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Cannondale SuperX Rethinks Traditional ‘Cross Geometry and in the Process Builds Phenomenal Gravel Platform
Born in Connecticut, in the heart of America’s New England ‘cross scene, Cannondale was making ‘cross bikes long before they became the next ‘big thing’. Its latest, the third iteration of the SuperX, is a bike that shows this vast experience by going beyond traditional ‘cross geometry to react to the style of racing and courses we see in modern ‘cross. In the process, Cannondale may have just made one of the fastest gravel bikes ever.
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Cannondale made its first ‘cross bike back in 1997 and they added discs back in 2002, a full 11 years before they were legalized by the UCI. There were some suspension ‘cross bikes in there, but hey, they can’t all be home runs. The SuperX, Cannondale’s first all carbon ‘cross bike debuted in 2010 and was updated back in 2012. It’s now 2016, four years is an eternity in the product life cycle of the bike industry. What took so long?
Development of this SuperX began almost the moment the ink was dry on the 2012 bike’s launch. Cannondale had some very untraditional ideas for the SuperX and wanted to vet them fully before committing to carbon. It saw ‘cross courses getting faster and more technical, it saw the ‘cross season stretching into late summer with supersonic dry hard pack before entering the traditional rain, mud and suffering of the fall and winter months.
Cannondale engineers wanted to build the bike around two ideas – stability and traction – and to prove their ideas they began to make alloy test mules in 2014 and put them under Tim Johnson. These bikes had a longer and more relaxed front end than a traditional ‘cross bike, but an even tighter rear end than the original SuperX. According to Cannondale racers – Johnson, Trebon and Hyde – the new geometry was an unmitigated success.
The 2016 Cannondale Super X has a front end Cannondale calls ‘Out Front Steering Geometry’. The front center is significantly longer with a more relaxed head tube and fork off-set increased an entire centimeter – from 45mm to 55mm. But the rear of this new SuperX is tight, shrunken to 422mm, almost a centimeter shorter than the old bike at 430mm. The result is a wholesale shift in where your weight sits between the wheels and how the bike reacts, both at the bars and at the pedals.
The BB is still tall, 28cm, and the tight rear allows the entire package to be quite nimble despite the long front end, much quicker than a gravel bike’s low BB as you shift your weight hitting a corner. The bike tips and changes direction very quickly. Yet in a straight line through technical rooty and rocky sections it tracks a true and stable line. It’s a bit like a hard tail 29er, lean back and let the relaxed front do the work. The long front and short rear ends pay off big-time in deep sand. Lay the power down, as sand requires, and the rear hooks up incredibly well, while the front end surfs the sand – or deep gravel – never biting and lurching off line like a steep front end often will. If you want the twitchy, darty feel of traditional tall and steep ‘cross, you may find the front end slightly slow in the tight and twisty moments, but we’ll happily take the trade off. Especially since most riders simply don’t have the preternatural skills to make the most of that kind of geometry anyway.
The performance in sand leads to the second part of this new geometry’s equation, traction. The tight rear does indeed bite incredibly well. In the saddle it launches forward when you blip the throttle. We expected more bite than with a long rear end when out of the saddle as well, but more tire experimentation and conditions will be required to make that call. Overall traction is also improved thanks to Cannondale’s tried and true SAVE features. The thinned out stays and 25.4 seat post borrowed form the Synapse amount to what is a micro suspension and even with the rear wheel tucked up under your weight, the bike is smooth and forgiving. It helps rubber stay in contact with the dirt for traction under massive power and in tight corners. Dare we say it also keeps the bike very comfortable over a long day in the gravel.
When ‘cross went disc it also went heavy – 20 pounds plus for a new carbon ‘cross bike is not unusual. It’s something we have all come to live with and not even question. Cannondale questioned it, cutting 400 grams from its previous frame and fork, and delivering a SRAM CX1 through axel build that is just over 17.5lbs for a 58cm with Zipp 30 alloy wheels. The Team spec’d Zipp tubulars will lower this even further. It is also worth mentioning the new frame and fork have some of the slickest flat mounts we have ever seen. It’s not just the high-end bike that gets this weight saving, every new SuperX, in every build, uses the same frame. Lightweight helps not only on the ’cross course carrying your bike over barriers and up stairs, but is critical in the gravel scene. In Colorado and on the west coast, gravel means huge climbing and even in the midwest a long, rolling day in the pebbled terrain can result in thousands of feet of climbing. Weight matters.
Cannondale also went big on tire clearance. The UCI may want you to ride a 33mm tire, but Cannondale wants you to have options. To pull this off with the 422mm chain stays and protect the chain line Cannondale had to shift the drive train 6mm to the right with an asymmetric rear without hurting the Q-factor. The SuperX has so much clearance a 40mm tire actually has 4mm of clearance left for mud. Did we mention this would be a bad-ass gravel bike?
When peloton spoke to Tim Johnson about the 2017 Cannondale SuperX new take on ‘cross geometry he had one suggestion. “Don’t look at the bike, just ride it and you’ll get it.” He was telling us to leave our preconceived notions about what a ‘cross bike is supposed to be and just experience the new SuperX. He has that much confidence in the new layout and after a week on the bike we are inclined to agree. But we would take it a step further and not pigeon hole the bike as a ‘cross bike. Cannondale is attempting to reinvent ‘cross geometry, and in the process may have just created the perfect gravel bike as well.
Cannondale has launched a very comprehensive line – from the $8,500 SuperX Team to the $3,000 SuperX105 – all of which use the same 1,000 gram carbon frame. Cannondale has also revamped the CAADX with the same priorities, the real difference being less tire clearance, 35mm, since the CAADX does not have the asymmetric rear needed to increase the clearance. The CAADX also lacks through axles and a high-end component spec.
For more info on the new SuperX hit cannondale.com
2017 SuperX Line Up
SuperX Team: $8,499.99 – SuperX BallisTec Carbon frame and fork with SPEED SAVE and Through Axles. SRAM Force CX1 Hydraulic Disc with Cannondale bars, stem and 25.4mm seat post with Fabric Scoop Saddle. Zipp 303 Tubulars with Challenge Baby Limus Team Edition Tires.
SuperX Force 1: $5,199.99
Women’s SuperX Force 1: $3,599.99
SuperX Ultegra: $3,499.99
SuperX 105: $2,999.99
CAADX Apex1: $2,060.00
CAADX 105: $1,570.00
CAADX Tiagra: $1,350.00