Bike Test: Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod With Campagnolo 12-Speed

Combining an American chassis with Italian parts

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HOW CAMPY CAN A CANNONDALE GET?

When we received an invite from Campagnolo to visit Gran Canaria early last year, we were uncertain what warranted such a grand unveiling. Much of the 12-speed Super Record gruppo had been redesigned—not as much in form but in function. A few months later Campy was piecing together the first of the new Super Record gruppos to be sent to North America, and where else did they want to send it but to the RBA offices.

When asked what frame we’d like a new gruppo to be built on, we chose a new Cannondale Synapse frame, which we hadn’t ridden of late. No, Cannondale doesn’t offer a Campy-built bike as a production model, but for the purposes of creating an interesting project bike, the Synapse build served our purposes well. The Synapse is Cannondale’s endurance-oriented frame featuring the brand’s own SAVE technology that puts a focus on ride quality through added compliance. 

THE FRAME

The carbon Synapse is built using endurance geometry that got a bit of a facelift in 2017. Compared to their SuperSix and SystemSix bikes, the Synapse offers more tire clearance (for 32mm tires) with a slightly longer and more relaxed geometry. It also uses Cannondale’s own SAVE micro-suspension technology in its chainstays, seatstays, fork legs and undersized, 25.4mm seatpost. 

Adding to the Italian influence, the Selle SMP Forma saddle effectively eliminates pressure from the perineal. Cannondale’s undersized 25.4mm seatpost increases compliance using the brand’s SAVE technology.

The Synapse comes in seven sizes, and to further fine-tune the ride characteristics, there are three different forks (with varying rake) used depending on the size. Our 56cm frame has a 4.5cm fork rake with a 73-degree head tube angle but only a 99.5cm wheelbase. With 41cm chainstays, the frame is relatively compact and very responsive.

THE PARTS

Since it’s not a production model, our unique test bike turned heads everywhere it rolled. The beautifully crafted hydraulic Ergopower controls are mated to 160mm rotors with flat-mount calipers. The 52/36 carbon crank is matched to an 11-32 cassette, thanks to that 12th gear. This means more range with the same tight gear gap that many have come to love. Both derailleurs have been redesigned to provide appreciably swifter, more efficient shifts.

Campy’s unique ErgoPower hoods are both soft and grippy, and partner well with the comfort found with the double-curve lever design.

Trying to maximize the Italian influence, the bike came to us with a Selle SMP Forma saddle and a cockpit using a 3T 100mm LTD stem matched to the 3T Rotundo classic deep-bend handlebar. Straight outta Utah came some of our favorite bar tape—Lizard Skins DSP 2.5mm.

While on paper this all looks good, in reality the classic handlebar bend offered far too much reach. The bars themselves only have 83mm of reach, and most modern ergo bars will have between 70–85mm of reach. But the position of the controls is much lower, extending the rider’s reach further. Since modern hood designs are made to complement the modern bar bends, it’s not surprising that the old-school bend didn’t complement the modern design of the Ergopower controls.

Campagnolo has never believed in a brake lever that doubles as a shift lever. The independent shift levers are easy to get used to.

To keep things rolling, we added a set of Campagnolo’s Shamal Ultra Disc wheels. The alloy hoops are based on Campy’s 2-Way Fit design which make them a great choice no matter if you choose to go tubeless or tubes. A set of 28mm IRC Formula Pro tubeless tires rounded out the build.

THE RIDE

During our rides on the Synapse, the addition of the new Campagnolo Super Record groupset proved an appreciable improvement for the racer types always looking for an uptick in advantage. An important contact point, Campy’s sculpted double-curve carbon brake levers paired with soft, supple and tacky hoods were more comfortable than those used by competing brands. The hoods are less than a centimeter larger than their rim brake counterparts to account for the hydraulic internals.

The separate thumb levers control lower shifts of the front derailleur and higher shifts in the rear. They can be actuated from either the hoods or the drops, and the rear gears are able to shift further through the cassette than Campy’s component competitors. The Super Record gruppo can shift up to five gears at a time going down the cassette and shift four at a time back up for the easier gears. The shifting is direct and precise, thanks to the heavy indexing from the Campagnolo thumb lever.  

Campy’s disc brakes remain the best disc brakes on the market.

Cannondale bills the Synapse as their high-performance endurance bike. The long head tube helps provide a comfortable, more upright position for longer rides. The bike maintains a performance ride quality, but the extra gear helps bring the bike to another level. Most 11-32-speed cassettes have noticeable jumps in the middle cogs. The 12-speed Campy cassette reduces this with straight shifting in the 11-17 gears. Following those, there’s a 19- and 22-tooth cog, and the top quarter of the cassette jumps from 25-32 with a 28 in between. Our test riders remarked how finding the proper cadence was easier with this gear spread.  

Rear derailleur shifts are a bit clunkier than Shimano or SRAM, but they are just as fast and precise. Even on larger jumps of three or more gears, the rear derailleur got the job done.

The Campagnolo Shamal Ultra wheels were another remarkable addition to the ride. Campy’s Ultra Smooth bearings enhanced the acceleration and felt like they kept the Shamals up to speed longer. The tubeless-ready wheelset weighed 1601 grams and complements the Italian brand’s aesthetic with unique three-spoke groupings around the machined-aluminum hoops. 

THE VERDICT

Our Campy Cannondale is a head-turner. The sleek Italian components and shapely carbon frame combine for a comfortable ride that maintains a level of performance most endurance bikes lack. This Synapse proved ideal for long days in the saddle. Cannondale’s SAVE technology reduces the aches from vibrations. When paired with the innovations from Campy, the bike can perform to its maximum ability.

Beautifully crafted, the full-carbon crank uses a four-bolt design that will accept all three types of chainring configurations: compact, semi-compact and standard. Front shifts were crisp and quick.

For 2019 Cannondale offer 11 different models of the carbon Synapse starting at $2100 for the Shimano 105 rim brake model. Above that every bike is disc specific and the line tops out at $10,500 for the Hi-Mod Disc Dura Ace model. A Hi-Mod Synapse frame sells for $3500.

As of now (RBA January 2019) , if you want a 12-speed drivetrain road, Campagnolo is your only option (also available in the less-expensive Record group). Pricey? You bet, but the ease of use that the Campy system offers while on the road brings with it a level of relaxation owing to its ease of function. From the shifters and derailleurs to the disc brakes and wheels, the Campagnolo gruppo represents a class-leading component group both in form and function. Oh, did we mention it’s also beautiful just to look at?

PUNCH LINES

• The one and only 12-speed (SRAM Red eTap AXS out now too!)

• All-day comfort

• Classic Italian style 

STATS

Price: $3500 (frameset), $3450 (groupset)

Weight: 16.25 pounds

Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58 61cm

www.cannondale.com

www.campagnolo.com

GEAR:

Jersey: Campagnolo

Bibs: DNA Cycling

Helmet: LEM Tailwind

Glasses: Oakley Jawbreaker

Socks: Base Cartel

Shoes: Bontrager Ballista

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