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Bike Preview: Cannondale SuperSix EVO

November 17, 2011
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It was back in the summer of 2007 that Cannondale introduced their first SuperSix race bike. Two years later, an improved version was born. Sticklers that they are for staying on schedule, Cannondale has now introduced yet another version of the SuperSix: the SuperSix Evo.
The key to appreciating the Evo frame is just how contrary its design is compared to many of the high-end carbon bikes that Cannondale views as their immediate competition. Carbon like all the others, yes, but that’s where the comparisons end. The SuperSix Evo stands out in the carbon pack in the same manner that the original aluminum Cannondales stood out among all the steel bikes two decades ago. Looking for an ‘aero-enhanced’ road bike? Look elsewhere. You say you’re a fan of big, box-section chainstays with a stiff, unforgiving ride? This isn’t the bike for you.
Beyond the bike, another important element worth considering is what the Evo’s development says about Cannondale’s steadfast dedication to pursuing an aggressive R&D schedule. When Cannondale first announced their move to Asian production, many thought the move would mark the end of a respected legacy for innovation and be seen as a byproduct of the American-based production. Not so.

At 11.2 pounds, is the $11,700 Evo Ultimate the ultimate production bike?
At a distance the Evo is not strikingly different in appearance from its predecessor, but, in fact, the Evo frame is entirely new in both tube selection and method of construction. Cannondale claims a naked frame weight of 695 grams, but that’s based on a highly nuanced, third-party theory of weight ‘normalization’ (for a frame size that Cannondale doesn’t even make). So, no, we don’t buy the sub-700-gram weight claim. When pressed, Cannondale finally coughed up their actual (claimed) number for a 56cm frame: 727 grams! That is definitely in the ‘Whoa!’ category of production frame weights.
At first glance, the Evo frame is not one that jumps out and screams ‘shapeliness.’ In the same vain as their aluminum frames, Cannondale retains an old-school approach by relying on mostly round tubes. Still, while Cannondale doesn’t tout the Evo as a member of the newly created class of ‘aero road bikes,’ it’s not to say that certain design criteria weren’t met to give the new bikes some distinct aero qualities. Instead of relying on traditional aero-shaped tubes (see the Peter Denk interview on page 54), Cannondale instead opted to attain improved aero efficiency by reducing the frontal area of the frame. Compared to the current SuperSix, the Evo’s fork blades are 15 percent thinner, the downtube is 20 percent smaller and the head tube diameter has been reduced by 11 percent (the old 1 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch tapered head tube has been downsized to 1 1/8 inches to 1 1/4 inches ). The center section of the top tube has also been narrowed to allow for more inboard positioning of the rider’s knees. These new tube dimensions also played a key role in saving weight.

The EVO fork also uses the Speed Save design, plus an offset fork dropout, to allow for increased fork rake. SRAM Red brakes provide the Evo team replica bike with some stopping power.
Another key feature of the Evo frame is what Cannondale calls their Speed Save ‘Micro-Suspension’ system. While, like others, Cannondale has sought to improve a bike’s ride quality by altering the damping qualities of the rear triangle with specially shaped tubes, we remain loath to ever use the word ‘suspension’ in describing a rigid structure. Call it ‘deflection’ at best. And given the performance cyclist’s reluctance to ever embrace anything that rhymes with ‘comfort,’ Cannondale has wisely chosen to distinguish the Evo’s system of rear triangle deflection over that found on the Synapse model, which first employed the concept. We have nothing against rider comfort, but at the end of the day, we are talking about a pro-level race bike, so performance is crucial. Speed Save (versus standard Save) uses different tube shapes and lay-up schedules to help maximize cornering traction and acceleration.

Cannondale’s small-diameter and tapered chainstays are meant to not only increase rider comfort, but more importantly, offer a level of ‘micro-suspension’ (or deflection) to maximize road grip.
One of the more telling features of the Evo frame adapting a contrarian influence is the shape of the Evo chainstays. Unlike the tall box-section shapes found on many race bikes, the Evo stays have little height to them in order to maximize lateral stiffness and vertical compliance. Besides creative shaping of the chainstays and seat stays, part of the Speed Save equation includes a new seat tube design that also uses a smaller seatpost than its predecessor (down from 30.6mm to 27.2mm).

Five different versions of the SuperSix Evo will be made available. Among them will be a very handsome team replica bike, with the only non-team spec part being the Mavic clincher wheels.

For this preview, we have to admit to having far less time on the bike than we normally do for a real test. The immediate take-away left us in a bit of a quandary. Since when, we wondered, did a pro-level race bike ride this comfortably? True to their stated design goals, between the Speed Save fork and chainstays, the smaller-diameter seat tube and the overall lay-up, we thought the Evo’s ride quality was among the best of recently ridden bikes. While we can’t attest to the bike’s performance at the pro level, the fact that it is the same bike used by the Liquigas team gives some weight to the argument. We’re looking forward to getting a long-term test bike soon.

Cannondale will be offering five different models of the SuperSix Evo, all of which share the same frame. At the top of the heap sits the amazing 11.2-pound Ultimate, which (even with its $11,700 price tag) could very well establish a new standard in high-end production bikes. Next is the stunning $9499 Team Edition with matching livery and spec (except the Mavic clincher wheels) as found on the Cannondale-sponsored Liquigas ProTour bikes. If you’re a Shimano Di2 fan, $10,699 is what it will take to get an Evo with the electronic spec. A standard Shimano Dura-Ace spec’d bike will sell for $7499, and the entry-level bike built with a SRAM Red drivetrain will sell for $5499.

PETER DENK, The Wizard of Carbon
RBA: You’ve been working with carbon for years, what would you consider the most impressive feature of the SuperSix Evo?
Peter: The Speed Save system is perhaps the biggest factor that allows the Evo to offer such an efficient ride. The small amount of flex we’ve been able to isolate in the seatpost, chainstays, and around the front and rear dropouts help the Evo perform as well as it does in every aspect of the ride. For example, one of the best days during the Evo’s development was when I received a phone call from Ivan [Basso]. Now, he’s not as good a descender as Vincenzo [Nibali], and on this one long descent through the mountains, Vincenzo was always two minutes faster than Ivan. But when Ivan rode the Evo while Vincenzo was on the previous SuperSix, Ivan was able to keep up with Vincenzo! He called to tell me so and was ecstatic, and it was very rewarding for me and the design team to hear.
RBA: There seems to be a lot of bike manufacturers developing ‘aero road’ frames, like the Specialized Venge and the Scott Foil; what do you think about those?
Peter: ‘Aero’ frames are good for triathletes, but if you’re into road riding, then lightness and stiffness are better features to look for. I like the look of those types of frames, but their performance is average. Their dramatic ovalized tube shapes catch wind from the side and other directions that aren’t head-on, so they’re not ideal for going up or down hills, for example. Also, their compliance is not so good, so riders will spend more of their energy holding their bodies steady to maintain that aerodynamic effect, and then they’ll lose speed if the roads are not perfect. You’ll feel their benefits in a paceline with your buddies or on perfectly flat, straight roads, but not at other times.
RBA: What are your thoughts on the UCI’s current regulations for race bike weight limits?
Peter: I think it’s time for the UCI to look at reconsidering weight limits, because manufacturers are capable of producing lighter and safer bikes these days. They should not lower the limits too much, because that will cause problems. All the big bike brands have great test facilities now, so we won’t give anyone-pro racers or consumers-a bike that is too light and unsafe. But some smaller makers may feel forced to offer lighter bikes to compete, but they may not have done the proper safety testing on them. Maybe a change like 6.8 kilograms to 6.4 kilograms wouldn’t be such a big step, but would satisfy most. Remember that’s only for pros; the rest of us can ride whatever we want!
CHRIS PECK, A Voice from Inside
RBA: In your 16 years with Cannondale, you’ve seen a lot of road bike evolution.
Chris: Yeah, the first road bike I worked on was the 1997 CAAD 3 with the cantilevered rear dropouts. And then, following our partnership with the Saeco team, we started making changes to the frame geometry. The CAAD 4 was when we introduced the hourglass seat stays, and the CAAD 5 was the first bike we did with an integrated headset and a carbon steerer. With the CAAD 6 model, we introduced our BB30 bottom bracket, which was a big deal. The CAAD 7 used a new Alcoa ‘Optimal’ aluminum with new tube shapes, the CAAD 8 had our ‘Power Pyramid’ seat tube and the CAAD 9 used new tube shapes in the front triangle with more CNC machining throughout. And, of course, we just introduced the new CAAD 10 for this year, which is basically all new.
RBA: What have been some of the more significant changes in carbon frame production since the Synapse was introduced in 2006?
Chris: More than any actual frame attribute, to me, the biggest changes have been in the manufacturing processes. Our frame molding techniques have improved greatly, and now inside the frame is much cleaner, which affects durability and ride quality. The variety of carbon material available has also grown significantly. Lastly, I would say that our own overall design knowledge that’s come to us from all the R&D we’ve done with the team has helped us advance tremendously. Whether it was Saeco and the aluminum frames or Liquigas with carbon, the pro teams have played a huge role in frame development. Both the riders and the mechanics have given us critical feedback.
RBA: What about the Evo model itself?
Chris: We really didn’t have a single goal to achieve with the bike. It’s easy to make a stiff bike, and it’s easy to make a light bike. I am really most proud of the balance we achieved with the Evo. The stiffness-to-weight ratio and the ride compliance together are the two things I’m most impressed with.


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