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Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 Disc review

26 Jul 2016

The Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc 105 is a smooth-riding and innovative frame held back a little by its price.

Cyclist Rating: 
Carbon frame and disc brakes in a do-anything, comfortable yet fast package
Low rent wheels, niggly brakes, tyre size

We reviewed the Synapse Hi-Mod a while back and were mightily impressed but considering the price you’d expect that. It did leave us with a burning question, though – could Cannondale repeat the success for under £2,000? We decided to find out.

Cannondale has made a name for itself as a pioneer of successful (and sometimes unsuccessful – Headshock anyone?) new tech. Cannondale invented BB30, which is now widely adopted by many manufacturers.

It was one of the first to produce a bike designed specifically for cobbles, and the Slate is at the forefront of the hip gravel bike movement. The Synapse Carbon Disc 105 takes a lot of the ideas from the expensive models and distills it into a cheaper package.

Off the beaten path

At Cyclist we love an adventure and have always found a unique joy in rounding a corner to see two routes open before you: one on tarmac and one on dirt. Now there are bikes that are able to help you explore these roads more easily and the Synapse is one of them.

On the road the Synapse’s reputation is well renowned. The range has always offered reliable, comfortable yet eminently race-able machines. And while it is possible to go on dirt with caliper brakes this latest edition with discs allows faster, safer travel, which opens up further possibilities.

As we’ve previously discussed, with similar bikes the tyres are the fulcrum point that decide where your compromises lie. Out of the factory Cannondale has opted for the Schwalbe Lugano in 28mm width – a slightly grooved road-biased tyre. We found it performed well enough on tarmac, with good grip and rolling resistance that exceed the expectations of its £25 price tag.

Off road they perform admirably considering they make no claims to greatness in this territory, but are best kept to flat, dry trails. Tyre clearance on the Carbon Disc is stated to be up to 28mm, although we think you could squeeze in 30mm tyres without too much trouble.

Where do fire roads and quiet country lanes meet? It matters not a jot to the Synapse. It’s been designed to tackle both and there is no denying that it truly is a purposeful all-rounder. And that’s a big part of the joy – being able to head off on so many more routes, knowing that the bike will back you up. Fitted with Cannondale Si cranks and 50/34 FSA chainrings with Shimano’s 105 11-32 cassette, you have the ratios to climb some steep angles and yet not spin out when descending – unless you’re chasing downhill Strava segments, of course.

Unlike some of the opposition, this generation of Synapse was designed from the very beginning to incorporate disc brakes, which is important as it means the whole design has been optimised for discs rather than taking an existing carbon frame and adding mounts, then overbuilding the frame to support them.

Where the real expertise of the Synapse is found is in the subtle damping of the frame. It’s a tightrope that needs to be walked carefully as adding too much comfort can take away the excitement in the ride. Cannondale has opted to run a skinny seatpost of just 25.4mm to help achieve this, the only obvious downside being a lack of alternatives should you wish to upgrade in future.

Tweak the creak

Every item has its known issues and a quick search on Google will bring up various forum threads discussing headsets and bottom brackets. Out of the box Cannondale’s component build quality was very good (even the bar tape was well wrapped), yet the Synapse developed a creak on the first few rides. A visit to a mechanic saw a rebuild required to grease the headset and the bottom bracket, which saw an end to the niggles for the remainder of the test. It’s a small thing, and easily resolved by your shop, but it doesn’t seem like we’re the only ones to have encountered it.

When it comes down to it, The Synapse Carbon Disc 105 is a lot of bike for your money. Hydraulic disc brakes and a carbon frame are big-ticket items and at the leading edge of current bike design. It’s a real credit to Cannondale that it’s managed to do all this for less than two grand. However, as an overall package it does feel like it’s been made to hit a price-point, part of which is the Formula Maddux 2.0 wheels, which seem durable yet feel flexy.

The other negative is the Shimano BR785 brakes that, despite the 160mm rotors, had the worrying tendency to overheat after descending for just a few minutes, something we’ve reported on before. We expect Shimano will resolve this in coming generations and it’s not a problem in that stopping power is never compromised, but it’s less than ideal to lose the sharp lever feel and hear brake pads rubbing when you’re travelling at speed.

Buy the Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc 105 from eBay here


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