30 years ago Cannondale entered the world, bringing with them a distinctive design philosophy that centered around huge tube diameters. It’s a theme they’ve continued to this day, and with their latest, the System Six, huge tubes are still their trademark.
The System Six is the company’s latest foray into carbon, and while not their first, does represent a significant step forward for the American company. All System Six frames are manufactured in their Bedford, USA factory, where they’ve setup some new machines and processes unique to the making of the Six.
Cannondale have always had a habit of doing things slightly differently, and the Six certainly doesn’t disappoint. The Six is their top of the line race bike, and from all angles the frame makes quite a visual impact. As well as looking different, the frame makes a departure from the norm with a carbon front end married to an aluminium rear. The front half (head, top and down tube) is made from high-modulus unidirectional carbon, while the remaining bits are made from the company’s well proven CAAD9 aluminium.
The starting point for the Cannondale designers was the front end, taking the headset and fork as one unit. The fork has a steerer tube diameter which tapers from 1.5” at the lower bearing race to 1 1/8” at the top – it’s not the first manufacturer to do this though, Time and Ridley aleady use a similiar approach. Keeping the steerer in place is an FSA headset and Cannondale’s own carbon stem.
Attached to the head tube are the equally large top and down tubes. A 56mm diameter down tube, designed to eliminate torsional flex, joins the head tube, while an ovalised top tube completes the carbon package. 16 layers of carbon are used in the three sections. Attached to the front end we find a CAAD9 aluminium rear triangle with a double butted seat tube. Compared to the carbon front end, the chain and seat stays look positively anorexic. The chain stays are oversized where they leave the bottom bracket, tapering throughout their length to the dropouts. The seat stays are hour glass shape and provide plenty of heel and wheel clearance.
As we’ve come to expect from Cannondale, the Six is well put together. All the moulds and welds are meticulously smooth, and the black paint finish of our test bike lets the carbon weave underneath show through in places, which is a nice touch.
The 56cm we tested provided a 73° head and 73.5° seat angle
The six bikes in the range offer a variety of builds starting with Ultegra through to the Record/SRM team replica, as well as two SRAM equipped bikes. Our Six Team Si came with a full Ultegra groupset, aside from the Cannondale Si bottom bracket and chainset.
Cannondale has for a long time offered its own bottom bracket and chainset alternative, and the latest incarnation – an integrated carbon chainset – has a 30mm diameter bottom bracket axle. This was our first thorough ride on the latest generation Si cranks and bottom bracket setup. Cannondale claim they’re stiffer than Shimano’s DuraAce alternative, but we were hard pushed to detect a difference in the stiffness of the two cranks. Shifting throughout our test period was smooth and slick though. The Cannondale chainset is available in standard or compact formats. The System Six will not be available until later in the year with threaded bottom bracket shell.
Elsewhere, it’s a reliable pick of finishing kit. FSA Gossamer bars were a tad wide for this tester, but performed well. It doesn’t stop there with the FSA branded components, as they also supply the SL-K carbon seatpost, atop which is perched a Fi’zi:k Arione Manganese railed saddle. Wheels are the excellent Mavic Ksyrium Elites shod with Vittoria Diamante Pro Light 23mm tyres.
The few Cannondales we’ve ridden in the past have always impressed, but we weren’t sure what to expect from the Six. Companies usually add carbon stays to an aluminium frame to reduce some of the harshness inherent in aluminium frames. Happily, flipping this around has worked well, providing the Six with a unique ride quality. All that oversizing in the front half of the frame combined with the skinny rear stays means a nice balance between outright stiffness and riding comfort. We were actually a little surprised at just how comfortable the Six was on longer rides. It’s fast too, but somehow you never feel like you’re actually going that quickly. It’s perfectly competent in most situations, but lacks a little liveliness, and with the slow steering it’s certainly not the most exciting bike we’ve ridden.