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by James Huang
June 29, 2016
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Cannondale’s new SuperX and CAADX cyclocross bikes head into the 2016-17 season with longer, lower, and slacker frame geometries for improved high-speed stability but shorter rear ends and decreased trail dimensions for quicker low-speed handling. Cannondale says the progressive handling is better suited to today’s more technical cyclocross courses but you’re more likely to notice that the new geometry is just incredibly fun.
Cannondale’s revamped cyclocross frame geometry is a major departure from the previous carbon fiber SuperX and aluminum CAADX frames with slacker head tube angles, longer front centers, and a few more millimeters of bottom bracket drop. Just like similar geometries do on modern mountain bikes, that lower-and-longer setup makes for inherently good high-speed stability while also lending the rider more confidence in technical situations as the front wheel is pushed further forward — as much as 30mm, depending on size.
However, Cannondale bundles those changes together with stubby 422mm-long chainstays — a substantial 8mm shorter than before — and a generous 55mm fork rake (offset), which helps keep the overall wheelbase reasonably short. More importantly, that extra rake yields a road bike-like 62mm of trail for a nimble feel at lower speeds. That trail dimension is carried through across nearly the entire size range, too, for more consistent handling regardless of rider size.
“We’re all making frames and forks so it was really an opportunity for us to sit down and tailor the fork to the chassis,” said Cannondale road product manager David Devine. “We had a target trail number of 63mm that we wanted to have across the board on as many sizes as possible. The one exception is the 46cm size, but even that went from the mid-80s in trail down to the mid-60s.”
Frame geometry is now shared between the entire SuperX and CAADX size range. Photo: Cannondale.
Cannondale’s new cyclocross geometry becomes more interesting when you compare it to some industry benchmarks.
There are currently two major schools of thought when it comes to cyclocross frame geometry. The more traditional European style with steep and short front ends, tall bottom brackets, and short wheelbases that emphasize maneuverability; and the newer, ‘American’ philosophy with longer and slacker front ends, much lower bottom brackets, and longer wheelbases that instead prioritize stability. In effect, what Cannondale has done here is combine the best attributes of both.
“People are asking for more challenging [cyclocross] courses and professional races are running faster than ever but the bikes have remained largely unchanged,” said Devine. “We saw a lot of parallels between what was happening with cross-country and cyclocross, and how the sport wanted to go forward with presenting courses that are more challenging for amateurs and looks better for live coverage. I saw that as an opportunity to address the bike for how the courses are changing.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that Cannondale’s ‘OutFront Steering Geometry’ isn’t entirely new; it’s just somewhat novel to the ‘cross world. Bikes built for racing on cobbled classics such as Paris-Roubaix have long combined slacker head tube angles and increased fork rakes for the same reasons, and some companies already use similar geometry on certain ‘cross bike sizes. It’s just that Cannondale has now applied that philosophy across the board, and seemingly to very good effect.
The new Cannondale SuperX and CAADX cyclocross bikes get radically different geometries as compared to the previous versions for better high-speed stability but also improved low-speed agility.
As an added bonus, the six available sizes are not only now completely shared between the SuperX and CAADX — they had their own individual size schemes before — but there is now a more logical stack and reach progression across the range. Cannondale also says that the new ‘corrected’ sizes are more inline with the company’s road range, so riders will no longer need to go down a size when hitting the dirt.
Claimed SuperX frame and fork weights are 1,000g and 390g, respectively. CAADX frameset weights are still to be confirmed but regardless, one extremely pleasant surprise is that both models are either already available now or very soon, months earlier than is typical for new cyclocross introductions.
Years ago, I bought a previous-generation Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod specifically because of its uncannily smooth ride on rough courses. Whereas some frames tended to chatter and crash over bumpy sections, the SuperX simply floated over them. This was, of course, more comfortable, but in cyclocross, a smoother ride usually also equates to a faster one, too.
This new model improves on its predecessor with more dramatically flattened chain- and seatstays plus a smaller 25.4mm-diameter carbon seatpost with a similarly flattened head, all of which are intended to flex when hitting bumps instead of transmitting that impact force to the rider. It sounds gimmicky but it does work.
Cannondale has carried over its signature electric green for the new flagship SuperX cyclocross model but little else is shared with its predecessor.
Dramatically flattened chainstays on the Cannondale SuperX help create flex zones in the rear end for a smoother ride.
The relatively slim seatstays are more mildly flattened but also pre-curved to promote rear-end flex when hitting bumps.
Even the seatpost gets a flattened section to help it bend under load. The diameter has decreased to 25.4mm, too.
The slimmed-down fork blades supposedly help smooth out trail chatter, too.
As compared to the rather wide top tube and very broadly spaced seatstays, the 25.4mm-diameter seatpost looks positively tiny.
Cannondale has moved to a hidden seatpost binder, which not only cleans up the look but allows for more seatpost extension than a conventional collar.
The seat tube flares out at the bottom bracket.
The flat mount rear brake looks impressively tidy.
The Syntace 142x12mm rear thru-axle is tooled on the top-end SuperX Team model.
Cannondale specs 140mm-diameter rotors front and rear.
Tire clearance on the SuperX is truly impressive with up to a 40mm-wide casing fitting between the stays.
With a more conventional 33mm-wide tire installed, there’s nearly 12mm of room all around for what should be outstanding performance in mud.
The bridgeless seatstays leave lots of room for debris to pass through.
Cannondale will offer the bikes with 1x or 2x drivetrains, depending on model.
The carbon fiber SuperX uses a removable front derailleur hanger.
The ports for the internally routed cables on the SuperX can be configured in a number of different ways depending on preferences and equipment.
The internally routed cables aren’t fully guided inside the frame so users are free to configure the ports however they wish.
The one-piece SpideRing on the flagship Cannondale SuperX Team uses SRAM’s X-Sync narrow-wide tooth pattern.
Cannondale actually specs Zipp 303 carbon tubulars and Challenge Team Edition Baby Limus tires on the top-end SuperX Team model.
SRAM Force 1 is as premium as it gets for the new Cannondale SuperX Team.
Cannondale is using house-brand cockpit components across the board.
One can’t help but wonder if a SRAM Red eTap version is in the works.
Fabric is now owned by the same parent company that owns Cannondale.
Both bikes are loaded with modern features, too.
The carbon fiber SuperX gets front and rear 12mm thru-axles, front and rear flat mount disc brakes (there are no rim brake models), internal cable routing with flexible ports for various transmission and brake configurations, and a removable front derailleur hanger that yields a pleasantly clean aesthetic when using a single-chainring drivetrain. Maximum tire size is a whopping 40mm front and rear, making the SuperX truly gravel-friendly. With UCI-legal 33mm-wide ‘cross tires fitted, there’s almost 12mm of clearance for what should be outstanding performance in mud.
The aluminum CAADX is also disc-only with flat mount calipers front and rear, but that model sticks with quick-release dropouts at both ends and traditional clamp-on front derailleurs. Moreover, only the rear brake line is internally routed; the derailleur cables run along the underside of the down tube. Maximum tire size is officially limited to 35mm due to the more conventional tube shaping and regular wheel use (more on this below) relative to the SuperX but CAADX owners do get the added versatility of removable rack and fender mounts.
Cable routing on the CAADX is internal for the rear brake but external for the drivetrain. Photo: Cannondale.
The tube shaping on the CAADX rear end is less dramatic than the SuperX. Photo: Cannondale.
The new Cannondale CAADX uses flat-mount disc tabs like the SuperX but whereas the carbon bike goes with thru-axles front and rear, the CAADX sticks with open dropouts. Photo: Cannondale.
The CAADX gets rack and fender mounts, including this tidy removable seatstay bridge. Photo: Cannondale.
The front end of the CAADX uses a conventional 1 1/8-to-1 1/2-inch tapered steerer tube. Photo: Cannondale.
The SuperX’s generous tire clearance does come with a cost, however. According to Cannondale, the extra room was only possible by incorporating the company’s controversial Asymmetric Integration (Ai) design. Similar to the Boost system used on mountain bikes, Ai pushes the complete drivetrain outward by 6mm. This creates more room for the tire without requiring longer stays.
Whereas Boost symmetrically spreads the rear dropouts apart, though, Ai asymmetrically pushes a standard 142x12mm rear end over to the driveside along with the drivetrain. On the upside, this theoretically allows the use of conventional 142mm rear hubs and wheels, albeit re-dished 6mm to the left to keep the rim properly centered. In many cases, this can even be done without changing spoke lengths, and it improves rear wheel stiffness and durability by evening out the spoke bracing angles.
Cannondale says it was only able to combine extra-short chainstays with extra-generous tire clearance on the SuperX by using its Ai asymmetric rear end.
Even though the drivetrain is shifted outward by 6mm, the Cannondale SuperX still uses standard rear hubs.
Access ports in the shell make it easier to route cables through the frame. A separate clip helps secure the rear brake hose to keep it from rattling.
On the downside, Ai-equipped riders can say goodbye to neutral support wheels at ‘cross races, and the repositioned drivetrain also brings with it a 10mm-wider pedal stance width. Cannondale also had to switch to its similarly wider — and even more proprietary — BB30A press-fit bottom bracket configuration, and the seat tube has been shifted forward, too.
In other words, Ai pays technical benefits on paper, but not everyone will want to put up with the practical headaches of a semi-proprietary system.
CAADX frames, meanwhile, stick with symmetrical 135mm-wide rear hub spacing and the standard 73mm-wide BB30 bottom bracket shell.
Having spent so much time on the previous-generation SuperX, I’ll freely admit to being pretty excited to throw a leg on the new flagship SuperX Team model — and on familiar trails near my home base in Boulder, Colorado, no less.
While it’s difficult to draw conclusions on the bike’s comfort aspects, the geometry changes are impossible to ignore. Just as promised, the bike feels composed and planted at higher speeds but still easily flicks through tight and twisty sections with minimal body input required and a very natural feel throughout. The modified weight distribution yields reassuringly even traction front and rear, too.
My first ride on the new SuperX was on familiar terrain in Boulder, Colorado, with former pro ‘cross racer Tim Johnson.
Steep and technical downhills were especially intriguing. Whereas ‘cross bikes with more conventional geometry usually require a dramatically rearward weight shift to maintain stability, the SuperX’s longer front end lets you stay more centered over the cockpit with little fear of going over the bars.
Overall, the geometry effects were more pronounced than I had expected but ultimately, final judgment will only come once ‘cross season — and the rigors of racing — go into full swing here in North America.
Stay tuned for more.