Wednesday, May 13, 2009

2010 Cannondale SuperSix HiMod

Lighter and Stiffer — Really

By Michael Frank

Cison di Valmarino, Italy

The bike Team Liquigas is Racing at this year’s Giro is 150g lighter than last year’s SuperSix and yet, according to Cannondale, 17 percent stiffer at the BB than the present model. We know this tune well; every single year every single bike maker says they’ve made their race bikes lighter and stiffer. In this instance you could argue that the SystemSix was already pretty dang light and plenty stiff. The 2010 unit, however, based on about six hours of initial testing (see a ride map is on my Garmin Connect page, here), is unquestionably feathery as well as beautifully (and smartly) designed for the seasoned rider who wants quick, but also instinctual handling. (We’ll get back to stiffness in a minute.)

Let’s linger on the handling part; some “pro level” race bikes are simply too nervous for average weekend racers; peel off the pack to blow your nose and you find yourself correcting the initial dart into the wind. Or angle the bike for the apex of a sharp turn (there are plenty of those here at the foothills of the Dolomites) and in the middle of the arc you find you have to make micro adjustments to your turning angle. Sometimes you don’t even notice that your position on the bike had to change to get the line around the corner you’ve eyed up.

None of which is going on here. the SuperSix is supremely instinctual; we don’t usually lavish such praise after so short an exposure to a bike, and it will easily be the case that we’ll find something less praiseworthy in the SystemSix after more riding (remember, only six hours of testing so far) but handling isn’t going to be a failing here. Rarely do we come across a race-focused bike that we could steer so easily, with just slight pressure from our thumbs on the insides of the hoods for small moves, and a hint of twist in our hips for bigger arcs. And the best part - the SuperSix isn’t twitchy even in a cross breeze in a paceline, despite being so ready to take a new line when you need it to (for instance when two Italian drivers try to fit their cars by your group of 20 riders all across a 1.5-car-wide lane).


How light is light? 900g for a size 56cm with paint. And while the frame is still a monocoque, key differences include:


Yep, Cannondale is using a tapered steerer, just like all the other “super bike” makers. Also, Cannondale (like most companies that work in carbon) recognizes that sharper turns in the material represent weak spots, since carbon is good at turning shallow corners but gets weaker (unless you add lots more material) at the point of bending when you over-stress it, i.e. try to force very sharp curves in the material. So the new front triangle junction has milder turns, allowing straighter runs of carbon from the top tube and down through/into the down tube, and crucially, allowing the excellent steering stiffness we experienced WITHOUT using excess material. Also cool - the SuperSix gets carbon, rather than alloy bearing cups for the steerer.


The SuperSix has an ovalized down tube; the squashed shape is said to add stiffness, and meets the bb section as widely as possible. There’s BB30 as well - the Cannondale-invented standard for a larger, stiffer bb, and of course a Hollowgram Si SL crankset tipping the scales at a mere 575 grams. (Significantly, there’s wide industry adoption of BB30, as we tested these bikes with both FSA and SRAM rings as well as C’dale’s own.)


Cannondale doesn’t use lugged construction in its monocoque design. Lugs add weight and require squared off junctions that, according to Cannondale engineers, create weak spots and losses in power transmission. At especially crucial joints, like the bb/chainstay crossroads, Cannondale wanted the greatest surface area possible to connect its new, singlepiece (both drive- and nondrive are made as a single wishbone) stays. This photo and illustration show how the stays are mated to the front triangle.


One huge key to this bike is that it’s not uncomfortable. For a “super bike” that’s saying something, especially because the SuperSix is in fact quite stiff, with excellent power transmission at least from this tester’s meek output. We’ll reserve final judgment on this latter point for a magazine test with several different riders (especially sprinters), but as for first blush, the bike is really, really stiff, but only hurts if you hit a square-edged bump dead on. A help in this regard is the full-length seatstays that continue past the bridge for the brakes rather than “cheating” and closing up well before the seat tube junction. Longer seat stays, designed to flex, are the secret.

We’ll have a full review of the new SuperSix in an upcoming issue of the magazine. So far though, riding it hard on some very challenging Italian roads, it’s certainly worthy of acollades.

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