First ride: Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra

Earlier this year Cannondale unveiled the SystemSix - their much-awaited foray into the aero road bike market. Not shy in the announcement of this new performance road bike, Cannondale claim the SystemSix is the “fastest road bike in the world”.

 

Interestingly Cannondale do shy away from marketing the SystemSix as an “aero” bike. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that’s because it’s not good at being aero though. The engineers at Cannondale were well aware of some of the stigmas typically attached to the aero label and as such, set about designing a high-performance road bike brimming with aero optimisations.

Cannondale System Six-33.jpg

 

What’s the difference? According to them, it meant fewer tradeoffs in terms of feel and handling compared to what you’d typically expect in an aero bike. Just how fast is it? We were keen to find out.

 

SystemSix is a name ardent Cannondale fans will be familiar with from the mid-2000’s era hybrid carbon / alloy road bike which carried the same name. While the earlier edition was revolutionary in its day, the new SystemSix boasts some of the latest advancements in carbon construction and aerodynamics which define high-performance road bike design.

 

The “Six” in the model name refers to the six unique elements the Cannondale team focussed on in delivering the SystemSix. Those are the frame, fork, seat post, stem, handlebar, and wheels. Upon the release of this new model, Cannondale engineers treated the cycling media and tech-hungry fans to a forty-eight page white paper detailing the design approach, performance and a healthy dose of science to back up their claims.

 

cannondale_graph.pngGraph depicting the 6% tipping point before which aero beats weight weenie. Source: Cannondale white paper
The frame and fork are noticeably aero shaped, as one would expect from a system that was moulded through computer simulations and real-world wind tunnel testing. All that extra carbon does add up, and like most aero bikes, the SystemSix does carry some extra grams. Here though is where the Cannondale engineers employ some science to show that for most of us in everyday riding conditions the aerodynamic savings will typically outweigh any weight penalties. They reckon that tipping point is at 6% gradient after which the extra weight on the SystemSix vs. the SuperSix Evo would mean the Evo is the better choice for extended, steeper climbs. While I’m the sort of rider who typically leans away from “aero” in favour of a lighter, normal road bike, you’ve got to ask yourself, how often do you ride upwards of 6% for any meaningful period?

 

The geometry on the SystemSix was designed to be inline with Cannondale’s top-end road range like the SuperSix. The designers wanted it to feel like a “normal” bike, and importantly to be familiar for existing Cannondale riders, delivering a similar feel on the road with all the aero advantages. It has a race-oriented cockpit, with a low stack to offer an aggressive long and low posture.

 

Cannondale System Six-3.jpg

 

Specifications (as tested)


  • FrameALL-NEW SystemSix, BallisTec Carbon, Di2 ready, SAVE, BB30a, flat mount, Speed Release thru-axle
  • ForkALL-NEW SystemSix, BallisTec Carbon, Speed Release thru-axle
  • HeadsetTapered, 1-1/8" upper, 1-1/4" lower bearing
  • Bottom bracketCannondale Alloy PressFit30
  • CranksetCannondale HollowGram Si, BB30a w/ OPI SpideRing, 52/36
  • StemVision Trimax OS, 2014 Alloy, 3D Forged
  • SeatpostCannondale KNØT Carbon, 330mm
  • GripsPrologo One Touch
  • HandlebarVision Metron 4D Flat, UD Carbon
  • Front derailleurShimano Ultegra, braze-on
  • Rear derailleurShimano Ultegra GS
  • BrakesShimano Ultegra hydro disc, 160/140mm RT81 rotors
  • ShiftersShimano Ultegra hydro disc, 2x11
  • SaddlePrologo Dimension, Tirox rails
  • SpokesFulcrum double-butted, Stainless, Bladed
  • HubsFulcrum Racing 400 DB, 12x100 front, 12x142 rear
  • RimsFulcrum Racing 400 DB, Alloy clincher, 35mm deep
  • ChainShimano 105, 11-speed
  • CassetteShimano 105, 11-30, 11-speed
  • TyresVittoria Rubino Pro Speed, 700 x 26mm (23c)
  • Weight8.44kg (incl. pedals & bottle cage), 8.15kg out of the box
  • PriceR 65 000

 

We tested the entry model in the SystemSix range, the Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra. Within the SystemSix line up, the entry point is arguably is on the upper end of mid-level in terms of specification and price point. The lower price does mean that this model forgoes some of the aero touches which define the SystemSix.

 

Instead of the Cannondale Knot SystemBar this model arrives with a standard Vision alloy stem, complete with an aero front cover and Vision aero bars. In place of the Knot Carbon Wheels the Ultegra model sports 35 mm deep Fulcrum alloy wheels. Although these do mean some components in the “system” are not fully optimised, both are expected components at the entry to mid-level, and in line with what the majority of aero competitors offer at a similar price point.

 

Cannondale System Six-8.jpg

Cannondale System Six-6.jpg
Cannondale System Six-12.jpg
Cannondale System Six-24.jpg
Cannondale System Six-16.jpg
Cannondale System Six-19.jpg

Although out of the box the high spacer stack makes the bike look at bit ungainly, once dropped down (and with the steerer chopped), I have to say it doesn’t look all that bad. Although the fully integrated stem on the high-end model does completely hide gear cabling at the junction of the handlebar and stem, with some trimming of housing lengths the standard stem setup has the potential to look neat.

 

In order to safely route the disc brake hoses through the frame, Cannondale has implemented a “stopper” on the steerer which limits the range of motion to 50 degrees left or right. This prevents damage to the hoses due to over-extension. Although in my head I thought this could be an issue on the road, in the real world there aren’t any situations I encountered where you need more range than what the SystemSix offers. As an example, I could comfortably execute a sharp U-turn in a single lane without hitting the stoppers.

 

Cannondale System Six-14.jpg
Cannondale System Six-23.jpg

On the bike


On the road, the Cannondale SystemSix does indeed feel fast. To be fair, you would say the same about most high-end aero road bikes these days, but after a couple of rides on the SystemSix, I was impressed with the balance of speed, comfort and handling. The expectation with an aero bike is that it will offer a harsh ride and skittish handling. While the SystemSix is an unmistakably stiff frame, the ride is firm as opposed to bone chattering. The handling is good and steering is precise.

 

I found my happy place in the drops on the SystemSix. For once the setup along with the Prologo saddle and shallow drop bar ticked all my comfort boxes, but mostly it was about the feel. In the drops, you get a yearning sense of "go fast" from the bike and in this position I found the handling to be most confident. Whether just the euphoria of a new bike or a little too much of the marketing kool-aid, out on windy Cape rides I found myself reeling in (and leaving for dead) countless lonely stragglers losing the battle with fierce headwinds.

 

Cannondale System Six-5.jpg

Cannondale System Six-13.jpg
Cannondale System Six-17.jpg
Cannondale System Six-18.jpg

With all the aero shaping you, of course, can’t escape some buffeting from side winds, but with the relatively shallow 35mm rims on this version, it was quite manageable, even in heavy winds. Deeper carbon wheels, like the Knot 64’s on the upper tier models would make the SystemSix (and any other bike) a little more unwieldy in the wind.

 

On the climbs I expected the idiosyncrasies of aero to rear their heads, but on the whole, the SystemSix is a well-composed climber. Out of the saddle the bike did at first feel slightly awkward due to the rigid and lengthy front end. The overextended feel on the hoods is at least an easy fix with a slightly shorter stem and adjustment to the shifter position. On the downs, the bike’s stiffness and precise handling coupled with trusty disc brakes make for a capable descender.

 

Initial impression


As someone who is typically biased towards a more traditional “climbing” road bike, I was pleasantly surprised by the Cannondale SystemSix. Despite a little extra weight and the super rigid frame, for the most part, I was impressed by its climbing abilities. Although this model doesn’t feature all of the fully aero Knot components there’s no getting away from just how fast it feels on flatter roads. While my inner mountain goat heart still yearns for something more like the SuperSix, I can't escape that feeling of free speed on the flats.

 

If budget weren’t an issue I would be eyeing out that next model up, or at least an aftermarket carbon wheelset which would no doubt up the fast factor and perhaps shed a little weight. Cannondale may have been a little late to the aero party, but it seems they’ve delivered a top-notch contender in the category, which at its core is just a supremely fast road bike.

 

 






22 Comments

Jaco-fiets, Nov 08 2018 11:11

I am a big cannondale fan but not sold on this bike yet....

LeoKnight, Nov 08 2018 11:48

When do you think it will land at Makro?

Andrew Steer, Nov 08 2018 12:21

It's pretty, but also not quite sold... just doesn't have that Cannondale look in my books (whatever that means)

Kind of like a Giant/3T love child. Would be keen to see it in the flesh though

Mongoose!, Nov 08 2018 12:52

cable routing is messy

DieselnDust, Nov 08 2018 01:43

When do you think it will land at Makro?

2021

Admin, Nov 08 2018 02:13

cable routing is messy

The Di2 version is MUCH neater...

ccs-62657-0-51676300-1530530423.jpg

 

Pure Savage, Nov 08 2018 02:43

Ooof R64k and 8.44kg. 

Headshot, Nov 08 2018 02:58

I think my Raleigh is under 9kg and cost R3 500.00 :-) I like the look of the Di2 version and i bet it weighs a little less with all that carbon. I bet it costs a small fortune though...

gummibear, Nov 08 2018 03:00

gummibear, Nov 08 2018 03:09

That stem and spacers are fugly....at least look better on the DI2 bike.

Admin, Nov 08 2018 03:43

That stem and spacers are fugly....at least look better on the DI2 bike.

The full height steerer and stack of spacers don't do the looks any favours and unfortunately on a review bike we'll seldom make friends by chopping down the steerer.

Despite lacking the integrated stem and Di2 cleanliness, the Ultegra model does look tidier with a more normal spacer stack.

ccs-62657-0-70132700-1530533676.jpg

Blixem, Nov 08 2018 06:56

I'll stick with my lighter supersix Evo

'Dale, Nov 08 2018 09:06

Would love a stealth version with eTap and 60mm hoops Whooshhhhhh They make great bikes

TheJ, Nov 08 2018 09:22

My 2004 model CAAD4 weighs the same. Cost me R14000.

s14phoenix, Nov 08 2018 10:02

That vision stem is an abomination which should never have been fitted. Looks awful - could they not like typically Giant, Trek, etc.  just make a cheaper 2 piece version of the integrated look??? The rest seem nice enough. but can you sit on the top tube and retain warranty? Another fatty joins the Cervelo S5...

Spoke101, Nov 09 2018 08:47

That vision stem is an abomination which should never have been fitted. Looks awful - could they not like typically Giant, Trek, etc.  just make a cheaper 2 piece version of the integrated look??? The rest seem nice enough. but can you sit on the top tube and retain warranty? Another fatty joins the Cervelo S5...

It is a separate bar and stem combo but totally agree I cannot bare the thought of riding this and having to look at that abomination for any period of time!!! Even the pain job is sub standard if you ask me, the design department obviously let the engineers use the complete budge on a wind tunnel.

 

Plus: I'll take my big boned S5 any day over this!!!

Schnavel, Nov 09 2018 08:59

Even when comparing the top end spec, this non-aero "aero" bike is considerably heavier that the competition (BMC, Spez, Giant etc.). I think Cannondale are considerably behind the other manufacturers in this regard.

Mongoose!, Nov 09 2018 10:57

Even when comparing the top end spec, this non-aero "aero" bike is considerably heavier that the competition (BMC, Spez, Giant etc.). I think Cannondale are considerably behind the other manufacturers in this regard.

 

Maybe they learn from a mistake of a certain competitor and decided to make the frames a little bit heavier... just in case someone wants to sit on the top tube ... :ph34r:

Christie, Nov 09 2018 01:08

I wonder if that graph of seconds saved/km on a climb is valid for a weight of 8.5kg (which is a shade under the weight of my hardtail)

Admin, Nov 09 2018 03:37

I wonder if that graph of seconds saved/km on a climb is valid for a weight of 8.5kg (which is a shade under the weight of my hardtail)

I've had another skim through the whitepaper and it seems the graphs and numbers are based on the top spec model. That weighs in at 7.6kg. And that graph directly compares the SystemSix to a SuperSix EVO with a 1kg weight difference.

The graph is based on a rider with 4 W/kg output. For riders with higher W/kg numbers that gradient tipping point moves further up.

enjoyfitness, Nov 10 2018 08:42

Great bike for kiteboarding

Pure Savage, Nov 13 2018 02:02

Perfect, so my 6.5kg evo is still faster. #YAY

I've had another skim through the whitepaper and it seems the graphs and numbers are based on the top spec model. That weighs in at 7.6kg. And that graph directly compares the SystemSix to a SuperSix EVO with a 1kg weight difference.

The graph is based on a rider with 4 W/kg output. For riders with higher W/kg numbers that gradient tipping point moves further up.