Spotted: A new Cannondale TT rig or aero bike in disguise?
Time trial fans watching Tuesday’s Tour de Romandie prologue might have spotted a new, almost entirely unmarked TT rig under EF Education-Nippo neo-pro and rising TT star Stefan Bissegger. The Swiss rider racing on home roads powered around the 4 km course in a little over five and a half minutes, good enough for fifth place on the day.
Bissegger will be a new name to many, having first grabbed the headlines after winning the time trial stage of Paris-Nice in March. On Tuesday, however, it was Bissegger’s bike that drew our attention.
While EF riders officially use the current SuperSlice in time trial stages, a select few, including Rigoberto Uran, Sebastian Langeveld, and now Bissegger, have been spotted this spring on this new, as-yet-unannounced TT frame.
We reached out to Cannondale for comment on the new frame but, as expected, the American brand is remaining tight-lipped, only confirming that it is a new Cannondale and it hopes to make an announcement soon.
With no details from Cannondale, we thought it might be fun to play a game of “I spy” with the new frame.
I spy a SystemSix lookalike
Perhaps the most obvious place to start is with this new time trial frame’s striking resemblance to the current SystemSix aero road bike from Cannondale (yes I called it an aero bike). The SystemSix is widely considered to be among the fastest road-going frames on the market, so it makes sense that Cannondale might follow a similar formula for developing a speed-seeking time trial frame.
Somewhat less obvious is the potential benefits the apparent similarity to the SystemSix offers Cannondale in the design and manufacturing process of a new time trial machine. The air-dodging demands for an aero road frame and a time trial frame are remarkably similar. With all the design and CFD data already gathered during the SystemSix project, Cannondale could save in this area when looking to create this new time trial frame and perhaps even integrate some aero design elements left off the final road-specific SystemSix design. For example, the dropped seatstays on the new TT frame seem very similar on first glance but, on closer inspection, they appear to be more profiled than those on the SystemSix.
Less-obvious things expected are any radical design elements stemming from the recently relaxed UCI regulations on frame design. As one of the first new time trial frames spotted since the regulations were amended last year, one might have expected bigger airfoil shapes or minimal tube widths. The new regulations permit tubing to extend to a 3:1 ratio anywhere on the frame and for tubes as thin as just 10 mm. Although difficult to tell from just the action shots we have seen of this new frame, Cannondale does not appear to have utilised this new leeway.
Under the new regulations, the seatpost can also be positioned anywhere on the top tube. With the seatpost in its traditional position on this new frame, Cannondale has either decided that moving the seatpost did not provide the gains necessary to justify the assumed restricted adjustment, or this new frame was in design before the new regulations were announced.
I spy disc brakes
While disc brake Cannondale SuperSlice time trial bikes are nothing new, the EF team has opted for the rim brake option in recent years. In all the photos of the new bike spotted so far, the frames have been equipped with disc brakes, while riders still on the current SuperSlice are still using rim brakes.
Given that a disc brake setup for the new time trial rigs requires disc brake-compatible variants of the groupsets, race wheels, and spare wheels, plus all the additional truck space and mechanics’ time a disc setup for these new bikes would require, the decision to have the test bikes run disc brakes suggests a rim brake option does not feature for the new bike. This makes sense as time trial machines are a small percentage of any brand’s market, so to develop and offer two variants seems unlikely.
I spy different frame shapes
In the photos of the new time trial frame that emerged from Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta Catalunya, the new frame seemed to have a steeply sloped top tube. Both these frames were smaller sizes for Uran and Langeveld. Bissegger is a taller rider and as such rides a larger frame. The top tube on Bissegger’s frame is almost perfectly horizontal, vastly different to that of the smaller frames. This is again in keeping with the SystemSix frame design, which is progressively more sloping in the smaller sizes.
I spy seatposts
The bikes spotted under both Uran and Langeveld both had very unique-looking seatposts that were either reversible and/or offered an extreme range of fore/aft adjustment. However the bike spotted under Bissegger had an entirely different design at the saddle clamp area on the seatpost.
It is difficult say with any confidence from the photos if the seatpost is indeed reversible or even which of the two designs spotted so far is more likely to be the final option. Perhaps both options will be available to serve a number of different use cases, rider morphologies, and event/position rules.
I spy a new fork
Although I have not spotted any head-on photos of the new bikes, some scrubbing on the GCN+ feed of Tuesday’s prologue just about reveals what appears to be significantly wider fork legs than are used on the SystemSix. Wider fork legs and an increased gap between the forks and the wheels is a design feature first spotted on the Great Britain Hope Track bike and is making its way into road design of late, notably on the new Wilier Filante SLR and Factor Ostro VAM.
This design is said to smooth out the airflow between the forks and wheels and as such creates a faster setup. The width of the forks used here and on other road designs is not quite to the same level as seen on the Hope track bike and as such is not putting the forks, seatstays and riders legs in one plane, effectively hiding them behind one other. However, where the SystemSix forks gradually flare out, the forks on the new TT rig appear to be much wider through the entire length of the fork leg.
I spy a cockpit, but is it just team issue?
Sticking with the front end of the bike, let’s turn our attention to the cockpit. EF Education – Nippo has a partnership with Vision that sees the team using the Vision Metron integrated bar and stem rather than the HollowGram Save and Knot System bar the SystemSix and SuperSix are equipped with as stock. This Vision integrated bar on EF bikes has always seemed a bit of a mismatch to me compared to HollowGram options which flow more smoothly into the headset and head tube on both bikes.
All the new time trial bikes spotted so far have been equipped with Vision TFA bars and TFE extensions. As such we have no confirmation if a HollowGram integrated cockpit is in development for the new time trial frame, but the Vision setup and the new frame do have that same aftermarket upgrade look to them.
Could we see a dedicated cockpit as part of the final frame offer from Cannondale? Time trial cockpits have advanced tremendously in recent years, with many manufacturers, including Vision, now offering aerodynamically optimised extensions with plentiful adjustability and some astronomical price tags. Cannondale would have a job of work to create similarly fast cockpits to appease the w/CdA-hungry time-trialling fraternity.
I spy the future of aero bikes?
All the topics covered in this article have been based on what I could see from picking through the photos that have surfaced of the new bike. I am now going to look into a crystal ball and indulge in pure speculation. I pose the following question: is it possible this new TT frame is in fact the next generation SystemSix in disguise? Stick with me on this one.
The similarities between the SystemSix and this new frame are undeniable. Compare the new frame to the current SuperSlice and many other TT frames and you’ll see this new offering from Cannondale is much more akin to an aero road bike than a time trial bike. So much so that many questioned whether this was indeed a SuperSix hastily built up as a TT bike when, for whatever reason, the team found itself short a TT bike. That myth has been dispelled now with the confirmation from Cannondale that this is indeed “a new Cannondale”, but note there was no mention of a new TT bike or model name.
If we then also assume that Cannondale would have been at least aware of new regulations coming from the UCI, coupled with the fact this frame design seems to be a step closer to a road frame rather than the step further away from what the new regulations would permit, then questions do certainly start to arise as to why Cannondale would dilute a dedicated time trial offering.
The new frame does feature a much larger head tube / top tube / down tube interface and so-called “compensation triangle”. Previously this would not have been permissible on a road-racing machine, but with the new UCI regulations now in play, this may be legal in road racing. Perhaps this is one area Cannondale has used the new regulations to improve the already aero design of the SuperSix.
This is all speculation and it could easily be argued these are simply design elements of a new time trial frame. But I think I have spotted a number of other hints this could actually double up as a road-going machine.
As mentioned previously, the current SystemSix is known to be one of, if not the fastest road bike on the market, however, we are now pushing three years since the SystemSix launch and one of the criticisms of the SystemSix is its weight. As such, many Cannondale fans are keen to see an updated SystemSix. Other than reducing weight, at which point the SystemSix starts to infringe on the SuperSix’s territory, how does Cannondale improve on the current SystemSix?
Modern aero road bikes are already insanely fast, but all-rounder lightweight semi-aero style frames are rapidly eating up chunks of the dedicated aero frame market. Many of these bikes are now offering relatively low weight, integration, aero gains, and versatility with wider tyre clearance, making these an almost go-anywhere bike.
How does Cannondale improve the dedicated aero bike? Just getting faster may not be possible or even enough to retain the platform’s relevance. Perhaps it could be improved by targeting the only area of road racing the do-it-all bike has not: time trialling!
While undoubtedly not for as big a market as the do-it-all modern bike, a bike that could double up as a road racing machine on the weekends and a time trial bike at the club TT on a Wednesday night would certainly have its fans. Yes, we would be stuck with drop bars and road levers unless there was some sort of quick and easy brake hose decoupler, but with SRAM eTAP wireless options and rumoured Shimano and Campagnolo wireless options on the way, the addition of extensions and bar-end shifters would be relatively easy. Also, consider those new Vision TFE (The Fastest Extensions) modern TT extensions we saw Bissegger using are available as a clip-on bar only.
Arguably the biggest market for an aero road / time trial bike might be in triathlon. Athletes could have the option of a draft-legal and non-drafting bike in one.
Then we have that seatpost. Regardless of whether the seatpost is reversible or not, it clearly offers a large amount of adjustability. Given one of the major differences with a time trial machine is a steeper seat angle, this adjustability would offer a greater range of effective seat angles to perhaps cater for both setups. That might also explain Cannondale’s commitment to the standard seatpost positioning even now with the new UCI regulations.
Looking at the front end of the new bike, the stem and top tube are inline for an aerodynamically improved flow through the area. This setup is common on time trial bikes but less so on road bikes, presumably because the dropped stem would greatly affect the frame stack. However, if we compare Bissegger’s position on the new and old frames, it appears this dropped stem is matched with a raised top tube.
Also, Bissegger is seemingly using the same positional setup. However, to achieve this same position the new frame requires much fewer spaces under the armrests than on the current SuperSlice, presumably of the same size. This would suggest the stack has been significantly increased despite the dropped stem. Is Cannondale planning a similar setup and further integration of the front end as an improvement for the current SystemSix?
Let’s stick with the cockpit and turn (no pun intended) to steering for a second. This is one area where my theory might prove problematic. The handling on a road bike and TT bike vary greatly as geometry at the front end differs also. Unless, of course, Cannondale develops a system like the Wolf Tooth GeoShift headset. I did warn you I was going to indulge in pure speculation here.
Could Cannondale be hiding its new aero road bike in plain sight and testing it on the road, at UCI races, disguised as a time trial bike? Stranger things have happened.