In 2014 Cannondale launched an all new Synapse model that quickly made the bike industry sit up and notice. Voted bike of the year, it was ridden to wins in several spring classic races on the cobbles of Europe. Since then, every major manufacturer has gone after the endurance geometry category looking for the perfect blend of comfort and performance. For 2018 Cannondale is doing it again and everyone else should take notice.
The draw of the Synapse has always been the amazing comfortable ride. The drawback has been the very high head tube and therefor upright position that takes a super negative stem for most people to get into their usual riding position. This year Cannondale reduced the headtube height and slightly elongated the frame to give it more of a race bike feel. Cannondale refers to the bike as having endurance race geometry, not just being an endurance bike. Bottom line, they wanted to make a bike that was comfortable for everyone but quick enough to race.
One thing you will notice about the Synapse this year is that every model comes with compact gearing, 50/34 rather than mid compact 52/36 or standard 53/39 and the rear cogs are a wide range 11-32! Perfect for climbing, but how will this hold up on the flat roads chasing guys pushing 53-11 or even 55-11? The other new thing is every bike is disc brake equipped. If you have read any of my reviews you know I am a big fan of disc on the road so no worries there.
I have always avoided riding a Synapse because it wasn’t well a “race bike.” Having ridden the Evo and CAAD 12 for years, I am pretty in tune with how I like my bikes to respond to sprints and climbing efforts. I first got to ride the new bike at the Cannondale dealer camp in New Jersey and rode it back to back with an Evo to compare the two. I had a good impression then, but wanted to wait until I got one and rode it on my regular routes and weekly shop ride before I announced my verdict.
The bike I chose was the Synapse Carbon E-Tap version which comes with Fulcrum Racing 500 DB alloy wheels. There are of course High mod version frames but I wanted to know what the average rider was going to feel.
I did have to go with a negative 7’ stem to achieve my position on the bike. This was only because I did not cut the steer tube down and slam the stem, just in case the next person does not need or want to be so aggressive. The only other modification to the bike was to change out the handlebars for a flat top bar as is my preference.
The first few rides on the bike I kept the tubes in the wheels and rode on Vittoria Corsa 28mm open tubulars. To say the ride was smooth is an understatement. The bike practically floats over rough roads and small bumps. The first real test was on the Bicycle Ranch Tucson Roundup Saturday ride. This ride gives you every opportunity to test all elements of a bike. Sprint power, climbing, rough roads and fatigue. When the first sprint came and I stood on the pedals there was loss of power or softness often associated with an endurance frame. There was a ton of snap and response just like the Evo. Even with disc wheels the acceleration was noticeable and the wheels while maybe not my favorite hoops, held speed as well. On the climb the bike was also responsive and light under me. After having been on the Aluminum CAAD 12 for the last couple of months, I could feel how plush the carbon frame was under me. By the top of the climb I still felt fresh and in fact had been able to stay with the front of the group longer than I usually hang on.
What might be the most impressive thing to me is the way the bike tracks on the descents. The slightly longer wheelbase allows the bike to go wherever you point it. Even riders behind me commented how well the bike tracked as I took turns. It could be the confidence and smooth modulation of having disc brakes but the frame geometry is really dialed in for the descents. On one road we ride, it is unusually unforgiving. Rough broken pavement with cross cuts and cracks everywhere. While I can’t say it was a pleasure racing along the road, it was noticeably tame by comparison to other bikes. The second time on this section I was set up tubeless running 85 psi in a 25 mm Giant Gavia tire and that helped even more to lessen the impact of the road.
To keep the feel the same across the size range of bikes, Cannondale uses what they call Size Optimized Design. “Size-specific diameters on the frame, head tube and fork steerer, along with three different fork offsets, ensure that each frame size matches the weight and power of the rider for whom it’s made.”
Often a 54-58 size bike can perform ideally, but get on a 44 or a 61 cm and everything changes. Not with this bike and that is a big deal.
So, what makes the ride quality of this frame so good? Years ago, Cannondale introduced its SAVE or Synapse Active Vibration Elimination technology which essentially reduces fatigue by allowing the carbon to flex and absorb the vibrations. This is not only in the frame, seat stays, chain stays, seat tube and fork but also now in the seat post and new handlebars. (The seat post is available as an aftermarket item and goes fantastic with the CAAD or Evo frame.) Basically, Cannondale designs the comfort into the frame so there is no need for any rubber bumpers, stoppers or shocks. The bike is smooth yet solid under you.
A review of this bike could not be complete without mentioning the build of SRAM E-Tap Hydro. If you have not tried E-Tap, don’t, unless you are ready to buy it for your bike. Completely wireless it makes for a super clean look and the shifting is unreal. Okay so it is not your normal shifting, think paddle shift on a car. Right side will move the chain down the cassette to a harder gear and the left shifter will move you back up to a lower gear. To change the front ring, you hit both. Sounds weird but it is super natural when you are on the bike. The braking is solid, although there is some noise from the rotors but I found that to be true of the SRAM hydraulic brakes and rotors both on the road and off road.
The 2018 Synapse comes in 4 versions of the High Modulus carbon frame and 9 versions of the standard carbon. There are also still 2 color ways available of the older frame style. After just a short couple of months on the bike I have to say I would recommend this to anyone looking for a full-on race ready bike. It might fall under the endurance label, but this is no grocery getter so don’t be fooled if someone pulls up next to you on a group ride and says, “I got it for the comfort” because you might be left in their dust.
A look at a few more of the color options for this year.