TESTED: Cannondale SystemSix, the wind cheater

Introduction

The SystemSix is Cannondale’s official entry to the aero road bike soirée. This bike is slated as being the fastest in the world but what of its versatility on everyday roads, what does it climb like and who should consider owning one?

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The Bike

It’s a decidedly aero-looking affair with an amalgamation of deep truncated airfoil tubes, in a neat disc specific design. The integrated seat post, contoured seat tube and sleek-ish dropped seat stays complete the impressive aesthetics.

The fork crown, head tube and downtube area is visibly different from traditional road bikes. A larger opening in the fork accommodates tires up to 30mm wide, a chine redirects air coming up the back of the fork leg and channels it downstream reducing drag whilst the front sections of the head tube and downtube are aero optimized.

Complete with an asymmetric chain stay and fork to handle the forces and strains that disc brakes induce, the bike is simply dripping with innovation. In fact, Cannondale borrowed technology from their Slice and SuperSlice bikes whilst incorporating the geometry and lateral stiffness numbers from their award winning SuperSix EVO into the design of this SystemSix aero steed.

Given that there is extra material involved with these unique truncated aerodynamic features it’s remarkable that the SystemSix Hi-MOD frame tips the scales a mere 250g higher than the featherweight SuperSix EVO. Interestingly our 54cm test bike tipped the scales at 8kg which is pretty much the same as the SuperSix Evo with an equivalent Ultegra disc build.

It’s a fully ‘Di2 ready’ frame and the spec highlights include the popular front and rear ‘speed release thru-axle’ for lightening quick wheel changes, the superb Shimano Ultegra hydro brakes, Ultegra derailleurs, 35mm deep Fulcrum clinchers, Vittoria Rubino PRO 23c rubber, a Vision Metron 4D flat bar, Prologo Dimension saddle and the Cannondale Hollowgram SI crankset in a 52/36 setup.

The ‘mechanic friendly’ split spacer system allows for pretty easy bar stack height adjustment without the need to disconnect any of the cables which run inside the head tube. The steering has a bump stop around the 50-degree mark which preserves the frame in the case of crashes.

Geometry and size guide

The Ride

Rolling out the door onto the big chain ring, middle of the block and hands in the drops the SystemSix glides along gracefully. Make no mistake, there is most certainly an immense feeling of speed here.

The geometry has the rider slightly more stretched out and we opted for a relatively tame stack height with room to further ‘race’ it down. The bike is supplied with 7 gated stem spacers which facilitate a broad spectrum of stack height preferences.

On the road we found the steering to be predictable through sweeping turns and sharp enough to respond to quick direction changes.

Unsure on whether to go for a 54 or 56 frame size, Cannondale sent us both options to try out. We did about 200km on the 56 then switched to the size 54 which delivered a more agile, snappy and punchy feel. In an ideal world we would have put a longer stem onto the bike to get the fit 100% perfect.

The bike is a real head turner. On the road, racked outside the local café or when perched on the side of the road taking in the views the SystemSix is a sight for sore eyes. In group rides the SystemSix is a proper narcissist – it’s ALL about the bike.

The rear end on the SystemSix is certainly more vertically compliant than what we were expecting and those unavoidable sharp edges we usually hit on our local loop seemed slightly tamer than on other aero rigs we have ridden, even with 23’s. On one of the test rides whilst stomping down a local descent we accidentally hit a sharp edging on a resurfaced section of road and though the hit was potentially catastrophic for a wheel, tube or tyre – the SystemSix rolled on regardless. We are not going to offer too much of a scientific explanation for that but will say the vertical compliance in the rear played a role in that positive outcome.

We are big fans of road disc brakes and these Shimano Ultegra’s perform exceptionally well during modulated or urgent braking conditions. In fact, on one of the test rides we were chatting along merrily when a beach goer stopped their car abruptly in front of us and the raw stopping power of the brakes definitely prevented a face plant onto the boot of the VW. There is no brake pad drag, no setup / maintenance fuss and we found they offer predictably smooth stopping power with that proven Shimano reliability.

During out of the saddle sustained efforts on rolling terrain the lateral stiffness and direct power transfer of the SystemSix is evident and great. The cockpit and fit of the bike is really very good although we did have the slight irritation during standing climbing efforts as our knees touched the cables which feed around the side of the stem.

The Vision 4D Flat bar has great ergonomics when on the hoods and in the drops, yet if you are not accustomed to flat bars they do take a few rides to get used to – especially when your hands are on the tops.

A little deeper into the tech

WINDY DAYS: We took the SystemSix out on some super windy days too, with side winds gusting at well over 50kph and whilst we never dismounted like some of the other riders out there, we did notice the wind tugged at us a little harder during side wind gusts. Into block headwinds though, the bike is an absolute charm and a genuine wind cheater.

HOW FAST? Cannondale claim that during a 60kph descent, when pedaling, the bike uses a whopping 100 watts less than a traditional bike – that’s quite a significant energy saving if you think about how often you actually do pedal on descents. We found the bike is simply faster everywhere but on very steep climbs and the engineers at Cannondale concurred and added that when the climb is steeper than 6% the aero advantage is negated.

CLIMBING ABILITY: In testing we stomped it up the 6.7% Suikerbossie a few times and interestingly our times and speeds were on par with similar efforts on non-aero bikes. For shits and giggles we took the bike on a 1 minute long climb which has a killer gradient of 14%, it was a purely subjective test with no scientists on the sideline and during repeated attempts over a 2-month period we were actually a handful of seconds quicker on the SystemSix.

If you are regularly riding in Alp like territory with long climbs then the SystemSix is not your best choice, but you will be fine, it’s a good climber. For rolling terrain like is found on the 3 big classic races here in South Africa [Shova, Argus and 94.7] we think the SystemSix is going to give you a faster experience than a non-aero option. This bike is quite something.

Summary

The ride feels smoother than other aero bikes we have ridden but it is obviously stiff. It’s quiet and splendidly fast. That classic road bike feel about its handling is clearly evident in all conditions. Overall the SystemSix is an incredibly versatile bike not worthy of being boxed into one category.

MODEL TESTED: SystemSix Carbon Ultegra

DISTANCE COVERED DURING TEST PERIOD: 1 082km

IMAGES: Gary Perkin and Alan Frank

MORE: cannondale.com