The Cannondale Synapse is a high-performance road bike built for cyclists that have more adventures in mind than just racing. Not to sell it short, the Synapse is a deft bike for competitions like a crit or a hilly road race, but it excels when rides grow longer and the roads get rough. The top-tier Cannondale-Garmin pro team, for example, relies on the Synapse for the brutal Paris-Roubaix race — a 160-mile event with 36 miles of cobbled paths.
The Synapse is Cannodale's more comfortable complement to the carbon SuperSix EVO and aluminum CAAD12 normally seen on a racecourse. Cannondale says the Synapse frame geometry offers a more upright riding position — the handlebars are about 3 centimeters higher — but that it's still tuned for performance.
The Synapse delivered on this promise as we jumped into a local training race that saw both amateurs and domestic pros flying down open roads. Despite the mix of fitness levels — and handling skills — the bike confidently cut through riders getting dropped from the peloton, while sticking high-speed turns, and accelerating over the rolling hills like a proper race machine.
We also tested the other end of the Synapse's performance spectrum. Most of our riding took place in the New York City area, with many long cruises up and down Route 9W in New Jersey. While the popular, albeit monotonous, road sees hoards of cyclists on a Saturday, few riders attempt to spice up their route with the handful of off-road trail spurs. But that's exactly what we did, adding loops of rocky trail through a Boy Scout camp, and cutting through single-lane McMansion neighborhoods to take the back entrance to a state park. Beyond the more comfortable geometry, the Synapse is also designed, front to back, to absorb and damp rough surfaces through carefully shaped frame tubes. This not only smooths cracked farm roads, but also improves rider control over bumpy dirt singletrack and washed-out gravel paths.
Our test bike also had the advantage of Shimano's Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes. In addition to providing quick, safe deceleration in all weather conditions, the disc brakes also offer greater modulation and control over just how much a rider slows. On a dirt-flavored ride, that means stopping short of a too-big trail hazard, and racing in a bunch, it's a more precise when scrubbing speed before a turn or reacting to trouble ahead.
Other smart equipment choices included wider-than-usual 28c tires, which further boosted comfort and traction without any noticeable loss of speed; and Shimano's electronic Ultegra Di2 shifters and derailleurs, which as far as we can remember, never missed a shift.
The complete Synapse line includes 14 models, starting with $920 aluminum Claris 8, and rising to the Hi-Mod Black Inc. Disc, a $9,210 investment. The pro-worthy Hi-Mod Disc frameset is also available for $3,500. [$4,870 as tested; cannondale.com]