Cannondale’s new 2022 Synapse Carbon road bike integrates lights and radar

It also features an English threaded bottom bracket. Is this even a Cannondale?!

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Cannondale’s Synapse platform has long served as the American brand’s clear answer to the endurance road category. It’s a platform that has a history of finding a nice balance between the relaxed geometry that defines the category, and a lightweight, sporty feeling.

Now Cannondale has once again overhauled the Synapse, and while it remains an endurance road bike, its increased tyre clearance means you could also call it an all-road bike. Cannondale claims its new road bike is not only now more comfortable, it’s also faster due to a number of design cues borrowed from its SystemSix aero road bike.

Many of the new Synapse Carbon models also come equipped with Cannondale’s new SmartSense technology which aims to more seamlessly integrate popular safety features such as Garmin’s Varia Radar and daytime running lights via a central battery on the bike.   

We’re yet to test this new bike or trial the new SmartSense widgets, but there are still plenty of details to share. 

Smoother, faster 

The new Synapse Carbon isn’t a huge departure from the previous version, having been designed with the same style of riding in mind. Rather, the new disc-only bike appears to be more of a refinement in design. There is no longer a premium Hi-Mod version of the Synapse (at least not yet), and all models now share the same level of carbon fibre frame. Cannondale will continue to offer the regular alloy Synapse as its most affordable endurance road bike.

The new Synapse retains a simple approach to comfort where the carbon layup is tuned and tubes shaped for flex rather than introducing heavier moving components into the package. Now featuring dropped seatstays, Cannondale claims the new model is 8% more vertically compliant in the saddle than its predecessor, and that’s no small feat given the move to a larger-diameter seatpost. 

The LTD (Limited Edition) version of the new Synapse comes with a Shimano GRX 2×11 Di2 drivetrain. All the other models feature wide-range road gearing with a compact (50/34T) crankset.

Potentially adding to the bike’s comfort is the increased tyre clearance, now up to a quoted 35 mm (with the ISO-required 4 mm surrounding gap). And while there’s room for this to be an all-road bike, Cannondale has fitted 30 mm rubber to prove the Synapse’s road intent.

The new frame also features revised tube shapes that now borrow the truncated airfoil shapes seen in Cannondale’s aero road race bikes. However, while those other carbon road bikes have made efforts to conceal the cables at the head tube, the Synapse keeps things simpler with cables entering the frame at the down tube. 

As seen with the 2021 Synapse Hi-Mod, the higher-end versions of the new Synapse continue the use of the company’s SAVE SystemBar two-piece-but-looks-like-one-piece handlebar and stem. There’s certainly some aerodynamic benefit here but the main purpose of this flexible bar is to increase ride comfort. The two-piece design also affords a small amount of adjustability to the bar roll angle. 

The top two Synapse Carbon models feature Cannondale’s own SAVE bar and stem combo. But what about that Garmin robot on the front? I’ll get to that.

The new bike retains the ability to fit fenders and features a removable fender bridge to keep things looking clean in summer. And there are now mounting provisions on the top tube for a small bag. 

Despite the now aerodynamic tube profiles and the addition of a SmartSense Cavity (more on this below), the new Synapse weighs within a few hairs of the old. A 56 cm frame is quoted at 1,035 g versus 1,015 g for its most equivalent predecessor. For comparison, the now-discontinued top-tier Hi-Mod version of the Synapse offered a frame weight of 950 g.

Cannondale’s marketing materials make a big deal of “Proportional Response size-specific design.” In human speak, this simply means each of the six sizes receives specific geometry to ensure consistent handling, while the frame stiffness levels are tuned based on the expected rider size (e.g. smaller sizes are proportionally less stiff). This approach to size-specific design is already commonly done amongst many performance bikes from big bike brands – but perhaps some do it in more intricate detail than others.

And speaking of geometry, that remains much the same. The general fit of the bike – namely the stack and reach figures – is effectively unchanged. And while the trail figures haven’t changed too much, the head tube angles are now steeper (more race-like), while the seat tube angles in most sizes have been subtly slackened to 73º. Meanwhile, the chainstays are now 5 mm longer at 415 mm.

The numbers haven’t changed greatly but the smallest 44 cm frame size has been discontinued.

An English threaded bottom bracket 

OK, so giving a threaded bottom bracket its own sub-header may be overselling this feature a little, but we’re also talking about Cannondale here. And the fact the new Synapse features only common industry fitments sure is unexpected. 

Cannondale introduced BB30 to the cycling world in 2000, and since then the company has given many of its performance road bikes some variant of press-fit bottom bracket system designed around a 30 mm crank spindle. However, if the new Synapse is anything to go by, it seems Cannondale may be listening to market pressure and returning to some old ways. 

The bottom bracket is in fact a wholly normal 68 mm English threaded (BSA) number. Given Cannondale’s history of using 30mm spindle cranks (often their own), I had expected that Cannondale would eventually go to a larger-diameter T47 threaded system. Instead, all of the new Synapse models announced to date feature Shimano’s own cranks (with 24 mm spindles). A big change indeed. 

Most high-end Cannondale’s in recent times have featured some form of a press-fit bottom bracket system and Cannondale’s own crank (SuperSix Evo CX pictured). It seems those times may be changing.

“We have done BB30 and variants of BB30 on bikes for 20+ years,” said Cannondale’s global senior direct of product, David Devine. “If we were going to switch away from that we were going to go to the most straightforward, un-messed-with bottom bracket.

“BSA 68 mm has been a constant and works great with the Shimano and DUB bottom bracket from SRAM. T47 looked really promising, but as soon as variants started coming up (not referring to COVID variants) – that locked in our BSA 68 mm choice. Easy tool access and purchase, standard BB for replacement – straightforward. Funny enough the DUB bottom bracket is probably most similar to the original CODA setup, as those were threaded for a 68 mm frame, but used an outboard bearing.”

And as if Christmas came in January, the bottom bracket isn’t the only non-proprietary thing going on. 

The previous version of the Synapse used a highly flexible 25.4 mm seatpost, while this new version moves to a 27.2 mm round post which means you’re free to fit whatever model of post you choose.

A common round seatpost held by a regular external clamp. Pure madness.

The new Synapse also doesn’t feature wholly concealed cabling. Rather, the brake hoses and cables enter the frame at the down tube and keep the head tube just for the headset bearings and round steerer tube. And that of course means the provided cockpit can be swapped for any regular 1 1/8″ stem and bar combo. 

And then there are the normally threaded thru-axles that take the place of the previously used Mavic Speed Release design. By using normally threaded thru-axle and closed dropouts the Synapse is now ready to be used for virtual riding with just about any trainer you please. 

As someone who recently complained about the general lack of focus on good road bike options for people who need more relaxed geometry, I will say that, at least on paper, the new Synapse sure reads like a bike that’s trying hard to be bought. However, while Cannondale has clearly gone to great efforts to simplify the Synapse for easy ownership, the company’s new SmartSense system is likely to be the new deciding/polarising factor.

SmartSense explained 

The new Synapse has arrived alongside the release of integrated electronics that Cannondale has dubbed SmartSense. Put simply, SmartSense aims to provide a more care-free ride by linking popular safety-focussed accessories to a central battery and having them activate automatically from Cannondale’s own provided front wheel sensor. 

All models of the Synapse Carbon come with Cannondale’s own ANT+/Bluetooth wheel sensor.

As seen on the Synapse Carbon 1, 2, and 3 the new SmartSense concept is denoted in the model names as R, L, and E which respectively correspond to Radar, Lights and Electronic Shifting. Cannondale has partnered with both Garmin and Lezyne to respectively provide the rear radar and daytime running lights on these models. 

The top three models will come stock with a Cannondale-specific version of Garmin’s hugely popular Varia Radar, a product that constantly scans for rear approaching traffic. The radar will provide clear alerts on Cannondale’s own phone app, on the bike’s provided display unit, or via a compatible head unit of your choosing (such as Wahoo or Garmin). 

This Garmin Varia unit isn’t something the GPS company currently offers as an aftermarket option. Rather this version was created for use with a separate battery.

Not too different to the lights seen on a number of e-bikes, the provided Lezyne lights are intended for daytime (or night time) running use and have the ability to automatically adjust brightness and/or be set with an automated brake alert function (a feature that a number of Lezyne lights already offer, based on an accelerometer). Bikes sold in Europe will feature StZVO-compliant (German regulation) lights. 

The lights and radar are powered by the Garmin-produced USB-C battery pack that docks into a specific cradle at the base of the down tube. This battery pack is easily removed from the bike for charging and is said to double as a charging source for your other electronic accessories if needed (but not while it’s doing its main purpose on the bike). Models with Shimano Di2 shifting will still feature a separate Di2 battery. 

The Garmin ‘Varia Core” battery is held onto the frame with a slide-locking cradle.

Battery life isn’t quite as amazing as you may expect from having a battery pack bolted to the bike. Cannondale claims the whole system should run for approximately two hours on its brightest constant mode while moving the lights to a more efficient blinking mode should see the system last for closer to 20 hours. 

All told Cannondale claims the complete SmartSense package adds 462 grams, while the battery cradle is included in the previously mentioned frame weight. And while it’s inevitably built into the bike’s price, you can of course remove the system by simply unbolting the brackets and pulling out the concealed wires. 

Cannondale will offer an app that works as a control centre for the SmartSense system.

We still have a few big questions about the SmartSense system. How easy and reliable will the automatic activation be? How easy is charging that central battery? Can you run a saddle bag or handlebar bag without issue? And just how clean is the wiring setup? We plan to get answers once we get a test bike in our hands. 

Models and pricing 

Cannondale is currently not offering the Synapse in a frameset option. Bike model availability and exact specifications may vary based on regional markets. For example, in Australia, the new Synapse will be in shops from July. Information for other markets is yet to be confirmed.

The gallery below offers a quick look at the range with pricing. Please note that a number of models are each available in up to three different colour options (not shown).

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