Today for our Fast Bike Friday feature we’re taking a detailed look at the all-new Cannondale Synapse 2 RL which was part of the range of new Synapse bikes launched globally this week! As official launch partners of Cannondale we published a full product launch feature earlier in the week when the bikes went live around the world. READ THE LAUNCH FEATURE HERE…
The Cannondale Synapse has had a dramatic make-over for 2022.
Click the link to watch our full run-through of the Cannondale Synapse 2022
We were lucky enough to receive the Cannondale Synapse 2 RL 2022 a month before launch, giving us the opportunity to put this versatile road bike through its paces on the unforgiving back lanes of the Lake District National Park in some of the most difficult riding conditions of the year. Riding at this time of year has its own challenges when it comes to unpredictable weather, poor road surfaces and low light conditions and the new Synapse was more than up to the job, particularly during the short daylight hours, but before we get into the ride here’s a run down of what makes the all-new Cannondale Synapse such a versatile and user-friendly road bike.
The all-new Synapse 2 RL excels on the sort of lumpy back lanes found in the Lake District.
The Cannondale Synapse range has had a dramatic make-over for 2022 and includes a complete re-design of the Synapse’s frame and fork as well as a big injection of tech, with its unique fully integrated ‘SmartSense’ system reflecting a holistic approach to technology implementation from Cannondale. The new Synapse’s headliners include…
SmartSense – Fully integrated tech developed in partnership with Garmin
All-Road Ability – Strikes a versatile balance between road and gravel
Enhanced Comfort – Increase to frame compliance with size-specific proportional response construction
Faster – New subtly aerodynamic frame and fork tube profiles, more speed – less effort
There’s been a big injection of tech with Cannondale’s sophisticated ‘SmartSense’ system.
The Synapse’s frame and fork has had a major overhaul for this all-new version; some elements of Cannondale’s full-on road racing machine the SuperSix EVO have clearly migrated over to the Synapse. There’s the dropped seatstays we’ve grown familiar with and squarer, flattened-off truncated airfoil tube profiles lifted directly from the SuperSix; squint and it almost looks like a SuperSix EVO with a slightly shorter, sloping top tube and a slightly higher head tube; naturally with this configuration the Synapse has gained more speed and even more compliance than its predecessor.
The all-new Synapse is more aero than its predecessor but is just as light.
We all know the saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. When it comes to the Synapse’s geometry that’s exactly what Cannondale have done, with the previous version winning multiple awards in numerous reviews thanks in no-small-part to its comfort over long distances the designers at Cannondale have kept that dialed rider position, which strikes a balance between racy, forward-leaning efficiency and upright comfort. The 2022 Synapse model sees a further increase in comfort and compliance with those newly dropped seatstays and a sophisticated carbon fibre layup process both playing their part in enhancing rider comfort. Cannondale have also applied their ‘Proportional Response Construction’ principle to the new Synapse, with sensitive differences to frame construction across all sizes so that the properties of the frame and fork – compliance where it’s needed and stiffness where it counts are consistent across all size options.
While the model name and frame geometry stays the same everything else is new and cutting edge.
As I’ve already mentioned, the Synapse has inherited some of those truncated airfoil tube profiles from its cousin the SuperSix EVO; these subtly aerodynamic frame and fork tube profiles help this all-road bike cut through the air more efficiently and, as has been proved over recent years, even at lower speeds on ultra-long grueling gravel rides those small aero gains all add up. It’s worth noting too that while the profiles of the Synapse’s tubing had become more aero overall weight of the frame and fork stay the same, there’s no weight-gain despite these improvements.
All tube profiles have become more aerodynamic to make the Synapse more aero-efficient over longer distances.
The new Synapse is described by Cannondale as the perfect ‘road’ bike with the ‘road’ in inverted commas signaling how this bike has been designed to strike the perfect balance between a road and gravel bike. The Synapse feels natural to ride on all kinds of roads and a wide range of surfaces including smooth tarmac, more unpredictable un-made back lanes and gravel tracks.
Taking its inspiration from the Cannondale SuperSix EVO race bike the Synapse now has dropped seatstays for added comfort.
The Synapse 2 RL boasts big tyre clearance too, accommodating tyres up to 35mm wide and allowing you to actually run gravel tyres with a minimal tread; with those 35mm tyres fitted there’s still 6mm of clearance between the tyre and frame/fork. Just like the previous version Cannondale have included bolt-on bosses for mudguards so if you want to set up your Synapse for winter riding duties you can still run tyres up to 30mm wide with full mud guards.
There’s plenty of tyre clearance on the all-new Synapse, allowing you to run up to 35mm wide tyres or 30mm tyres with mudguards.
Upfront the fork boasts the same amounts of tyre clearance.
The rear triangle of the Synapse 2 RL features a reflective paint finish to catch driver’s attention.
When the team at Cannondale ran through the new Synapse there a number of other notable features that were highlighted to us which are worth mentioning here too. First off there’s top tube mounts for you to easily fit a bento box for easy storage on long rides, then their downtube switch plate, which already features on their SuperSix EVO road bike makes an appearance; this small plate is interchangeable and facilities the neat routing of cables or a Di2 junction box. Home mechanics will rejoice at the news of ‘tube-in-tube’ cable routing allowing for quick and easy cable and brake hose changes while the return of a standard threaded BSA bottom bracket instead of Cannondale’s BB30 press-fit standard will have certain members of the cycling fraternity back-flipping for joy at the thought of silent bottom brackets and easy fitting and removal in the future. One last detail worth noting on the new Synapse is the bike’s rear Thru Axle, it is now ‘trainer compatible’ with a configuration that fits your indoor smart trainer without having to faff around with different adaptors; it’s a small thing but it’s a welcome addition.
The addition of top tube mounts on the new Synapse helps open up the bike’s versatility.
A neat Cannondale switch plate means that whatever the cable configuration the looks are neat and the functionality is enhanced.
The return of a standard threaded bottom bracket is a welcome change from the previous generation Synapse.
It’s a small detail but worth noting that the rear thru axle is now smart trainer compatible.
Fast, comfortable, versatile and fast thanks to those aero-profiled tubes; the Synapse 2 RL is packed full of great, ride-enhancing features.
It’s sign of the times that despite all of the new features on the Synapse’s frame and fork the main talking point of this range of bikes is actually Cannondale’s unique, fully-integrated SmartSense system; it’s almost as if we’ve all just come to expect a versatile disc-brake-equipped aero, lightweight and responsive road bike capable of sporting larger volume tyres as standard. It’s the Synapse’s brilliant chassis and all of the additions and improvements over its predecessor which help make this a true ‘all-road’ bike, but now let’s take a look at SmartSense, a fully integrated system that works as one but is made up of the following constitute parts…
- Front & Rear Lights
- Rear Facing Radar
- Radar Unit LED Display
- Power Pack
- Cannondale Wheel Sensor
- Cannondale App (updated)
The SmartSense Radar consists of a Garmin Varia rear facing Radar adapted for SmartSense; it is designed to give you more confidence riding on the open road in traffic and helps to prevent you from having to constantly look over your shoulder. The Radar detects vehicles approaching from behind at a distance of 140 metres and gives a visual and audible signal alerting you to the oncoming vehicle on the handle-bar-mounted Radar LED Display. This clever system indicates the relative position and speed of all contacts and signals warnings for vehicles coming up too fast or too close, activating the rear light and increasing the brightness of the light as the vehicle approaches, helping to alert the driver. Upfront the Synapse’s SmartSense front light also brightens to warn you of traffic moving up towards you. It’s worth noting that while the Synapse bike ships with the standard Radar LED display unit the Radar SmartSense system also works with a Garmin, Wahoo or similar GPS head unit or your Smartphone installed with the Cannondale App, lighting up in the same way.
The integrated Radar and Hindsite rear light form an important part of the complete ‘SmartSense’ system.
As cars approach from the rear the SmartSense Radar detects them and indicates exactly what’s happening on the Radar LED display unit.
Glancing down at the Radar display quickly becomes second nature and is far safer than constantly looking over your shoulder.
The SmartSense system on the Synapse 2 RL includes their own front and rear lights developed in partnership with leading bike light brand Lezyne; the front ‘ForeSite’ light is neatly fitted to the out-front handlebar mount and the ‘Hindsite’ rear light fits neatly under the saddle and comes with various adapters to allow you to set it up with a saddle bag too if required. Both the SmartSense lights and the Radar system are powered by the SmartSense Powerpack developed by Garmin with both lights powering up and turning on automatically when you begin to ride. This is a sophisticated lighting system with some clever features including ambient light sensors to help ensure you have optimal visibility in all light conditions; the rear Hindsite light responds to your bike decelerating and brightens as you slow down to warn vehicles behind you. As I’ve already mentioned when I talked about the Radar system your rear light will also brighten when vehicles approach you from behind at a distance of 140 metres; you can also customise how your lights and the Radar system behave via the Cannondale App.
Cannondale have worked with leading light brand Lezyne to develop the ForeSite SmartSense front light.
The ForeSite reacts to the SmartSense Radar, brightening as cars approach from behind to draw your attention.
The front ForeSite head light throws out a 350 lumens beam.
The rear HindSite light integrates with the SmartSense Radar and also acts as an inertial brake alaert.
You can fine-tune how the SmartSense Radar and integrated lights function via the Cannondale app.
The SmartSense Powerpack brings all of the Synapse’s integration together; developed in partnership with Garmin this powerpack is an intrinsic part of the Synapse’s frame, reflecting Cannondale’s commitment to their integrated-system design principle. With a specially made cradle sitting neatly in a special recess that’s been molded into the carbon frame during production the SmartSystem’s rechargeable battery is easily removed and refitted using a simple and secure lever and means that there is just one single power source for your lights, Radar system and GPS head unit if you use one, which can stay permanently attached to your bike.
Cannondale’s integrated PowerPack powers the whole SmartSense system from central point.
The SmartSense powerpack is quick and easy to remove and fit making charging convenient.
If you want to find out more and read a full in-depth review of the Cannondale SmartSense system check out our Synapse Product Launch feature published earlier this week.
Cannondale’s wheel sensor pairs with the SmartSense system activating the integrated lights and Radar as well as communicating with the App.
The Cannondale Synapse 2 RL comes spec’d with Shimano’s functional, precise-shifting, no-nonsense Ultegra mechanical 11-speed groupset. You may be aware that Shimano launched a new 12-speed iteration of the Ultegra groupset late last year; that version of Ultegra is Di2 only – an electronic transmission. For now this 11-speed mechanical version of Ultegra lives on and you’ll be seeing it on a wide range of road bikes from the leading brands. In use this groupset provides crisp, predictable gear shifts every time you select a gear and with the sort of challenging riding the Cannondale have in mind for the Synapse they have sensibly spec’d the 2 RL with compact gear ratios that can handle hilly rides and portions of your ride that require you to stay in the saddle negotiating loose gravel-type climbs and rough roads.
The Cannondale Synapse 2 RL is spec’s with a brilliantly functional Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset.
An 11-speed rear derailleur is matched with a wide ratio 11-34T cassette.
Upfront there’s a compact 50/34T chainset, matched with a wide ratio 11-speed 11-34T cassette giving you all the gears you’ll need to conquer the steepest climbs you can find; when the road flattens out or points downwards that 50/11T gear ratio means there’s no danger of you spinning out and running out of gears. Disc brakes on road bikes have very quickly become the norm and there’s no surprises to see a pair of neat, flat-mount Ultegra calipers paired with compact, self-cooling 160mm disc brake rotors here. These brakes give you all the braking power you need and really prove themselves on the sort of rides that the Synapse has been designed to excel on; these Ultegra brakes are easy to modulate, providing just the right amount of braking power you need in any riding scenario. The consistency of hydraulic disc brakes cannot be understated and are a big benefit towards the end of long all-day epic rides when you’re feeling fatigued and perhaps your hands are cold and weak.
Powerful Shimano Ultegra hydraulic calipers provide controlled braking in all riding conditions.
160mm diameter disc rotors front and rear help scrub off speed quickly and in control.
Cannondale have spec’d a capable Fulcrum Rapid Red 900 wheelset that features smooth, durable sealed-bearing hubs and fast-rolling alloy rims. The wheelset has been fitted with a pair of Vittoria Rubino Pro Graphene 2.0 tyres in suitably wide 30mm dimensions; these hard wearing, durable tyres will hold up well to long hours in the saddle and can easily handle the rougher, un-made roads and back lanes that the Synapse has been designed to master as well as coping easily with daily commuter duties should you assign the bike to that function. As we’ve already mentioned the new Synapse 2 RL has been designed to accommodate wider tyres, so if 30mm wide tyres still aren’t wide enough for you you can always retro-fit 35mm wide options and push the limits of the Synapse even more.
Large volume 30mm wide Vittoria Rubino Pro Graphene 2.0 tyres can handle rough roads with ease and you can always go up to 35mm if preferred.
So what about the ride? Well, it’s a funny of time of year to get out on a brand new (pre-launch) road bike; with temperatures hovering around zero, high winds being a regular ride companion and the odd stretch of frozen surfaces, riding consistently at this time of year can best described as ‘challenging’. Factor in the shortest daylight hours of the year and normally you might be secretly cursing a bike brand for launching a new bike in mid-winter! Happily though this is was not the case with the all-new Synapse 2 RL and their ‘SmartSense’ system making those normally unpredictable twilight rides a much more confidence-inspiring riding experience.
So what about the ride? Writer of this feature Johnny Dodgin spent a few weeks on the bike during winter to find out…
In real-world use the SmartSense really comes into its own; with all of the system’s settings customised via the Cannondale App I was able to just jump on the bike and ride, with the Cannondale wheel sensor bringing the SmartSense system to life and lighting up the front and rear lights automatically and the ambient light sensors automatically adjusting the light system’s brightness and visibility to other road users. As you can tell from some of our riding photos in this feature, there have been times when I have been riding the Synapse 2 RL into dusk and with those powerful lights just taking care of themselves and adjusting to different light conditions it meant I could just focus on my ride.
Initially I was unsure how much I’d notice the Synapse’s SmartSense Radar while riding, but very quickly I came to realise just what an important bit of kit it could be. In just a short time it became second nature to glance down to the small display unit in response to a short audio queue; a quick look down would reveal that your green LED (which indicates you, the rider) has turned amber and a white LED (which indicates an oncoming vehicle) is approaching from behind. This gives you a clear understanding of the speed that the vehicle is approaching and in some cases that there are multiple vehicles approaching (at one point I had 3 white LEDs creeping up behind me on the display). The Radar is even more confidence-inspiring in total darkness when those ‘have they seen me or not’ fears that come with night riding and vehicles approaching from behind are somewhat negated by a visual cue showing that the vehicle has slowed and is on your wheel waiting for a safe place to pass.
The Synapse 2 RL feels spritely and responds well to sudden out-of-the-saddle efforts.
So in summary the SmartSense system really does add a new safety element to your riding and helps to open up how you use the bike and how you feel riding in urban areas and on busy roads when traffic is busy. The fact that all of the tech is fully integrated with one central source of power is a real plus and don’t forget you can always swap out the original Radar display for your Garmin or similar GPS head unit and run the same Radar system on that.
The Synapse frame and fork is stiff and responsive making it an efficient climber, but the bike is comfortable too on long rides.
Right, onto the bike itself; how does it feel on the lumpy back lanes of the Lake District National Park? I was really impressed at how spritely the bike felt on the short sharp climbs dotted around the Lakes, while longer in-the-saddle efforts up climbs like Kirkstone Pass were a breeze on the Synapse 2 RL; the geometry of the bike has been unchanged from its predecessor, which is great as the bike features a relatively short tup tube and a sensibly sized headtube (not ridiculously high and not super-low like a race bike) putting you in a position where you can stay in the saddle and turn an efficient gear, getting over some of the area’s longest, most sustained climbs.
Riding during short winter days and fading light the SmartSense ambient light system really came into its own.
The frame is stiff and responsive where it needs to be so that you can put the power down and accelerate quickly when you need to. The addition of the dropped seatstays on this new-gen Synapse have enhanced compliance and increased comfort over the previous Synapse meaning I felt fresher for longer into some of those big epic off-season road rides. Descending on the Synapse 2 RL was a dream; the geometry of the bike really lends itself well to going into turns at speed, holding your line and exiting tight corners with the same momentum that you went into them with. It was a really-confidence inspiring ride and I felt encouraged to push on even though I was riding in some of the most difficult conditions of the year; if anything unpredictable did occur, say when I was fast-approaching some ice run-off from fields I was able to quickly and effectively scrub of speed in full control thanks to those powerful, easy to modulate Ultegra disc brakes and avoid disaster.
With a great spread of gears on the Synapse 2 RL even the longest, steepest climbs of the Lake District were relatively easy to ride.
The Synapse 2 RL is a confident descender and keeps you grinning on the downhills.
The all-new Cannondale Synapse 2 RL is a fantastically versatile bike that really lends itself to the kind of unpredictable riding conditions that we all encounter here in the UK; let’s face it, difficult riding conditions are not even limited to the colder months of the year! You’re just as likely to get caught in cold, wet weather in the spring and summer months, when black clouds roll in and visibility decreases rapidly; the SmartSense system is the perfect ride companion, with the lights always there and ready to make you more visible and safer on the road. The ability to fit wider tyres and run mudguards opens up the possibility of commuting duties or using the Synapse as your dedicated winter bike; when you want to take on more unpredictable rides, heading out into new areas that you’ve not ridden before the 2 RL is ready to handle unpredictable road surfaces and light gravel-biking duties. I have to agree with the Cannondale marketing bods who have termed the all-new Synapse the perfect ‘road’ bike with the ‘road’ in inverted commas because this versatile bike really does represent the perfect balance between a road and gravel bike.
The super-versatile Cannondale Synapse 2 RL is ready for long days in the saddle over mixed terrain; when the light fades the integrated SmartSense provides enhanced safety on busy roads encouraging you to stay out even longer.
Cannondale Synapse 2 RL RRP £4,000.00
- Frame: Synapse Carbon, SmartSense enabled, Proportional Response size-specific design, BSA threaded BB, flat mount brake, 12x142mm Speed Release thru axle, thru-tube internal cable routing with Switch Plate, removable fender bridge, hidden rack/fender mounts
- Fork: Synapse Carbon, integrated crown race, Proportional Response size-specific design, 12x100mm Speed Release thru-axle, thru-tube internal routing, hidden fender mounts
- SmartSense with Lights and Radar, Trainer-compatible thru-axle
- Headset: Synapse Sealed Bearing, integrated, 1-1/4″-1-1/8″
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano R60 BSA
- Chain: Shimano HG701, 11-speed
- Crank: Shimano Ultegra, BSA, 50/34
- Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra, braze-on
- Rear Cassette: Shimano Ultegra HG800, 11-34, 11-speed
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra GS 11-speed
- Shifters: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, 11-speed
- Brake Levers: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic
- Brakes: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, 160/160mm RT800 rotors
- Hubs: (F) Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 12x100mm centerlock / (R) Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 12x142mm centerlock
- Rims: Fulcrum Rapid Red 900
- Spokes: Fulcrum, Stainless steel
- Wheel Sensor: Cannondale Wheel Sensor
- Tyres: Vittoria Rubino Pro Graphene 2.0, 700 x 30c
- Bar Tape: Fabric Knurl Bar Tape
- Handlebar: Cannondale 2, 7050 alloy, Compact
- Saddle: Fizik Aliante Delta, S-alloy rail
- Seatpost: Cannondale 3 SmartSense, 6061 Alloy, 27.2
- Stem: Cannondale 2, 6061 Alloy, 31.8, 7°
Written by Johnny Dodgin
Photos by James Vincent
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