Frame technology is one of the areas that bike brands haven’t been afraid to overhaul in recent years. The rise of ‘endurance’ bikes like Cannondale’s Synapse or Trek’s Domane shows that even the pros want a comfortable ride when it comes to the most difficult races on the calendar.
Bikes like the Synapse and Domane plug the gap between the full-on race bike and the sportive bike of old. The key difference is that today’s endurance bikes are still race bikes made to be ridden competitively. What’s more, if you look at the team edition of the Domane, the one that Fabian Cancellara rides, the geometry of the pro bike has been changed from the stock model (it’s called the ‘Koppenberg’ frameset on the Trek store) to mirror the racier Madone. Cancellara actually opts to ride the Domane in all races, showing that there’s nothing soft about Trek’s endurance option.
Still, while performance is still placed high on the design agenda, endurance bikes place a heavy emphasis on comfort. While the Domane and its IsoSpeed Decoupler is a particularly extreme example of an endurance bike, the Cannondale Synapse uses a different method to add some comfort. Cannondale have effectively designed the frame as two interconnected but symbiotically functioning pieces, where the front triangle focuses on stiffness and power transfer, but the ‘Save Plus’ rear is all about comfort.
There are three parts to the Save Plus system: the helixed tube profiles of the rear triangle and offset dropouts of the fork, the carbon layup, and the super-skinng 25.4mm seatpost. The three are designed to work together to improve comfort using what Cannondale call ‘micro-suspension’ to also reduce vibrations travelling through the frame. This is combined with the ‘Synapse Endurance Race Geometry’ (S.E.R.G), which gives the frame a slightly taller headtube, longer wheelbase and slacker head angle striking that compromise we mentioned before between pure race and pure comfort (even if Peter Sagan, who rode for Cannondale last year before switching to the Specialized-sponsored Tinkoff-Saxo team, used a custom geometry to achieve his normal low and long position).
It’s far from just these two brands that have endurance models, too. The demand for bikes like this is such that pretty much every manufacturer with a team on the WorldTour has a bike for the Classics: the Lampre Merida Ride SL (Lampre-Merida), Giant Defy (Giant-Alpecin), Specialized Roubaix (Tinkoff-Saxo, Etixx-QuickStep and Astana), Lapierre Pulsium (FDJ.fr), Ridley Fenix (Lotto-Soudal) and many more. At the 2014 edition of Paris-Roubaix, Movistar and Katusha, both sponsored by Canyon, were the only team using a regular race-day frame, with the German firm’s Ultimate CF SLX chassis able to accept a 28mm tyre.
That aside, another nod to comfort on endurance frames is their ability to accept much wider tyres. Try and get a 28mm tyre on Lapierre’s Aircode and you’ll be struggling for space, whereas a Pulsium will take the wider rubber with room to spare (impressively, the bike will actually accept up to a 32mm tyre). There used to be far more cyclo-cross bikes on display at the Hell of the North too, because ‘cross bikes have clearance for huge tyres, but the quality and versatility of endurance framesets mean that it’s a trend that’s being seen less and less frequently.