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BWR bike test: What I learned, what was sagging, and what I loved

Cannondale Synapse with SmartSense provided an education on Shimano's 12-speed wiring.

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While the Belgian Waffle Rides in Kansas, Utah, and North Carolina are bonafide gravel races that demand gravel bikes, the original event in California, per founder Michael Marckx’s vision, is a really hard road event with a whole mess of dirt sectors thrown in. An Unbound-style gravel bike and tires would be overkill, but a road bike with 23mm clincher tires would be a horrible idea. So what to do?

I brought a Cannondale Synapse 1 RLE road bike, and swapped in the new Hed Emporia GC3 Performance gravel wheels with Challenge 36mm Gravel Grinder tubeless tires. The new Synapse is an endurance road bike with room for 35mm tires, and has Cannondale’s SmartSense combination of front and rear lights with Garmin’s Varia radar, all of which runs on a single down-tube-mounted battery.

See below for the full details, but here’s the summary: The Synapse is a great endurance road bike with engineered flex and confident-but-not-sleepy handling. The SmartSense stuff is cool, but I wish it disassembled more easily, and the single battery would connect to everything on the bike, including the Shimano drivetrain and the (not-included) Garmin. The new Dura-Ace is friggin’ awesome. (I learned, you need to run two wires into the seatpost battery…) And, after bending a rotor and breaking a frame on previous trips, I had good luck with the Thule travel case this time, perhaps due to my adding rigid cardboard from a lawnmower box into the top portion of the bag.

I covered the Waffle Saturday, and raced the Wafer Sunday. I ended up tenth and won my age group.