Cannondale CAAD13 review: more aero, but less stiff and distinctive

by James Huang


Cannondale’s CAAD series of welded aluminum road racing bikes have long occupied a cherished position among amateur racers and weekend warriors for their excellent all-around stiffness and weight, reasonable pricing, and traditional aesthetic. With this latest CAAD13 iteration, though, Cannondale has decided to stray from the CAAD’s tried-and-true playbook, trading some of those traditional performance metrics for aerodynamic efficiency. Was it worth it? That depends.


Story Highlights

  • What it is: Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo carbon fiber road racer, rendered in welded aluminum.
  • Frame features: Welded 6069 aluminum alloy construction, modern aero tube shaping, disc- and rim-brake models available, convertible internal cable routing, BB30a asymmetrical press-fit bottom bracket.
  • Weight: 8.24 kg (18.17 lb) as tested, 51 cm size, without pedals
  • Price: US$2,400 / AU$3,700 / £1,900 / €2,100
  • Highs: Supremely comfortable ride, fantastic handling, sleek aero shape.
  • Lows: Sleek aero shape, finicky seatpost binder, asymmetrical BB30a press-fit bottom bracket shell.

The new math

Ever since Cannondale built its first aluminum bike in 1983, the hallmark of its frames has been the never-ending pursuit of structural efficiency: maximum stiffness with minimum weight. As a result, every generation of the company’s CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design) road bikes has been built with nominally round, large-diameter tubes and smoothly finished welds that delivered excellent rigidity for comparatively low cost. Not surprisingly, CAAD frames have long been the perennial go-to option for budget-minded road racers who wanted big performance, but without the risk of potentially throwing away thousands of dollars in a single botched corner or mass pile-up.

Stiffness and weight aren’t everything, however, and Cannondale has been steadily refining the CAAD with every iteration. The CAAD12, in particular, was a pretty big change from the CAAD10 that came before it (there was no CAAD11), offering big gains in ride quality. One might even argue that those compliance improvements brought subtle improvements in traction and surer-footed cornering manners, too.

After more than 10 generations of traditional double-diamond proportions, the CAAD13 finally leaves all of that behind.

Cannondale has now taken the CAAD family into somewhat uncharted territory with the latest CAAD13. By definition, it’s still made of welded aluminum — a 6069 alloy in this case, the same as what was used on the CAAD12. The welds don’t seem to be quite as nicely finished as they once were, but just as the CAAD12 emulated the shape and general design philosophy of the SuperSix Evo of the time, so, too, does the CAAD13 follow in the footsteps of its more expensive carbon fiber stablemate. Last June, Cannondale debuted a new wind-cheating version of the SuperSix Evo, and now the CAAD13 sports a similarly sleek shape that clearly chases aerodynamic efficiency.

Truncated-airfoil cross-sections are featured on the down tube, seat tube, seatstays, and fork blades. Those seatstays are prominently dropped, too, and that D-shaped seat tube profile now gets the same Knot27 profiled-to-match carbon fiber seatpost that’s also shared with the current SuperSix Evo.

The U-shaped tube profiles are borrowed from the carbon fiber SuperSix Evo.

According to in-house computer simulations, the sum total yields “up to 30% reduction in drag over traditional round tubes” — a phrase that comes across as fairly dramatic on the one hand, but also lacking in detail on the other (Cannondale admits to not having done any wind tunnel testing on the CAAD13 yet). As further testament to the CAAD13’s pursuit of aero efficiency, there are even two positions available on the down tube for the water bottle: use the higher position if you’re going to run two bottles, but tuck it down lower if you only want to carry one for supposedly smoother airflow in that area (or just want to be a little more like Thomas Voeckler).

Cannondale has also brought the revised geometry of the SuperSix Evo over to the CAAD13. There are now eight sizes instead of the previous nine, and each of those has a (very) slightly taller stack and shorter reach than it did before. Changes are more linear through the size range, too.

Continuing the theme of the CAAD12, the new CAAD13 is also said to be more comfortable to ride. As countless other brands have also now discovered, dropped seatstays and D-shaped profiles on the seat tube and seatpost are not only good for aerodynamics; they’re also more apt to flex underneath the rider when they hit a bump. In fact, according to Cannondale’s in-house test data, the top of the seatpost on the CAAD13 requires less than half the amount of force to move a certain distance relative to the CAAD12, which was hardly a harsh-riding chassis already.

Cannondale claims to have done all of this without increasing frame weight, which may be technically true if a tad misleading. Although the claimed raw figures are essentially identical, Cannondale offered the CAAD12 with an anodized finish, whereas the CAAD13 is only available with paint — and unlike anodization, paint adds mass. As a result, while a finished 56 cm CAAD12 rim-brake frame supposedly weighed 1,115 grams, an identical CAAD13 comes in at 1,182 grams.

“With the CAAD13, we likely could have produced a lighter frame than previous versions had we done an anodized version,” said Cannondale media relations manager Joe Mackey. “CAAD13 uses more brazing for some of the integrated features than past generations, and brazing doesn’t always produce the best aesthetic after anodizing.

“The goal with the CAAD lineup over the last decade has just been to make great-value-for-money race bikes that challenge our competitors’ carbon race bikes,” added senior public relations manager Sofia Whitcombe. “In the past, we were almost exclusively focused on weight and stiffness, but with having [design engineer] Nathan [Barry] and [engineering manager] Damon [Rinard] come on board, we have new knowledge that has helped make these bikes faster while maintaining the performance of past weight and stiffness.

“Bringing lower drag and deeper integration to this platform wasn’t so much a diversion from previous generations of CAAD bikes, but rather the necessary next step in once again proving an alloy bike can mix it up with modern carbon fiber race bikes.”

The brazed-in SwitchPlate insert on the down tube allows for mechanical or electronic drivetrains.

Many CAAD aficionados will already consider the dropped seatstays to border on blasphemy, but the CAAD13 further offends those devotees by abandoning the level top tube of its predecessors in favor of a modestly sloping one. And continuing the trend established by the CAAD12, the CAAD13 is also a bit softer in terms of bottom bracket rigidity than its forebear.

Cannondale is offering the CAAD13 in both rim-brake and disc-brake versions, both of which gain discreet front and rear fender mounts. Tire clearance on the rim-brake version remains 28 mm despite the move to direct-mount calipers, but disc versions will officially clear a 30 mm-wide tire. Disc-brake CAAD13s also ditch the CAAD12 Disc’s antiquated quick-release rear dropouts in favor of Mavic SpeedRelease-compatible thru-axle ones at both ends.

Stubbornly, Cannondale is sticking with its asymmetrical BB30a press-fit bottom bracket shell.

The traditional double-diamond configuration that has marked every CAAD generation is gone, for better or worse.

For this review, I wanted to stay as true to the CAAD’s roots as I could, opting for a rim-brake model equipped with Shimano’s Ultegra mechanical groupset and Cannondale’s own “1” BB30a-compatible aluminum crankset, shallow-profile Fulcrum Racing 600 aluminum clinchers wrapped in 28 mm-wide Vittoria Rubino pro tube-type tires, a Prologo Nago RS saddle, and a smattering of Cannondale house-brand finishing kit.

Actual weight for my 51 cm sample is 8.24 kg (18.17 lb) — pretty much bang-on with the posted 8.20 kg (18.1 lb) claims.

Give and take

There’s a refreshing purity and honesty that comes with this Cannondale CAAD13 that I find endearing. The rim brakes. The partially exposed cabling. The shallow aluminum wheels. The fact that the frame is actually made of — egad — metal.

When viewed through that lens, there’s an awful lot to like about this latest iteration of Cannondale’s venerable CAAD series of road racing bikes.

The top tube is still straight, but it’s now sloping – a first for the CAAD road family.

As promised, it’s an impressively comfortable machine, even on broken pavement and hardpacked dirt roads that are long overdue for some much-needed maintenance. I’d even argue that it infringes on carbon territory to some extent in the way it so capably levels smaller surface features. There are limits to the 28 mm-wide road tires fitted here, of course, and while the CAAD13 feels remarkably comfortable at higher speeds, it still can’t match the more generous flex patterns of better carbon frames at lower speeds. And while comfortable, I wouldn’t say the CAAD13’s ride personality was particularly full of life.

However, as far as road bikes go (aluminum ones in particular), along with typical speeds for this genre, the CAAD13 does a fantastic job of muting nasty vibrations that are often so taxing on longer rides. Keep in mind that this is with the aluminum seatpost fitted to my test sample, so there’s room for improvement by switching to a carbon one, too.

The updated frame geometry is nicely sorted. The 58 mm of trail yields the quick and nimble handling you’d expect, and while neophytes to road riding might find it to be a little too agile, I’d say it’s very appropriate for the category, and highly entertaining in the right hands and on the right stretch of road. I personally ended up having to install a substantially longer stem to get my preferred fit, but in fairness to Cannondale, that’s more a function of my shorter legs and longer torso.

The taller stack height up front prompted me to slam the stem atop the headset, though, which is notable because I don’t run an especially aggressive amount of drop. There’s some wiggle room to go lower by switching to a different upper headset cover on my particular tester, but a tall one comes stock.

The taller stack heights will undoubtedly make the CAAD fit a larger percentage of people, but racers will lament the less aggressive positioning. The super tall headset cones that come stock on some models obviously don’t help in that department, either.

If you take Cannondale’s aero claims at face value, this new CAAD13 is a faster bike than the one it replaces in the sense that the same amount of pedal power input will now result in consistently higher speeds. Those gains are more impactful at the higher speeds that are more applicable to the racers that have long favored the CAAD family, too.

Taken together, then, what you have here is an updated CAAD road racer that’s not only more aerodynamically efficient, but also more comfortable — which, given that means you can arrive at a finish line fresher than you would on a less-forgiving ride, also adds up to more power and speed.

The seat tube is seemingly the most extravagantly shaped on the entire frame, and a testament to how far aluminum technology has come.

Few will argue that an improvement in ride quality is a good thing (and I’m certainly not going to, either). However, Cannondale’s decision to chase aero gains on the CAAD13 has come at the price of a characteristic that many CAAD fans considered sacred: frame stiffness.

According to Cannondale’s own in-house data, head tube torsional stiffness on the CAAD13 has increased slightly relative to the CAAD12, which certainly helps support my impression of the bike’s superb handling chops. Indeed, it’s an absolute hoot when flying down steep downhills with lots of tight corners, and that reactive steering geometry is only further enhanced by the way even small inputs at the bar translate so directly into changes in direction.

However, that same data also supports my sense that the bike is still a little softer down at the bottom bracket than the CAADs of yesteryear.

All of the adjoining tubes make good use of the 73 mm-wide bottom bracket shell.

In terms of bottom bracket stiffness, the CAAD10 was the pinnacle of recent CAAD road models with a test bench result of 62.6 N/mm (a measure of how much force is required to laterally deflect the bottom bracket shell when the frame is clamped in a jig). The CAAD12 lands a 59.7 N/mm result, and the CAAD13 is numerically softer still, although essentially unchanged at 59.4 N/mm.

Looking at the tubing dimensions on the CAAD13, this number is not a big surprise. Whereas the down tubes on both of those earlier models measured about 50 mm-wide at their midpoint (and closer to 60 mm at the bottom bracket), and the seat tube on the CAAD12 measured about 55 mm at its midpoint, those same tubes on the CAAD13 are about 5 mm narrower — a key figure, particularly given that tube stiffness doesn’t scale linearly with tube diameter. If anything, though, it’s impressive how well Cannondale’s frame engineers have managed to maintain the CAAD12’s bottom bracket stiffness given how much narrower the tubes are.

That all said, the jury is still out on whether frame stiffness matters when it comes to how fast you’re going. Some prominent voices, such as Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly and Rene Herse (Compass) fame, have argued that more flexible frames can actually be faster. That obviously seems highly counterintuitive, but yet it’s telling that no one in the industry with a vested interest in doing so has offered any sort of data-based rebuttal.

The fork sports flat-backed blades, too. Note the fender mounts located on the inner side of the legs.

Nevertheless, as with the aero factor, I’d argue that much of the appeal of Cannondale’s CAAD road bikes has been in how they felt in the saddle. Even if that loss of stiffness doesn’t result in an associated loss in speed, the CAAD13 seems like it’s less eager under power, and for a lot of prospective buyers, that’s all that will matter.

Smaller details will undoubtedly turn some people off, too.

If common industry data is to be believed, much of the CAAD13’s improved ride quality comes with the proprietary seatpost’s new D-shaped cross-section. That in and of itself isn’t a huge issue, although aftermarket compatibility is an obvious complication. I personally would have preferred a seatpost with zero offset, for example, and while Cannondale does have them, they’re not nearly as widely available as round 27.2 mm-diameter ones.

Want to upgrade the seatpost? Sorry, your options are limited.

There’s also the small matter of the matching integrated wedge-type binder that holds the seatpost in place.

I will go on record here and say outright that I despise integrated wedge-type seatpost binders. While I have certainly encountered ones that worked just fine, I’ve come across many more that were fussy to adjust, prone to slipping or creaking, hard to access, or some other combination of lunacy that you rarely experience with conventional slotted seat tubes and external collars.

I can appreciate that integrated binders look nice, and that they may offer some comfort advantages on paper. The one on my test bike didn’t creak, but it did slip unless I mildly overtightened the binder past the recommended torque. And while Cannondale is supposed to include a little rubber cap to help finish the appearance, mine was nowhere to be found.

The seatpost binder is very neatly hidden inside the seat cluster, and Cannondale has done a great job of making sure the bolt is easily accessible with common tools. However, the wedge-type binder itself doesn’t hold as well as I’d like.

I also take issue with the CAAD13’s BB30a asymmetrical press-fit bottom bracket format. In theory, metal-on-metal press-fit interfaces such as what Cannondale uses here are easier to make (and keep) quiet. And in fairness to Cannondale, the one on this particular sample hasn’t uttered a peep so far. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the company’s track record on this particular subject is less than stellar, or that Cannondale’s house-brand cranksets require their own dedicated tools for service.

It’s worth noting at this point that a lot of these criticisms can be eliminated by choosing the more midrange CAAD Optimo, which is essentially an older CAAD10 with a lesser aluminum alloy and fewer bells and whistles (but a threaded bottom bracket as a nice bonus). However, it’s also heavier, complete bikes top out with a Shimano Tiagra build kit, and Cannondale doesn’t offer it as a bare frameset.

Spec notes

I specifically chose this particular model of CAAD13 for its distinctly straightforward nature. As such, I shouldn’t have much to talk about in terms of its spec, but after testing the bike for a couple of months, I’ve got a surprising amount to discuss here.

There’s not much that needs to be said about the (mostly) Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset, though. There’s a reason why it’s so common as OEM spec: the shifting performance from the Shimano 105 11-30T cassette and matching Shimano HG601 chain is exceptionally good, and the lever ergonomics are arguably perfect with nicely shaped hoods and sculpted levers, both of which feel perfectly matched to my hands.

As you’d expect, the Shimano Ultegra transmission was superb.

Cannondale did pass over the standard Ultegra crankset in favor of one of its own value-oriented BB30a-specific aluminum models, however. It shifts well enough, if not as smoothly or quietly as Shimano, and while the FSA 52/36T chainrings aren’t nearly as burly as the hollow ones you would have gotten on Ultegra, they’re at least inexpensive to replace. It’s also a little disappointing to see solid-forged arms at this price point instead of the hollow ones that come on Ultegra.

As for the direct-mount Shimano Ultegra brakes … well, they’re mechanical rim brakes. Shimano’s higher-end direct-mount calipers are about as good as they get in terms of power, lever feel, and control. Pad bite with the machined aluminum sidewalls of the Fulcrum wheels is very admirable by rim-brake standards (especially once everything is worn in), but there’s still no comparison to modern full-hydraulic disc brakes in terms of overall stopping capability and speed control.

Sorry, #savetherimbrake crowd, it’s true. There’s room for improvement, such as wheels with specially coated and/or textured rim sidewalls, more aggressive pads, and compressionless housing. But as seen here, braking performance relative to any modern disc-brake machine is mediocre at best.

In terms of pure function, it doesn’t get much better than Shimano’s direct-mount rim-brake calipers. Even so, they’re no match for modern hydraulic disc brakes for power and control.

Speaking of wheels, I was initially very happy to see that Cannondale went with name-brand wheels from Fulcrum. This Racing 600 model (the OEM equivalent of the Racing 6) is pretty basic, but Fulcrum has a good track record in terms of bearing durability and build quality, and the freehub runs nearly silently, which proved to be borderline-blissful after weeks spent testing other bikes with much louder driver mechanisms.

Unfortunately, that reputation for build quality doesn’t hold true in this case. The rear wheel went out of true shortly after testing started, and it required small touch-ups twice afterward — a sign that they weren’t built as well as they should have been in the first place.

Adding insult to injury, the 28 mm-wide Vittoria Rubino Pro tube-type clincher tires that come stock here are pretty disappointing. While the triple-compound Graphene 1.0 tread seems hard-wearing and impressively grippy, the stiff casings feel dull and lifeless, and they’re tangibly slow-rolling — a perception that was confirmed by independent testing.

The Vittoria Rubino Pro tires are pleasantly grippy, and seemingly quite hard-wearing, but they’re also slow-rolling. Better tires would be at the top of my upgrade list.

I eventually swapped to a set of 28 mm-wide Vittoria Corsa Control clinchers and latex tubes, and the change was transformative. Not only did the bike roll noticeably more efficiently across the asphalt, but it also rode more comfortably and just felt like it had more zing. Understandably, Cannondale needs to spec tires that match with the price point. But that said, this frameset deserves better, and I dare say a large percentage of buyers and test riders might never realize it if they stick with the mediocre stock rubber.

As for the finishing kit, it was a bit of a mixed bag.

The bar bend will be agreeable to most with its gentle semi-ergonomic bend. The short-and-shallow reach and drop don’t provide much of a real position change relative to being on the tops, though. More casual riders will likely be fine with it, but more aggressive riders and racers might seek out something that feels less cramped. The bar tape is very pleasantly grippy and nicely padded, though.

The bar bend is perfectly inoffensive, but I would have liked to see a more aggressive shape for more differentiation in position between the drops and hoods.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me why Cannondale went with a Prologo Nago RS STN saddle, though. If its traditional shape works for you, then so be it. But for me, the rounded profile forces me to sit on the rear half of the saddle to stay comfortable, making the seatpost seem like it has more setback than it already does. Something with a more modern shape seems like it’d work with a larger percentage of users, and Prologo certainly has several suitable candidates in its quiver. Additionally, given that Fabric falls under the same Cycling Sports Group corporate umbrella as Cannondale and has a wealth of popular models available, I’m not sure why that more obvious choice wasn’t used here.

The dawn of a new era, or a strange detour?

Cannondale’s CAAD family has earned a small army of devoted followers over the years that have adored its long-standing formula of superb performance and attainable pricing. CAAD road bikes have rarely been considered perfect for the masses, but one might argue that it was precisely that left-of-center character that enhanced their appeal to the cognoscenti.

It undoubtedly makes good business sense for Cannondale to make the CAAD family more widely appealing with its aero cues and more streamlined look. It also probably seems smart to do away with some of the CAAD’s historic quirkiness, such as the traditional round cross-sections, the level top tube, and the characteristically firm-yet-compliant ride.

The same in name, though perhaps not quite in spirit. But is that really a bad thing?

On paper, the new CAAD13 is likely “faster”, it looks more modern, and is definitely more comfortable. But does all of that make the CAAD13 a better bike in the real world?

Logically, yes. But in taking the CAAD13 more mainstream, Cannondale has also stripped away much of what made previous CAAD models so unique and special, and when you add in the fact that there isn’t as big of a price gap between comparably equipped aluminum and carbon models in Cannondale’s range as there used to be, the value argument isn’t as strong as it once was, either.

My head tells me this new CAAD13 is the sensible progression in the evolution, and that everything about this change is the right way to go. My guess is that Cannondale will sell a ton of them. But as much as I know the numbers say this bike is the best CAAD yet, sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story, and a big part of my heart will miss the old one, warts and all.

www.cannondale.com

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