2020 Cannondale SuperSix Evo first-ride review: Now with a dose of aero
Cannondale’s venerable SuperSix Evo has always been cherished for its low weight and high stiffness — the perfect combo for climbers and traditionalists that prize a snappy feel. The new third-generation model is still light, and still stiff, but Cannondale has now also infused it with a hearty dose of aerodynamic efficiency as well.
Taken in total, the new bike should make for an even-better all-rounder for those that not only want to feel fast, but actually go fast, too.
Keeping up with the Joneses
No one has ever debated that the outgoing second-generation SuperSix Evo was both light and stiff, but the reality is that low mass and high stiffness only get you so far. It’s long been accepted that, barring particularly steep climbs, increasing aerodynamic efficiency is more beneficial than shedding grams when it comes to going fast. Unfortunately, the nominally round tubes long favored by the SuperSix Evo that are great for structural efficiency are also pretty terrible when it comes to cutting through the wind.
And so in a move that should surprise no one, the new third-generation SuperSix Evo finally adds an aero component to the formula, with new truncated airfoil tube shapes that supposedly generate up to 30% less drag than the old bike’s rounded tubes. According to Cannondale, this is mostly by virtue of how the trapezoidal cross-sections do a much better job of reducing airflow separation on the tube’s trailing edge.
Perhaps more impressively, Cannondale claims to have done this while adding no weight relative to the previous version and actually increasing stiffness slightly — claims echoed by pretty much every other bike company that has incorporated such Kamm tail profiles to its quiver of bike designs.
Further adding to the aero story are newly dropped seatstays — a well-proven way to reduce drag — a new aero-profile Knot 27 carbon seatpost, a low-profile Hollowgram SAVE SystemBar integrated bar-and-stem, and fully internal cable routing from tip to tail. In total, the new SuperSix is said to require about 30W less effort to maintain a speed of 48.3km/h (30mph) relative to the outgoing model.
Naturally, Cannondale is making some big claims in terms of aero advantages over some key competitors, too.
According to Cannondale’s testing, a rider on a Trek Emonda will have to crank out over 40 extra watts at that same speed, while someone on a new BMC Roadmachine will need to find an additional 23W or so as compared to someone on a new SuperSix Evo. Even more interesting, however, is that Cannondale is even claiming fairly sizable performance gaps over the similarly aero-minded Cervelo R5 and Specialized Tarmac SL6, with roughly 12W and 9W advantages, respectively.
As always, though, there are some details to wade through.
Cannondale conducted those tests in the Low Speed Wind Tunnel in San Diego, California, using complete bikes in comparable sizes and identical Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupsets, but with variations in wheels, tires, and cockpit components based on manufacturer spec. Some discrepancies are to be expected given the differences in rim depths — the Emonda’s 28mm-deep Bontrager Aeolus XXX 2 wheels aren’t even claimed to be remotely aero, for example — but what matters more here are the front-end setups.
Of all the bikes tested, only the SuperSix Evo was equipped with an aero-focused bar-and-stem, and given that Cannondale quotes a 9.1W saving for that component alone — relative to a conventional non-aero setup — the claimed gaps close significantly. Similarly equipped, the Roadmachine and Emonda would still be slower, but not as dramatically so, and this third-gen SuperSix Evo would basically fall right on top of the current Tarmac SL6 and R5.
That’s hardly bad company, mind you, but perhaps not the major gap that Cannondale’s marketing materials might have you believe.
There’s also the issue of the tested speed. Needless to say, few of us are usually cruising at 48.3km/h on a day-to-day basis, and given that aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with velocity, real-world differences will be substantially smaller in terms of watts saved. That said, even at more modest speeds — say, 15km/h — more than half of your effort when riding on flat ground is dedicated to overcoming aerodynamic drag. As such, any gains in that department are still noteworthy, at least assuming you’re interested in going faster with the same effort, or saving energy while moving at the same speed.
Weight-wise, Cannondale claims that the top-end Hi-Mod Disc version tips the scales at 866g for a painted 56cm sample, plus another 389g for the matching fork, cut to fit. The proprietary seatpost adds another 162g. The standard SuperSix Evo Disc — which is built with a less advanced blend of carbon fiber — comes in at 999g, 436g, and 162g for the same specifications.
Rim-brake adherents will be happy to hear that Cannondale hasn’t left you out in the cold — sort of. Cannondale will offer rim-brake models, but only in standard-modulus frames; true weight weenies will unfortunately have to look elsewhere. Claimed weight for the SuperSix Evo Rim is 976g for a painted 56cm frame, plus 368g for the fork, and the same 162g for the seatpost.
Geometry-wise, there are big changes on tap.
The total size range still spans a generous 44-62cm, but there are now eight sizes instead of nine. Each one also offers a slightly less aggressive fit than before with subtly taller stack heights and shorter reach figures across the board; differences are generally only in the single-digits in terms of millimeters. The stack and reach vary more linearly across the size range than before, in an effort to provide riders of all compatible heights with a similar fit experience.
The changes aren’t just limited to fit, either.
The outgoing SuperSix Evo’s trail dimension varied considerably across the size range, from 73mm on the 44cm size, up to 54mm on the 63cm one. The longstanding idea there is that larger riders can benefit from bikes with quicker handling, whereas shorter riders need more stability. An increasing number of companies seem to be casting doubt on that philosophy, though, Cannondale included.
On this new third-generation SuperSix Evo, Cannondale wants riders of every height to have the same handling experience. Every size now has the same 58mm trail dimension, save for the 44cm size, which only deviates slightly to 60mm. And speaking of that 44cm size, it’s worth noting that Cannondale has equipped it with a 58.2cm front-center, which should help most riders avoid issues with toe overlap.
One key update is undoubtedly going to be very controversial. Every SuperSix Evo to date has come with a level top tube, but that’s now gone on this new version. The slope angle on the new SuperSix Evo’s top tube is admittedly pretty modest, but it’s sloping nonetheless. Take it or leave it.
A smoother ride, more tire clearance
The SuperSix Evo’s low weight and newfound aerodynamic performance only tell part of the story, however.
Cannondale also claims to have made the new bike more comfortable to ride, owing to the flat-backed seatpost and seat tube, the dropped seatstays, and the flattened tops on the integrated handlebar-and-stem setup, all of which promote flex on bumps. And with the internal cable routing and new wedge-type internal seatpost binder, it’s certainly cleaner-looking than before.
But what’s arguably most appealing is the claimed 30mm maximum tire size — and if anything, that seems somewhat conservative given that Cannondale says running a 30mm tire will still leave 6mm of clearance all around. That’s the same as the current Specialized Tarmac SL6, in fact, and we can confirm that higher-volume rubber will fit on that bike, depending on your risk tolerance.
As a result, the new Cannondale SuperSix Evo will obviously be as fine a choice for general road riding and racing as it’s always been — better now, in fact — but it’ll also serve double-duty as an all-road machine if you choose to occasionally stray off the beaten path. And unlike Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon gravel bike, there was no need to resort to unusual asymmetrical rear hub spacing or super weird bottom bracket dimensions.
Cable routing details, speedy thru-axles, and a sort-of-free power meter
Cable routing is fully internal as mentioned earlier, but Cannondale says that its engineers worked hard to make it mechanic-friendly. Unlike some other integrated cockpit designs, the brake and derailleur wires don’t actually go through the middle of the stem on the SAVE SystemBar. Instead, they’re hidden beneath a bolt-on plastic cover that’s attached to the underside of the stem, and then they pass into the frame through an opening in front of the head tube — just like Cannondale’s SystemSix aero bike, in fact. Split headset spacers allow for relatively easy bar height adjustments.
There’s a caveat to the routing, though. On bikes with Shimano Di2 electronic drivetrains, there’s a handy compartment in the down tube for the junction box, which conveniently leaves the function button and LED indicator within easy reach and view. Bikes with mechanical drivetrains, however, bypass the internal routing setup through the head tube. There, the Di2 junction box is replaced with a housing stop, which makes the routing on those bikes partially external. Down below, Cannondale splits the mechanical wiring guide into two separate plastic pieces, each with its own cutout in the bottom bracket shell.
Speaking of bottom brackets, Cannondale is sticking to its press-fit guns. Interestingly, though, while the company went with a proper BB30 bearing interface for its Topstone Carbon gravel bike (meaning the bearings press directly into permanent aluminum frame seats, and are held in place with snap-rings), the SuperSix Evo is built around the company’s asymmetrical PF30a format and press-fit cups — likely because the bare carbon shell doesn’t require any bonded-in aluminum inserts and saves a handful of grams on paper.
On upper-end models, that bottom bracket anchors an included Power2Max chainring spider-based power meter. An increasing number of brands are including power meters on top models these days, but there’s a catch with Cannondale’s solution here: while all of the necessary hardware is present, buyers have to pay a fee to activate it — and in the US, it’s a not-insubstantial US$490 (€490). Cannondale first introduced this concept on its SystemSix aero road bike last year, and apparently the program went well enough that the company felt it was a good idea to expand it further.
In fairness to Cannondale, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious upcharge just for the hardware itself on equipped models, and in comparison to buying something aftermarket, it’s a small price to pay for dual-sided power meter data from a reputable manufacturer.
There’s no hidden upcharge for the neat SpeedRelease thru-axles used at both ends of bikes with disc brakes, though. Whereas standard thru-axles need to be pulled completely out of the frame in order to remove the wheel, SpeedRelease pairs a specially necked-down axle with a matching slot in one dropout. Now, instead of removing the axle completely, you just pull the axle out far enough so that the threads are disengaged, and then the wheel easily falls out — with the axle still securely retained inside the hub.
Rim-brake bikes, meanwhile, stick to standard quick-release skewers and open dropouts.
Cannondale’s product managers have made some interesting decisions in terms of gearing. Whereas the SystemSix aero bike is now considered the company’s full-on, dedicated race machine, the SuperSix Evo is perceived as being a bit more of an all-rounder. As such, every model is fitted with 52/36T semi-compact chainrings and surprisingly wide-range cassettes: 11-30T on the flagship model, and even more climbing-friendly 11-32T ratios on some less-expensive models.
All models equipped with Cannondale’s Hollowgram carbon clinchers will be fitted with a custom front-hub wireless speed sensor. Developed in conjunction with Garmin, it’s designed to work with either any number of ANT+/BLE-compatible computers, or as a standalone bit that can store — and then later upload — basic ride parameters to Cannondale’s own smartphone app. It’s a curious inclusion, but one that might appeal to the no-Garmin-no-rules crowd.
Common problems, common solutions
Both started as light-and-stiff carbon road racers with rounded tubes that prioritized structural efficiency. Both now use truncated-airfoil tube shapes. Both have similar profiles with dropped seatstays and sloping top tubes. Both have Di2 junction boxes in nearly identical locations, hidden wedge-type seatpost binders, PressFit 30 bottom brackets, and on and on.
So clearly Cannondale just copied the Tarmac SL6 straight up, right?
Not so fast.
Road bikes are incredibly refined these days, and given the limitations on technical innovation codified by the UCI’s Lugano Charter (and subsequent technical guidelines), there’s only so much room for being creative. For bikes that aim to strike a delicate balance between low weight, high stiffness, and reasonably slippery aerodynamics, there are only so many known approaches to hit those targets.
Remember that Scott’s original Foil is largely credited with incorporating flat-backed aero tube profiles on road bikes, way back in 2010 (Scott has now basically turned that old Foil into the new Addict). And one could even argue that the ideas built into the Foil were derived from Trek’s Speed Concept time trial machine, which was unveiled a year prior.
Could Cannondale have given the SuperSix Evo a more original shape? Perhaps, but in any engineering-driven design, form follows function, and when everyone is going for the same function, there’s only so much you can do with form before you start making functional compromises.
So speculate all you’d like, but it seems unlikely that a company like Cannondale would intentionally copy the appearance of a direct competitor just for the sake of mimicking its appearance.
Models, pricing, and availability
The new SuperSix Evo family will be quite large, with 11 models in total, and disc brakes clearly being favored; nine of the 11 models are so-equipped. The two rim-brake models are relegated to the second-tier “standard modulus” frame, and mechanical Shimano Ultegra is as good as it gets there.
Prices range from US$2,200 / AU$3,400 / £2,000 for the Cannondale SuperSix Carbon 105 model, up to US$11,500 / AU$13,000 / £9,000 for the SuperSix Hi-Mod Disc Dura-Ace Di2 flagship.
The availability of specific models will vary depending on region, but Cannondale says that, in general, bikes should be in stock at dealers immediately.
Putting the new SuperSix Evo to the test — sort of
Cannondale flew a small contingent of editors to Stowe, Vermont — this one included — to sample the new bike, and it was an intriguing location for sure. The pavement was anything but pristine, but there was no shortage of small roads, punchy climbs, and gleefully twisty descents to test the SuperSix Evo’s mettle. The ride was pretty short that day, and we got pummeled with rain and wind during the second half of it, but it still generated some decent first impressions of the flagship model.
No surprise: the new SuperSix Evo is still a wonderfully snappy machine, as you’d rightfully expect from something this light and this stiff — actual weight for my 51cm loaner was barely 7.6kg, all in. That combo made it a superb climbing companion, and the stout chassis felt rock-solid when sprinting out of the saddle. The ride quality was impressively composed over the shattered pavement and wheel-swallowing potholes, too, even with 25mm tires (27mm measured width) inflated to my preferred 70-75psi pressures.
And as for handling? It certainly felt appropriately nimble for the category, but I wouldn’t be comfortable commenting with any further detail given the brevity of the ride. More than a few bikes also had major issues with seatpost slippage (sand works in a pinch, FYI), which was more than a little distracting.
More to the point, is the SuperSix Evo faster than the old bike? Sorry, I can’t really say given the lack of any sort of controlled test environment, but hopefully we’ll be able to tell you with more certainty soon enough. Seems awfully worthy of a proper long-term test, no?