It’s hard to believe we’ve now had over 20 years of the Cannondale Synapse. For that anniversary, the all-new Cannondale Synapse Carbon 1 RLE was released. The product team has stuck with a number of things that make this heralded endurance bike great, but have also added modern touches to that give a glimpse into what the future of integration could be like. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but the core chassis is a winner.
2023 Cannondale Synapse Carbon 1 RLE Features:
- Size-tuned Synapse Carbon frameset
- SmartSense enabled with rear radar and automatic front/rear lights
- Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset
- HollowGram 45 SL KNOT wheelset (45mm deep, 21mm internal, tubeless-ready)
- HollowGram SAVE Carbon SystemBar (42cm) with alloy stem (110mm)
- HollowGram SAVE Carbon SmartSense 27.2mm seatpost
- Fizik Tempo Argo R3 saddle
- Vittoria Corsa 30c tires (35mm stated clearance)
- BSA threaded BB
- Weight: 18.3 lbs (actual, 56cm complete w/SmartSense)
- MSRP: $9050
Synapse’s next wave
The Cannondale Synapse has long been heralded as one of the best endurance bikes on the market. Ridden at the highest levels of the sport, on the roughest roads, the Synapse has been synonymous with racy comfort since its inception way back in 2002. At that time, I believe it was Cannondale’s first all-carbon road bike and both carbon and alloy versions remain to this day — with specs to suit a variety of budgets and needs. The latest version features top-end kits that include SmartSense, which is Cannondale’s smart platform upon which they and other partners can integrate.
At its core, the new Synapse Carbon 1 RLE is a racy and fast endurance bike. Cannondale’s approach to endurance has always been on the zippy side, so the foundation of the new Synapse is built to dance uphill, confidently maneuver downhill and mash out the miles on more rolling terrain.
This top-end build features the complete SmartSense system to provide rear-facing radar, front/rear lights and a battery pack to power everything. Curiously, the lights and radar are hard-wired, which do present some routing challenges. But, the large battery pack does tuck neatly on the downtube, just ahead of the threaded bottom bracket. Yes, you read that correctly, Cannondale has gone with a threaded bottom bracket for easier maintenance and creak-free performance.
As the premier Synapse build, of course it’s outfitted with the latest Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 for the ultimate in shifting precision. Rounding things out, those versatile Cannondale HollowGram 45 SL KNOT wheels are deep enough and fast enough to confidently adorn this $9050 rig, no matter your terrain.
Ready to ride
As mentioned, the wiring did take a little bit of fiddling to get situated — something you local shop will happily sort out for you. I got the stack height and bar angle situated as best I could, but the limited upward rotation of the HollowGram bar/stem did throw a curveball as I was unable to get just 1-degree more to get a little more comfortable. Sometimes cockpit integration isn’t ideal, but this is honestly a good hybrid approach with more adjustments than other unified cockpits on the market. I was able to get the Wahoo Elemnt ROAM set up and synced with SmartSense, Dura-Ace Di2 and a pair of Wahoo POWRLINK Zero pedals to deliver precise power measurement throughout my test period.
After torquing and configuring everything, I was grateful to find a standard seatpost clamp. This simple design just plain works and has delivered fuss-free saddle height throughout hundreds of miles of testing. One note… I did swap out the stubby Fizik Tempo Argo R3 saddle with an Ergon SR Comp perch for added rail length adjustments and more backside comfort (personal preference). With the the HollowGram SAVE setback seatpost, I couldn’t get the Fizik saddle forward enough and the Ergon has longer rails that happily accommodated my preferred reach. Outside of the saddle, everything else remained — even the tubes, since the stock tires aren’t tubeless-ready.
Dodging storms until spring finally arrived
This winter has been long here in Utah. We’re extremely grateful for the snowpack, but it did make for challenging weather windows. That said, the initial rides were of the cold, wintry variety, but I was able to round things out with a few proper spring rides.
Endurance bikes run the gamut as far as comfort and geometry are concerned. Most, however, do have shorter reach and taller stack to better accommodate the bulk of riders in the target market. At 48 yrs old, I’m right in that target market. With the stack/reach numbers, I was surprised to need as many spacers as I did, but fit always wins over vanity in my book. After a single shakeout ride, I tweaked a couple of things, then settled right in. After that, I felt comfortable on the Synapse and could maintain my body position all day.
Overall, I’d classify the ride quality as “taut.” Cannondale engineers their frame design and layup to deliver the necessary compliance, but shies away from any mechanical doodads. With that, the ride isn’t as smooth as the new Trek Domane SLR, for example. On really rough roads and light gravel, the Synapse does tend to buck around a little. I settled on 75 psi up front and 70 psi in the rear, which felt just about right, given I was rolling with tubes.
While I may label this as a firm ride, all it would take is a set of 32c tubeless tires and lower pressures to dramatically change the comfort level (which is what I would do if this was my bike). I do need to double-click on the Vittoria Corsa Graphene 30c tires for a bit. Those tires are fantastic, and they measure out to 31mm on the HollowGram 45 SL KNOT wheels. I love how they roll and grip on high-speed corners. The Graphene rubber actually talks to you as you’re cornering to let you know it’s gripping while instilling confidence. The only negative was when braking as the tires can loose grip on hard stops.
Below is one of my favorite neighborhood climbs, with my top time aboard the Synapse highlighted.
The Dura-Ace gearing does provide a 1:1 34/34 combo, which comes in handy on the steepest pitches. Still, I would have preferred an 11-36T cassette, if Shimano offered one. I did wish for a little higher cadence on the steepest climbs, like the Three Falls Wall above. However, the Synapse does climb very well and responds nicely both in or out of the saddle, as needed. I did notice the extra couple of pounds as I was pushing hard on the steepest climbs. In addition, at slower speeds on the steepest pitches, the front end tends to wander just a little instead of tracking straight.
When it comes to downhill, the Synapse delivers. Once up-to-speed, small movements result in predicable maneuvers. I can confidently enter and exit corners with speed and agility. The Synapse descends like a rock and maintains speed with the best bikes on the market. Stability is definitely a strong suit here. Adding to the descending prowess, the HollowGram 42 SL KNOT wheels are stable in crosswinds and don’t affect handling in gusty conditions.
On flats and rolling terrain, I can maintain speed without fuss. There is a touch of aerodynamics and the 45mm deep wheels allow me to keep a high pace. I can speed up and quickly regain my pace after hard braking.
I have been particularly impressed with the new Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9250 groupset. After minimal adjustments, shifting has been crisp and clean. Everyone asks which is faster — SRAM Red or Shimano Dura-Ace — and unless measured in nanoseconds, I can’t tell much of a difference at all. Both are fast and reliable. The biggest difference is that Dura-Ace is semi-wireless and the hoods are a little more natural-feeling (personal preference). The tiny shift buttons have gotten bigger with every iteration of Di2, but they are still small to accurately tap with winter gloves on. What is markedly better than SRAM is Shimano’s braking performance. All my miles have been dead silent, without any rotor rub or squealing (thanks to their wide pad spread). On top of that, I love how consistent and smooth the braking power is.
A little more on SmartSense. I applaud Cannondale’s approach to a unified electronics platform on the Synapse. The single battery powers the rear Garmin Varia radar/light and a Lezyne front light that delivers all-day lighting with variable modes for braking and added driver awareness modes that go solid when braking or as cars approach. The entire system can be managed via the Cannondale mobile app.
One of my favorite features of SmartSense is the Garmin Varia rear radar. I’ve never ridden with radar and it is a true game-changer. Paired up with the Wahoo Elemnt ROAM, I get visual and audible alerts when vehicles approach. I appreciate this feature so much, I just might have to get a Garmin unit to use on other bikes. It won’t replace actually looking over your shoulder, but, like a rearview mirror, it provides added clarity on cars coming towards you. Lights and radar are currently the biggest selling points of SmartSense and with a 2-3 hour tested battery life on cold rides, that’s a bit of a bummer. I like SmartSense in concept and LOVE the radar, but I’d prefer smaller, wireless lights and radar and ditch the clunky, heavy battery and the required wires for a cleaner and more modern look. It is a bit of a head-scratcher that the system isn’t fully wireless, to be honest.
Fit: I’m 5’11” and 175 lbs, riding the size 56cm and set up to my fit specifications. I rode with 75 psi front and 70 psi rear, set up with tubes.
- Descends like a champ
- Adept handling and overall performance
- The Dura-Ace groupset was flawless and braking superb
- HollowGram 45 SL wheelset offers speed and stability
- Love the integrated Varia radar
- Doesn’t need gadgets or gizmos to deliver a smooth ride
- Mounts galore for all-day adventures
- Standard seatpost clamp and threaded bottom bracket
- SmartSense offers great functionality, but is clunky in practice, and should be wireless
- Battery life and long charge times
- Wires everywhere — and the cable routing taps my left knee during standing climbs
- Wished for a little more upward handlebar adjustment
- Would love to see downtube storage since you can’t add a saddle bag
The Bottom Line: Cannondale Synapse Carbon 1 RLE
The foundation of the new Synapse is fantastic. And, I would love to see a high-end build without SmartSense, to be honest. I love the rear radar, but the execution is clunky, with wires running everywhere. I am taken by how adept the Synapse descends and performs on all terrain, but the added heft does slow it down on the steepest of climbs. House-brand wheels aren’t always something to write home about, but the fantastic HollowGram 45 SL KNOT wheels are stable and fast — and they are tubeless-ready.
Buy Now: Visit Cannondale.com
We're now over 20 years into the Cannondale Synapse era and the latest bike has a lot of great things going for it. I'll start with its overall confidence and performance. It does everything adeptly with a particular penchant for going downhill. Handling is great and there isnt't any unnecessary chassis fluff. However, the SmartSense system promises more than it can deliver in practice. It should be a wireless system.