Long a champion of oversize aluminum tubing, Cannondale shifts gears to create an all-carbon rig that's fast enough for testosterone-addled group rides but much more comfortable than its trademark metal frames on epic outings. With slack geometry, a moderately upright riding position, and the superior road-damping qualities of carbon fiber, the Synapse 2 is built for luxurious, high-mileage riding. As the afternoon wore on and our testers became road-sore and tired during a day of cranking on coarse asphalt in Saguaro National Park, outside Tucson, we didn't need a vote to choose this Gear of the Year winner: Anyone not on the Synapse was scheming to get it back.
Cannondale Synapse Carbon 2 (16.7 lbs, 56 cm) $3,200 www.cannondale.com
1. Cannondale first ventured into carbon-fiber road bikes with the revered aluminum-composite Six13 (ridden to victory in the 2004 Giro d'Italia). The Synapse combines the Six13's speedy DNA with a supple feel throughout for a plusher, more approachable ride.
2. The Synapse is as light as comparably sized compact frames but with the solid, substantial character of a full-size model. It flew up climbs faster than bikes a pound lighter and, thanks to a stretched-out wheelbase, felt stable on the twisty descent from Colorado's 14,264-foot Mount Evans.
3. Where carbon's smooth feel translates as lifeless and heavy in some frames, the Synapse softens rough stuff while preserving a lively ride. Credit the elegantly curved, hourglass-shaped seatstays, which soak up asphalt chatter while transferring power straight to the pavement.
4. No matter how fast the frame, without good parts it's just modern art. Cannondale balances value and performance with a complete Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace drivetrain, its own proprietary carbon crankset (lighter and stiffer than Ultegra), and flashy Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels.
5. Unlike the backbreaking drop position on many road bikes, a relaxed steering angle and a touch of extra head-tube height create a slightly uprighthence more comfortablecockpit without sacrificing speed. "Logging 20-plus hours a week on this bike would be easy," said one tester.