Saturday, August 15, 2009
My Cannondale System Six, Review and Thoughts.
What I love about my bike is that I don't particularly love it. Let me explain. It's not my bike equivalent of a death row meal in the way that an IF Corvid, Prince, or a Parlee Z1 are. Those bikes are all beautiful, hand crafted, fast and pull at the heartstrings. They have a relationship with the rider that is practical and sentimental. That's great, but it's not what I want or need. I want a tool. A bike to log training miles on. Not let me down on Saturday rides and town sign sprints (which I never win, but that's not the bikes fault). So it's not a dream bike, but it scores higher on the emotionless utilitarian checklist than more expensive bikes.
My requirements are pretty simple: I want the bike to be stiff, which it is. It's front half is carbon with a huge head tube. The rear half is aluminum with massive, simple round chainstays. Bike snobs are a fickle bunch and use 'sexy' as an adjective to describe a the chainstays of a bike like the Pegoretti, Love #3, but never mention a CAAD 9 in the same breath. They should, these are awesome. It's plenty stiff for my needs, but that's not saying much, so I defer to Kent, who raves that it's the stiffest riding bike he's ever been on. It could probably more comfortable, but the reality is that the roads here are pretty good so it's not an issue.
Affordable. At $2,500, my Rival equipped bike is less than half the cost of a top tier frame or a nice set of wheels. Included in that price is one of the best warranties in the business against defect or crashing. And while Rival is entry level, the frame is the exact same one that has had Tour, and Giro success. It's a great bike, but if I crash it, I'm not going to bankrupt myself.
Build Kit. Mostly good here. I was an early convert to SRAM and plan on writing more about it later so I'll keep it short here. The Rival groupset just works. It's lighter than Shimano Ultegra SL and about 35% cheaper: and it's their third-tier groupset below Red and Force. It's still good enough for the pros - take a look at the left crank arm this Cervelo rider is using. I know this second example is FSA, but if Cancellara thinks aluminum is better than carbon for cranks then I believe it too: check it out. Elsewhere on the bike at this price point it's rare to get a set of Mavic Aksium's which while not the best wheels out there haven't need a truing in two plus years. The only disappointment in the build is the FSA bars. They're too deep which forces your position to alter too radically when on the drops and they have an ergonomic bend without a sweet spot. Fortunately Cannondale - and seemingly the whole industry - is moving away from un-Godly ugly "ergonomic bend" to shallow curved bars (there's a joke here about how I like my bars like I like my women, but I won't go there). The best thought process on the pros of traditional bar shape can he found here.
Finally - and I think this is absurd but necessary criteria - it has PRO race heritage. Like I said, cyclists are fickle and it doesn't matter how good a bike is because the fact is that if pros aren't riding the brand it loses invaluable credibility. Just two or three years ago Colnago was the bike to have. It had the history, was one of the first carbon manufacturers and was being ridden by Rabobank and Milram under such stars as Freire, Zabel and Pettachi. But 2008 was the first time in 30 years without representation in the peleton and in its place Specialized, Cervelo and Scott have devoured market share. Getting back to the point, Cannondale has been in the PRO ranks for almost 15 years now and I can't think of another brand save Pinarello that can say the same. It's been ridden in techno-colour by Gotti and Cipollini, Cunego, Soler,'s polka-dot year and this years Liquigas stage race rich team of Nibali, Krueziger, Pellizotti and Basso. That's 15 years of PRO feedback on how to make the best bike possible and that's got to count for something
There's a certain satisfaction at getting a bike that performs at a high level without getting to the point of diminishing returns on cost. To use a terrible term, the System Six has great bang for buck, rivalled only by the Cervelo S1. It's a throw down race bike at an everyman's price. It's not to say I don't want the $6K work of art; there is something incredibly un-romantic about appreciating a bike for it's sheer practicality. I'm sure that one day I'll suffer a mid-life crisis and purchase a bike that I love and can't afford. Picking the right one is something I can think about while I'm logging many, many happy miles and slogging through races on this bike and ones like it.