If you like technology, Cannondale’s Synapse Carbon 105 has it all. Hydraulic disc brakes front and rear with through axles spinning RD 2.0 Disc Rims on Formula CX hubs. Asymmetrical construction on the rear triangle and front fork specifically offset the forces associated with disc brakes and help enhance performance. The Synapse features a more endurance oriented design and build, but I didn’t notice it when hammering the climb or crushing a flat. The Synapse Carbon 105 if a fully capable bike that is a very satisfying ride, albeit a bit downsized in frame dimension.
Cannondale created a truly impressive ride in the Synapse Carbon 105. The frame feels compact under the rider and extremely stiff. Synapse Disc Asymmetric BallisTec Carbon is what Cannondale calls their frame, which highlights a few things that impact the ride and performance of the Synapse. The asymmetric design of the frame and fork are immediately evident in the corner. The Synapse absolutely carves turns – it also brakes extremely well. The cranks are Cannondale Si spun on a FSA bottom bracket and are perfectly stiff and well mated to the frame. The frame felt small to me, but not too small, simply compact and begging to be pushed around a bit. There are are some aerodynamic finishes that are appreciated with the bike, including internal cabling, and an internal seat post clamp in the seat tube, which is bent for suspension (Cannondale’s SAVE endurance design) and aerodynamic values.
The Synapse Carbon 105 is stiff everywhere you want stiffness. There is no discernible flex in the frame, through it is advertised as an endurance oriented ride, that appears more in the geometry. The rear triangle features flared tubing that is asymmetrical (wider, more flared on the braking side), which enhances stiffness on the sprint, while providing rigidity under braking stress. The front fork has a tapered steerer and an asymmetrical design similar to the rear triangle (wider more flared on the braking side). The front fork has limited rake of 4.8 cm, which feels extremely stiff under sprinting stress.
Immediately upon the road turning up into the mountains I felt most at home on the Synapse Carbon 105. The compact frame design, the rigidity, and the wide spread of gears (50/34 on the FSA chainrings up front, and Shimano’s 105 11-32 rear cassette) made for enjoyable climbing, while the endurance geometry has the rider more erect makes for more climbing pleasure. Though not the lightest bike we tested, the positioning helps it to stand out from the crowd when riding up hill.
Descending on the Synapse Carbon 105 is hindered by the narrow and thin-in-the-palm handlebar. Aside from the bar, the Shimano 105 hoods are comfortable in the hand, and the Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes are exceptional. I found myself down in the drops more on this Synapse, which I expect is due to the more erect stance on the bike. The asymmetrical design of the frame and fork absolutely shows up when carving turns. The Synapse is certainly a top performer in the corner, which is where you would expect the asymmetrical design to pay the most dividends.
Components: Drivetrain, Shifting and Brakes
Shimano 105 shifters, brakes and drivetrain (minus the cranks/chainrings) perform well. The shifting on the Shimano was superb. Light action, ludicrously quick. It was the lightest, quickest shift I have experienced. Shimano 105 brakes have been inconsistent for me this past year, but these are excellent. No fade, no noise and incredible power. The handlebar, Cannondale C3 (compact) is terrible. A wider bar that is thicker in the palm would make a big difference. The saddle, Selle’s Royal Seta S1 is fantastic. Very comfortable, flat and stable in a variety of positions, including on the “rivet.”
The Synapse’s wheelset is pedestrian, or I guess we should say bike-estrian. On a bike with this many goodies at this price, the wheels are often a place to cut costs, and the Synapse’s wheels are reasonable if a bit hefty. RD 2.0 Disc rims are revolving around Formula CX20 (front) and CX 22 rear hubs. Stainless steel spokes – 28 of em’ – make the wheel. Schwalbe Lugano 28c tires are fine and the Synapse can accommodate up to 32c tires.
$2,500 is a tough price point. You really need to differentiate yourself at this price. The Synapse succeeds by bringing much innovation and industry trends to this bike.
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HOW WE TESTED
Our road testing took place in Colorado and California, which when combined has the best of all road biking challenges: towering climbs, massive descents and endless flats and rollers to push these bikes to their limits. The bikes were tested riding through the coastal mountains and the redwoods of California, testing their grip in slick and slippery road conditions by the seashore and up into the Redwood Rain through the twistiest of descents. Colorado offered opportunities for massive climbs and descents, including the famed Morgul-Bismark road loop which is used on every road bike we tested because of its variety of terrain, 18 percent grade on “The Wall,” and its notorious wind. In all we rode over 750 miles on these bikes, climbing over 75,000 feet of vertical.
Seth Portner has been riding and racing mountain bikes since the late 1990s, specializing in XC, marathon and ultra-marathon events. He also enjoys regular multi-day road tours, and is an accomplished ultrarunner and XC skier. Seth, his wife and their daughter all split their time between Lyons and Winter Park.