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Ever heard the saying that you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes? Well, we believe the same applies to a person’s choice of bike. In this mini-series of Bikes of the Bunch, we’ll be having our staff share one of their preferred personal rides. These rides provide insight into the product preferences of our staff, and the types of bikes they gravitate towards.
Somewhat old-school, but not at all old
So much of my riding time is spent riding (and testing) bikes that aren’t my own. Normally I’m pedalling something fresh off the production floor, commonly made of carbon fibre, with electronic shifting, disc brakes and dubious aero claims.
However, in times where I’m without a test bike to ride, I happily step back onto my trusty alloy, rim-brake, mechanical-shifting roadie. I’ve had this Cannondale CAAD12 for nearly four years, having built it from the frame up with a mixture of reliable and high functioning components.
My first road bike was a deep red CAAD5 with Shimano Tiagra, and perhaps that’s where this emotional attachment to skinny-tired alloy bikes comes from. At one point I also owned a very nice 6.5 kg CAAD9 during a time where nearly all other brands had shifted focus to carbon. It was the last of the US-made CAADs and a bike I still regret selling to this day. And that regrettable sale is perhaps how I ended up, once again, back on a CAAD and with a fuzzy-feeling reminder of where I got my start in road cycling.
When I’m testing bikes, I’m constantly fussing about. Fiddling with the position for the first ride or two, getting those damn wedge-type seat posts to stay put, getting brakes to behave, and just generally overcoming the settling and setup issues of constantly riding new bikes. And so when I jump back onto my own bike, I like it to just work.
And that really sums up the build of this bike. There are no electronic pieces to charge and no brake rotors to worry about accidentally leaning against something. The frame is aluminium. So are the handlebars, stem and seatpost. All that means is that I didn’t pay a mint for this. I don’t feel the need to baby this bike, and taking it on a plane is less worrisome too.
My CAAD12 is a loveable bike, but it’s certainly not the benchmark of bikes I’ve ridden. Compared to the latest carbon superbikes, this one can feel a little soft underfoot and doesn’t jump with quite the same urgency of others. Similarly, it does a decent job of keeping my fillings in, but there are many bikes that are smoother and more controlled again. Still, I like how this bike transmits what the surface beneath me is doing, and while that may mean more work from me in response, I like the conversation.
Non-aero alloy rim brake wheels
I built this bike at a time when disc brakes were certainly growing in popularity and I knew the trend was clear. So clear, I’d tell friends not to bother buying a rim brake bike as it’d soon be dated. A hypocritical statement perhaps, but one I still stand by.
I’d ridden disc brakes since I was 14 years old. I’d worked on them for that length of time too, and the setup differences didn’t worry me. I was (still am) an advocate for them. And yet, I didn’t feel road discs were where I knew they could be – and so I bought what I knew would be my last modern rim brake roadie.
Rim brakes then cemented my decision for alloy rims, too. Carbon rim brake wheels have come on in leaps and bounds, but rim brake performance is still best with a metal rim. And so while I was giving up aero wins, I took the route of simplicity and reliability.
Even knowing the alloy rims and spokes I wanted, the wheels were still the hardest part of the build decision. Do I support one of the myriad of CNC’d hubs out of the US? Do I re-use some trusty DT Swiss 240s hubs? Do I build them myself, or just buy a complete wheel?
In the end, I took the lazy (and surprisingly cheaper) route and sourced a complete wheelset from Chris King. I knew the build would be dialled, and the mixture of DT Swiss Aerolite spokes and HED Belgium+ rims was exactly what I wanted. The R45 hubs are pure works of art, and while they’re not the most set-and-forget hub on the market (DT Swiss 240s are), they’re a piece that I feel makes my CAAD unique. Plus, King hubs have the best freehub noise, and this isn’t open to debate.
I’ve been rolling on road tubeless since almost day one with these wheels, and have found the latest tyres (especially the GP 5000 TL) to be far better at warding off punctures that would previously see everyone in the group sprayed with sealant. The 25 mm Contis measure closer to 28 mm on these wide rims, and I’ve been satisfied with that. My tubeless setup currently includes Stans tyre sealant and WTB alloy valve stems.
My choice of SRAM Red22 mechanical is likely to ruffle a few feathers. The groupset arguably has the fewest loyal followers of the three key brands, and it was already looking a little long in the tooth when I built this ride, and yet, funnily enough, it hasn’t aged too badly since then. It remains SRAM’s flagship mechanical shifting groupset, and at least on paper, is still worthy of comparison to current Dura-Ace.
Of course, it’s not perfect though. The front shifting is extremely fiddly to get right, and even then it’s nothing like Shimano. The brakes are neither as powerful nor as reliable at holding an adjustment as other options. And the hood ergonomics are polarising. That all said, it is a reliable group. I don’t suffer from frayed shift cables. The gears aren’t too picky about maintenance, and I get on just fine with the DoubleTap shifting style.
The CeramicSpeed OSPW cage on the rear derailleur is a test product I’ve yet to return, and something I admittedly don’t love the look of (or the judgement I get from other cyclists who know what it is). However, it does function without a hiccup and honestly creates an extremely smooth drivetrain. But really, it has been easier to leave it on then swap the original cage back.
The Cannondale Hollowgram SI crankset shares plenty in common with the SRAM group, too. It’s impressively light, performs well and looks great. And it too can be temperamental. The BB30A bottom bracket it turns on hasn’t always remained creak-free, and the handful of specialist tools required to get it fully silent (shootout to Enduro Bearing tools here) means the system rightfully deserves hate. A threaded bottom bracket would make me like this bike more, but at least for now, I got it to stop whinging at me.
Some things have changed over the years
For the most part, the bike is awfully similar to how it was when I first assembled it, and it’s been a reliable friend. Still, there are a few components that either caused me issues or that I’m regularly looking for improvement in.
Neither the bottom bracket nor the headset bearings have been without issue. The former I’ve covered, while the latter had a tendency to work themselves loose. It was a combination of things: I suspect the Cane Creek AER headset I tried in this bike wasn’t quite as forgiving as a more angular FSA steel bearing headset, while the Zipp Service Course SL stem I bought was arguably faulty – evident by the Ti bolts it was snapping (no, this isn’t user error).
Currently, I’ve got a faithful Ritchey WCS stem on there, but I miss the clean stealthy look of that Zipp stem. I may try another soon. I may also try returning to that AER headset to see if I can solely place the blame on a single part (and in the process get rid of that faux 3K weave FSA headset).
I’m onto my third and final set of quick-release skewers now. I first started with some KCNC lightweight skewers, but I traced a stubborn creak (I’m very very fussy about bike noises) back to them. Then I moved onto an older pair of Campagnolo skewers, which were amazing, but effectively wore out and weren’t instilling 100% confidence. And recently I coughed up for some Dura-Ace R9100 skewers — heavy but simply the best holding skewer on the market. Again, not up for debate.
I’ve long had this bike setup with a non-obtrusive Stages powermeter. The second-gen unit was a perfect aesthetic match with the original crank, but that recently died. Stages recently swapped it for a third-generation unit — it’s working reliably but sadly that logo isn’t quite the same. Oh well, I’ve got electrical tape covering up the red logos on my shifters, so this is hardly a deal-breaker.
I’m constantly swapping in different 11-speed chains on this bike, each setup with Molten Speed Wax. The SRAM Red22 chain was wonderfully durable but not the fastest pick. The current KMC X11-SL chain (I have two in rotation) is smooth, but not that durable and the chain wax doesn’t stick to it all that well. Next will be a YBN chain.
Bartapes and tyres are a similar story, and I’m often looking for the next best thing. Right now I’m pretty sold on the Continental GP5000 TL tyres, while I’m less certain about the SupaCaz bar tape. It’s comfy, grippy and all, but it’s a little stiff and stubborn to wrap.
Not a forever bike
My CAAD12 is a great bike, and I smile whenever I get to ride it. However, it doesn’t quite tug at my heartstrings in the same way that lost CAAD9 did (and still does). This isn’t my forever bike, but I’m not exactly in a rush to move it on, either.
So what’s next? Well, my new bike itch has me looking toward a new trail mountain bike, and so at least for now, the CAAD12 remains the road bike I call my own.
Frameset: Cannondale CAAD12, 52 cm
Headset: FSA Integrated
Wheelset: Chris King R45, DT Swiss Aerolite spokes, Alloy nipples, HED Belgium+ rims, 20/24H.
Shifters: SRAM Red22
Crankset: Cannondale Hollowgram Si, 52/36T Spidering
Bottom bracket: Kogel Ceramic BB30 bearings, low friction road seals
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red22, CeramicSpeed OSPW
Cassette: SRAM Red XG-1190 11-28T
Chain: KMC X11-SL, dipped in Molten Speed Wax
Tyres: Continental GP5000 TL, 25 mm
Handlebar: Zipp Service Course SL-70, 42 cm
Stem: Ritchey WCS, 100 mm
Seatpost: Thomson Elite Straight, 25.4 mm
Cages: Arundel Mandible
Bar tape: SupaCaz (can’t remember the specific version)
Saddle: Specialized Phenom S-Works, 155 mm
Pedals: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Skewers: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Accessories: Wahoo Elmnt Roam, Spurcycle saddle bag
Bike weight: 7.14 kg (with pedals and cages)
Frame weight: 1,100 g frame, 340 g fork.