain. If it came with good tubeless wheels it would be a five-star machine.