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New for 2022 the latest Cannondale Synapse has seen some major changes over the previous model, not only in terms of frame shape and detailing but also with the inclusion of their integrated SmartSense system which including lights, speed sensors and even Garmin's Radar detection system on some models. At its heart though is still an excellent frameset that offers a great ride quality and loads of stiffness.
The ride is where the Synapse really shines. The ride quality is great yet it's a really firm bike too – no easy feat. Riding away from the house for the first time on the Synapse I was expecting a stiff, racer-esque trip around the lanes, and that is definitely what I got.
The common theme of oversizing for the head and down tubes hasn't been ignored for the Synapse, which means power transfer is great from the lower half of the frame, including the boxy bottom bracket junction where it accepts the large profile chainstays and wide, flat-section seat tube. Everything about the Synapse feels tight, and just right.
The geometry isn't as aggressive as the race bikes in Cannondale's lineup, but I still found myself able to get into an aero and efficient position.
There's plenty of saddle-to-bar drop too, even with the tall (25mm spacer) Cannondale fits above the headset.
On this 56cm model Cannondale has managed to keep the wheelbase just below a metre, and it's noticeable in how nimble and lively the Synapse feels – especially in the bends or when accelerating hard. At 9.53kg it's no lightweight, but does an amazing job of ignoring that heft.
The head and seat tube angles are steep enough to make the ride fun and efficient without ever making it a handful, and it's this that gives the Synapse such poise on the road.
A big section of the test period saw early morning frosts, and with that, main roads covered in salty residue which – let's be honest – is almost as slippery as the ice. Roundabouts and tight corners rely heavily on feedback as the front and rear tyres take turns to lose traction, but I felt so in tune with the Synapse that it was a lot less terrifying than it could have been. The directness of the frame means it's easy to control through small inputs in the steering, or small bodyweight shifts to control the rear end.
On dry roads you can ride the Cannondale hard and fast. It deals well with off-camber technical bends without feeling flustered, and I wouldn't say it gives a lot away in terms of steering speed to more race orientated bikes.
It's not all pedal mashing and heavy braking into the bends though. The geometry allows you to sit just a little bit more upright than on a bike with a slammed front end, which reduces pressure on the lower back and wrists. That makes the Synapse an efficient mile muncher.
It's also where the comfort of the frame comes into play. It's by no means a soft or even particularly shock-absorbing frame, especially not in a way that takes the emphasis off of stiffness. Cannondale has balanced things perfectly though, and it just takes the edge off of the roughness of the road.
If you want a comfortable race bike, this is it. It's a bike that won't embarrass you for the town sign sprint, or on the climbs, or even coming back down them. The Synapse is quite the package.
If you go for this model and can afford it, start saving for a set of light, deepish-section carbon wheels. It'll completely change the performance.
The frame has 'flex zones' in the rear triangle, seat tube and seatpost, says Cannondale, and each frame size is tweaked for optimal stiffness versus compliance. Cannondale calls all this effort Proportional Response, though doesn't elaborate on exactly what it involves; most likely it's controlled by changes to the carbon fibre layup.
It's not just the quality of the ride that is impressive though. It's also the small details. Cannondale says the Synapse bridges the gap between their race and gravel bikes, so you're getting clearance for 35mm tyres and neat little details such as threaded holes for a Bento box on the top tube and a third pair of bottle cage mounts underneath the down tube.
The SmartSense lights limit space for bags at the front and rear however, so it's not quite the load lugger it could be – more about that in a bit.
The Synapse also takes full mudguards. Cannondale can supply a rear seatstay bridge to support fitting, and the fork mounts are internal on the inside of the legs. They'll require a bit of fettling with the stays to fit most other brands, but it's easily achievable. Fitting guards limits tyre size to 30mm, but that's no issue on a bike of this ilk.
Another cool thing is that Cannondale includes adaptors for indoor trainers. They screw into the thru-axle and will save you the £25-odd for separate adaptors for most brands of home trainer.
The rear of the seatstays are covered in reflective paint. You'd barely notice in daylight, especially as the paint on this model flips between green and gold depending on the light anyway, but in the dark the extra shine can only be a good thing.
The hydraulic hosing for the brakes is diverted through the frame and fork, as is the cabling, both for the gears and the SmartSense. It's not as neat as some of the latest frames I have seen though, which pass them through the head tube for a complete smooth finish. Cannondale says it eases maintenance and bike building though, and I see their point.
I haven't bought a complete bike in around fifteen years, instead building frames up from scratch, and some fully internal ones can be a faff – especially if they haven't been designed well or lack internal guides. And it's somehow worse still if you are paying someone else an hourly rate to do the work for you.
Elsewhere the home and shop mechanic will be happy to see a threaded BSA bottom bracket, especially on a bike that's capable of being an all-year-round machine, as this one is.
The Synapse comes in six sizes: 48 through to 61, and that offers top tube lengths of 53.3cm up to 57.9cm. Like I said earlier, we have the 56cm which has an effective top tube length of 56.7cm, although it feels shorter than that by around 10mm or so.
The head tube length is 164mm while the stack and reach are 598mm and 387mm respectively. Angle wise the seat tube is 73°, while the head tube is set at 73.2° – steeper than most bikes of this sort of design. The chainstays are 415mm which, when added to everything else, gives an overall wheelbase of just 998mm.
When I review bikes, the riding is the easy part. I get the miles in and avoid websites, instead talking to distributors/designers (and even our own extranet) for as long as I can so I'm not bombarded with information like prices, weight or marketing packs. That lets me make my mind up on the road. When I've finished the riding period, I can look at the stats and see if things weigh up.
Right from the start the SeeSense thing didn't work for me. The lights and Garmin Radar look clunky and aren't the usual type of products I'd use, but you're kind of locked into the whole 'user experience.'
In the presentation I received from Cannondale there is a bar chart from a 2020 app-base survey claiming that 46.67% of riders use lights all of the time, while 40% use them some of the time. So I can kind of see why Cannondale have gone down this route.
I use lights a fair amount as I spend a lot of time in urban areas or on busy A-roads; either I'm cutting my way through traffic, or I'm having it flow quickly past me. However, neither of these lights really helped with that.
The front only gives 350 lumens at full whack and features an cut off beam (to comply with German STVZO regs), whereas I prefer units like the Ravemen PR1600, which feature both dipped and full beams.
Anyway, 350 lumens isn't really enough to allow you to ride the Synapse at the kind of speed it's designed to do. So just add another light, I hear you say... fine, but the bracket then takes up bar space, especially if you're running a computer too.
If you use your phone for recording rides, the included wheel sensor is a neat addition as it'll certainly save battery life – you won't need to use your GPS signal.
The rear is designed to sit around the Garmin Radar and, while not massively bright, it's clever. It changes brightness when cars are detected, and also works as a brake light. The Garmin Radar controlling it is a neat little trick. It gives you a visual guide of cars approaching from behind via a compatible Garmin device or the Cannondale app on your phone.
It's not infallible though; if cars have been behind you for a while it loses them, so a shoulder check is still necessary and to be honest, if you ride in a primary position anyway, it's kind of a solution looking for a problem.
So, if the bike was mine, I'd be running brighter lights with longer burn times (with both lights on full I'd get about 2hrs 40mins from the Cannondale battery), and by running lights on the seatpost and top of the handlebar I could fit a bar bag and saddle pack for those longer rides.
Cannondale, please release a Synapse range – rather than just a single entry-level model – without the integration for those of us who don't want it!
The 2 RL model we have here comes with a mechanical Ultegra groupset which works excellently. The shifting is spot on (as I have said many times before), and the braking really can't be faulted. It's powerful and progressive.
Cannondale has opted for a 50/34t chainset mated to an 11-34t cassette, which gives a good spread of gears for this type of bike. You get a 1:1 ratio for the lowest climbing gear, while the 50/11T upper range will hit well over 40mph on the descents. Ultegra provides the rotors and calipers too, with 160mm front and rear discs.
The compact alloy handlebar and stem, plus the 27.2mm diameter seatpost are Cannondale's own, meanwhile, and while it's all decent enough stuff it doesn't exactly scream '£4K bike.' For the saddle you get a Fizik Aliante Delta, which I found to be really comfortable.
Fulcrum offers a numbered range of wheels for consumers, while selling OE (original equipment) versions to bike manufacturers with (frequently) '00' on the end to denote any differences. That places the Rapid Red 900 quite low down the pecking order; online you can pick them up for around £150, and that's not great on a £4k bike!
At just shy of 2kg they are hardly sprightly, but they are tough, so they won't let you down. When it is dry and warm though, get yourself a set of wheels that are much lighter. That way you can really exploit the performance of the Synapse's frameset.
Vittoria provides the tyres with their Rubino Pros, and again, these are are decent but don't really match the performance the Synapse can achieve.
Giant's Advance Pro 2 has dropped £500 for 2022, now being priced at £3,499. I rode the cheaper Advanced Pro 3 last year and it had similar characteristics as the Synapse, being an endurance-style bike that likes to be ridden fast.
Okay, you aren't getting the lights and things of the Synapse, but the Advance 2 is around a kilo lighter, uses an Ultegra groupset and comes with 36mm-deep carbon fibre wheels. It is also compatible with Giant's RideSense Bluetooth/ANT+ sensors. The tyres are pretty 'meh' though.
For £2,500 you could go for a Scultura Endurance 6000. When I rode the more expensive 7000-e version I was very impressed – that particular version seems to have disappeared from the UK website just recently.
Still, the 6000 gives you a carbon frame, full Ultegra mechanical groupset and a Fulcrum Racing 700 wheelset. That gives leaves a lot of change for some lights and a Garmin Radar, should you want them.
Even though the enthusiasm takes a bit of a dip towards the end of this review, as a riding experience I love the Synapse. It's a beautiful bike to ride, and Cannondale's team has really balanced stiffness versus comfort well – it's almost the holy grail. If SmartSense is for you, then go for it. You will not be disappointed.
I'm not against technology or evolution – I think the Radar is brilliant – I just don't want it. This is a great bike to just get on and ride, so let's hope Cannondale delivers a Synapse without the frills.
Beautiful to ride with a great blend of speed and comfort, but the electronic aids aren't that special – and aren't for me
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cannondale Synapse 2 RL
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Cannondale Wheel Sensor
Shimano R60 BSA
Shimano HG701, 11-speed
Shimano Ultegra, BSA, 50/34
Shimano Ultegra, braze-on
Shimano Ultegra HG800, 11-34, 11-speed
Shimano Ultegra GS
Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, 11-speed
Synapse Carbon, integrated crown race, Proportional Response size-specific design, 12x100mm thru-axle, thru-tube internal routing, hidden fender mounts
Synapse Carbon, SmartSense enabled, Proportional Response size-specific design, BSA threaded BB, flat mount brake, 12x142mm thru-axle, thru-tube internal cable routing with Switch Plate, removable fender bridge, hidden rack/fender mounts
Synapse Sealed Bearing, integrated, 1-1/4"-1-1/8"
Vittoria Rubino Pro Bright Black, 700 x 30c, reflective
(F) Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 12x100mm centerlock / (R) Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 12x142mm centerlock
Vittoria Rubino Pro Bright Black, 700 x 30c, reflective
Fulcrum Rapid Red 900
Fulcrum, Stainless steel
Vittoria Rubino Pro Bright Black, 700 x 30c, reflective
Shimano Ultegra hydraulic
Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, 160/160mm RT800 rotors
Fabric Knurl Bar Tape
Cannondale 2, 7050 alloy, Compact
Fizik Aliante Delta, S-alloy rails
Cannondale 3 SmartSense, 6061 Alloy, 27.2 x 350mm (48-56), 400mm (58-61)
Cannondale 2, 6061 Alloy, 31.8, 7°
SmartSense with Lights and Radar, Trainer-compatible thru-axle
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?
"With Synapse, comfort is built in. Discreet flex zones in the rear triangle, seat tube and seatpost absorb road chatter and bumps without adding weight or isolating you from the ride experience.
"Lightweight carbon construction. Subtle aerodynamic shaping of the frame and fork. Size-specific design for perfectly tuned stiffness. It all adds up to a machine that loves to fly.
"With a comfortably balanced riding position, confidence-inspiring handling, room for 35mm wide tires for cushion and grip, and plenty of gear/bottle mounts, Synapse is ready to rock on any road, anywhere.
"Ride assured, with increased visibility and enhanced awareness out on the road. Our SmartSense system of integrated lights and rear-facing radar makes it easy to ride smart."
In my view it's a great bike to ride, but I could do without the SmartSense.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are six models in the range with this one sitting in the middle. The top end model is £9k and comes with deep section carbon wheels and a Dura Ace Di2 groupset. The cheapest model is the '4' with a Tiagra groupset and no SmartSense for £2,400.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very high quality and the flip painjob is cool. The reflective detail on the seatstays is a neat touch.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The Synapse uses carbon fibre for both the frame and fork, although Cannondale doesn't go into huge detail about the specifics.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
While the Synapse is kind of an endurance bike, I'd say it sits somewhere between that and a race bike when compared to what most brands offer. It's aggressive without being overly so.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Feels more racey than its stack and reach figures suggest.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, surprisingly so for such a stiff bike.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Definitely. Stiffness is great throughout.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very much so. It's impressive considering its weight.
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 with a little bit of edge to it.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
On the whole the Synapse is a very easy bike to live with, but if you want to let it go on a descent it responds well.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on well with the Fizik saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
None of the components showed any sign of flex.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The wide range of gears helps on the efficiency front.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I love using Ultegra; it's a great balance of quality gear shifting and braking performance versus cost.
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?
Decent enough wheels, but not for a £4k bike.
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?
Like the wheels, they're decent enough but this kind of bike deserves so much more.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Basic componentry for the money, but it doesn't really detract from the ride.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No, due to the lights and so on being included in the price
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?
I think it's on the pricey side even when you include the electronics.
Use this box to explain your overall score
As a roadie I love this bike. It's such a great machine to ride, especially as I move away from my competitive years, and while I don't want to shun advancement and technology, the Synapse's integration doesn't really bring anything extra to the experience for me. If you've read the review and think it ticks all of the boxes, though, then go for it.
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!