I'm sorry to see you leave, Cannondale CAAD8, our acquaintance was too short. When you came into my life, I thought you'd be just another run of the mill bike. How you proved me wrong.
Cannondale have been making aluminium frames for donkey's years and their level of experience is evident from both the ride and construction quality. There is no shortage of technology that has gone into this frame: double-pass smooth welds, taper-butted tubes, assymetric chainstays, horizontally ovalised top tube and SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) vibration-reducing stays to name a few.
Many of these features have trickled down from the CAAD10 to the CAAD8 this year making a well liked frame even better. The CAAD8 now has Thinline seatstays, the top tube flowing smoothly around the seat tube into those seatstays. In fact, the whole rear triangle looks to be the same as that of the CAAD10. The main differences between the frames are that on the CAAD8 the head tube is not tapered and the down tube looks less "shaped", making both easier to produce.
While the CAAD8 shares the geometry of its siblings up the ladder, they've given it a slightly taller head tube to make the position a bit more relaxed. At 17cm for the size 56cm on test, this isn't classic sportive-bike tall, but it's certainly a bit taller than you'd want on an all-out performance beast (Cannondale use a 15.5cm head tube on their equivalently sized SuperSix). On paper, this might make it neither fish nor fowl, but in reality it makes for a really good position that efficiently rewards the effort you put in.
Just like on the Synapse range, the CAAD8 uses SAVE chainstays, a shape which "provides lateral rigidity while providing vertical compliance for bump absorption and comfort with no loss in power transfer". "Where have I heard that before?" I hear you thinking. I don't know whether it's the SAVE stays (my guess is it's to do with every little detail on this bike), but this IS a comfortable frame that isolates you from a lot of the road buzz you get on uneven surfaces.
As well as me, road.cc's Mat got the big miles in on the CAAD8 and neither of us found it in any way harsh. That back end certainly doesn't kick like a mule. Even on rides of four or five hours it felt just fine, softening the ride just enough without wrapping you in cotton wool. Put it this way: neither of us got off feeling achy or beaten or anything like that. The only thing we disagreed on was the saddle. I liked it whereas Mat swapped it off after one ride moaning that it sagged in the middle... which just goes to prove that saddles, more than any other components, are a matter of individual taste.
The drops of the handlebars are nicely shaped and not too deep and, coupled with the slightly taller head tube, I found myself actually spending time on them rather than staying on the hoods the whole time. The bar tape, Cannondale's own 2.5mm suede with gel backing, has a really pleasant feel and works really well, even when wet. White, it looks the business when new, but gets dirty rather quickly. That's not a huge issue; it's easy and cheap to replace.
The bike is equipped with a Shimano Tiagra groupset and the big revelation for me was how excellent it has become. You get Tiagra shifters and derailleurs front and rear, a compact FSA Omega BB30 50/34 crankset and a 12-28 Tiagra 10-speed cassette. It's smooth as butter, works every time and the gearing is perfectly matched to the bike. I honestly see no reason to upgrade other than to save a little bit of weight, or if you like your cables to be tucked away under the bar tape – which is what you get with Shimano from 105 upwards.
The bike feels light and nimble while the steering is precise and descending is stable thanks to the carbon-bladed Cannondale Ultra fork. Braking, courtesy of Cannondale's own C4 dual pivots, is great. The cartridge pads (handy; it's easier to replace just the pads rather than the brake shoe) grip the rim well - the limiting factor is the friction between road surface and tyres rather than brake performance.
Speaking of the tyres, the Schwalbe Luganos work well in both the dry and wet. They are grippy and didn't puncture on me. Having said that, going for a more upmarket pair of tyres after these have worn out would be a worthwhile investment.
If there's one thing that could be improved, it's the wheels: they're Maddux RS 3.0 rims on Formula RB-51 hubs. There's nothing wrong with them as such, but they just didn't impress me. They didn't stay perfectly true, although they didn't go way out of line either. For the period I had the bike, I didn't have any trouble and the braking surface works well, but they just felt a little sluggish and heavy. Put a pair of decent wheels on and you'd lift the performance a couple of notches.
I think it's only fair to say at this point that, of course, you get what you pay for and I wouldn't expect a better pair of wheels at this price point - they are perfectly decent. I'm just saying that they are not matched to the quality and the performance of the frame. And if I could choose where to compromise on a bike budget I reckon the wheels are not a bad choice at all. They are easy to upgrade, it's good to have more than one pair for winter and summer use, and I'd rather have a decent frame and set of components with a mediocre pair of wheels than the other way around.
Talking about winter and summer use, there is actually provision for mudguard mounting on the frame and forks. The forks have eyelets where you'd expect them while on the rear triangle the bosses are halfway up and on the inside of the seatstays. I didn't get a chance to try mounting mudguards but I wouldn't fancy my chances of getting a pair of full mudguards in there with a tyre clearance I'd be happy with. A pair of thin mudguards like Salmons or such like would be a better bet. There are no bosses near the top of the seat stays for rack mounting.
You can get the CAAD8 with 105 for £100 more, or you can save yourself £200 and go for the Sora option. Personally, I think Tiagra is bang on the money for the CAAD8.
If you're after a road bike at a price that scrapes in under the £1,000 mark then I'd say look no further: it's a very compelling package and great value to boot
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cannondale CAAD8 Tiagra
Size tested: White - 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: New CAAD8, Optimized 6061 Alloy, SAVE, BB30
Fork: Cannondale Ultra, carbon blades, 1-1/8in
Crank: FSA Omega BB30, 50/34
Bottom Bracket: FSA BB30
Shifters: Shimano Tiagra 4600
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra 4600, 12-28, 10-speed
Chain: KMC X10, 10-speed
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4600, 31.8mm clamp
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4600
Rims: Maddux RS 3.0, 32 hole
Hubs: Formula RB-51, RB-52
Tyres: Schwalbe Lugano, 700x23c
Handlebar: Cannondale C4 Compact
Stem: Cannondale C4, 31.8mm, 6 deg.
Spokes: Stainless Steel, 15g
Bar tape: Cannondale 2.5mm Suede w/ gel backing bar tape
Saddle: Cannondale Stage Ergo w/ Steel Rails
Seat Post: Cannondale C4 alloy, 27.2mmx300mm
Shifters: Shimano Tiagra 4600
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Cannondale CAAD8 is the bottom of their Elite Road range which they describe thus: "While for many brands, the entry-level is simply an afterthought, Cannondale realizes that someone's first road bike purchase is often the most important they'll ever make. Totally re-designed for 2012, the new CAAD8 draws on our decades of aluminium engineering expertise to bring a remarkable level of performance to the entry-level road category. By far the lightest frame in its class (1450 grams), the Cannondale CAAD8 shares many of the features and tube shapes of our incredible CAAD10 and mates them with a slightly more forgiving heads-up race geometry. The trademark smooth double-pass welds, compliant SAVE rear stays, efficient assymetric chainstays and unmistakable Cannondale ride-feel make it clear that, rather than being just another aluminium road bike, this is something special."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
You can tell that Cannondale have been making aluminium frames for donkey's years: the usual build quality and expertise is readily evident here.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from 6061 aluminium alloy, the fork has carbon blades and an aluminium steerer tube.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It shares the race geometry of other bikes in the range, with the exception of the head tube which is slightly taller at 17cm for a slightly more upright but still efficient position on the bike.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The size 56 tested had a 56cm effective top tube and 17cm head tube (see above). The overall feel was still very much race as opposed to sportive/touring.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The ride quality is superb. It's clearly a bike with a race heritage but made slightly more comfy with a taller head tube and all the vibration and road buzz reducing features described in the main text.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The bike is plenty stiff, especially for an entry-level road bike. Bottom bracket area stiffness is taken care off by the BB30 bottom bracket. The wheels could have been a bit better.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Although not an out an out race best, the bike is plenty efficient. Cannondale have managed to tweak the race geometry without loosing efficiency.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handling is really good, as you'd expect from a decent race bike.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on really well with the saddle for a change although Mat reported the exact opposite: saddles are a highly personal choice. I found the handlebars and the bar tape really comfortable too.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The FSA Omega compact chainset, by virtue of its BB30 design, makes for a stiff platform.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
See main text: I was particularly impressed with how good Tiagra has become.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
I would change the wheels and tyres, but only when they wear out. I think a wheel upgrade would make this bike a class better, but that is true for any bike at this price. The Luganos are decent entry-level tyres, but performance could be improved by fitting something a bit lighter.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes! I don't want to give it back.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
If you're after an entry-level road bike at a price that scrapes in under the £1,000 threshold for Cycle to Work schemes, I'd say look no further: it's a very compelling package and great value to boot.
About the tester
Age: 32 Height: 1.78m Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: All of them! My best bike is: Cervelo Dual
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, touring, club rides, fixed/singlespeed, Audax