Cycling is all about efficiency and efficiency is balance. So the journalists assembled outside Turin for the launch presentation of Cannondale’s latest top-end road bike were told. The logical conclusion is that cycling is all about balance, which seems fair enough when you have two wheels.
It’s not quite what ‘Dale’s engineers mean, of course; when it comes to designing a new frame and fork, what they look for is to achieve efficiency – the most bang for your buck, if you like – by balancing the various attributes that between them determine overall performance.
Only one way to find out if they’ve succeeded, which as ever is to go for a ride. And where better than the mountains south of Turin and the headwaters of the River Po; an landscape riven with ridges and valleys a few kilometers apart joined by short, winding and surprisingly steep ( for Italy) climbs and descents.
Somebody at Cannondale had done some serious homework on the routes taken for the two rides we enjoyed, both being naggingly hard and stunningly beautiful. They’d also done their homework on the fleet of SuperSix EVOs lined up for the rides, each bearing the name and national flag of the rider to whom it had been allocated.
Mine was a 56cm example equipped, as were they all, with SRAM RED BLACK (or is that BLACK RED?) componentry and Mavic R-Sys wheels, apparently so nobody could complain that “soft”, comfortable wheels were responsible for any perception of ride comfort. A few minutes spent with a tape measure and selection of stems gave me the riding position I wanted (not the one in the pic) although there was no swapping the 172.5mm cranks for my favoured 175s.
By the time we’d completed the two rides, those of us who had ridden both long routes had covered a good 180km, climbing and descending 2500m. And it was all good – with one proviso. It turns out that bike designers have found top tube stiffness to be a main determinant of a bike’s handling – steering response, stability – as it heavily influences the frame’s torsional stiffness. And, as with any other tube, the fatter, the better, at least in terms of stiffness.
Less-wide top tube
Recognising that a wide top tube does not suit every cyclist, Cannondale has slimmed down the one on the EVO to miss the rider’s knees and alllow a knees-in, more “aero” riding position. That’s the claim, anyway, and the top tube is definitely slimmer in the middle than at the ends. It’s still pretty wide, however; wide enough to rub my knees and, oddly, inner thighs. But, then, I do ride slightly knees-in and find the same problem with several of the EVO’s potential competitors.
Top tube width aside, the EVO is a marvel. Weighing a scant 695g according to an independent German test lab, the frame, ably assisted by Cannnondale’s proprietary Hollowgram crankset, is nevertheless imperturbably stiff under even the hardest of efforts – mine at any rate. Not once during either ride did I need to trim the SRAM RED front mech, the carefully-located high-modulus carbon fibres looping under the bottom bracket steadfastly resisting all pressure on the pedals.
In or out of the saddle, the EVO responded to accelerations with rare gusto. Somewhat the opposite sensation accompanied progress over broken asphalt and the cobbled courtyard of the host Castello di Montaldo, where no real sensation of anything approaching vibration found its way past the SpeedSave fork blades and rear triangle. So well-controlled was road shock that the intial impression was of the sort of dull, slow ride associated with under-inflated low-budget, “puncture-proof” tyres. It soon passed, dispelled in part by the realisation that slow tyres don’t allow the rider to spend much time in the 14 and 15 sprockets…
And then there’s the steering; those serpentine Piedmontese descents pose a serious test of precision, which the EVO has in spades. It took a while – half a dozen downhills or so – to really get to grips with the possibilities offered by its combination of suppleness – “micro-suspension” – and stiffness, the two combining with sweet, neutral-bordering-on-oversteer steering geometry to offer wonderfully incisive and accurate cornering at all speeds.
So, top tube width notwithstanding, Cannondale’s latest offering is a stunner on first acquaintance. Will longer-term companionship confirm the impression? Watch this space.
SuperSix EVO prices will start at £3,999.99 for the SRAM RED-equipped EVO2 RED and will go up to £8,799.99 for the EVO ULTIMATE. Anticipated availability is late summer 2011