Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra review

Who needs carbon?

This article first appeared on BikeRadar.

BikeRadar Verdict: "Proving good aluminium frames aren’t dead, the CAAD12 makes you feel very much alive on every ride"

  • Highs: Light, highly refined frameset, responsiveness, value
  • Lows: Although quick, Mavic’s Aksiums have conservative rim widths
  • Buy if: You just want a brilliant bike that reinforces how much fun road cycling can be

BikeRadar Score: 4.5/5

At this price point, carbon-fibre frames are essentially a detuned version of each brand’s range-topper, so you get hints of the performance and character, but know there could be so much more. The CAAD12 on the other hand is the most refined, highly tuned aluminium frame ever, from a company that's made its name with cutting-edge aluminium-tubed wizardry.

  • The Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.

It’s like pitting your family Honda Civic against its British Touring Car version if you like. The two aren’t exactly in the same race…

The immediacy of forward motion aboard the CAAD12 feels as if your pedals are attached directly to the driven wheel, and it’s something you won’t tire of.

Cannondale’s Hollowgram Si crank is a welcome addition

The 6069 aluminium frame is claimed to weigh less than 1,100g, which is lighter than some carbon frames at this price. And keeping things feathery, the carbon fork is the same as used on Cannondale’s Evo bikes, with its one-piece construction boasting fibres that run continuously from steerer to dropout for strength.

It’s easy to spend time taking in the CAAD12 frame’s details, from the purposefully sculpted tubes that sound impressively thin when tapped, to the chunky welds and heavily cowled rear dropouts. All cables are routed internally, with the rear mech cable popping out at the rear of the cowled dropout.

The down tube almost unfeasibly morphs from vertically flared at the head tube to fully cover the wide BB30 bottom bracket shell, alongside the flattened pyramid shape of the seat tube, and the asymmetric chainstays.

These bridgeless stays are by turn wide and deep, allowing decent tyre clearance and great rigidity, while the seatstays are rounded at the dropouts but flattened for the rest of their length.

Mavic Aksium wheels may appear simple, but they’re quick

Together, the stays form a major element of the frame’s SAVE vibration-reducing design. The fork plays its part too, as does Cannondale’s now-standard 25.4mm diameter seatpost, which even on a frame like the CAAD12 with usually less exposed seatpost, increases its ability to flex.

The Aksiums are entertainingly quick, and make exploring the CAAD12’s abilities within reach of most riders.

On this bike the seatpost and headset top cap are the only carbon parts after the fork.

That initial acceleration feel seems ever-present. Want to step on it up a climb, accelerate out of a corner or outsprint your mates for the town sign? No problem. There’s always speed potential on tap, and it’s incredibly accessible.

The frameset’s rigidity and highly tuned nature transform even minor crank pressure into forward surges. Willing accomplices are Mavic’s Aksium wheelset, which, although conservatively narrow at 20mm externally, are light and stiff, and the fractionally below 25mm Yksion tyres willingly dig in to grip predictably.

Simple they may be, but the Aksiums are entertainingly quick, and make exploring the CAAD12’s abilities within reach of most riders. On the other hand (well, both hands actually), Shimano’s new Ultegra levers exude comfortably grippy class, and with precise, rapid shifts and a great feel, they elevate the feel of the whole cockpit.

Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra has a refined, highly tuned aluminium frame

The matching derailleurs cement the bike’s immaculate gear changing, and Ultegra’s single-bolt brakes are still excellent stoppers. Cannondale’s Hollowgram Si crank with one-piece SpideRing chainrings is at least the equal of many big name units in weight and performance, and is a welcome addition.

The frame geometry is unashamedly racy. My 56cm model’s 155mm head tube, 405mm chainstays, 989mm wheelbase and 73.1-degree head angle equate to a low front-end – lower if you source a shorter headset top cap – with a tight back-end, short wheelbase for agility, and steering that offers the ideal blend of accuracy and stability.

But aluminium’s a bit harsh right? The CAAD12’s taut frame delivers braille-like road feel that keeps you totally connected to the surface, but it glides over general roughness, and bigger hits are effectively dulled, with no jarring hits reaching your contact points.

In this spec, it’s not as smooth as something like a Domane, or a carbon bike with larger tyres, but I found I cared less about that, since with the CAAD12’s unbridled speed, I was dispatching rough sections faster.

The CAAD12 is more than capable of mixing it in competition, or just impressing on every ride with its speed, and that, along with its excellent value, makes it hard to beat.

 

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