The carbon age is upon us, it’s everywhere. You can even kit yourself out with carbon weave pumps, but let’s not forget that there’s a lot to be said for aluminium. For a start it carries a more forgiving price tag and then there’s all those years of tried and tested research behind it.
Cannondale introduced its first bicycle in 1983 raising the cycling world’s eyebrows with their handcrafted aluminium frames that were both lighter and stiffer than the steel models that dominated the market at the time. Cannondale certainly know a thing or two about building bikes and when they launched the new women’s specific Synapse range last year, we were more than keen to get our hands on one.
The Synapse range of bikes are designed to be both comfortable and fast, with slightly a longer wheelbase and a more relaxed women specific geometry with the philosophy that long rides should be relished and not endured. The top end Synapse is an all carbon affair, but the aluminium version has the same design philosophy at a more friendly price point.
To prove, it’s not all about carbon and if there really is a lot to be said for aluminium frames we went for the Synapse alloy. We couldn’t completely lose the fibre though so benefited from carbon forks making for a performance bike without going to the dizzy heights of high-end race models.
First of all let’s talk about how beautiful the Synapse Alloy Féminine frame is. Ok, so looks aren’t everything but this frame is the complete package, and we couldn’t help getting excited when we took this one out of the box. Available in Mediterranean Blue or Velvet Red the paint job on this is subtle, making for a feminine but not too fussy looking frame. Cannondale have made oversized tubing a bit of a trademark feature of their frames which we’re personally a fan of. They’ve continued in this tradition with the Synapse which makes you feel like you’re in for a confident ride. It also adds to our satisfaction with the appearance of the bike.
You expect obsessive engineering with Cannondale, and the finish of the frame fails to disappoint. Aluminium tubes are lovingly welded, with an integrated headset up front. And for riding comfort the seat stays curve gracefully right down to the neat dropouts. For additional compliance, the chain stays feature the SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination), which essentially means the stays are squashed a bit on the middle section, providing a smooth ride.
There’s four sizes in the range. We tested the 50, which fit our 5’ 2” tester just perfectly. The top tube measured 52cm, and combined with the short stem gave a good fit – with just enough stretch without giving us back problems. A nice touch are the carbon forks, labelled with the same SAVE technology as the rear stays, and offered a good level of vibration damping, ideal on some of the less than smooth roads we’ve been riding recently.
For the price, the Synapse comes with a good range of components. There’s a good smattering of Shimano 105 – as dependable as you’ll ever need – and a Truvatic Touro chainset. As a fan of the triple, (some of us can’t quite let that granny ring go) this made for a great complete package, with the 30/42/52 gave a good spread of gears for loads of miles on varying gradients. There’s a mix of Cannondale branded finishing kit, and Cannondale Delta brake callipers coped well. Wheels are Mavic CXP22 32h rims built around some fine Cannondale Earth hubs. We liked the shape of the ITM Elle handlebar, and it’s held in place by a Cannondale C4 31.8mm stem. The only bit we had to change from the outset was the saddle, a well liked model had to go in place of the perfectly fine Fi’zi:k Vitesse Sport Feminine saddle.
The first thing we noticed about the ride of the Synapse was the level of power transfer. Cannondale say that the “sloping, hourglass curve of the seatstays improve lateral stiffness transferring your energy directly to the pavement” and we’d have to agree entirely. It’s akin to that feeling when you attempt a dreaded hill but it feels easier than you ever remember, making you realise that all that hard work has paid off and you’re actually fitter. Getting on this bike makes you feel that every pedal stroke is being utilised efficiently and that you’re really putting the power down.
The longer head tube and relaxed geometry makes for an incredibly comfy bike on all the rides we took it on. It’s certainly a lot more comfortable than many race bikes we’ve ridden. Riding to work, racing and long training rides were all coped with just fine. Pushing on a bit faster and the Synapse really comes alive, and the steering is still sharp enough for a lively and engaging ride. We found it a touch twitchy on the very first ride, but we soon grew used to this. Cornenign is a clear ace in the Synape’s sleeve, it just loves been pushed through corners fast and laid over. And climbing, too, is tackled with a clear confidence.