Gear Shed

First Look: Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod 2

Peter Sagan will race this radical, genre-bending frame design in his 2014 Belgian classics campaign. And if it’s good enough for Sagan…

The Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod 2     Photo: Courtesy Aaron Gulley

Just in time for the spring classics season, we’ve been testing the latest iteration of Cannondale’s endurance race bike. Technically, the Synapse Hi-Mod was a mid-year release in 2013, but it was launched after our test cycle so it had to wait until this year for consideration. In the interim, it’s seen some great success.

On the bike’s maiden race, Moreno Moser and Peter Sagan piloted it to first and second place at the 2013 Strade Bianche. Sagan chose the Synapse again at last weekend’s running of the Strade Bianche, and he landed another second-place finish. The Czech prodigy will be riding the Synapse throughout his classics campaign this year, where he’s expected to be a protagonist in all the big events, including Paris-Roubaix and Flanders. 

The lines between endurance bikes and race bikes have continued to blur over the past few seasons, and the new Synapse Hi-Mod—much like the Trek Domane last year—almost completely blends the two genres. The big idea borrows a page from the mountain bike world, where engineers continue to find that suspension, rather than hindering speed, increases it. To that end, the Synapse has been optimized for compliance in order to soak up the chatter and bumps of the roughest roads while still allowing for smooth, strong output of power while seated.  

Seat stays have a helix-shape design to absorb impacts much like a spring does. The seat post is purposefully willowy at 25.4mm, and it attaches by way of a clever cam-style wedge design that Cannondale says allows for more vertical flex. There’s a radical, arch-shaped cutout in the seat tube, just above the junction of the bottom bracket that both saves weight and dampens jarring. And the fork is wire thin and has a downward bow shape, which is said to flex and absorb bumps.

While many past endurance bikes had a more upright position and often weighed more than their race counterparts—including prior versions of the Synapse—the new Synapse Hi-Mod is slung low enough for racing and our SRAM Red equipped 56cm tester is under the UCI limit at 14.8 pounds.

Compared with Cannondale’s full race model—the SuperSix—the Synapse has a taller head tube, a shorter reach, and a slightly longer wheelbase, yet it still manages to feel quick and racey. So you have a bike that quashes bumps like a steamroller but handles like a Ferrari, which is precisely why Sagan and company are riding it onto the cobbled roads of Belgium this spring.

So far we’ve found it comfortable on the harsh, sunbaked asphalt around Tucson, although it’s perhaps not as forgiving as the Domane. That bike’s unique pivot design seems to yield the most bump compliance (as should be expected from an active suspension) while the Synapse Hi-Mod is more reminiscent in feel of, say, the Specialized Roubaix. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—just different.

In the Synapse, Cannondale has done a very good job delivering both snappy handling and a quick ride feel, but in a frame that’s more muted and easier on the body than a fully stiff road racer. It’s a race bike for those of us who don’t bend as deep as pro racers and who appreciate a bit more comfort.

Our Synapse Hi-Mod 2 is hung with full SRAM Red components, rolls on Mavic Ksyrium Elite hoops, gets all the sweet carbon FSA SLK cockpit bits and pieces, and sells for $5,960. Three other Synapse Hi-Mod builds are available, ranging from $4,010 with an Ultegra group set up to $9,750 with Dura Ace Di2. Less expensive Synapses use the same forms and shapes but with standard (not hi-modulus) carbon fiber and range from $2,060 up to $3,250. 

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