I first laid eyes on a block red Cannondale in about 1991. I was captivated by the oversize tubing, ‘mahoosive’ graphics and the all round crisp, fuss-free modernism of the bike. I liked the look of it a lot and was further seduced by the endless talk about how stiff the ride was. Surely, all this stiffness meant effortless speed, right?! It seemed the good ole’ USA had mounted an audacious challenge to the established European manufacturers, but would they stay the distance?
In 1997 I was badly in need of a new bike and ended up owning a CAAD2, which I absolutely loved. It felt very light (for the time), bullet-proof and fast, albeit not the smoothest mount over a long distance (back then I was younger and comfort was a long way down the list of requirements).
Having not ridden a ‘dale for some years then, I was intrigued to find out how they may have raised the bar with their latest offering. Before swinging a leg over the CAAD9, it was surveyed in the office at RCUK. There’s definitely a F-117 Stealth Fighter aircraft look about it; with virtually everything finished in matt black (with the odd red graphic) it’s a somewhat menacing looking machine… It’s a bike you wouldn’t want to search for in the dark of night, for example after a few bevvies at the pub; then again, this is not the kind of bike you would take to the pub, is it?
The first few miles on the CAAD9 drew an immediate grin as I recalled the instant acceleration a ‘dale delivers its rider. The combination of what must be one of the stiffest rear triangles on the planet and the newly fashionable oversized bottom bracket ensure that flex and Cannondale are two words that really are diametrically opposed more than ever before.
Certainly the harsh ride of my old CAAD2 was most thankfully a world away from the new offering, which feels comparatively smooth and plush… how do they do that, zero flex but with a plush ride? A closer look at the rear triangle gives some clue as to the clever engineering at work, the rear stays curving elegantly with what could be an attempt to inject some styling and or character into the frame. Ah no, hold on, this is a Cannondale and somehow you just know it is all done for a reason and that reason is usually performance driven. The front fork feels excellent and helps to smooth the way.
The bike is nicely kitted out with the proven and ubiquitous Shimano Ultegra, accessorised with SLK cranks and really nice Fulcrum wheels. These sport lovely anodised red hubs which compliment the frame nicely and roll very nicely.
I am used to riding older Shimano 7700 Dura-Ace, where the gear cables exit outside the levers. Is it just me, or do others like to hook their thumbs in behind the cables when riding on the hoods? Somehow this makes me feel all snug and secure. With the newer layout, the cables are routed under the handlebar tape, leaving me feeling slightly ‘naked’ with nothing to lock into, as if my hands could just jump off the hoods when traversing some of Surrey’s rougher lanes (thankfully they never did). Put simply, I prefer the gear cables taking an exterior routing; they also offer something to hold onto when riding in a faux tri-bar position
Like all ‘dales I’ve ridden, this machine loves to climb, and you really get the feeling that every ounce of effort is translated into forward motion. I also love a good descent, and the CAAD9 is one of those machines that puts the rider truly in touch with what’s going on under the wheels; on smooth road surfaces this bike is a fantastic machine to swoop downhill, its tight, crisp handling and excellent brakes adding to the confident feel. Again, the supple fork comes into play and offers very assured handling. On some of Surrey’s faster, rougher-surfaced descents the bike did finally show some of its Cannondale family traits and was a little lively and bouncy, but nothing to worry about. Things did also get a little noisy at times with jangling cables playing tunes through the oversized aluminium tubing.
I rode a combination of shorter, faster rides and long, steady 100 milers to the coast and back and not only was the bike perfectly comfortable but, thankfully, I didn’t incur a single hitch of any kind… and as a added bonus, the saddle was very good indeed.
On a club ride I was interested to see what sort of attention the Cannondale would draw from fellow riders. What I wasn’t ready for was the ‘no reaction whatsoever’ it actually received. The matt black finish really is “stealth” and crept under the radar without drawing any gasps of admiration / lust / desire. For those that may want a little more ‘pose’ in their mount, I would recommend heading straight for the Liquigas replica colourway, which I believe is an option.
This bike does not pretend to be a thing of beauty. I think it’s fair to assume the guys at Cannondale are likely to be ex-NASA rather than ex-Italian couture house. It’s not a bike I could see myself falling in love with, certainly not on the basis of aesthetics. It is all rather clinical and cold, somewhat “surgeon’s knife”; it is fit for purpose, and its main purpose is speed.
If Michael Schumacher rides a bike, then surely he would be tempted by the CAAD9, which comes over as ruthlessly efficient and on which nothing is superfluous.
I assume this is a bike aimed at and best suited to the club racer (of any level) looking for a purposeful, business-like machine that cuts the mustard.
If you do take the matt black CAAD9 to the pub, take a good light along to help find it at the end of the night… and be prepared for a new PB ride home.
Cannondale CAAD9 Ultegra Compact £1,599, sizes 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 63cm; colours Jet Black or Liquigas team