The Cannondale SystemSix
A Closer Look at The New Shape of Speed
When it comes to groundbreaking bike design, Cannondale have always been right at the cutting edge.
They were among the first out of the blocks with an all-day endurance bike, the much-lauded Synapse. With the CAAD range, they have pushed aluminum design to the absolute limit, and with the unconventional Slate also helped blaze the trail into the brave new world of gravel riding. But in one respect, there has always been something of a gap in the Cannondale lineup. While Specialized have the Venge and Trek the Madone, the Cannondale range has long been missing a road bike optimised for aerodynamics - a machine for the sprinters, the rouleurs, and the breakaway artists.
With the SystemSix, Cannondale have filled that gap.
But whatever you do, don’t limit the SystemSix by calling it an ‘aero bike’.
Traditionally speaking, aero bikes are one-trick ponies; fast on the flat, but heavy on the climbs - best reserved for their own specialist terrain. According to Cannondale, the SystemSix is unrestricted by such caveats. It’s a bike that has been designed to be ridden - and ridden fast - on every parcours.
To them, it is simply “the fastest UCI-legal road racing bike ever made.” So what does it take to build such a bike?
It takes a System
The SystemSix moniker is not a new invention - it first appeared on a daring alloy-carbon combination frame back in the ‘90s - but it’s a name that has never been more relevant than it has now.
Avid Cannondale fans will be used to seeing “SI” (or “System Integration”) marked on frames - but this bike is the brand’s first truly ground-up project. The new SystemSix is a combination of six holistically conceived components, each one of them built from scratch and designed to work together as part of an integrated system. Those six elements are the frame, fork, seatpost, stem, handlebar and the wheels.
The reason for this drive towards system integration? To Cannondale, it’s simple - to be the fastest race bike in the world, it takes a system.
The HollowGram KNØT64 Wheelset
As the leading frontal edge of the entire bike/rider system, the wheels are are an incredibly important part of a bike’s overall aerodynamic performance. In fact, the Hollowgram KNØT 64 Wheelset was Cannondale’s starting point for the entire SystemSix project.
Designed around a 64mm deep rim, this wheelset provides that potent ‘goldilocks’ balance between aerodynamic efficiency and razor-sharp handling. They are deep enough to cut through the air, and still light enough for when the road turns upwards. More importantly, the wheels boast a super-wide rim that measures 32mm across, as well as a 21mm internal diameter. This means that, even though the supplied Vittoria Rubino tyres are labeled as just 23c, they come up as a 26c when mounted on this super wide rim.
The reason for this combination, according to Cannondale’s aerodynamicist Nathan Barry, is that a narrow tyre combined with a wide rim helps to reattach disrupted air to the rim and therefore minimise drag.
The SystemSix Frameset
Every single curve, angle, and contour of the SystemSix has been rigorously wind-tunnel tested, with custom-designed aerofoil profiles used across the frameset to provide the most aerodynamically efficient performance possible.
The junction between the downtube and fork crown, pictured left, is just one such example. This delicate touch has been designed to redirect any air disrupted by the fork and channel it downstream, preventing it from interfering with the clean flow of air passing over the headtube above.
Once that airflow has been directed downwind, it is further channeled by the intelligent shaping of the junction between the seat stay and seat tube. This truncated aerofoil profile helps to ensure that the funneled airflow slips over the bike with the absolute minimum possible drag.
It is exactly this joined-up, system-focused thinking that makes this bike such an effective machine. Every aspect has been designed to work seamlessly as part of an effective whole - helping to create a bike that effortlessly slips through the air.
The KNØT SystemBar and Stem
Any aero bike worth it’s salt these days boasts an integrated stem-and-handlebar combination, and for good reason - uncluttering the front end of a bike offers serious aerodynamic advantages. However, many such cockpits end up being terribly complex, requiring fiddly setup and turning fit adjustment into a constant inconvenience.
The innovative design of the Cannondale KNØT SystemBar does away with this problem completely, combining the interchangeability of a two-piece system with the sleek aerodynamics of an integrated cockpit. Cannondale’s proprietary spacers operate with a clasp fitting, meaning that you can adjust the fit of your bike without needing to uncable the internal cable routing.
The design of the handlebar body itself is just as carefully considered. The tops are designed with a truncated aerofoil profile to further cheat wind resistance, while the hoods are positioned slightly narrower than usual in order to reduce the aerodynamic drag of the rider. The drops, meanwhile, are flared outwards to provide the added stability you need when sprinting.
The New Shape of Speed
Taken in isolation, these features are impressive. Combined, they represent a level of targeted integration that yields truly remarkable results out on the road.
As a result, Cannondale claim that the SystemSix is a faster option to a lightweight climbing bike on any parcours up to a gradient of 6%. To put that in context, even the most feared climbs of the Tour de France only average around 7-8% in gradient.
And these advantages are not limited to the climbs. In a flat-out 200 metre sprint, Cannondale claim that the SystemSix would win a 4-bike length advantage over a SuperSix EVO. If the same two bikes went head-to-head descending a 6% gradient, the rider of the SuperSix EVO would have to expend an extra 130 watts just to keep up with the SystemSix.
This is a far cry from the one-purpose aero bikes of the past. By approaching this design from the ground up, and optimising an entire system towards the pursuit of speed, Cannondale have created an incredibly effective wind-cheater that is able to gain and hold speed in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.
The SystemSix delivers more speed, to more riders, more of the time.