Throwback Thursday: Strade Bianche & Boston Bombs

Cannondale's Synapse launch party was something indeed

By Zap

It was seven  years ago, back when bike brands used to throw-down for some crazy good bike launches, Cannondale went all out to launch their new Synapse. The event was held in Tuscany, Italy just outside the town of Sienna where the local “white roads” (aka strade bianche) would make up the crux of our rides.

Over the three day new bike feast, there was more drama than I had ever experienced at a bike launch.  On a  recent quest looking for some old bike racing images, I came across a selection of photos from the Italian launch that prompted the recollections that make up this week’s edition of TBT.

Off in the distance from our hotel was the ancient city of Sienna where the annual WorldTour Strade Bianche finishes.


Actually, far more important than the bike race is the famous il Palio horse race that has been taking place inside the confines of the city’s Piazza del Campo since 1633. It is a human spectacle of unmatched insanity!


After everyone got settled, the Synapse launch started off with an early evening mixer…yeah, we were getting paid to be there. 
It’s was one thing to gush over the view, the appies and the delicious red wine, but it wasn’t until (then) Liquigas rider Peter Sagan walked into the room that all the journos really got excited about being there. In the week prior to the launch, Sagan had already ridden his pre-production Synapse to a win at Ghent-Wevelgem.



Cannondale’s original Synapse was first released in 2006 and it marked the  famed aluminum brand’s “big news” shift to not only  a carbon frame, but also Asian production. This was the new bike in 2013 that we had all come to see and ride. Even now, some  still feel this edition of the Synapse was the tastiest plum on the family tree.  Key new features included the under-sized seatpost and tiny “head lights” built into the headset spacer.


This is what the inside of a bike industry launch briefing looks like.


The first day of business took place on April 13, 2004. (Side note: If anyone has ever seen the movie “The Arrival” (starring Jeremey Renner, Amy Adams and Forrest Whittaker) there is a scene in the very beginning when Adams is teaching a language class when suddenly the class is interrupted by a string of cell phone calls and alerts with warnings of an alien invasion.) While no alien invasion had taken place, it was a tad surreal when suddenly so many phones began ringing away. It got strange quick.  Suddenly, someone yelled out, “there was a bombing in Boston”.

Although the “marathon bombing” had taken place 1000’s of miles from where we sat, for so many of the east coast based Cannondale employees, the news was local. Unfortunately, my daughter was going to school in Boston at the time. Damn, and as the kids would say, “the shite got real!” As expected, the Q&A session was  sidetracked until everyone back home was accounted for, but it was unnerving to say the least. For all the bike launches I’ve attended, it was the first time that the “real world” had so forcefully invaded our typically sanguine, special world existence. Little did we know at the time that this would only be the first of two traumatic events of the trip.

The roll-out ride started out easy enough on some sweet windy paved roads. Riding in Italy, riding in Tuscany is a magic all its own. Do it.


Ah yes, remember the fun  we had back in the day before disc brakes and wide tires came on the scene?  It was just moments after this high-speed descent on the hardpack, slippery dirt that we lost our pal Kevin when he went face first into a brick wall.


The other moment of the trip when “the shite got real” was when the combination of the slick dirt roads and our skinny, equally slick tires snuck up and got the best of our young American compatriot Kevin.  It was when the descending road (above) split into two directions with an old brick wall seperating the two that poor Kevin’s (until then) vacation-like Italian get-away came crashing to an end.

By the time I rolled-up, it was ugly. Kevin was splayed out unconscious on the road, blood was everywhere, and of course, not a scintilla of phone reception. After one of our local guides rode on to fetch help, I snapped a few photos of the incident (later given to Cannondale with the promise to not make public), before joining others for a somber ride back to the hotel. Everyone was shaken to the core, thinking about Kevin. Equally unnerving was  with the realization that it could’ve just as easily been anyone of us who got decked given the rambunctious nature of our descending. I ma reminded today of how  time and again on such trips, I have looked to fellow journo Jimmy Huang to appreciate how lucky we’ve been to be able to ride on so many foreign roads on so many foreign bikes and never get hurt.

By the time we collected for dinner word had gotten out that Kevin, while seriously injured, would be okay. Before dinner was served  Cannondale had already got his mom on a flight over where she would eventually stay with Kevin to recuperate for the next month.

So, what was worth talking about with the new Synapse?  Reviewing the story I wrote about it seven years ago in the July 2013 issue, it reads like an ancient, long-ago buried  time capsule.  Not to try and come across as some prescient future-teller, but how about this gem of a pull-quote…

“One thing that struck me at the Cannondale launch was that clearly an exciting new niche in the skinny-tire world has officially arrived. Forget Gran Fondos. With the growing popularity of skinny-tire gravel events and adventure races the need for more dirt-capable is now.”  


In addition to the standard issue versions, Cannondale also produced a limited-run of Synapse as part of their fancy Black Inc. collection.


The big talking points on the bike were the continuation of Cannondale’s proprietary use of their SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) frame technology, which was now highlighted with their novel use of an undersized 25.4mm seastpost to bring added rear-end compliance. Of course when it came to the question (actually the answer) about the bike’s compliance, I still recall the cat and mouse game that was not dissimilar from my discussions with other bike brands on the same topic The following is what I wrote and best describes the moment…

“Given their frequent use of the words “deflection” and micro-suspension  – and once even “suspension” – in explaining the compliance features of the Synapse frame, I figured it reasonable to ask about just what the measureables of all that deflection were. Talk about hitting a brock wall. Despite additional rounds of Chianti Classico, Cannondale engineers weren’t too receptive to my inquiry on the topic. Wouldn’t,  couldn’t, shouldn’t there be any way to measure the much-ballyhooed   deflection in the frame just as they did with the new seatpost? Apparently not.

By this time a delicious chocolate mousse was delivered to the table  and I reiterated that my goal was just to be an irritant, but that as the market for compliant bikes matured, consumers would most likely want to hear some numbers attributed to frame movement, just as they do frame weights, rpm and gear inches.” 


Ah yes, the July 2013 issue…seems just like yesterday! Other tech gems found inside was our first ride with SRAM’s all-new disc brake and Calfee’s  ground-breaking  Manta with (actual) rear suspension and Mavic getting closer to making a carbon clincher  with the introduction of their CC40 that used an aluminum “insert” that was wrapped with carbon. The times keep changin’…

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