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Gravel Gear

Reviewed: Cannondale SuperX Hi-Mod CX1

Cannondale's SuperX Hi-Mod has a great frame design for 'cross racing, but a few of its kit choices left us scratching our heads.

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MSRP: $5,330
Weight: 16.93 pounds (54cm)
We like: Frame design is spot-on, lightweight, more competitively priced than other high-end CX race options.
We don’t like: Quick-releases seem dated on a modern ‘cross bike, short-cage rear derailleur limits cassette choices, flexy wheels.

Cannondale has been hitting it out of the park in 2015, specifically with the release of the new SuperSix Evo road bike and its XC hardtail, the F-Si (tested in the September issue of Velo). Both bikes are fast, light, and innovative in their own ways, so we had high expectations for the SuperX Hi-Mod cyclocross bike.

Indeed, the SuperX has many of the same features that make the SuperSix Evo great, like “BallisTec” carbon and shaped tubes that Cannondale calls “Speed Save.” These features are intended to combine compliance, stiffness, and strength throughout the frame. The tube shaping in particular has done much to help Cannondale tailor the ride feel of its bikes, and if the SuperSix Evo is any indication, the SuperX should follow suit with a comfortable ride that doesn’t sacrifice the lateral stiffness that’s so important on the cyclocross course.

We tested the SuperX briefly in rural New York this past August at the team training camp, but it wasn’t enough for us to really get a sense of the bike, so we had one shipped to us in Boulder, Colorado so we could put it through its paces at Valmont Bike Park, site of the 2014 cyclocross national championships. It was here we discovered what makes the SuperX a worthy addition to Cannondale’s line of light and fast bikes — as well as some of its curious weaknesses.

Light, tight, and right

Cannondale has made much of its BallisTec carbon, touting it as some of the lightest and strongest frame tubing out there. It’s hard to argue with that; the SuperX frame and fork combine for a feathery 1,500 grams, for which your shoulder will thank you on the run-ups. The light frame and smart tube shaping lend themselves to an excellent ride feel: Dive hard into a corner, launch out of it, and the SuperX is right there with you. That sort of confident handling means the frame combines the right amount of flex for compliance and stiffness for power transfer.

Cannondale thinned out the seat tube in places to allow for some flex, yet the bottom bracket itself is fairly stout for when you stomp on the pedals. Similarly, the seat stays and chain stays feature custom shaping. The top tube tapers, too, as it meets the seat tube, which not only continues the ride-tailoring for stiffness and compliance, but also provides a flat, even place for shouldering the bike on run-ups.

The frame and fork never feel harsh, either. That’s surprising given how well the bike seems to track through turns — likely thanks to its stiff bottom bracket and head tube. Though the SuperX never went to our lab for stiffness testing, its confident handling was noticeable on the dirt.

Behind the curve

With all the attention Cannondale paid to the frame, there are a few curious features. First and foremost, what’s up with the decision to stick with quick-releases? Cannondale is definitely off the back on this one, as just about every other major player has made the switch to thru-axles on cyclocross bikes. According to Cannondale’s representatives, the company uses the quick-release system because it combines light weight, simplicity of use, and solid performance, though future inclusion of thru-axles wasn’t ruled out. But there is one solid reason to switch to thru-axles even if the thinking is the axles themselves don’t do much to improve performance: Boost 148 only comes in a thru-axle option, and in our experience, Boost works. Keep in mind that Boost is 148 rear spacing, so simply adding a thru-axle doesn’t make it Boost-compatible, but we wonder if the future of cyclocross bikes might intersect with Boost at some point.

In fact, if the Cannondale was sporting thru-axles, the Stan’s Grail Team tubeless wheels might have felt less flexy. A wider hub spacing provides a more stable platform laterally, and tall wheels like 700c and 29ers really benefit from Boost or at the very least a wider, bigger axle. Serious racers would upgrade these wheels for race day anyway, but for budget-conscious racers who don’t have the coin for a set of Zipp 303s, the non-thru-axle Grails will be disappointing.

Those weren’t the only curious build decisions. The short-cage rear derailleur also felt out of place. We’re a fan of 1X drivetrains, but with a short-cage rear derailleur, cassette gearing options are limited; a medium-cage derailleur would allow racers to run a range wider than the included 11-28 cassette, a near-necessity on courses with a fair bit of climbing. An extended-range cassette or cog upgrade to a 40-tooth? Out of the question with a short-cage rear derailleur.

The crankset includes a 40-tooth chainring, so with a low-end gearing of 40-28, you might find yourself running some of the steeps that others are riding. Usually we’d say just run 2x if you need more range, but the Cannondale doesn’t come with a front shifter, adding more dollars to a potential upgrade.

To be fair, Cannondale isn’t the only bike manufacturer out there that’s using a short-cage rear derailleur on 1X setups, but for versatility without adding a double up front, a medium-cage derailleur just makes sense.

The build decisions Cannondale made tend to make the bike somewhat out of place in real race situations. That said, while $5,000 is expensive, when compared to other race bikes in this weight category like the Felt F1X (16.7 pounds) or the Santa Cruz Stigmata (16.7 pounds), the SuperX comes in between $1,600 and $2,000 less expensive than those competitors, making for a decent bargain. Racers might have room left in their wallets for a few key upgrades, particularly to the rear derailleur and wheels.

Overall, Cannondale has added a very good bike to its ever-improving lineup, but with a few tweaks, the SuperX would be an excellent addition, not just a very good one. They’ve nailed frame design; now, a smarter build and thru-axles should be on the list.