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By Matt Pacocha
Bike fit is no joking matter for a professional racer. Fit is the single most important aspect of the bike. If the bike doesn’t fit, it really doesn’t matter how light or technologically advanced it is — it’s not going to be very fast.
Take the case of Liquigas rider Daniele Bennati. He has short legs, long arms and a long torso. So the team’s bike sponsor, Cannondale, built him a custom SuperSix carbon bike, which he has been racing for two and a half months.
The original was clad in team paint, but for this year’s Giro d’Italia he received a second, more conspicuous, all green, custom SuperSix. It came last Sunday night and he promptly won Monday’s stage 3 with it.
In 2007 the entire Liquigas outfit raced on stock frames; there was no development path for providing team riders with custom bikes. And Cannondale’s newest bikes, SystemSix and SuperSix, are made using a monocoque technique, which doesn’t lend itself to easy geometry modifications. Making a custom bike for Bennati required Cannondale to invest in a new mold.
Before spending the money, Curt Davis, Cannondale’s engineering team liaison, Rory Mason, Cannondale’s team liaison, talked about how best to hook Bennati up with a bike that fit.
“We started by sending him a stock 56cm Super Six to try out,” said Mason. “From there, we learned that he would need a stock 54cm, but with a 3cm longer top tube.”
Since the cost of a custom monocoque mold is very high, Cannondale decided to have Bennati test drive a succession of custom CAAD 9 aluminum bikes. After riding the first, Bennati asked for adjustments to the length of the top tube and the head angle. The second proved the changes, and Cannondale cut the mold for the carbon bike. Bennati settled on a 58.5cm top tube and a 52cm seat tube. As the numbers illustrate, it’s quite an extreme position.
The material differs from the stock version as well. While the production SuperSix uses a blend of mid- and high-modulus carbon fiber Bennati’s bike is made entirely from high-modulus fiber. This bumps the chassis stiffness higher by roughly 20 percent, Cannondale says,. It also shaves between 50 and 100 grams from the weight (an exact comparison can’t be given because the bike’s custom size sits between two production models).
“What he’s told us, is that in the last 5K of a race what he really cares about is stability and stiffness,” said Davis. “Not just for standing up and putting the power down, but for the full-on battling that’s going on before the sprint.”
Cannondale took this feedback into account by specifically experimenting with new shapes and tube sizes for Bennati’s bike. The custom bike has a laterally ovalized top tube that’s slightly larger than the production specification. This increases the bike’s steering stiffness and stability. The cross section of the new top tube is 15 percent larger than the stock version.
“We created a new mold for this and there were some experiments that we tried as well,” said Scott Struve, Cannondale’s marketing director, calling the R&D process one of the benefits of signing a ProTour team.
“You learn some things along the way,” he said. “You may see components of Bennati’s requests in the near future.” Struve and Davis confirmed that Cannondale will indeed incorporate these changes into a new model.
SuperSix SL — maybe?