We tested the hi-mod, high price Synapse Black Inc at the end of 2013. The range-topping model blew us away with its intoxicating mix of all-day comfort and race-day handling. Once you remove the range-topping groupset, lightweight carbon components and wheels, though, does enough of its brilliance remain in the more modest build of the Cannondale Synapse Carbon five?
The short answer is yes, and certainly enough to justify its position as Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year 2014.
- See also: Cannondale Synapse regenerated - a fully immersive feature uncovering the development of this bike
The package is what we’d expect for the price. It comprises a full 105 groupset, bar the FSA Gossamer crank (Shimano don’t make a crank compatible with the Synapse BB30a standard). The Gossamer 50/34 chainrings shift just as well as Shimano's; their shifting is smooth, accurate and punchy, and they combine well with the wide 12-30 cassette to give a gran-fondo-friendly range of gearing.
The wheels are Shimano RS11s. They're a small upgrade from the tough and popular RS10s, but are miles ahead of Shimano R500s in terms of performance. The wheels are matched to Schwalbe’s hugely impressive 25c Lugano S tires. They're tough, comfortable, grippy in the wet and fast in the dry.
But the kit is only a small part of the Synapse’s huge charm. What sets it apart from a highly competitive crowd is the way that it goes about its business of being flat-out-fast. On the flat, its cotton-wool like comfort makes progress easy. The shape of the bike is far more aggressive than the old Synapse, but not as low and flat as Cannondale's similarly impressive SuperSix Evo, and this middle ground makes for a balanced, swift ride. It's also a nimble climber, despite not being that light.
This is all impressive stuff, but it’s when you hit the descents that you truly realise just how good this bike is. The smooth yet stiff back end feels absolutely planted, while the front tracks with resolute unwillingness to drift even a fraction from the fastest line.
We haven’t been this impressed with a bike's descending ability since the super stiff Storck Scenero was crowned Bike of the Year 2011. The Synapse combines the Scenero's pulsating pace and handling with the stand-out smoothness of the Giant Defy Advanced that was the 2013 winner.
The Synapse is gran-fondo perfection, but it's also a bike that you could easily race on, as Team Cannondale has proved in the Classics.