The Cannondale SuperSix EVO

Brand identity is a funny thing. When I was a kid, Ford represented the car my dad drove. Later, it came to stand for an American car I wouldn’t own even if you gave it to me. More recently it has come to symbolize the very best in how a company can reinvent itself and survive under its own steam. At least, that’s how I see them.

Cannondale has had a similarly curious arc. There was a time when the brand made accessories, not bikes; they were a competitor to Rhode Gear, not Trek. And while large-diameter tubing aluminum bikes weren’t solely their domain, the company named for a train station achieved greater market penetration than Klein ever did. In the 1990s, I recall the company as being a repository for talent, fresh ideas and ambitious marketing. Actually, the company wasn’t just ambitious in its marketing, it was as ambitious as any bike company had ever been.

Then came motorcycles and the bankruptcy. For a while, the brand felt like damaged goods and though I was a fan, I wasn’t sure they’d survive with their full reputation intact.

Though Cannondale has stayed at the forefront of aluminum development and construction, the Connecticut company was by any standard late to the carbon fiber game. The Six13 may have used an innovative method to join carbon fiber to aluminum, but nothing could change that a bike featuring three carbon fiber main tubes joined to an aluminum head tube and rear triangle was an idea that dated to the first Bush presidency.

With the SuperSix, Cannondale got into the carbon fiber game in a serious way. It had the hallmarks found in its competitors’ bikes: It was light, stiff and reasonably lively feeling. However, it wasn’t a particularly special bike. The problem wasn’t so much Cannondale as it was the market. By 2008, there was a near glut of really good carbon fiber bikes on the market. There was a much shorter list of truly extraordinary bikes.

It wasn’t too long ago that in purchasing a carbon fiber bike you had to choose between stiff and light. The industry has essentially solved that problem. So what separates the good bikes from the great ones? Road feel. The knock against most magazines’ reviews of bikes is that the reviewer always credits the bike with being “torsionally stiff and vertically compliant.”

Even for riders who haven’t ridden a dozen different bikes, there is widespread acceptance that as bikes gain stiffness in torsion they lose flex—compliance—in every other dimension. However, the quest for torsional stiffness combined with vertical compliance isn’t quite as mythical as the unicorn.

For those of you who have followed the development of the Specialized Tarmac, it is the perfect example of how a bike that is stiff in torsion can be tuned to take some of the sting out of the rear triangle. The original Tarmac SL was a very good bike. Two years later Specialized introduced the Tarmac SL2. It was stiffer in every direction, but it was also livelier feeling. That rear end, though, was a bit brutal on long rides. Two years after its introduction the company followed up with the Tarmac SL3. The front triangle remained unchanged, but the rear triangle was redesigned with both new tube profiles and a new lay-up. Ride the two bikes over the same roads and you’ll quickly feel how the rear end doesn’t chatter as much. It feels as if you let 5 psi out of the rear tire.

Back to Cannondale.

I’ve just spent two days riding the brand-spankin’-new SuperSix EVO. This bike is to the previous SuperSix what the Bugatti Veyron is to the Chevy Camaro.

The bike boasts some impressive numbers, such as a normalized weight of 695 grams. It has scores the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio ever recorded: 142 Nm/deg/kg. That’s more than 15 percent higher than the Specialized Tarmac SL3 and more than 40 percent higher than the Trek Madone 6 SSL.

We can talk numbers all day long, but based on my experience, there seems to be a tipping point in ride quality when you near the 900g mark for a frame. I can’t claim this is true for every bike out there, but my A-list of bikes I’ve ridden, which includes the Tarmac SL3, the Felt F1, F2 and Z1 and Cervelo R3 SL, were all at or below 900g.

My sense isn’t that the weight is the issue. Weight is just the canary in the coal mine. What gives these bikes their lively ride quality is the incredible compaction achieved in their construction. Tap a tube with your fingernail and you’ll get a near-metallic-sounding “tink.”

The SuperSix EVO possesses these same qualities. And like the Felt F1, it employs hollow carbon fiber dropouts, which both reduce weight and increase the lively feel of the rear triangle without increasing stiffness. What helps to separate the SuperSix EVO from other similar bikes is the fact that the chainstays have been flattened along the horizontal plane once they clear the chainrings.

Cannondale says it didn’t set out to make the lightest bike, the stiffest bike, the most aero bike or even the smoothest-feeling bike. What they came up with is an incredible blend of those qualities. They say they wanted the most efficient bike out there. It’s hard to say they’ve created the most efficient bike on the market, but it’s easy to say it’s among the most efficient. I haven’t previously ridden a bike that offered as much torsional stiffness while feeling as smooth over rough pavement.

With the introduction of the SuperSix EVO Cannondale has effectively reinvented itself as a bike company. This is an extraordinarily sophisticated bike, the result of three years of work … and it shows.

I’m looking forward to getting one of these to review next month. In the meantime, for even more details you can check out my piece for peloton magazine.

 

 

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22 comments

  1. Darwin

    One of my first good road bikes was a Cannondale I bought in 1984 in Oceanside, Ca. I had them install the then new Shimano Indexed shifting and Look pedals on it. I’ve had many Cannondale road and mountain bikes since the. But Cannondale will never get another dollar from me because when they were sold they fired all US employees who had been with Cannondale for years and made the company what it was.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Darwin: There are many people in the bike industry who are angry to this day about Cannondale’s bankruptcy. It screwed Shimano to the tune of two commas, plus other component and raw material suppliers. So anger about the bankruptcy can be understandable.

      That said, they remained a viable company in part because the DID NOT fire everyone. I’ve known their VP of R&D, Chris Peck, for more than 10 years. Same goes for one of their media relations people, Bill Rudell. Sure, they’ve had people come and go since the bankruptcy, but much of the Bedford, PA, workforce is still in place. The only people I know for fact got walking papers following the bankruptcy had the last name Montgomery.

      If you don’t like the new bike, that’s fine, but don’t crucify them for a sin they did not commit.

  2. michael

    great. just what i needed. some fresh bike porn to make me feel inadequate about my existing Supersix Himod purchased just last year.

    you SUCK
    ;)

  3. michael

    @Padraig

    hahaha

    actually, it is the shiny new Look 695 that has caused me to reassess my Supersix Himod, though that new Evo both looks and sounds amazing.

    bike porn will be the death of both myself and my bank account (and let`s not even talk about the new wheelset I am coveting).

    le sigh.

  4. Souleur

    great write up Padraig!

    i have been salivating over this cannondale since it peeked out on the web a couple weeks ago.

    i have been hestitant to go back to cannondale for other reasons, my first ride was a cannondale 3.0, second a 2.8 and after that my ass has never been right since. Thanks to steel and italian tubes, i have recovered mostly.

    i did ride the first super-six and was not impressed due to its boggy-dead feeling. But hey, it was their first run out on all carbon and have had other friends say the Hi-Mod last year got it right in all ways. Then i saw this EVO…and now i have to say its tempting because carbon is in my future, i just keep running in circles of which to buy.

    and then there is the cervelo R5/R3, Pinarello, Specialized SL3, and BMC…all seem soooo good.

    so til then, thanks for more information
    i am in overload now

  5. Darwin

    Bicycle manufacturer Cannondale outsources to Taiwan, over 200 jobs lost

    Cannondale’s Canadian parent, Dorel, has announced it is outsourcing production to Taiwan, and the news has hit Bedford hard.

    Over 200 Cannondale bicycles, the pride of Bedford, roll off the line every day at the local factory. Each bike, with its trademark aluminum tubes, is marked “handmade in the USA.” The bikes often retail for more than $1,000 apiece.

    Mike Miller is a painter at the factory. He suspected his job might be shipped to China.

    “A bunch of us thought this was coming, the way people were acting. Something fishy was going on,” he said.

    Two thirds of the 300 workers here are losing their jobs, adding to a local unemployment rate already at 13 percent. 

    Miller will be among the first to go. He says his severance package will be one week of additional pay. 

    Dorel made record profits in 2008. It says the move to Asia will save $4 million a year. 

    Jeremiah Johnson left Cannondale last month. He complains about corporate greed.

    “If you look at the way Dorel has run things in the past, you see that what they do is they buy something, they make it cheaper, and they make it elsewhere,” he said.

    Dorel denies that it purchased Cannondale last year with the intention of outsourcing production, a process it says was already underway. Some non-manufacturing operations in Bedford will continue. 
     
    Bedford residents feel betrayed. Even on a Friday night, as people stock up on beer for the weekend, they share their views about Cannondale.

    RESIDENT:  ”Before it’s all said and done, they’re going to move them all out.”

    Former employee, Roxanne, used to attach decals to Cannondale frames.

    “No, we should keep our business in America. We stand together,” she said.

    At the corner bike shop, customers wonder how many people buy Cannondales because they’re handmade in the USA.

    CANNONDALE CUSTOMER:  ”I think it’s important to a lot of people, especially in this part of the country, knowing that it comes from Bedford, Pennsylvania.”

    http://layofftracker.blogspot.com/2009/04/bicycle-manufacturer-

    CANNONDALE EMPLOYEE: “Unemployment rate is going to skyrocket. People are going to have a hard time getting even fast-food jobs.”

    Bedford, like dozens of other American towns, will face the challenge of how to create decent jobs in a post-industrial economy. 
    Bicycle manufacturer Cannondale outsources to Taiwan, over 200 jobs lost

    Cannondale’s Canadian parent, Dorel, has announced it is outsourcing production to Taiwan, and the news has hit Bedford hard.

    Over 200 Cannondale bicycles, the pride of Bedford, roll off the line every day at the local factory. Each bike, with its trademark aluminum tubes, is marked “handmade in the USA.” The bikes often retail for more than $1,000 apiece.

    Mike Miller is a painter at the factory. He suspected his job might be shipped to China.

    “A bunch of us thought this was coming, the way people were acting. Something fishy was going on,” he said.

    Two thirds of the 300 workers here are losing their jobs, adding to a local unemployment rate already at 13 percent. 

    Miller will be among the first to go. He says his severance package will be one week of additional pay. 

    Dorel made record profits in 2008. It says the move to Asia will save $4 million a year. 

    Jeremiah Johnson left Cannondale last month. He complains about corporate greed.

    “If you look at the way Dorel has run things in the past, you see that what they do is they buy something, they make it cheaper, and they make it

  6. michael

    Wow, way to dredge up multi-year old news. You can make your point with your own dollars, there is no need to hammer us all over the head with old news copy. To each buyer their own choice I say. Sure looks like you are trying to throw Padraig under the bus.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’m here for that whole under-the-bus experience, but I needed to refute the statement that “all U.S. employees” lost their jobs. There were definitely jobs lost. They’ve also hired since then. Again, the Bedford facility is still there, still employing people.

      I’m not sure why Cannondale’s current owners and employees should suffer for what the previous ownership did. That part just doesn’t make sense.

  7. Alex Torres

    Things go wrong, period. I´m sure no one at old C´dalle wanted to go bankrupt. It´s not like someone pulled a Maddof or something.

    About the bike… I ride with the local C´dalle distributor and appreciate their bikes. I´ve owned C´dalles in the past but now I´m the one fighting off successive attacks alone on my trusty SL3 during group rides (90% of this group ride Cannondales…lol).

    I´ll be trying the EVO soon as well, thanks to this friendship and my brief stints as tech writer for local mags. I can´t say I´m drooling in anticipation, since I ride an über-bike (or so I believe). But this new Cannondale got me really excited, as well as the R5 CA from Cervelo.

    IMHO, after testing and/or owning hundreds of bikes, at this level you can´t go wrong unless you really try. And hard. It becomes a matter of personal preference, aesthetics, details. I can say I absolutely love my S-Works SL3 and having previously owned the SL and SL2, I agree with Padraig´s take on its evolution completely.

    So indeed Padraig, there must be a tipping point somewhere in the scale but I guess we´re watching the industry pushing it all the time with this carbon thing!

    Thanks for the review.

  8. James

    I had a friend who, years ago, used to say, every time he saw a Cannondale, “Comedy Cannondale”! I think it was about the jumbo tubes and the due to their frames always being, somewhat, out of alignment. To this day, everytime I see a Cannondale his refrain rings in my ears! I could never own one with “Comedy Cannondale” repeating itself in my head every time I went for a ride.

  9. Nate

    “normalized weight of 695 grams.” What’s this normalized crap about? For all the hi-tech engineering, can’t someone just weigh the thing?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Nate: Sorry, I meant to include bare frame weight, as you’d get it out of the box. That’s 725g for a 56cm. I believe the 58cm was more like 740g.

      Normalized weight really is a great way to discuss frame weight. Frames with seatmasts get dinged because the mast adds frame weight, while some manufacturers use a radically sloping top tube to reduce weight. Bottom line: There are a lot fewer sub-1kg frames than the industry would have you believe, and some, like the Trek Madone, aren’t as piggish as they first appear.

  10. Souleur

    so Padraig, is there a ‘formula’ for normalized wt, or is it ‘indexed’ in some way or is it compared to ‘traditional’ geometry?

    thanks for clarifying, that jargon has gotten by me. I am like Nate, I would propose similarly just weigh the thing and publish that…but marketeerers…if that is a word, would not like that as much i am sure.

  11. velomonkey

    Myself I always liked Dale but never loved them. We all used to say “it’s too harsh of a ride” and then Ivan Gotti won the Giro on a all aluminum Dale. Guess they weren’t too harsh?!? The whole motorcycle public thing was a fiasco – 100% screw up. Still, a made in America CAAD 8 or 9 is a great, great frame. Stiff, rides fine, light enough and costs 1/3 less and made in America. Once Dale shut down Trek more or less shut down American production, too. Sure they are fine frames, sure they ride fine, sure they are light, but there is ZERO artisan in that bike. Zero sole. I may get one as a second bike – to ride in New England weather and treat like crap, but my 1st bike is now going to be a Colnago – it wont be the lightest, it will cost me about the same as a EVO at retail, but it will be leaps and bounds more artisan and full of sole.

    Too bad on CAAD 8 and 9, and the system six is a killer bike too. CAAD 10 – yea, whatever.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      To set the record straight: Trek is the largest producer of bicycles in the United States. Their facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin, produces carbon fiber exclusively. They source aluminum and steel bikes overseas.

  12. armybikerider

    @paul….I’ve learned from 40 odd years of reading magazines covering all sorts of topics….from (my other passion) fly fishing, to automobiles, to motorcycles etc etc…..printed gear reviews are written strictly according to the “Golden Rule.” That is, if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.

  13. velomonkey

    Jeez Padraig, I guess to expect anything but an A$$ response from you is just hoping for too much.

    To set the record straight – ALL of trek production, with the expception of the 6 series, is made oversees. From the 5 down – it is ALL done oversees. Repeat after me: only the 6 series is now made in Wisconsin. How long you want to bet that is going to be the case. Trek made a massive change once Dale shut down – this is a FACT.

    So, Padraig or Patrick, Trek does not produce carbon fiber exclusively in Wisconsin as you claim.

    Next Patrick will tell us Conti wasn’t on lightweights – but first he will most likely delete this post.

  14. Grammar

    Dear Velomonkey,

    I think you misunderstood Padraig’s comment. He says “Their (i.e. Trek’s) facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin, produces carbon fiber exclusively.” Logically, that does not imply anything about what Trek does elsewhere. Just that the Wisconsin facility only does carbon fiber.

    Peace.

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