Back in May a document on the UCI website revealed that Cannondale was among several brands to be releasing a disc-equipped elite road bike in the near future. This week, at a media event in the Tirol region of Austria, CyclingTips got the chance to try out that bike: the SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Disc.
It’s been a few years now since Cannondale first introduced disc brakes to its road bike range with the CAAD10 and the Synapse. The CAAD12 has since joined the disc-equipped stable as well. But in the SuperSix Evo Disc, Cannondale has its first elite-level disc-equipped carbon road bike.
The rationale for adding discs to road bikes is simple: they provide greater braking control and consistency than rim brakes do. And while the use of disc-equipped bikes in the pro peloton is currently banned by the UCI, there’s a feeling in the industry that they’ll almost certainly be re-allowed at some point (plus Cannondale was already developing the SuperSix Evo Disc before the ban was introduced).
While the 2017 SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod appears to have changed little from last year’s model (apart from the addition of disc brakes, of course) the frame has been redesigned from the ground up, with new moulds created for both the front and rear triangles. The geometry, however, remains the same.
Cannondale claims increased stiffness and compliance from the new frame, which has a new carbon layup in order to, among other things, better handle the forces imparted by disc brakes.
Cannondale has opted for Shimano flat-mount disc brakes with a 160mm rotor up front (70% of the braking force comes from the front brakes and a bigger rotor provides greater stopping power and heat dissipation) and a 140mm rotor at the back. A 100m x 12mm thru-axle is used up front while the rear wheel features a 135mm x 9mm quick-release axle, partially to save weight, but mainly to facilitate faster wheel changes for the pros (when the disc brake ban is overturned).
The result is a frame that weighs just 829g for a size 56 with the front fork adding 360g. Cannondale reports that, in all, the penalty for switching to a disc-equipped system is just 130g.
The SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Disc comes in three flavours: two men’s models (an Ultegra Di2 build and a mechanical Ultegra build) and one women’s model (with Ultegra Di2).
The men’s Ultegra Di2 build ridden for this review and the women’s Ultegra Di2 build both feature Cannondale’s Hollowgram SI tubeless-ready carbon clinchers weighing in at 1,400g and shod with Schwalbe’s Pro One 25mm tyres. The frame has clearance to comfortably run 28mm tyres, however.
The mechanical Ultegra build gets the lower-spec’d Mavic Aksium Disc WTS wheelset with Mavic’s Yksion Elite 25mm tyres.
Both the Di2 and mechanical Ultegra builds feature a mid-compact (52-36) crankset paired with an 11-speed, 11-28-tooth cassette.
Both the men’s and women’s versions of the Ultegra Di2-equipped SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Disc retail for US$6,199 (€4,999; AUD TBC). The mechanical Ultegra-equipped Hi-Mod Disc is considerably cheaper at US$4,199 (€3,799; AUD TBC).
In addition to the Evo Hi-Mod, Cannondale also has the lower-spec’d and slightly heavier Evo Carbon Disc at a range of price points: a Shimano 105-equipped women’s model for US$2,799 (€2,199; AUD TBC), a men’s mechanical Ultegra model for an additional US$200 (€2,999; AUD TBC), and a men’s SRAM Red 22-equipped version for US$3,799 (AUD and Euro TBC).
It’s also worth noting that the disc-equipped Evo Hi-Mod and Carbon editions don’t replace the rim brake varieties — there are still five non-disc versions of the Hi-Mod and six non-disc versions of the Carbon available.
Riding the bike
It’s always going to be a challenge to get a feel for a bike’s character in just two rides totalling 70km, but my initial impressions of Cannondale’s new disc-equipped offering were certainly positive.
At its heart, the SuperSix Evo Disc is a top-end road bike that was designed to be ridden fast. As you’d expect from an elite race chassis the bike feels stiff in all the right places, giving the feeling that no power is wasted en route from one’s legs to the road.
Several brief sojourns to gravelled farm roads showed the SuperSix Evo Disc to be a surprisingly competent performer on rougher terrain as well. While not as forgiving as some other frames designed to smooth out rougher road surfaces, the Evo Disc still handled impressively well on such terrain, even at high speed.
Little needs to be said about the Ultegra Di2 gearing — the shifting was precise and required little effort, as we’ve come to expect.
The SuperSix Evo Disc I rode was 7.4kg for a 56cm Ultegra Di2 build which, while not the lightest bike on the market, is far from overweight. For this reason it’s no surprise that the bike feels agile when the road tilts upwards. But it’s on the way down, of course, that the SuperSix Evo Disc really comes into its own.
The hydraulic disc brakes allowed an improved amount of control and modulation, particularly in the wet, and all with noticeably less effort than is required with rim brakes.
Putting the discs to the test
To fully test the capabilities of the SuperSix Evo Disc I ventured out to the nearby Kitzbühlerhorn, a fearsome ascent that has featured as a stage-ending climb at every recent edition of the Tour of Austria. Past winners on the Kitzbühlerhorn stage include Cadel Evans in 2004 (en route to overall victory), Michael Albasini and Dayer Quintana.
This serpentine mountain road has an average gradient of 13% for its 6.7km, making it comparable to the infamously challenging Mt. Baw Baw climb east of Melbourne. Descending the Kitzbühlerhorn would allow me to make an easy comparison between the stopping power of disc brakes and rim brakes on such steep and windy descents.
Every time I’ve descended Mt. Baw Baw with rim brakes I’ve ended up with very sore wrists by the bottom (due to the constant braking required). But the light braking action required by the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes resulted in little if any wrist fatigue when descending the Kitzbühlerhorn. More than that, I found I could consistently brake later than I would have with rim brakes, which was as impressive as it was exhilarating in the wet conditions I encountered.
In essence, the disc brakes led to more confidence, particular since I’m much more accustomed to rim brakes. If anything, I found that the disc brakes inspired overconfidence.
Trying to keep up with Cannondale pros Tom Skujins and Phil Gaimon on a windy descent would normally have seemed foolish, but with the later and harder braking facilitated by the disc brakes, keeping up seemed possible. One barely-made corner (which I’m convinced I wouldn’t have made without discs) and one safely overshot corner were enough of a reminder of the need to ride within one’s limits.
It’s difficult to find much to be critical of when considering the Cannondale SuperSix Evo Disc but the choice of saddle was one minor concern. The shape and contour of the Fizik Arione had me feeling uncomfortable in just a handful of kilometres. Replacing the Arione with a cut-out option would be the first modification I’d make to the bike.
But of course, this is an issue of personal taste and comfort and others will likely be more than happy with the choice of saddle. Similarly, the mid-compact crankset had me wishing for the lower gear ratios a compact crankset would have afforded (there’s nothing more demoralising than reaching for the shifter only to find there are no more gears on offer).
But for the majority of riders — i.e. those smart enough not to climb the brutally steep Kitzbühlerhorn — the combination of 52-36 crankset and 11-28 cassette will provide more than enough options when the road tilts upward.
Ultimately, 70km of riding is never going to be enough to get a complete feel for a bike and how it compares to other, similar offerings. But after two days with the SuperSix Hi-Mod Ultegra Di2 I was keen for more.
Initial impressions suggest Cannondale has managed to refine what was already a stiff yet comfortable elite racing chassis in the SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod, all the while introducing disc brakes for more consistent and more confidence-inspiring braking.
I was a fan of the bright colours on the model I test-rode but others mightn’t be as impressed with the colour scheme. Thankfully, several colour options exist throughout the range, some “wild” (like the one pictured above) and others more “mild”.
We hope to get our hands on the bike for a longer test period at some point soon.