By Jon Sharp
Unbelievable! An all-carbon Cannondale. ALL of it is carbon. There aren’t any good-ol’ aluminum tubes on the entire bike—frame included! Not only that, a Cannondale NOT made in the USA. (Although not quite as exciting, perhaps it is equally surprising.) Well, if you haven’t heard the news, the Synapse road bike might come as a huge shock to you. And if, like me, you have heard the news, you might still be a little thrown off by it. Although flummoxed, I was interested from the first—very interested. Why? Because I’ve learned through the years that many incredible things can be done with carbon fiber. And, after all, Cannondale has already demonstrated its prowess in manipulating carbon fiber in the chainstay-pivots of the Scalpel.
Because the most shocking (and interesting) part of the Synapse is its all-carbon fiber frame, let’s start with that. Cannondale uses what they call a "unibody lay-up method" for building the frame. I’m not too sure what that is, but they claim that not only is it different than lugged or monocoque designs, but, and perhaps more importantly, it produces lighter and stronger frames than the other methods. I can vouch for the lightness. The 56cm Synapse frame weighs in at merely 1100 grams. (That’s 2.43 lbs!)
One of the main goals in going with all-carbon for Cannondale was a more comfortable ride—without sacrificing performance. To accomplish this, Cannondale has manipulated the shape and size of tubes in ways only possible with carbon fiber. In the rear of the bike, the Synapse uses triaxial hourglass seat stays—with the shape of the tubes being the third axis. They meet the seat-tube separated from each other, rather than joining up in a combined wishbone-type seat stay. Not only is this beautiful, but it further helps reduce vibrations.
Both the chain stays and the fork use what Cannondale has dubbed S.A.V.E. Technology (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination). If one is familiar with the Scalpel, the chain stays will be instantly recognizable—though the Synapse stays are obviously not nearly as exaggerated. To put it simply, the chain stays and fork are somewhat flattened in key areas. This gives them greater vertical compliance, but the added width produces better lateral stiffness. In other words, S.A.V.E. makes it smoother where you want it smooth, and stiffer where you need it stiff.
Besides the frame material and tube shape, the Synapse also has less aggressive, more upright geometry. The Synapse has a slightly slacker head-tube and longer wheelbase. Additionally, the head-tube is about 1cm taller than their standard performance road bike. The result: More stability and a more upright riding position, which does wonders for your comfort.
The Synapse comes in three component choices: Shimano Dura Ace, Shimano Ultegra, and Campagnolo Record (only available in Europe). Although the component spec is great on all three, we didn’t complain when offered the Dura Ace model as our test bike.
The Dura Ace spec begins, of course, with lots of Dura Ace, including chain, cogs, both deraileurs, shifters and brakes. As is to be expected on a high-end Cannondale, the wheels are Mavic Ksyrium SLs with Hutchinson Fusion tires. The saddle is the light and comfortable Fi’zi:k Aliante Gamma, Ti rail. The rest of the cockpit is FSA: SL-K carbon seat post, OS-115C stem (with a pretty carbon face-plate), and the K-Wing handlebar. This last item deserves more attention. Although not the lightest handlebar on the market, the heavily molded carbon bar has a flat portion at the top (with a slight indent underneath for your fingers to curl into) and a straight section in the curve of the drops. This is a very comfortable bar.
Cannondale has their own SI (System Integrated) bottom bracket. This is an extremely oversized bottom bracket shell with a large custom bottom bracket and carbon crank—in this case, made for Cannondale by FSA. This design is claimed to be both lighter and stiffer than a Dura Ace crank. Another subtlety that adds to the all-day comfort of this bike is the compact chainrings: 36/50 (as opposed to 39/53 in a standard crank). Though this might not be apparent while looking at the bike, it’ll make you grin on the first hill you attack.
As I stated above, Cannondale set out to produce a high-performance road bike that afforded the user a little more comfort. First off, let me state that performance wasn't sacrificed in making the Synapse more comfortable. The Synapse is torsionally solid--helped out, I'm certain, by the oversized SI bottom bracket and carbon crank. Sprinting is a pleasure. Unlike other bikes I've tried in this category and price-range, I felt like every bit of energy put into the bike, was transferred to the pavement. Coupled with the compact-double crankset, the stiff frame and overall light-weight make the Synapse a great climber. I found myself constantly searching for any and every monster hill to pit against the Synapse. Descending at speed is equally fun. The extended wheelbase and slacker angles equate to great stability. Only those used to full-blown race machines, like the Cannondale's Six13, will notice the slightly slower responsiveness of the Synapse.
What about comfort? Comfortable. Very comfortable. Anyone who threw a leg over the Synapse raved about its ability to absorb road vibrations. Equally raved about was the FSA K-Wing handlebar and the Fi'zi:k Aliante saddle. We've said it over and over again, the contact points are important. Lucky for the Synapse, Cannondale chose well. Did all that carbon manipulation and strange-shaped tubes make a difference? Well, yes, actually, it did. After miles and miles and hours and hours on the road the Synapse remains comfortable. This is a fantastic bicycle for epic days in the saddle.
As to be expected with the component spec on this bike, everything worked flawlessly. About the only component we didn't like was the, er … Okay, so everything really was great with the Synapse. Sure, there are nicer components out on the market, but not only would they add significantly to the price of the Synapse, their benefit would be marginal.
Anyone who has been on the Six13--or any other high-end racing bike--should ride the Synapse. Unless you are actually racing for a living, you might just find that you favor the added all-day comfort of the Synapse. It is a marvel that Cannondale could produce such a performer and still eliminate the road-numbing vibration inherent in many racing machines this stiff. Though there are, perhaps, more comfortable bikes out there, they seem to sacrifice performance at the same time. The Dura Ace model, tested here, has a retail price of $4400. Its Ultegra sibling goes for $3300. Though a huge chunk of dough, make no mistake, this falls right in line with other bicycles of this quality and component spec. My advice: Start saving now.
Jon Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com who thinks he looks good in lycra.
For more information, contact:
Cannondale Bicycle Corp
16 Trowbridge Drive
Bethel, CT 06801