A performance bike that offers plush comfort; that’s what Cannondale are aiming at with their Synapse range. We’ve got our hands on the entry-level carbon model in the 2012 lineup to find out if they succeed and we'll be testing it thoroughly in the coming weeks, but first let's get it out of the box and have a little look see.
The Synapse comes in a variety of different versions; there are – count ’em – nine to choose from. First, you get to decide whether you go for the standard carbon flavour, high modulus carbon or alloy. This is the standard carbon version.
Then you get to choose your topping. This frame comes in a SRAM Apex build, in next-level-up Rival, or in Shimano 105 or Ultegra. As the name reveals, our test model is the Apex one. The high modulus carbon frame comes in Dura-Ace and Red builds while the alloy options are all Shimano: 105, Tiagra and Sora.
£1799.99 is a lot to pay for an Apex-equipped bike, which suggests before we start that a big proportion of your cash is going on the frameset. So, what’s the deal with the frame?
The main thing is that Cannondale engineer in plenty of comfort. That’s the idea anyway. How do they do that? Well, it’s all down to our good old friend, vertical compliance. Let’s have a big hand and welcome it back. Only Cannondale don’t actually call it vertical compliance, they call it vertical deflection. That’s a big opportunity missed.
We’re not really taking the Mick. Vertical compliance, vertical deflection or whatever else you want to call it is a real enough feature that prevents riding a bike feeling like riding a sheet of hardboard. It’s not Cannondale’s fault that it’s the most overused concept in the bike industry with everyone claiming that their products possess bags of it even when they don’t.
The rear triangle features what Cannondale call their SAVE Plus design, SAVE being an acronym for Synapse Active Vibration Elimination – beautifully done. It’s a development on from their Speed SAVE design, “with even more emphasis on comfort,” according to Cannondale.
What they do is flatten the chainstays down; squish them so they’re much shorter from top to bottom than they are from side to side in the mid-section. The twin seatstays are really skinny in the middle too. They’re triangulated and again the cross-section is broader than it is high. Plus, those seatstays weave about all over the shop between the seat post and the dropouts, the plan being that the design acts as a micro suspension system to soak up vibration and shock from the road so that it never reaches you in the saddle.
The SAVE Plus fork is designed to do a similar job at the front end. The carbon lay-up comes into play here and the dropout is offset in that it kicks down from the centreline of the fork leg. They reckon that makes a difference to vertical deflection and vibration absorption.
The other main comfort-providing feature is the seatpost. It’s unusual. Okay, so the bottom end of the seat post, the bit that fits into the frame, is a teardrop profile. Then the shape changes to become a skinny, circular cross-section that provides some flex as you ride in the saddle. Then, on top of that you get a stubby alloy mast topper.
The seat post is available in two different models, one firm and one softer. You get the soft one on frame sizes 48-54cm (where riders will generally be lighter) and the firmer one on the larger sizes, although you can buy the other one aftermarket if you prefer.
The Synapse’s geometry is a little different from that of Cannondale’s Elite road bikes – the Supersixes and the CAAD alloy bikes. The main distinction is that the Synapse has a slightly longer head tube. We’re talking about 2.5cm longer on the 56cm frame.
The Synapse has slightly slacker frame angles too, and a wheelbase that’s extended a tad. None of these differences are huge but they add up to a position that’s just a little more relaxed and a ride that’s a touch more stable.
This is still very much a performance setup though. It’s just a touch less aggressive than Cannondale’s other road bikes. Pro team Liquigas Cannondale use this bike for riding over the cobbles in early season Classics, for example.
Right, let’s whip through a few of the spec details before getting the Synapse out on the road. As I said at the start, this bike comes fitted with SRAM’s Apex groupset – in dazzling white. Sensible people might point out that it’ll show the dirt and grime – and they’d be right – but it’s pretty and it matches the frame, both of which are major pluses.
It’s a compact (50/34T) FSA Omega chainset matched up to a cassette that goes from 11-tooth to… hang on, let me just check this again… and one more time… yup, it’s a 32-tooth sprocket. So that’s a 34T up front and a 32T at the back. For those of you who work in gear inches, that’s 28.7. For those of you who don’t, that’s… tiny. I’m confident that I’ll not struggle on any of our local hills with this setup. Oh yes, I’m feeling pretty self-assured here.
That chainset spins on a BB30 bottom bracket, by the way. You’d expect that, BB30 being the oversized standard that Cannondale developed and released to the wider world.
One more little snippet before I head out the door: the wheels are Shimano RS10s with 24mm-high aluminium rims, elbowless spokes and angular contact bearings.
And with that, I’m out of here.
Hang on! I forgot something... 18.3lb (8.32kg). That’s for the 56cm model. I really am off to do some riding now.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.