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Cannondale knows a thing or two about aluminium alloy bike frames, and the latest Synapse Disc Sora is testament to that. It offers an excellent ride quality, bags of stiffness and impressive comfort for what is not a huge amount of money. It's on the heavy side, though, and the brakes really aren't the best, which is a shame.
The Synapse, if you haven't come across it before, is Cannondale's answer to the endurance market, with slightly less aggressive geometry and riding position over its race bikes. It's evolved over the years into what you see here.
With clearance for up to 32mm tyres, full mudguard mounts, rack mounts and being disc brake only, it has become much more than that original endurance bike. It's capable of a bit of gravel, towpath riding and even some light touring while still being a quick, performance-orientated machine.
One thing that Cannondale has really nailed is the comfort, which was a pleasant surprise after catching a glimpse of the diameter of some of the oversized tubing at the front end.
On one ride I covered over 100 miles, mostly on the road with a bit of gravel canal path chucked in, and the Synapse was an absolute pleasure. It never rattled or buzzed over rough conditions, and vibration to the wrists and rear end was really kept to a minimum – and this with plenty of air in the 28mm tyres.
The sloping top tube allows you to expose plenty of the narrow 25.4mm seatpost, plus the seatstays are very slim to promote a little flex.
It spins along well, too, considering the weight. Okay, it's a bit sluggish to get that 11.07kg up to cruising speed, and you aren't really going to be troubling any Strava KOMs on your local hills, but once you are moving it rolls pretty well.
The main weight is in the wheels, and with plenty here to test I fitted a set of Mavic Ksyrium Pro UST Disc wheels for the last ride which made a huge difference to the way the Synapse behaved everywhere. Admittedly, they are £899 and more expensive than the bike itself, but you could easily drop a fair few grams for a lot less.
Handling-wise the Synapse is well mannered and neutral. It's quick enough to have a bit of fun in the bends for the experienced rider, but for those who aren't the most confident descenders there shouldn't be anything to catch you out, especially if you take a smooth approach to the corners.
One thing you do need to bear in mind, though, is that the brakes – Promax DSK 718R dual side pull mechanical callipers – just don't have the power to bring the 160mm rotors to a stop quickly enough. They got better as they bedded in, but I still had a few moments in traffic or the odd fast descent when I forgot what bike I was on. An upgrade here is a must, or adopt a reserved riding style.
The aluminium Synapse is only available as a disc brake offering for 2018. The tubes forming its Asymmetric SmartForm C2 Alloy frame have all been shaped and formed to do a specific job at various parts of their length. The top tube, for instance, is much deeper where it meets the head tube for stiffness under steering and braking, while it slims down towards the seat tube for a little more flex. Even with all that, it's still a beefy affair being much larger in profile than most top tubes we see.
The down tube follows a similar theme. It is massively oversized and switches from round to oval at the head tube for a larger cross-sectional area at the weld. It gives a good flowing entry point for the internal cable routing, too, for the rear brake and rear mech.
The head tube is tapered from 1 1/8in to 1 1/4in top to bottom for improved front end stiffness.
Only the top alloy model, the Synapse Disc 105 SE, uses a BB30 bottom bracket, with the other three using a threaded fitment.
Next to the huge down tube, the BB shell actually looks quite small but I never felt much in the way of flex unless I really stamped on the pedals to power up a climb.
The chainstays are chunky affairs too, and are shaped asymmetrically with the non-drive side kicking out earlier in a tighter bend to give clearance for the rear flat mount calliper.
Cannondale has added mounts for full mudguards, but in order to not spoil the lines it has concealed them a little bit by putting them on the inside of the fork legs at the front and underneath the seatstays where the brake bridge would normally sit, although they are in the traditional position at the rear dropout.
For the rear, Cannondale sells a bracket that uses the two bolts on the seatsays which lets you fit a standard mudguard. It's quite a neat solution but it'll cost you £9.99.
The Synapse does have a chainstay bridge so you'll find a traditional bolting mount there.
The fork has a mounting point on the rear of the crown and you can bend the mounts on a set of SKS mudguards, for instance, to make them fit the bolts on the inside of the fork legs. It's a bit of a faff, but doable.
A lot of disc brake bikes these days have been upgraded to thru-axles for wheel retention but the Synapse has stuck with quick releases front and rear, which considering the power – or lack of – from the brakes, is no big deal.
At this price you are normally getting Shimano's Claris or Sora groupset and it's the latter here. Sora is 9-speed, which Cannondale has spread out over sprockets ranging from 11-34 teeth at the cassette, paired to an FSA Vero 50/34T compact chainset. It's a decent enough spread of gears for a bike of this style, with a 34x34 offering a great bailout gear for the steeper climbs.
Sora shifters originally came with a thumbshifter on the inside of the hoods instead of the paddles sat behind the brake lever, as you see here on the latest version. It's now basically the same shifter body as used for the next level up Tiagra model but without the tenth gear.
The shifting is light, and while not quite as defined as the more expensive groupsets, it is very hard to fault. It's comfortable to ride in the hoods and the shape of the brake lever sits nicely in the hand.
Cable routing under the bar tape looks smart, and I like the black finish to the components.
The FSA crankset uses a cartridge bottom bracket which is a bit old school and looks quite dated compared with the Sora option, which uses outboard bearing cups.
The Sora Synapse gets a set of Maddux RD disc rims built up with alloy hubs and stainless steel spokes laced in a two-cross pattern, with 28 spokes front and rear.
They are heavy, and durability doesn't seem to be an issue – they certainly stood up to everything I aimed them at without issue. Spoke tension remained the same and I had no issues with trueness.
I could get them to flex if I really went for it, although it's not that much of an issue with no rim brakes to rub against.
For the tyres, Cannondale has specced Vittoria Zaffiros in 28mm width, good entry-level rubber. Their grip is good enough to give you confidence in the wet and dry, and although they can feel a little lifeless at times because of their low thread count in the carcass, they do roll well enough. Puncture proofing is impressive too.
Cannondale has kept the finishing kit in house, speccing its own alloy components for stem, handlebar and seatpost. It's all decent enough stuff – stiff and does the job.
The handlebar has a compact drop which, when paired with the tall 178mm head tube, means that even the least flexible of riders can get into a crouch to get out of the wind.
It's wrapped in 3.5mm thick gel bar tape, which certainly adds a little in the comfort stakes.
The Synapse gets an own brand saddle, too – the Stage Ergo – and I got on quite well with its shape. It has quite a narrow nose, which I like, and the padding is firm.
Okay, there are a few niggles such as the poor brakes and heavy wheels, which could do with upgrading, but for the money the overall package is pretty decent for £849.99.
For starters you are getting a really good quality frame and fork, always worth it so you can upgrade as you go. The finishing kit is basic but exactly what you'd expect for the price, and to see the majority of the excellent Shimano Sora groupset is another bonus, although there are a few bikes on the market that come with Tiagra.
It's a few hundred grams heavier than the Bianchi Via Nirone All Road Sora, but it has a much better ride and costs £150 less.
Vitus's Zenium Disc is a very similar bike with an excellent frame and fork that'll set you back £899, but you do get a Tiagra groupset and TRP Spyre brakes.
The latest Synapse still has that performance ride and sporty side to it, but with those tyre clearances and mudguard/rack mounts it is a very versatile machine. Sort the brakes and you'll be very happy.
A quick and versatile bike based around a great frameset, though the brakes aren't the best
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cannondale Synapse Disc Sora
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
NEW Synapse Disc Asymmetric, SmartForm C2 Alloy, SAVE, BSA
NEW Synapse Disc Asymmetric, SAVE, carbon blades, 1-1/8" - 1 1/4" tapered steerer, flat mount, 60mm rake (48, 51), 50mm rake (54-61)
RD Disc, 28-hole
Alloy, sealed loose ball bearing, 28h
Stainless Steel, 14g
Vittoria Zaffiro 700x28c
Wellgo w/ Clip and Strap
FSA Vero, 50/34
KMC Z99, 9-speed
Shimano HG400, 11-34, 9-speed
Shimano Sora, braze-on
Shimano Sora GS cage
Cannondale C4 Compact, 6061 Alloy
Cannondale Grip Bar Tape w/Gel, 3.5mm
Cannondale C4, 31.8, 6 deg.
FSA Integrated, 1-1/4" lower bearing, 25mm top cap
Promax DSK 718R, Dual side pulling, flat mount, cable disc 160/160mm
Cannondale Stage Ergo
Cannondale C4, 6061 Alloy, 25.4x350mm (48-56), 400mm (58-61)
48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61
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?
Cannondale says, "On anything from fast group rides to daily commutes, the Synapse's light weight, comfortable sportive position and smooth ride will help you fall in love with cycling."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The Shimano Sora model is the entry-level alloy Synapse. Cannondale also offers a Tiagra version for £999.99, a 105 model for £1,199.99 which gets upgraded TRP Spyre C brakes and lighter wheels, plus there is a 105 SE version which has tubeless wheels/tyres and a BB30-equipped frameset.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame is welded to a neat enough level for the money and looks to be well built. The paintwork is tough as well, so it should remain looking good for a long time.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from Cannondale's own spec aluminium alloy and the fork uses carbon fibre for the legs with an alloy crown.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's very much endurancebased with a shorter top tube and longer head tube than most race bikes.
Full charts can be found here for all sizes - https://www.cannondale.com/en/Great%20Britain/Bike/ProductDetail?Id=7147...
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
This 56cm model has a stack of 589mm and a reach of 389mm, which is pretty comparable to most endurance bikes of this style. Stack and reach are the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, the frame manages to take out plenty of road buzz and never feels harsh.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
I had a little bit of bottom bracket flex but the front end was very stiff.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, reasonably. Lighter wheels would really make a difference to its efficiency.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
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?
It's a very capable machine in the twisty sections and confidence-inspiring for newer riders.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle is comfortable and I especially liked the thick Cannondale bar tape.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I could get some flex out of the wheels but the rest of the components are plenty stiff enough.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Lighten the wheels to make the bike more efficient and upgrade the brakes so you can carry more speed without worrying about surprises.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The Sora shifters are great as always, and the mechs work just as you'd expect them to. It's good to see a decent spread of gears too.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
A solid set of wheels for the money but heavy for any kind of performance riding.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
For this type of bike the Vittoria Zaffiros are great training tyres which will stand up to rubbish road surfaces and minor forays off-road as well.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The compact handlebar has a nice shape for riders of any size to use, and everything else performs exactly as you'd expect basic alloy components to.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? I'd probably go for the 105 model to get the better brakes and lighter wheels.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Sora model here is priced pretty well for the spec list. The Synapse may be a few hundred grams heavier than the Bianchi Via Nirone All Road Sora, but it has a much better ride and costs £150 less.
Vitus's Zenium Disc is a very similar bike with an excellent frame and fork that'll set you back £899, but you do get a Tiagra groupset and TRP Spyre brakes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
An excellent frame and fork wrapped in good value for money components gives a great ride, kept at a very respectable four stars by those poor brakes.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
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, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!