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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.
It’s all about the geometry
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.”
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.
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.
A smoother ride, more features
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.
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.
The price of clearance
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.
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.
On the trail
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.
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.