I do like my Cannondales. I’ve been a fan for nearly thirty years, ever since they produced frames with properly oversize aluminium tubes, almost as fat as the Klein frames. My first road bike was an R700 (CAAD7 frame) and I’ve championed the way that they’ve managed to keep their frames relatively traditional despite the shift towards sportif frame geometries and new build technologies. The CAADX is their entry-level cyclocross bike and it stays close to their roots with an aluminium frame and that flat top-tube. I say ‘entry-level’ because there is a racing cyclocross model from Cannondale, but the CAADX model covers four models starting at £799 for the Sora model up to a £1399 SRAM Rival model (with Tiagra and 105 in between). While it’s not quite a budget bike, which I’d class as being sub-£500, you are getting a quality frame with plenty of upgrade potential and a well thought through set of components.
With regards the frame, I am fairly certain that this is the same across the CAADX model range, with just a paint job differentiating them – saying that the black and white paintwork on my Sora CAADX looks identical to that on the 105 version. So when you’re considering which option to go for, the discussion gets simpler – look at the groupset and make a choice. It’s difficult to find a bike weight on many bike manufacturer websites, and Cannondale is no different, but Merlin show weights of 9.75kg and 11kg respectively for their 105 and Sora equipped x2.0 cyclocross bikes. So it’s fair to say that the Sora set-up carries a weight penalty of just over a kilo compared to the 105. My R700 came with an FSA crankset as part of a 105 set-up and Cannondale have gone the same route with my CAADX Sora, supplying an FSA Vero Cross crankset with 46/36 rings. The frame is BB30 compatible, albeit the FSA crankset on the Sora model has a BB30 adaptor.
Wheels on any factory-built bike are always going to be a compromise, I presume that most manufacturers expect riders to swap them out fairly soon, so supply some (hopefully) reasonably durable wheels. Cannondale supply their Sora, Tiagra and 105 CAADX bikes with the same rims (Maddux CX 2.1 Disc 32-hole) and spokes, but vary the hubs across the models, so mine was supplied with their own in-house Cannondale C4 hub.
The stand-out component for me, in terms of the way Cannondale have pitched it, was the disc brakes. The benchmark for road disc brakes at the moment are the Avid BB7’s – they’re the point at which you’re getting good braking and decent quality build without adding the complexity of hydraulics and the like. Cannondale by way of contrast supply the CAADX with Promax Render R’s, which I suspect is their in-house brand, and it was a possible deal-breaker, with the Merlin X2.0 jumping to the top of the shortlist, but Cannondale supply the 105 CAADX with the same brakes, so they’re going to be fine (aren’t they?).
I’ve now got four rides and about 120km under my belt, so what’s to note:
Framesize – my Cannondale road bike, R700, was a 58cm with a traditional flat-top-tube frame and my Bianchi Sempre is a 57.5cm. However, I was recommended to go ‘down’ a size on a cyclocross bike to a 56cm in the case of the Cannondale. There’s a racing reason for this, as it gives a more compact frame/bike, but the geometry of a cyclocross bike is slightly higher as well (higher bottom bracket), so a smaller bike should make sense. I did some thorough checks online with regards the respective sizing of all three bikes and the 56cm CAADX came pretty close to the Sempre, which has been proving really comfortable. When the bike actually arrived, I was surprised at how large it felt – it was high in the saddle and the handlebars were a good stretch – so if you’re looking at any cyclocross bike be careful with the sizing and ideally get to your local bike shop.
It’s a stretch – As mentioned it’s a long old cockpit on the CAADX, so after the second ride and feeling a bit stiff in my lower back, I swapped the stem for a slightly shorter stem with a bit of lift to it. That tweak has made some difference, the bike was never uncomfortable, but the shorter stretch is a little more comfortable.
Weight – The 105 CAADX feels like a really light bike, and I’d encourage a potential customer to go and take a look at one in the flesh. A mate of mine recently bought a Cube Cross Race Disc on his Cycle-to-work scheme and, although it wasn’t back-to-back, I felt that his bike (which was also 105 equipped) was heavier than the equivalent 105 CAADX. Bearing that in mind, you can feel the weight in the CAADX Sora Disc, but you need to reassure yourself that this is all in the groupset, so as parts wear out you can replace them with lighter components. My Bianchi was supplied with the new 11-speed Shimano Ultegra groupset, but it’s yearning to be dressed in Campagnolo, so I can see the CAADX inheriting some of that Ultegra kit during 2015.
Sora gear spacing – This is a 9-speed set-up, so if you’ve been spoilt with an 11-speed cassette you’ll find that the spacing means that occasionally there’s not a gear that’s quite right for the way your legs feel. But it’s not a real issue, it’s the way we always used to cycle and you just have to try harder every now and again.
Squeaky cranks – One week in and the bike needs a shake-down service, to check the bolts, gear set-up, brakes, etc. The only noticeable creak is coming from the crankset, there’s no movement in the cranks, so that should be a simple strip out and reassemble with some Loctite (a ten minute job).
Disc brakes work – Most of the 100km so far has been on rolling roads, but there’s a short and steep little hill dropping into the back of Malmesbury (Blicks Hill) where I got a proper chance to exercise those Render disc brakes. They’re not as strong as the Avid’s on my mountain bike, but they’re very progressive and with the combination of the 35mm tyres felt very secure braking hard down through the curves on this hill.
So to summarise, my Sora CAADX is virtually identical in many ways to the £200-more-expensive 105 version. The main difference is about 1kg in weight, which I’ll probably lose off of my own body at the rate that I’m riding this new bike – it’s proven to be really addictive, see my Joy of CX post, and I reckon that I’m going to have a good time on this new steed… Bravo, Cannondale (again!).
Footnote – I was in two minds about whether or not to race the CAADX in any proper cyclocross events and when I managed to get a Kinesis Crosslight secondhand I put any ideas of racing it to the back of my mind. However I’m really enjoying the cyclocross racing, so I need to make a decision as to which bike to invest in – the Kinesis needs some new parts and the CAADX would need some lighter components. Current thinking is to upgrade the Sora on the CAADX to 11-speed Ultegra 6800 and treat it to some ‘race’ wheels. I’ll keep you posted on how this progresses.
Note (effective on the 15th April 2015) – Since my purchase from Westbrook Cycles back in late December, the RRP prices for the CAADX range have been back at full price, but this offer from Seven Hundred Cycles in Windsor appeared at £720 back in April.