Cannondale CAADX Disc Ultegra cyclo-cross bike - review

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Cannondale CAADX Disc Ultegra cyclo-cross bike – review

Cyclo-cross all-rounder at home on and off-road

The Cannondale CAADX Disc is an excellent example of the modern cyclo-cross utility bike: versatile enough to use as an all-weather commuter, winter training bike or to thrash around a cyclo-cross course for an hour.

The CAADX is a cyclo-cross bike at heart, and it’s off-road that the bike comes into its own, but it’s a machine which took everything in its stride through the course of our test, whether than be an 18-mile commute through London’s urban jungle, a rain-soaked and mud-caked hack around the woods, or a local cyclo-cross race.

The Cannondale CAADX Disc Ultegra is an excellent example of the versatility offered by a cyclo-cross bike

The chassis

Cannondale have a long history in producing aluminium frames and that continues today with the CAAD8 and CAAD10 road frames and the CAADX cyclo-cross chassis. While the CAAD10 – Cannondale’s 1,150g lightweight aluminium racing frame – is made from a 6069 alloy, the CAAD8 and CAADX are made from the 6061 aluminium. CAAD, by the way, stands for Cannondale Advanced Aluminium Design.

That 6061 alloy is taper-butted, heat-treated and utilises Cannondale’s ‘double-pass smooth weld technology’, which gives it a clean finish but also, ‘dale say, eliminates weak points found on traditionally-welded frames, thereby resulting in a lighter, stronger frame. Otherwise, it’s a fairly unflustered frame, with clean lines and a toptube which gently ovalises at its junction with the seattube, which in turn flares as it meets the bottom bracket.

Clean lines and subtle tube profiles characterise the frame

Up front there’s a straight-through 1-1/8″ headtube, home to Cannondale’s Ultra X Disc fork, which has carbon blades and an alloy steerer, and at the rear end the seatstays have a flattened profile to improve comfort and control over the rough ground on which a ‘cross bike should thrive.

Finally, and key to the CAADX’s success as a do-it-all bike, the presence of eyelets ready to accept full mudguards and a rear rack underline its versatility.

The components

The CAADX Disc Ultegra is the most expensive model in the range at £1,499.99 and the name gives a clue as to the spec, with the shifters, derailleurs, 11-28t cassette and chain from Shimano’s second-from-top 11-speed Ultegra groupset.

Meanwhile, FSA provide the 46-36t Gossamer chainset, the wheels – Maddux CX3.0 Disc rims with Formula hubs – are wrapped in 35mm Schwalbe Sammy Slick tyres and the finishing kit (handlebar, stem, seatpost and saddle) is all own-brand Cannondale kit. The component choice is inextricably linked to the performance of the bike, so that brings us on to the ride.

The stock wheels are robust but ripe for upgrading

The ride

“Race on Sunday, commute on Monday,” say Cannondale, and the CAADX ticks both boxes though, given the contrasting demands of both, there are inevitably small compromises to be made, particularly in an off-the-shelf build like this.

First up, how does it cope off road? The CAADX is based around Cannondale’s ‘Relaxed Race Geometry’ which does what it says in the tin. It’s not as aggressive as the race-ready SuperX frame (not available in the UK) but neither does it have the sky high headtube setup of a sportive bike. Our 54cm test bike, for example, has a 54.5cm toptube and 15.5cm headtube and that combination keeps things low enough for fast-paced, explosive cyclo-cross races. Move up a size and the toptube gains 1.5cm but the headtube just 0.5cm.

While the CAADX is a little shorter and higher than the SuperX, the key angles – 73.5 degrees on the seattube and 72 degrees on the headtube – are the same and the result is a lively ride. Handling is sharp enough to make quick but accurate adjustments when tackling an off-road trail but it’s ultimately a sure-footed ride at home both on and off-road.

Cannondale’s Relaxed Race Geometry contributes to a sure-footed ride

The BB30 bottom bracket and inherent stiffness of aluminium ensures that little energy is wasted through the frame itself but the weighty wheels require some encouragement to get shifting. That said, the wheels should prove a dependable long-term partner thanks in part to a generous spoke count: 32, front and rear, laced in a two-cross pattern to the Maddux CX 3.0 Disc rims. The trouble with the CAADX’s split personality is that the spec won’t work for everyone but as ‘cross training wheels or robust commuting hoops go, these will work just fine.

The overall weight – 9.48kg – is reasonable for a cyclo-cross bike at this price point but there are significant gains to be made, namely in acceleration, with a racier wheel and tyre choice (we weighed the CAADX’s wheel and tyre setup at some 3.25kg). The CAADX isn’t a hindrance to shoulder at its natural weight, though the lack of any shaping on the toptube meant that I certainly felt it against my bony shoulder. A ‘cross bike will spend most of its time with its rubber on terra firma so that’s by no means a problem.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Schwalbe Sammy Slick tyres. The German manufacturer’s semi-slick rubber is a good choice for a machine in the mould of the CAADX. It rolls reasonably well on tarmac (for a 35mm semi-slick) tyre, will take dirt tracks and towpath gravel in its stride and provides better-than-expected level of grip off-road in more challenging conditions. If you’re racing then the Sammy Slick will prove a willing partner on fast courses but a specialist mud tyre will reap greater rewards when things are more slippery.

The cable-operated Cannondale own-brand disc brakes offer consistent braking performance but lack top-end bite

Again, there are compromises to be made and, of course, it’s not as fast as a road tyre. We completed our 18-mile ride to the office with an approximate deficit of 1.5mph compared to what we’d consider average on a road bike, so it’s not a great deal slower but that’s on a relatively short ride on roads with stop-start traffic. That’s not a scientific test but the effect becomes more labored on a longer rides – a change of tyres will largely solve that and it’s no surprise Canyon offer their new Inflite ‘cross bike in two cyclo-cross builds, and one winter road bike build with mudguards and 28mm tyres. We expect more manufacturers to follow suit.

But back to the CAADX and the nature of most UK cyclo-cross race courses means a cross-specific mud tyre will also be beneficial for much of the time. Still, the Sammy Slick is an excellent starting point for a do-it-all bike, capable in its own right in a variety of conditions, or easily upgradeable if a rider’s intended use for the CAADX leans primarily towards road riding or sliding around a CX course on a Sunday afternoon.

The Ultegra shifters and derailleurs provided the superb performance we’ve come to expect. The FSA Gossamer chainset worked just fine and the 46-36t rings are standard for cyclo-cross riding, but while a lowest gear of 36-28t is ideal for ‘cross – particularly when it’s normally quicker to run up a steep, muddy bank, rather than ride it – it’s a ratio not quite as low as the 34-28t setup that’s popular for many riders on the road, particularly when combined with the overall weight of the bike and stock semi-slick tyres.

Cannondale’s BB30 bottom bracket standard and the inherent stiffness of aluminium provides a solid pedaling platform

Disc brakes have been permitted for use in cyclo-cross racing by the UCI since the 2010/11 season and, while most European pro riders are still loyal to cantilever brakes, they’re increasingly common on ‘cross bikes for the mass market. Disc brakes make sense for cyclo-cross, providing reliable braking in all conditions – and a bike like this will encounter all conditions. The Cannondale own-brand MB700T post-mount units specced here lacked top-end bite but provided consistent stopping power regardless of where we were riding.

Conclusion

Cyclo-cross utility bikes are at risk of being a jack of all trades, master of none, but the Cannondale CAADX is a well-specced machine which will perform well both on and off-road out of the box. The bike’s versatility means there are compromises to be made – it’s impossible for Cannondale to please the ‘cross racer and hardened all-weather commuter in one hit – but the CAADX provides an excellent base from which to work from.

Use the CAADX Disc Ultegra as a go-anywhere bike, criss-crossing tarmac, towpaths and bridleways, and it’ll do that job as you see it and leave you smiling at the end if the ride. Got the cyclo-cross bug? A set of lighter wheels with cross-specific tyres will transform the race-day ride. Swap in a pair of 28mm road tyres and attach mudguards and you have a winter training bike. The good thing is that it can do all three, albeit with some minor upgrades and elbow grease.

For more on information on cyclo-cross bikes and what to consider when buying one, take a look at our cyclo-cross buyer’s guide.

Discuss in the forum

Price: £1,499.99
Sizes: 44cm, 48cm, 51cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm
Website: Cannondale
UK dsitributor: Cycling Sports Group

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