Sign up for our newsletter


All new Cannondale SystemSix lays claim to being world’s fastest road bike

2 Jul 2018

It might be late to the party but Cannondale could still steal the show with its all new SystemSix. Images: Brian Vernor

It’s always been a quandary why Cannondale has thus far eschewed the aero-road market, despite having one of the fastest TT bikes – the Slice - in its stable, clearly indicating it has some wind-cheating knowhow.

Cannondale’s global product director, David Devine, though, sites a lack of resources as the main reason for Cannondale’s absence from this sector of the market.

Until now that is. Cannondale has brought on board design engineer, Nathan Barry, a PhD graduate in applied aerodynamics from Monash University, Australia, as the frontman for the SystemSix project.

Being able to categorically come out and say it has created the world’s fastest UCI legal road bike has been 3.5 yrs in the development.

But Cannondale prefers not to refer to the SystemSix as an aero road bike – merely a faster road bike, trying not to fall into the trap of pigeonholing the bike into a specific category, which might limit it’s appeal to the wider population unnecessarily.

Gains for all

The crux of the new design is of course speed, something that Cannondale recognises is enjoyable for all levels of riders.

Whether it means the capability to improve best times, or simply to reduce effort for the same speed, there’s really no way to deny having some additional speed for free can only be of benefit on some level.

It’s commonly misquoted that aero gains are really only applicable at high speeds, but as Barry reminds us at the launch in Girona, Spain, even at 15kmh 50% of your resistive drag is due to aerodynamics on a flat road, so everyone can benefit not just pros.

Cruising at 30kmh on the flat the average rider can expect to be expending around 10% less energy on the new SystemSix.

Even more surprising is the data Barry presents on the benefits of aero gains on a climb. The gradient tipping point, he claims, is a 6% incline, only beyond that would the SystemSix start to lose ground to its lighter brethren, and Cannondale’s current flagship race machine, the SuperSix Evo.

That tipping point, Barry insists, would also shift to a higher gradient if the rider, for instance a pro rider, had a higher power to weight ratio, so the stronger you are and the faster you go the steeper the gradient before the SystemSix would not keep pace with a lighter machine.

Modelled on Education First – Drapac pro rider, Rigoberto Uran, the time differential climbing Alpe D’Huez on the new SystemSix compared to the SuperSix Evo would see the aero machine lose out by just 10 seconds according to Barry.

To put some more everyday numbers to that, for a 75kg rider pedalling at 300w the cost would be less than 3w on the SystemSix compered to a bike 1kg lighter.

‘This would equate to a deficit up a climb like Alpe D’Huez of around 20 seconds for your average rider’, he admits, ‘but even so the benefits elsewhere – on the flat and in the wind etc - would far outweigh the costs on the climb’.

Running similar simulations for different situations, Barry’s data also points to the SystemSix being 7.2m (roughly 4 bike lengths) ahead of the SuperSix Evo in a head to head 200m sprint at 1000w/60kmh, plus requiring around 100w less power to ride down a 5% graded descent at 60kmh.

The Fastest?

The tag line Cannondale has for the new SystemSix then is; faster everywhere.

That’s a very bold claim, but Cannondale insists everything it says is based on hard science and data captured in the wind tunnel, in which it has benchmarked its new creation against what it sees as the best of the competition – bikes like the Specialized Venge Vias, Trek Madone, Cervelo S5, Scott Foil, Pinarello Dogma f10, Canyon Aeroad, and Giant Propel.

Of course the cynic in all of us would want to respond with; ‘But of course it’s going to say that’, and I agree, I’ve never yet sat in a presentation where a brand has come out and said its new bike is only nearly as good as the competition, but in this case Cannondale’s data seems believable given some new methodology applied by Barry.

The concept is called, Yaw Weighted Drag – in a nutshell, without going into whitepaper-depths of confusing terminology, it’s a means to simplify aero drag numbers down, to assess any respective gains taken as a broad view over the complete spectrum of yaw angles.

This is essentially to prevent the confusion of presenting data where brand A is faster than brand B here, but not here, etc.

Barry’s model of yaw weighted drag clearly puts the SystemSix ahead, beating closest rival – Trek’s Madone – by around 6W at 30mph (~50kmh). The claimed difference over the Scott Foil is closer to a 20W saving – undeniably a considerable advantage.

Compared to SuperSix EVO – i.e. a more traditional road frame, the SystemSix test data suggests a whopping 60 watts saving at 30mph.

How it’s done

So, that’s enough of the stats and numbers. How has Cannondale achieved these apparent successes?

The geometry of the SystemSix frame is the same as the SuperSix Evo. Stiffness is on a level par too, after all why change what is considered to be a benchmark bike by many in the industry?

The aero gains have been mostly made through frame/fork tube profiles but also a big share is the integration of components to work in harmony as a complete system.

At the heart of that are Cannondale’s new Knot branded components – with the name being a nod to wind speed measurement – all specifically developed to reduce drag.

The Knot SystemBar bar/stem combo is perhaps most obvious up front, in the critical area of the bike, but unlike many of its competitors Cannondale has not fixed the bar position, instead allowing 8° of pitch adjustment to allow the rider to better tune their desired position.

A further neat touch is the slotted spacer system, which means that height can be adjusted, without the need to disconnect any of the cables and/or hydraulic brake hoses that all run, unseen, within its confines.

The completely new Knot 64 wheels are also a big part of the aero gains of the system. Visually they are immediately quite different from what we’re used to seeing by current standards.

The 64mm deep rims are a whopping 32mm at their widest, yet Cannondale has fitted a 23mm tyre? Just when we thought this size might be lost in the annals of time for good, this, Cannondale claims (thanks to the rim having a capacious 21mm internal width), actually means the tyres measure up to an optimal 26mm for the most significant aero gains on this bike.

If nothing else, the looks are certainly going to take some getting used to, as the tyre is clearly much narrower than the rim when viewed form above, which feels a little unsettling at first.

In summary, it’s all part of controlling the airflow as it hits the leading edge of the front tyre (the first point of contact). With a narrow leading edge and wide rim, the air can stay attached to the rim for longer, causing a narrower wake – and less drag – incidentally a technology Cannondale has had to licence from HED, which holds the patent.

The wheels are attached to the frame/fork via another new standard – Cannondale calls Speed Release – a double lead thread, on a 10/12mm thru-axle that doesn’t need to be completely removed in order to take out the wheels.

And there’s more

Another key initiative Cannondale is keen to launch with its all-new SystemSix is the inclusion of power meters on all models – partnering with Power2Max – to make this technology more accessible to more people.

There is a slight caveat in as much as Cannondale is only providing the actual power meter – i.e. the hardware side of things – but to actually use it, there is a one off charge of €490 payable to Power2Max as an activation cost.

To keep some perspective on that, and before shooting Cannondale down as only half-delivering on something, it’s still an awful lot cheaper and simpler than most alternatives to enter the world of power measurement, and so a genuinely useful addition to the package, in my view.

One completely new digital technology is the Vuforia APP which via a barcode scan with a smart phone the bike can be viewed in a 3 dimensional fashion, inside and out, allowing the customer to see all its inner workings, and importantly even view part numbers and servicing ‘how to’ help, and so on.

This technology is mightily impressive, especially given it’s in its infancy right now, but Cannondale is ahead of the game by including it, and I can only see this becoming much bigger and more detailed in time within the bike industry as it makes so much sense in today’s uber complicated bike designs.

Last but by no means least, and well worthy of mention, are Cannondale’s new paint schemes, which for all models of the SystemSix feature reflective detailing, in subtle and attractive ways, making sure rider safety and visibility are also a priority as well as speed out on the road.

Models and pricing

5 models:

Hi-Mod carbon Shimano Dura Ace Di2 £8,499.99
Hi-Mod carbon Shimano Ultegra Di2 £6,500
Hi-Mod carbon –Women’s model -Dura Ace £6,499.99
Carbon Dura Ace £5,000
Carbon Ultegra £3,500

Images - Brian Vernor


Read more about: