What is your definition of an endurance bike? In today’s world, what does that even mean? As cyclists are venturing more and more into uncharted territory for drop bar bikes, has the definition of “endurance” truly changed? Certainly, disc brakes are leading that charge and endurance bikes are changing. Cannondale is onboard and has re-engineered the new Synapse from the ground-up for what they call “true endurance machinery.”
2018 Cannondale Synapse Carbon Red eTap Features:
- Size-specific construction
- SAVE micro-suspension built into the frame
- All-new frame with clearance for 32mm tires
- Fender mounts
- Vibration-absorbing 25.4mm SAVE seatpost
- SRAM Red eTap HRD groupset
- Quarq power-ready crankset (just add the Quarq DZero Spider)
- Vittoria Rubino Pro 28mm tires
- Fulcrum Racing 500 DB wheels (25mm deep, 17mm internal)
- MSRP: $5999
A modern disc “do it all” bike
Cannondale has long been building compliance into their frames using various flavors of their SAVE micro-suspension systems. While other manufacturers implement mechanical suspension, Cannondale has always opted for built-in compliance. The result is a cleaner-looking frame and, honestly, knockout ride characteristics.
For 2018, Cannondale has redrawn the model of endurance with their all-new Synapse. It’s now only available with disc brakes, thru-axles and boasts 32mm tire clearance to comfortably venture off the beaten path (but not too far — that’s what the Slate is for). The Hi-Mod frameset (not tested) has a 950 gram stated weight, which puts it on par with many rim brake all-rounders.
So, disc brakes, good tire clearance, light weight and a comfortable ride — how about performance? Can it really perform nearly as well as the venerable SuperSix?
Covering the spec
The tested model was the Synapse Carbon Disc Red eTap that comes in just under $6000. With SRAM’s awesome eTap HRD groupset, Cannondale cockpit bits and a serviceable pair of Fulcrum Racing 500 DB wheels, this trim level features a standard-modulus frameset that adds a few hundred grams to the bike. Quite honestly, the complete bike is still quite light overall (exact weight was misplaced somehow). Spending more for the Hi-Mod frameset might stroke your ego a bit more, and save you 200 grams, but this kit is the sweet spot on price and weight, in my opinion.
I’ve covered the beauties of eTap HRD in detail (read review), but let me sum it up: It’s the best electronic disc groupset on the market, period. Shifting is responsive and the paddle-style shift pattern is a thing of beauty — even with winter-weight gloves on.
Cannondale also graced this model with the Quarq Prime Power Meter crankset, which enabled me to install a Quark D-Zero power meter for power-based training. The install is a breeze and something I highly recommend if you want to train more effectively.
As mentioned, the Fulcrum 500 DB wheels are acceptable, but don’t roll particularly fast. After a couple of rides, I swapped them out with the Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc wheels, which take this bike to another level. I then put the original wheels back on for another hundred miles or so to make sure I remembered how it rides off-the-shelf.
For the 56cm size tested, Cannondale has outfitted the Synapse with a 90mm stem. It seems pretty short compared to what I’m used to, but handling has not felt wonky at all. I did change it out to a 110mm stem later in the test and I liked how it felt a touch better, but it’s not something that I feel is necessary for most riders.
Several bikes these days feature integrated bar/stem combos for a streamlined look. Take one look at the BMC Roadmachine 01 and you’ll agree that it’s dead sexy, but it is a home mechanic’s nightmare and has prevented me from modding that bike out. I appreciate the standard bar/stem combo here as it makes component changes a breeze. I’ll take that as a small trade-off and I’m sure you will too when it comes time to tinker with a new stem or bars.
A notable dose of comfort
Comfort on a road bike is really a combination of geometry, carbon layup and tire pressure. Truly, nobody but the professionals should feel obligated to ride a slammed tour-worthy frame (flame me if you wish). Yeah, they are a blast to ride, but when most pros retire, they are perfectly happy riding a bike like the Synapse.
The Synapse uses a small-diameter 25.4mm SAVE seatpost for added compliance. That combination of small diameter and a setback design results in a hefty dose of chatter reduction that you can feel. SAVE micro-suspension features are also built into the seatstays, chainstays, seat tube and fork for added comfort at both the front end rear of the bike. Some bikes end up with an uneven feel between the front and rear, but the Synapse seems to make them both feel in sync.
One bike quiver? Definitely.
Everyone seeks that “one bike quiver” and, if you are considering the Synapse for that purpose, you won’t be disappointed. The comfort here doesn’t get in the way when it comes time to stand and climb. And, you could easily ride this all day long without having to see the chiropractor afterwards. Disc brakes allow for wider tires (up to 32mm width) that could get you comfortably into light gravel duty or simply increase comfort even further.
Throughout my testing, I always felt like power transfer was excellent. Bottom bracket stiffness is among the stiffest in the category and the head tube stiffness is the stiffest in the endurance category (both according to Cannondale’s white paper). After riding it for several months, I can attest to the responsiveness of the chassis in both power transfer and handling.
I’ve ridden the SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod extensively and it is an amazing bike. I love how fast it is and how well it climbs. This bike really yields very little to that bike while providing a much more appropriate geometry for the majority of riders.
On long descents, I’ve found the Synapse to handle itself very predictably. It’s not quite the slice-and-dice handler, nor is it a La-Z-Boy. It is a good balance of stability and agility. I’d say the handling is even better when I switched to a 110mm stem.
Something else of note is how playful the Synapse feels. I can hop it around, over curbs and around potholes with ease. Most people don’t call their road bikes “playful” but I demand it and the Synapse delivers.
Cool Note: For the 2018 Paris-Roubaix, the entire EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale team will be aboard the Synapse. The roster includes Matti Breschel, Mitch Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Taylor Phinney, Tom Scully, Tom Van Asbroeck, Sep Vanmarke.
- The Red eTap kit is the sweet spot
- Very balanced comfort front and rear
- Really the type of bike that most riders should ride
- Feels playful on the road
- Can’t say enough about eTap HRD
- Does it all without extra frame doodads or suspension designs
- Respectably-light, even with standard-modulus frame
- Love the Fabric Scoop Shallow saddle
- Power-ready Quarq crankset was easily-upgraded (which I did)
- As you’d expect, the wheels are okay, but not something to write home about
- Should come with a low-profile topcap as well
- “Shelf” behind bottom bracket collects grime
The Bottom Line: Cannondale Synapse Red eTap
In the search for a “one bike quiver,” I’d be hard-pressed to pass this one up. Simply put, it is very comfortable while remaining responsive and fun on long climbs, fast descents or rolling terrain. Add in the ability to run wider tires and this is the type of bike that most riders should be buying.
More Info: Visit Cannondale.com
It's hard to find much to call out with Cannondale's new Synapse. This bike does a fantastic job at adeptly doing what it should. It's an admirable climber, a capable descender and is a ton of fun to ride. That "one bike quiver" can be achieved with the all-new 2018 Synapse.