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Cannondale CAAD12 Disc review

4 Apr 2016
Verdict:

The latest in Cannondale's aluminium line-up, the CAAD12 promises more than just disc brakes and a new paintjob.

For those people who have come to cycling in the past few years, carbon reigns supreme for top-end bikes. But those of us who pedalled long before the successes of Hoy, Wiggins and Froome put our sport on the map in Britain will remember when aluminium frames were once the cutting edge of road bike technology, and will recall the unmistakable stiffness, power transfer and feedback that made alloy bikes such an exciting and rewarding (if often a little harsh) riding experience.

Cannondale has a history in aluminium bikes that spans more than three decades, and while many brands have either shelved aluminium or relegated it the bottom end of their ranges, the company continues to advance the material alongside its carbon portfolio. The CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminium Design) range, which was launched in 1983, has now arrived at number 12, although slightly confusingly the CAAD12 supersedes the CAAD10. There was no CAAD11. I asked Cannondale why not, but no one could give me a definitive answer, except to suggest that this bike is such a vast improvement over the 10, it had ‘literally blown right past the 11’. 

Cannondale CAAD12 disc seat stays

That’s a pretty bold statement considering that the CAAD10 is viewed by many riders to be a benchmark for aluminium. I was full of praise for it when I tested the calliper braked version a few years ago, so the CAAD12 Disc certainly has a lot to live up to.

New horizons

Where does a frame engineer begin when the brief is to blow an already great bike out of the water? Cannondale turned to some pretty sophisticated new computer software and a proprietary design technique called Tube Flow Modelling. 

‘In the past all we had to work with was tube thickness and tube shape,’ says Cannondale design engineer Jonathan Shutler. ‘Now the engineer defines the parameters and then the computer runs through hundreds of virtual tests, working on different options until it finds the optimal solution. It accelerates the testing and engineering timeline and unlocks more of the material’s potential through designs that engineers alone would maybe have taken years to get to.

Cannondale CAAD12 disc dropout

‘We can hone every detail of the frame – how gradual the tube tapers are, the precise changes in wall thicknesses,’ says Shutler. ‘On the CAAD12 there are no dents or crimps to provide clearance for the front mech or tyres etc. Everything is modelled. There are no stress risers [points where stress is concentrated], there’s no excess material, and we can concentrate the strength and stiffness precisely where it’s needed.’ 

It sounds remarkably similar to how carbon lay-up schedules are developed using FEA and CFD analysis, and reveals how far aluminium construction has advanced. But this is only the beginning. Next comes a complex mix of tube swaging, hydroforming, welding and post-weld heat treatments to bring the CAAD12 Disc frame to life. The end result is the most organic aluminium frame I’ve ever seen. 

Cannondale CAAD12 disc chainset

It’s not just the frame that you ride, though – it’s a complete bike, so Cannondale has also sought to improve the entire ‘system’, taking cues from its range-topping carbon SuperSix Evo and Synapse models. The carbon fork is moulded as a single piece with direct bearing placement for the headset to shed more grams. The bottom bracket shell is widened to 73mm (Cannondale was the original inventor of BB30, and calls this BB30a) providing a sturdy perch for the flared Delta seat tube, and it houses Cannondale’s own super light SiSL aluminum cranks. The seat tube tapers all the way up its length until it arrives at the skinny 25.4mm seatpost. The outcome of all this, according to Cannondale, is improvements in stiffness (claimed 13% more at the BB and 10% more at the head tube), reduced weight (236g lighter for frame, fork, headset and seatpost) and dramatically improved vertical compliance (50%) compared to the CAAD10. 

But enough of the statistics. It’s time to find out how it performs on the road.

Hard knock life

Cannondale CAAD12 disc downtube

My first ride on the CAAD12 Disc was during its launch in the Austrian Alps, which included a climb alongside Cannondale pro riders Ted King and Joe Dombrowski. Thankfully they didn’t feel the need to push the pace, but nonetheless initial signals from the CAAD12 were positive. It felt reassuringly solid, whether I was seated or standing, and had an affable, nimble side to it. As the road surface deteriorated higher up I got the chance to test its vertical compliance, and there were no jarring reminders I was aboard an aluminium frame.

Having maintained a forgiving pace on the climb, the pros couldn’t resist having some fun on the descent and I needed to go right to my limit just to keep them in sight. Thankfully the CAAD12 showed me I had nothing to fear from its handling. It descended in an assured, taut and stable manner as I leaned with ever-increasing confidence into turns. Aided by the disc brakes, I was soon braking later, carrying more speed out of the apexes, and by the time we reached the bottom I was buzzing.

Subsequent rides back on more familiar routes have confirmed those positive first impressions, although I did become aware of its weight on some of Dorset’s steeper ramps. Still, 8kg is not bad for a metal road bike with disc brakes that costs less than some carbon wheelsets. 

Cannondale CAAD12 disc review

Comfort was always the number one gripe with aluminium frames in the past, so I took the CAAD12 to some of the more pothole-scarred lanes in my local area to see how it fared. The result was very agreeable, which I put down to the design of the seatpost. Cannondale’s 25.4mm carbon Save post successfully subdues the level of both high-frequency vibration and the larger knocks from potholes. Even with the CAAD12’s geometry having barely any slope to the top tube, such that there is less seatpost exposed than many bikes I’ve ridden, the seatpost does a remarkable job of keeping things plush in that all-important region – directly under your backside. 

Finally, then, is the CAAD12 head and shoulders above the CAAD10? Honestly, not really. It’s marginally better, and most of that I think is thanks to the seatpost. The CAAD12 is still a great bike, but so is the CAAD10, and if you already own one of those you shouldn’t necessarily need to rush out and replace it with this newer model. 

Spec

Cannondale CAAD12 Disc
Frame Cannondale CAAD12 Dura-Ace Disc
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace 9000
Brakes Shimano R685 w/ BR805 calipers
Chainset Cannondale SiSL 
Cassette
Bars Cannondale C1 Ultralite alloy
Stem Cannondale C1 Ultralite alloy
Seatpost Cannondale Carbon SAVE, 25.4mm
Wheels Mavic Ksyrium Disc WTS
Tyres
Saddle Fizik Arione
Contact cyclingsportsgroup.co.uk
Price: 
£2,500

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