When Cannondale went back to square one and redesigned the Cannondale SuperX cyclocross weapon for 2017, the bike they created just happened to fit the bill for gravel riding too. And so Cannondale took the SuperX frame, decked it out with a gravel grinder’s wish list of components and set it free on the backroads.
It’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
The fast end of the spectrum
In the world of gravel bikes, there’s a real spectrum of bike styles. At one end, you’ve got your long-haul truckers, bristling with mounts for bottles, fenders, bags and dynamo-powered things, with an upright riding position. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got bikes which are zippy, light, with more road bike DNA, and are better suited to day rides.
The SuperX exemplifies that more performance-oriented gravel bike – it’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
Can a CX bike really be gravel-worthy?
Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops.
Firstly, it’s worth considering the actual differences between a traditional cyclocross bike and a new school gravel bike. Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops. The current breed of cyclocross bikes have changed quite a lot in recent years, to the point where there is as much geometry variance within cyclocross bikes or gravel bikes, as there is separating the two ‘categories’. So, no, Cannondale aren’t just cheaping out!
Check out our review of the Cannondale Slate while you’re here, their killer go-anywhere 650b all-road bike.
The Cannondale SuperX gets a gravel makeover
The SuperX’s gravel makeover sees it get a bunch of simple spec changes, compared to its CX brethren. The brakes get more bite thanks to the use of 160mm rotors at both ends, reasonably aggressive 37mm tyres (WTB Riddlers, in a funky tan wall, nice), and a smaller 40-tooth chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette for better climbing range.
About that geometry
The SuperX has frame geometry inspired by concepts that have been around in the mountain bike world for some time now; Cannondale call it Out Front geometry, but in a nutshell the idea is running a longer front end and a slightly slacker head angle, but using a fork with more offset to reduce the trail measurement. Put all the numbers into a large pot and simmer, and you get handling that is both stable at high speed (thanks to the slack angles) but still zesty at slow speed (thanks to the short trail measurement).
It works. The SuperX feels brilliant in the corners, fast or slow. With a 90mm stem fitted, it’s a confident position, and it’ll hook into a turn in neatly whether you’re on the hoods on in the drops. Thanks to the slacker head angle there’s plenty of toe clearance too, even with 40mm rubber fitted.
Given the firm overall quality, the SuperX is more comfortable than you’d expect when flying down loose fireroads too, as testament again to the good geometry mix, particularly the slack head angle.
At the other end of the bike, Cannondale have done a lot fiddling to get the rear end tight (422mm) while still keeping room for rubber up to 42mm wide. The whole rear end of the bike is offset to the right, by 6mm, to create room for the chain ring and big rubber. Of course, this then requires that the wheel be dished 6mm in the other direction. Apparently this makes for a stronger rear wheel, as the bracing angle of the spokes is more evenly matched on both sides of the wheel. But we feel it’s a pretty complicated solution, with the downside that you can’t just borrow a wheel in the event of an emergency. Other brands have been able to achieve similarly short rear ends without using custom wheel dishing (such as the Norco Search XR we’re reviewing).
Regardless, the short rear end makes it a blast to ride when things are a bit technical. It’s an easy bike to hop, wheelie or flick the rear wheel about, which is part of the appeal to us – it’s just a playful ride – and it feels incredibly responsive.
Firmer than a hospital mattress
Despite the use of Cannondale’s slender, supple 25.4mm Save seatpost, the ride is firm overall. The frame is stiff, a constant reminder that this bike’s origins lie in the one-hour of power that is CX racing, not eight hour back country grinds. If more serious gravel work is in your plans, we’d recommend putting on some 40mm tyres. There’s more than enough clearance to do so, and the extra bag makes this bike much more forgiving over a long ride.
That said, the frame stiffness is reassuring and rewarding too. When the going gets rough or fast, those big hoods of the SRAM Force 1 give you plenty to grab on to, and the bike doesn’t flinch. You feel the bike fly forward under power too, it converts your effort 100%.
And the annoyances?
We did have a few gripes. The seat post is prone to creaking, and a generous amount of carbon paste was required to silence it where it’s clamped into the frame. We also found the rear brake tricky to align to run drag free, with the SRAM brakes not offering a lot of pad clearance. The brakes do have a pretty wooden feel overall too – the power is good, but they just don’t feel great.
If you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.
Ride it off road, ride it on road
For us, the real novelty of the SuperX is the performance edge it carries. It’s a very fast gravel bike, way lighter than most – ours was under 8kg setup tubeless – and with a bit of Formula 1 pep that sets it apart. Beyond the two bottle mounts, you won’t find any other mounting points for extra cages, bags or fenders, so if you’re looking to go extra long, there are better options out there. But if you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.