Cutting edge aluminium
Aluminium can still cut it at the sharp end of road cycling. That’s the first conclusion to be reached after spending time with the latest-generation aluminium road frame from Cannondale, the CAAD 10. Not that many Liquigas pros are going to be racing on it any time soon, but for those of us not blessed with a ready supply of SuperSix EVOs or similar pro-level racing tackle it’s a genuine alternative to the carbon-composites competition.
The second conclusion, albeit one that many cyclists won’t reach, ever, is that there is an obvious answer to a question recently posed by Alistair Brooks on the RCUK forum; “Could they [Cannondale] genuinely not have made a better frame if they had not had another 200g of carbon to play with?” The question concerned the firm’s recently-unveiled SuperSix EVO but is every bit as applicable to the CAAD 10.
Why won’t many cyclists reach it? Not all of us will be troubled by the one flaw in the CAAD 10’s design. Fact is, the top tube is seriously wide, which means that some riders will find their knees or inner thighs brushing it as they pedal. The contact does not have to be firm; even a light touch can be irritating and, as I discovered several years ago during a 24 hour time trial, has the potential to cause knee problems on a very long ride.
If your riding style is such that your knees never touch the top tube, this won’t affect you. But, if it does, it’s a good reason not to buy a bike with a wide top tube. So, what is the “obvious” answer to the question?
The clue lies in Cannondale’s own description of the frame’s “optimized” top tube design; “For maximum torsional rigidity, the massive, horizontally ovalized top tube measures a huge 47.5×42 mm where it meets the head tube, narrows through the middle for knee clearance, then widens again to meet the seat stays.” Note that it is optimized for maximum torsional rigidity, not rider comfort.
Importantly, the tube is 37mm deep and 43mm wide in the middle, where knees might rub. The point about the torsional rigidity of a tube or shaft is that it depends on cross-sectional area; the CAAD 10’s top tube would be as stiff torsionally if turned the other way and a mere 37mm wide. What then might happen is that the tube, with long axis turned vertically, would be stiffer in that plane, compromising ride comfort.
Careful work with tube shaping might well get around this, but in any case the same argument can be applied to the SuperSix EVO and any other bike frame with a wide top tube; why not make it narrower, even if to do so would require adding wall thickness and hence weight in order to achieve the required torsional rigidity? A few grammes extra, and certainly not as many as 200 of them, would be a small price to pay for a frame that more cyclists could ride in comfort. But, hey, maybe you don’t care about top tube width.
That beef aside, the CAAD 10 impresses mightily, combining Cannondale’s traditionally effective proportions with incisive yet stable steering geometry to offer a riding position well over to the performance side of relaxed. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the machine is its unexpected ride comfort, as extolled below by Jon Gregory. The SAVE rear stays are, according to Cannondale, “shaped and butted to allow them to flex vertically but stay extremely stiff laterally.” Fair enough, and the all-carbon fork does its bit just as effectively.
Frame construction is traditional Cannondale aluminium, featuring TIG-welded “Smartformed” 6069 alloy tubes with cable stops and bosses brazed on for durability rather than rivetted. Finish is predictably excellent, althought the weld alloy seems to take a slightly different shade of black to that of the tubes.
Equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace shifters and derailleur mechs, the cycle has an FSA SL-K Light Carbon 50/34 compact crankset running in Cannondale’s BB30 bottom bracket bearings and runs Schwalbe Durano tyres on Shimano’s light and responsive RS80 wheelset. The choice of Ultegra brake calipers is the only minor mark-down, their power and feel palpably down on the performance of the Dura-Ace versions.
And its appearance? Glossy black bars and stem match the centre strip of the Fi’zi:k Arione saddle and, matched to the stealthy black of the frame and fork, give the CAAD 10 a slightly menacing air. it surely gets plenty of attention from onlookers, mostly in the form of “double-takes”. Maybe they are simply trying to work out what the bike is, for it is hard to tell at a glance.
Jon Gregory’s report:
“My daily ride is a Boardman Team Carbon (2010 SRAM Rival spec). Clipping in to the Cannondale straight after a few days on my Boardman, I have noticed a few significant differences. First difference is the riding position. Both frames are 56cm in size but I have the Boardman set up with a short 70mm stem. The front end of the Boardman is also a lot higher creating a more compact, less racy cockpit. I immediately felt more stretched out and lower on the CAAD10 in its stock set-up, which has a lower front end coupled with a longer 130mm, stem giving the cockpit a more race-inspired feeling.
“I’ve recently been introduced to the Richmond Park three-lap challenge [what’s this? – ed.] and chasing down some personal best single lap times. The surface of the park is slightly rippled in places and the Cannondale, compared to the Boardman, feels planted on it with a very solid and confidence-inspiring ride. It irons out the bumps and ‘nonsense’ of the road and lets you get on with getting the power down. Even though the carbon Boardman is a little heavier than the aluminium Cannondale, it feels decidedly more flighty and maybe even twitchy in comparison…and after riding the Cannondale I would say it has a harsher feel.
“So, down to the numbers in very similar riding conditions… I went from a 20 minutes and 19 second personal best lap time a week ago to a 20:05 a couple of days ago, both on the Boardman. A day later and I smashed out an 18:38 on the Cannondale. I would like to say that it’s all down to improved fitness…but maybe Mr Hallett is on to something with his set-up and riding position diagnosis. Can a bike make you quicker? Maybe. I would love to hang on to the Cannondale to find out if I can carry on improving on that time but will more than likely be getting the tape measure out and getting the Boardman set-up as near as possible to it as I can.”
Cannondale CAAD 10 Dura-Ace £2499.99, black only, sizes 46cm – 58cm in 2cm increments, 61cm