Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra

Cannondale is known for being a bit out there. Whether it’s as simple as custom cranksets on their road bikes, or as exotic as mountain bike forks that appear to have been cut in half, they’re never afraid to innovate.

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The Synapse is Cannondale’s take on an endurance road bike. They’re so sold on it for pure endurance that it’s paired with a Cannondale web feature called “True Endurance Stories.” Here you’ll find tales of feats achieved on this newest Synapse iteration , from cobbled classics to ten-hour meditations on the tarmac. Cannondale wants you to ride this bike far and fast. The numbers would indicate the Synapse honours this promise. It’s big, bold, and very American. For my 54 cm test frame, the 100.8 cm wheelbase is long, mostly from the front of the bike. The 16.1cm head tube is tall, and the 71.7 degree head angle somewhat slack compared to its contemporaries (only marginally steeper than the OPEN U.P. I tested previously, a bike capable of riding gravel and single-track). Even with 28c tyres mounted, the front and rear have more combined clearance than an end-of-season stocktake sale. Disc brakes are de rigueur at this level as well (excepting a few token rim brake models to keep the purists happy).

When astride a new bike, you can usually pick out its character within the first few minutes of riding. With the Synapse, that character involves carbon. Lots and lots of carbon…

Cannondale prides itself on their proprietary BallisTec carbon blend, so much that they confidently offer a lifetime warranty on the frame. “Asymmetric Integration” shaping uses this material to boost stiffness under pedalling by moving the drivetrain outward by 6 mm, which allows for shorter, stiffer stays—410 mm to be exact. Contrary to what you may have heard, size isn’t everything; what you do with it matters too. As pioneered by compact style road bikes, a shorter rear end is arguably stiffer for less material, and can sharpen up handling. With a bit of flex tuned in for comfort, this combo makes me a big fan.

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So I was understandably enthralled to find out Cannondale has tuned several areas of flex into the seat stays to keep fatigue at bay when the road turns bumpy. This is a welcome relief hours deep into the rather...er...rustic chip seal I encounter on my regular routes, when the constant vibration can prove treacherous to one’s nether regions if not properly addressed. As I’ve said before, this design looks very American, taking a wide and flat approach rather than the pencil-thin construction more Eurocentric frames use. You’ll also discover hard points moulded into the frame for attaching mudguards to help keep you riding year-round.

I always notice details first when I sit on a bike, like the low-profile (but surprisingly forgiving) grips. Equal attention went to unusually broad 440 mm drop bars, an interesting choice for a 54 cm frame. The colour-matched Selle Italia saddle felt a bit slippery at first, but an hour on the road wore away its shiny factory coating, and the seat became a comfortable perch for putting in mileage.  A hidden integrated seat clamp holds the proprietary 25.4 mm seat post in place, which only adds to compliance out on the road. The graphics are on theme, being simple but assertive. After all, is it even a Cannondale unless it’s green and black?

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Cannondale has a penchant for mixing and matching their build kits, and the Synapse is no exception. I’m always happy to see Ultegra on a bike, especially when hydraulic discs with 140 mm rotors are involved. This bike has Ultegra but Cannondale swaps out the Ultegra crankset for their own brand Si crank with FSA chainrings mounted in a 50/34 compact setup.

Mavic’s Aksium wheelset provides a snappy-feeling rear hub to the package, along with some of the beefiest spokes found on a road bike. They’re not especially lightweight, but they’re about as bombproof as a lead-lined bunker and should be trouble-free for thousands of kilometres on the speedo. The wheels are adorned with 28c Schwalbe Lugano tyres.

There’s no denying it: the Synapse is a very comfortable bike. My regular route involves some big hills and poorly maintained roads, throughout which the Synapse had no trouble keeping me comfortable. The combination of skinny seat post and flat seat stays works wonders on chip seal, but stiffness isn’t lost in the process. It’s the archetypal endurance race bike...and credit goes to Cannondale’s engineers for pulling that one off.

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Comfort is more than just eliminating road buzz; after all, Cannondale wants you to ride the Synapse with confidence for upwards of ten hours. That’s where the bike’s geometry comes into play. A tall headtube and slack head angle are imperative for this, as is the long wheelbase. The keyword here is stability, so when fatigue sets in the bike can guide itself along on autopilot. The “Look ma, no hands!” test (also known as the “Look ma, no teeth!” test when it goes wrong) confirms this. It’s not a lively, energetic ride, but it’s very homely and comfortable. Think Southern hospitality as opposed to west coast nightlife.

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I did notice, however, while riding in a group, the Synapse didn’t seem to hold on quite as well as I would have expected. This perplexed me at first, since everything points to this bike being quite fast, but reality suggested otherwise. A few pedal-less downhills confirmed that the blame lies with the tyres. A bit of research reveals the Lugano is one of the slowest rolling road tyres currently on the market. It’s a durable and somewhat puncture resistant pick, but practically lethargic on performance.

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The Synapse is well sorted for its intended purpose. When you’re deep in calorie deficit and your vision starts going blurry, qualities like “edgy” and “racy” are the last thing you want in your bike. The Synapse will make it home with the rider intact every time, and that’s where it finds its niche. While it’s certainly capable of being used as a criterium crusher or club-race bottle rocket, there are better choices for the hyper-agile handling needed to excel in those disciplines. If playing the long game is more your forte, then this all-American hero is the bike for you. Swap the tyres for something more to your liking, and go write your own true endurance story.

RRP: $4799


Words & Images: Robin Page & Cameron Mackenzie

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