Despite what you may have heard, the ultimate arena for bike brands to duke it out is not the Spring Classics, nor is it the Giro d’Italia, nor is it even (gasp) the Tour de France. Yes, pro riders are privy to the latest and greatest in bicycles and gear, and their feedback is paramount to the further development of bike technology. But, let’s face it, the bike business is just that, a business. The real fight for brand supremacy occurs not on the race courses of the pro peloton, but on your local bike shop’s showroom floor.
We’ve heard from countless bike manufacturers that the $2000 price point is a “magic number” in terms of consumer interest. In fact, the largest percentage of road bike sales in North America involves models that retail between $1500 and $2500. So with such an important piece of the proverbial sales pie on the line, we wanted to know what two of the industry’s top brands are rolling out to fight for $2000 of your hard-earned cash, and to find out just how much bike you can expect for that amount of money.
In one corner, hailing from the cycling-crazed community of Waterloo, Wisconsin, we have the carbon fiber Trek Madone 3.1. In the other corner is the CAAD10, an aluminum alternative from Connecticut-based Cannondale. These bikes have retail prices within $90 of each other, and they both feature trickled-down technology from each respective brand’s highest-end wonder bikes. But, as we’ve found, that’s pretty much all they have in common. Which bike is the best? Let’s ring the bell and find out.
The Cannondale CAAD10 sports a fairly straightforward silhouette, with a nearly horizontal top tube and round down and seat tubes.
CANNONDALE CAAD10 4 RIVAL
We tested the CAAD10 last year (RBA, February 2011) when it was a brand-new model, and we came away thoroughly impressed. According to Cannondale, CAAD10 sales were high enough during 2011 that the company saw no reason to mess with success going into 2012. And, indeed, the latest CAAD10 remains entirely unchanged, save for new color choices and four build options ranging from $1670 to $3650.
The frame is still crafted from 6069 aluminum and retains many design elements that have trickled down from other Cannondale models. These include a flattened top tube and S.A.V.E. chainstays and seat stays, a carbon fork with offset dropouts intended to add some compliance and, of course, a BB30 bottom bracket, the standard which Cannondale pioneered.
SRAM S500, 50/34
Fulcrum Racing 7
Schwalbe Lugano, 23c
Cannondale C3 Compact
SRAM Dual Pivot
Trek's least expensive carbon Madone is only available with the brand's H2 fit, which provides a taller head tube than the more aggressive H1 fit available on pricier models.
TREK MADONE 3.1 APEX
The Madone 3.1 is the least expensive carbon road bike you can get from Trek, and its frame is made from Trek’s proprietary 300-series OCLV (Optimum Compaction Low Void) carbon fiber. Historically, the OCLV frame was the signature process of the bikes made at the Trek factory in Wisconsin, which the 3.1 is not. However, according to Trek product manager Ben Coates, “Historically we used a different manufacturing process for frames made in Asia, but those days are no more. Although OCLV requires a stringent protocol, it’s still a process that can be duplicated, and we have now leveraged it worldwide.
The difference between the 3.1 and a [higher-end] 6.9 is the material and time used to make the frame, but the process is the same.” Our SRAM Apex-equipped test model will set you back $2090, but for $50 less, you can get the Madone 3.1 with a mixed drivetrain that includes a compact crankset, Shimano 105 shifters and a Tiagra 12-30 cassette. Both options are only available with a dark-blue-and-white paint job, while a women’s version is also available. Sharing similar tube shapes to the rest of Trek’s Madone range, including the brand’s made-in-America 6.9 SSL, the Madone 3.1 sets itself apart with a BB86.5 bottom bracket and an integrated SpeedTrap computer sensor.
MADONE 3.1 PARTS
SRAM Apex, 50/34
Bontrager aluminum clincher
Bontrager R1, 23c
Bontrager Race Lite
Bontrager Race VR-C
Bontrager Race Lite Alloy
Bontrager Affinity 1
Dual Pivot Alloy
The last time we tested the CAAD10, we said that it “loved to ride hard into turns and pedaled just as hard coming out,” and we’re happy to report that nothing has changed. Coming out of the weigh-in at 17.6 pounds and paired with a compact drivetrain, the CAAD10 is a formidable climber, and with its 1 1/8- inch to 1 1/4-inch tapered head tube, it’s an even better descender. A performance- oriented alternative to pricier carbon racers, it can take all the aggressive riding you can dish out and keep on swinging, but does want for a bit of road comfort over the long haul. The flattened chainstays and seat stays do plenty to deflect road chatter, but the aluminum frame still sends the heartier vibrations and bumps directly to the rider.
Like the CAAD10, the Madone 3.1 features a tapered head tube, but of the 1 1/8-inch to 1 1/2-inch variety. Our test model’s full-SRAM Apex drivetrain included the revered 32-tooth cog that deals a heavy blow to triple cranksets everywhere. And even with a 1.2-pound weight penalty over the CAAD10, the Madone 3.1 fears no climb. It’s not quite as confident on descents as its opponent, however, but we found ourselves opting for the Madone 3.1 when our routes included plenty of rough pavement.
Indeed, carbon trumps aluminum when it comes to compliance in this instance, and the Madone 3.1 specifically is one of the smoothest rolling bikes we’ve ridden in quite some time. It also features Trek’s more comfort-oriented H2 fit, with a taller head tube allowing for more upright positioning. So although the CAAD10 is lighter and serves up a stiffer ride that is better suited to powerful sprints and speedy descents than the Madone 3.1, the latter’s superior vibration damping makes it the clear winner in the ride-quality round.
You’re going to get more out of your $2000 with the CAAD10. And we know that you’re thinking, “But all of the best road bikes are carbon, not aluminum!” Yes, carbon frames are typically more expensive to produce than aluminum counterparts, and carbon is the way to go for high-end race bikes, but remember, not all carbon is created equal. Although the Madone 3.1 shares the same geometry and most of the same tube shapes as Trek’s flagship race bike, the different types of carbon fiber used in their respective constructions are exceedingly different in terms of strength, weight, stiffness and compliance. But cheaper carbon is in no way a bad thing, and it simply yields a cheaper bike. And as we’ve learned, the Madone 3.1 serves up a fantastic ride quality, thanks in large part to Trek’s skills at carbon manipulation.
The Wisconsin brand was also able to keep costs down by spec’ing the Madone 3.1 with a SRAM Apex gruppo—as opposed to a costlier drivetrain option such as the Rival—and proprietary parts, with everything from the wheels and tires to the aluminum cockpit components coming from the company’s in-house parts brand, Bontrager. While Apex gets the job done, the CAAD10’s SRAM Rival drivetrain is definitely a step up in terms of performance. In addition to the higher-end Rival drivetrain, the CAAD10 offers a more attractive parts list with several name-brand items, including a Fulcrum Racing 7 wheelset, Schwalbe Lugano tires, a Prologo Kappa saddle and SRAM brakes. As such, we score this round in favor of the CAAD10.
Although we’ve pitted these two foes against one another in a head-to-head fight, the reality is that with a seemingly endless list of contenders grappling for your two grand, both Trek and Cannondale have more than each other to deal with in the proverbial bike-shop brawl. These bikes are as different as can be as far as road bikes go at this price level, and they’ve been designed for different riders. That said, we’d be willing to shell out our $2000 for either bike, and we’d come away with a great purchase. But, the Cannondale CAAD10 is our first choice.
As tested, the CAAD10 is the reigning champion of aluminum frames and comes with a better component selection, including drivetrain and wheels. Its geometry comes straight from Cannondale’s priciest race bike, the SuperSix, and its overall better performance is apparent from the get-go. It’s the bike that we’d want on race day, and one that would better help us outkick our buddies on the weekend ride.
The Trek Madone 3.1 is still a great offering, so the CAAD10’s victory is by decision, not by knockout. And if your typical ride involves more climbing than sprinting, more chewed-up roads than pristine tarmac, or you simply log extra hours in the saddle, then we’d recommend the Madone 3.1 over the CAAD10. Its carbon frame soaks up more road chatter, creating a ride that you’ll enjoy all day long. And if you’ve settled on the Madone 3.1, we suggest popping for the SRAM Apex gruppo. The extra gearing will give you the climbing prowess to conquer any climb, giving you the freedom to ride long after the bell has sounded.
CAAD10 PUNCH LINES
• Proves that aluminum is still a viable frame material
• Vibration damping not on par with carbon
• A budget-friendly race bike
Head tube angle: 73 degrees
Seat tube angle: 74 degrees
Effective top tube length: 53.5cm
Head tube length: 12cm
Weight: 17.6 pounds
Sizes: 48, 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 63cm
MADONE 3.1 GEOMETRY
Head tube angle: 72.8 degrees
Seat tube angle: 74.2 degrees
Effective top tube length: 53.4cm
Head tube length: 14cm
MADONE 3.1 STATS
Weight: 18.8 pounds
Sizes: 50, 52, (tested), 54, 56, 68, 60, 62cm