Bike Test: TWO-BY ALUMINUM Trek VS Cannondale

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Trek’s Domane ALR 4 Disc versus Cannondale’s Optimo Disc

Photos: Pat Carrigan

Although aluminum is no longer the frame material of choice in the high-end market, it still provides an impressive value for entry-level bikes. Cannondale and Trek are two of the big brands that have continued to invest in their aluminum bike line, and what we have here are two entries that close in on the $2000 price point.

Cannondale pioneered the use of oversized aluminum tubes back in the early ’80s. In the many years since, Cannondale has maintained its reputation with aluminum fabrication with their popular CAAD line that’s used in a variety of different bikes. The CAAD Optimo is Cannondale’s newest take on what an aluminum bike should feel like while maintaining a friendly price tag.

The Trek Domane ALR 4 Disc is more than another aluminum frame with a flashy paint job. Trek utilized established compliance concepts from their higher-end carbon version to develop a bike that is budget-friendly and still packs a punch on the performance side.

THE FRAMES

CANNONDALE

The Optimo uses Cannondale’s own SmartForm C2 aluminum with internal cable routing, a PF30 bottom bracket and, of course, disc brakes. The rear triangle uses Cannondale’s SAVE stays that are used on all of their road bikes and even some of their mountain bikes. The SAVE micro-suspension flattens out parts of the chain and seatstays to dumb down rough sections of pavement.

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Adding to the ride quality is a carbon fork up front and a small-diameter seat tube that hosts a 27.2mm seatpost. There are two bikes in the Optimo category; our test bike is the higher-end build retailing for $1460.

TREK

The ALR 4 stands unique with the addition of Trek’s proprietary IsoSpeed decoupler, which can be likened to a suspension system that provides unparalleled vertical compliance aimed at long days in the saddle. The IsoSpeed allows the seat tube to flex under stress to relieve some of the harsh vibrations and imperfections on the road.

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Trek builds the Domane with their 200 Alpha aluminum with manipulated tube shapes to enhance the ride quality. The rear triangle has clearance for up to 32mm tires and uses a 12mm thru-axle. The frame has complete internal cable routing, an oversized BB86.5 bottom bracket shell and hidden fender mounts.

A nice, modern touch are the flat-mount front and rear disc brakes. Up front is a carbon fiber fork that uses a 12mm thru-axle and clearance for 32mm tires. The price tag is set at $1730.

THE PARTS

CANNONDALE

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The meaty gussets are the aluminum reminders.

Our test bike came with the proven 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain with an 11-28 cassette. Up front is an FSA Gossamer crankset with compact 50/34 chainrings. The shifters are paired with cable-actuated TRP Spyre brake calipers. The Optimo comes with Maddux wheels mounted with 25mm Schwalbe Lugano tires. Cannondale relied on their own C3 aluminum handlebars, stem and seatpost to round out the spec.

TREK

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The Shimano 105 Hydro brake hoods are stretched out.

Bikes in this price point are generally value-driven, and the ALR 4 has plenty of bang-for-the-buck components. Trek spec’d the ALR with Shimano RS405 hydraulic brakes and calipers for consistent braking that is unaffected by the internal cable routing. The 10-speed Shimano Tiagra drivetrain is made up with a compact 50/34 crankset and 11-32 rear cassette, giving riders a broad range of gears. Our test bike came with 32mm tires and tubeless-ready Bontrager rims that we considered a bonus for this price point.

THE RIDES

CANNONDALE

The geometry of the CAAD leans towards performance with a slightly aggressive reach and head angle but in a compact design. Our test riders felt comfortable with the 100mm stem, but were not impressed with the stock saddle and swapped it out for a Fabric Scoop after the first ride. On longer rides the fit felt comfortable and versatile enough for riders to find a good position for endurance adventures or more aggressive riding.

The CAAD rides like an aluminum bike with stiff, responsive qualities that are pronounced during hard efforts out of the saddle. Our test riders didn’t get any unwanted flex out of the frame when climbing or sprinting and were pleased with the overall responsiveness. When pedaling in the saddle, the CAAD had a smooth ride that was attributed to the SAVE stays. Over rough sections of pavement the CAAD delivered a surprisingly quiet ride.

It took us several hard braking efforts to burn the brakes in, but once we did, the calipers provided capable stopping power. The cable routing for the rear brake is awkward, coming out from under the chainstay, and drastically changed how the lever felt. Instead of a consistent pull, the line felt mushy and changed when we turned the handlebars.

TREK

Dialing in the fit, our test riders noticed the relax geometry and dropped the stem into the lowest stack height and were still comfortable enough during long rides. The Shimano brake hoods have a long reach, which felt strange to some riders. During our testing, though, we didn’t have any major complaints with the overall fit and geometry. To say to the Domane is a smooth-riding bike would be an understatement. The IsoSpeed decoupler muted rough sections of the road and delivered a very compliant ride quality.

Out of the saddle the frame was stiff and responded to our test riders’ efforts with ease. On long climbs we had plenty of gears to maintain a healthy cadence, even on steeper pitches of pavement. The Domane felt stable on descents, and the hydraulic calipers offered plenty of modulation. Some of our test riders would have preferred the smaller 140mm rotors opposed to the stock 160s, but overall were pleased with the braking performance.

THE VERDICT

CANNONDALE

Entry-level road bikes in this price category are usually a pretty solid bet in terms of durability and delivering a consistent ride. The CAAD Optimo delivers on ride quality and carries on the CAAD legacy well. Riders will have a solid platform to dial in this bike the way they want it down the road or simply enjoy it as is.

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The cable-pull disc brakes may look modern, but they lack good power.

OPTIMO PUNCH LINES

  • Comfortable ride
  • Good value
  • Inconsistent rear brake

OPTIMO STATS

  • Price: $1460
  • Weight: 21.6 pounds
  • Sizes: 44, 48, 51, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 60, 63cm

www.cannondale.com

TREK 

There are plenty of aluminum bikes under $2000 with loud paint jobs and a quality component package, but few have frame designs that are as progressive as the Trek. The Domane ALR 4 Disc has a solid component spec and a frame design that has more technology than some high-end carbon bikes. The price tag on the Domane is near the top of what is considered budget-friendly, but the bike will require few—if any—upgrades to keep riders going.

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The Trek’s thru-axle and flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes are as contemporary as it gets.

DOMANE PUNCH LINES

  • Proprietary Isospeed system
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Comfortable geometry

DOMANE STATS

  • Price: $1730
  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 60, 62cm

www.trekbikes.com

THE COMPARO 

There are two schools of thought when shopping for your first bike—settling for the most affordable or opt for a slightly higher price to step up in technology. The Cannondale sits in a comfortable price range with a modern 11-speed drivetrain and mechanical-actuated disc brakes. For about $300 more, the Trek sits at the top of the entry-level price spectrum with a 10-speed drivetrain and hydraulic-actuated disc brakes.

It’s no secret that entry-level bikes are often the dumping ground for older, heavier components and technology as consumer expectations advance along with the new technology that finds itself on more expensive bikes. That argument could point to both the Cannondale’s cable pull brakes and Trek’s 10-speed drivetrain.

While everyone can always use extra gears, for us, there is nothing that beats the feel of consistent and powerful braking, and that’s a big reason why for us the extra $300 for the Trek is small potatoes. In addition to the brakes are the tubeless-ready wheels and 32mm tires, which are a boon in contemporary component spec. What really seals the deal in favor of the Trek is the Isospeed decoupler that simply delivers an unmatched level of ride compliance that’s hard to beat.

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