The last bike grouptest I put my name to was the big-brand carbon spectacular in the May issue of Cycling Active. One thing we learned there was that, while household-name marques don’t always offer the best value for money in terms of spec sheets, at their core they do offer unique, beautiful and thoroughly engineered bike frames.
And so that tradition continues here: while other machines on test come with eye-catching accoutrements - not least Shimano 105 shiny bits – Cannondale’s Synapse has to make do with slightly less impressive fittings.
But then just look at that frame. Cannondale was one of the great innovators in the early days of aluminium bikes, and it still retains a high reputation for knocking together top-drawer alloy machines.
The Synapse is designed as Cannondale’s sportive special, and it shows, with a super-high head tube, some nicely curved seatstays designed to dampen rear shocks, and an overall frame shape that doesn’t do a bad impression of a cross bike.
We know how good cross bikes can be for multi-purposing, so that’s no bad thing. Finally, in terms of pure cosmetics, all the joins are beautifully finished, the overall appearance is suitably subtle, and there’s a really funky little bulge-cum-cutout halfway down the seat tube that adds something a little different.
Plush, plush, plush
From the first push of a pedal, it’s apparent all those design factors have combined to create a machine that is stable, comfortable and positive – in fact, it surpasses almost any thoughts you had about alloy bikes. The Synapse is supremely refined over almost any road surface.
Alloy bikes can be unbeatable on really smooth surfaces but then lose out significantly when things start getting bumpy. However, the Synapse copes wonderfully well on the rough stuff and then still manages to shine even brighter when the asphalt improves.
Handling is nicely weighted too. This is no whippet darting in and out of corners, but it’s the perfect machine for those who like to look ahead and swoop through the bends. Thinking ahead is necessary because the C4-branded brakes aren’t the most impressive stoppers in the world.
One frame detail I haven’t mentioned yet is the bottom bracket. BB30 technology was invented by Cannondale, so it’s no wonder the company knows how to get the most from it, but even so, putting the hammer down is still breathtakingly satisfying. When the planets all align and you finally find yourself on a flat, smooth road, the feeling of pumping your legs in a big gear, with the ensuing ultimate power transfer, is hard to beat.
Taking the strain
Climbing is very positive, especially at the rear, where that direct power delivery is combined with a pleasing suppleness, helping make upward progress very steady. However, out-of-the-saddle efforts did highlight a couple of the Synapse’s downsides. The first was that the heels of my feet rubbed against the bulges halfway along the chainstays.
Those bulges no doubt aid the bike’s very satisfying ride characteristics, but if you have particularly large feet or slightly odd cleat alignment, this could be worth checking before you buy. The second thing is the wheelset, particularly at the front. I don’t hold a grudge against any bike that lets out the initial yelp when it feels my full weight hop aboard, but the amount of moaning and groaning and pinging coming from the front wheel, especially climbing, made me think it was making a bit of a meal of things.
Finally, I admit I’ve given Shimano Tiagra a bit of a hard time recently, but on a sub-£1,000 bike, the less urgent reactions that comes through the drivetrain are far more acceptable.
In all, the Synapse is an extremely impressive bike. I’m loath to say that any machine is the best I’ve ever tested, but in terms of ride quality, stability, comfort and road manners, I honestly can’t remember an aluminium bike that comes close to it.