What’s the difference? According to them, it meant fewer tradeoffs in terms of feel and handling compared to what you’d typically expect in an aero bike. Just how fast is it? We were keen to find out. SystemSix is a name ardent Cannondale fans will be familiar with from the mid-2000’s era hybrid carbon / alloy road bike which carried the same name. While the earlier edition was revolutionary in its day, the new SystemSix boasts some of the latest advancements in carbon construction and aerodynamics which define high-performance road bike design. The “Six” in the model name refers to the six unique elements the Cannondale team focussed on in delivering the SystemSix. Those are the frame, fork, seat post, stem, handlebar, and wheels. Upon the release of this new model, Cannondale engineers treated the cycling media and tech-hungry fans to a forty-eight page white paper detailing the design approach, performance and a healthy dose of science to back up their claims.
Graph depicting the 6% tipping point before which aero beats weight weenie. Source: Cannondale white paper
The frame and fork are noticeably aero shaped, as one would expect from a system that was moulded through computer simulations and real-world wind tunnel testing. All that extra carbon does add up, and like most aero bikes, the SystemSix does carry some extra grams. Here though is where the Cannondale engineers employ some science to show that for most of us in everyday riding conditions the aerodynamic savings will typically outweigh any weight penalties. They reckon that tipping point is at 6% gradient after which the extra weight on the SystemSix vs. the SuperSix Evo would mean the Evo is the better choice for extended, steeper climbs. While I’m the sort of rider who typically leans away from “aero” in favour of a lighter, normal road bike, you’ve got to ask yourself, how often do you ride upwards of 6% for any meaningful period?The geometry on the SystemSix was designed to be inline with Cannondale’s top-end road range like the SuperSix. The designers wanted it to feel like a “normal” bike, and importantly to be familiar for existing Cannondale riders, delivering a similar feel on the road with all the aero advantages. It has a race-oriented cockpit, with a low stack to offer an aggressive long and low posture. Specifications (as tested)
FrameALL-NEW SystemSix, BallisTec Carbon, Di2 ready, SAVE, BB30a, flat mount, Speed Release thru-axleForkALL-NEW SystemSix, BallisTec Carbon, Speed Release thru-axleHeadsetTapered, 1-1/8" upper, 1-1/4" lower bearingBottom bracketCannondale Alloy PressFit30CranksetCannondale HollowGram Si, BB30a w/ OPI SpideRing, 52/36StemVision Trimax OS, 2014 Alloy, 3D ForgedSeatpostCannondale KNØT Carbon, 330mmGripsPrologo One TouchHandlebarVision Metron 4D Flat, UD CarbonFront derailleurShimano Ultegra, braze-onRear derailleurShimano Ultegra GSBrakesShimano Ultegra hydro disc, 160/140mm RT81 rotorsShiftersShimano Ultegra hydro disc, 2x11SaddlePrologo Dimension, Tirox railsSpokesFulcrum double-butted, Stainless, BladedHubsFulcrum Racing 400 DB, 12x100 front, 12x142 rearRimsFulcrum Racing 400 DB, Alloy clincher, 35mm deepChainShimano 105, 11-speedCassetteShimano 105, 11-30, 11-speedTyresVittoria Rubino Pro Speed, 700 x 26mm (23c)Weight8.44kg (incl. pedals & bottle cage), 8.15kg out of the boxPriceR 65 000
We tested the entry model in the SystemSix range, the Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra. Within the SystemSix line up, the entry point is arguably is on the upper end of mid-level in terms of specification and price point. The lower price does mean that this model forgoes some of the aero touches which define the SystemSix. Instead of the Cannondale Knot SystemBar this model arrives with a standard Vision alloy stem, complete with an aero front cover and Vision aero bars. In place of the Knot Carbon Wheels the Ultegra model sports 35 mm deep Fulcrum alloy wheels. Although these do mean some components in the “system” are not fully optimised, both are expected components at the entry to mid-level, and in line with what the majority of aero competitors offer at a similar price point.
Although out of the box the high spacer stack makes the bike look at bit ungainly, once dropped down (and with the steerer chopped), I have to say it doesn’t look all that bad. Although the fully integrated stem on the high-end model does completely hide gear cabling at the junction of the handlebar and stem, with some trimming of housing lengths the standard stem setup has the potential to look neat.In order to safely route the disc brake hoses through the frame, Cannondale has implemented a “stopper” on the steerer which limits the range of motion to 50 degrees left or right. This prevents damage to the hoses due to over-extension. Although in my head I thought this could be an issue on the road, in the real world there aren’t any situations I encountered where you need more range than what the SystemSix offers. As an example, I could comfortably execute a sharp U-turn in a single lane without hitting the stoppers.
On the bike On the road, the Cannondale SystemSix does indeed feel fast. To be fair, you would say the same about most high-end aero road bikes these days, but after a couple of rides on the SystemSix, I was impressed with the balance of speed, comfort and handling. The expectation with an aero bike is that it will offer a harsh ride and skittish handling. While the SystemSix is an unmistakably stiff frame, the ride is firm as opposed to bone chattering. The handling is good and steering is precise.I found my happy place in the drops on the SystemSix. For once the setup along with the Prologo saddle and shallow drop bar ticked all my comfort boxes, but mostly it was about the feel. In the drops, you get a yearning sense of "go fast" from the bike and in this position I found the handling to be most confident. Whether just the euphoria of a new bike or a little too much of the marketing kool-aid, out on windy Cape rides I found myself reeling in (and leaving for dead) countless lonely stragglers losing the battle with fierce headwinds.
Skips most of the aero bike handling foibles
Offers a smooth, relatively comfortable ride within this category
ConsNot a natural climber when out of the saddle