Competing at the WorldTour level comes with certain minimum tech requirements: Teams need an all-around bike for most stages, a TT bike for — duh — TT stages, and that’s really it. A two-bike quiver could do it. But it’s hard to compete against the big sprinters and breakaway romantics without an aero bike.
Cannondale now has one to supplement its EF Education First cycling team stable. The SystemSix features many of the aero touches you’re used to seeing, and a few you might not be. That’s because the goal wasn’t necessarily to create an aero bike; indeed, Cannondale engineers are quick to note that it’s not an aero bike at all, but instead a do-everything bike that happens to have aero design qualities.
Is that just some marketing nonsense? Or is there some truth to it? Yes to both.
By all appearances, this is an aero bike. (Sorry, Cannondale engineer dudes.) The question is, does it ride enough like an all-around bike to support the rah rah that this isn’t an aero bike, but instead an everyday ride that can tackle the big mountains too? No, but it’s really, really close.
Look at the geometry numbers and you’ll see digits more akin to that of an all-around bike. A 73-degree head tube angle matches that of Cannondale’s all-around rig, the SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod, almost exactly. And the SystemSix’s 57mm trail figure is only 1mm longer than that of the SuperSix. The 987mm wheelbase is 2mm shorter, with the same 405mm chainstays.
The result? The SystemSix feels suspiciously like an all-around bike. Okay, engineering dudes, nicely done. Handling still errs slightly on the stable side rather than the race day twitch you might be used to on a true all-rounder, but it’s by no means a wrestling match to track tightly in corners. It’s flirting with handling responsiveness you’d get from an all-around bike, but maintains stability akin to an aero bike.
Couple that handling with the SystemSix’s notable lateral stiffness for exceptional acceleration and you’ve got a unique beast for sure. That’s the beauty of this bike: You do indeed get elements of both the aero category and the all-around category blended into one.
With all those big, long aero tube shapes, you’d be forgiven for assuming this one’s a harsh ride. You’d also be wrong. The SystemSix rolls far more smoothly than it should for as unforgiving as it appears. You never lose the sense that you’re on an aero bike, but we never caught ourselves ruminating about road vibrations either. The SystemSix achieves a fine balance between compliance and a beat-on-it solidity.
It is, however, fairly heavy at 18.08 pounds. And you feel that bulk in certain situations where an all-around bike would shine. Herein lies the hard border between all-around bikes and aero bikes. The SystemSix hedges very closely to all-around performance, but once you start climbing, you’ll notice the weight. More importantly, you’ll notice the absence of a certain pep and responsiveness you get from thinner tube shapes. Perhaps that’s getting a bit too subjective, but whenever I hit a long climb, I was reminded exactly what kind of bike I was riding.
It should come as no surprise that Cannondale mates the SystemSix with integrated handlebars. At this point in aero bike development, it’s basically a necessity. They also tend to be fairly uncomfortable, with a few exceptions. The Knot SystemBar is separate from the stem, allowing eight degrees of adjustment. That helps with dialing in a comfortable position.
Together, the two components create a sleek cockpit. The bar tops are flat for aero advantage. They’re also straight across. On the spectrum of aero handlebars, these fall somewhere in the middle: They’re not uncomfortable, but they certainly don’t focus on ergonomics as much as others on the market. The shape and feel of these bars could use some refining.
The top-tier SystemSix comes with a power meter…sort of. It’s installed on the bike, but it will cost you $490 to activate a lifetime subscription. So you get the added weight of a power meter, but not the functionality, unless you want to cough up a bit more coin. This seems like a pretty lousy marketing move, but it should be noted that this doesn’t reflect poorly on the bike itself. (Of course, our power meter wasn’t activated, so we couldn’t test it.) There’s no reason the $490 activation fee shouldn’t simply be integrated into the retail price. This is nothing but an inconvenience for the customer.
Another irksome quirk is a sticker on the downtube that reads, “Neon colors may fade.” This refers to the neon paint on the frame. This seems like an easily avoidable problem, one that Cannondale should address, considering this is a high-end bike that customers will spend a fair bit of coin on. There’s no excuse for corner-cutting at this price point.
Don’t let me mislead you though. I had a blast riding this bike. It’s ideal for most of the riding I do — 15 miles of flat and rolling terrain until I hit the mountains from my house — and Cannondale did an excellent job of combining elements from two disparate categories. In terms of fit, handling, and even comfort, the SystemSix ranks up there as one of the best aero bikes on the market.
It’s just not the do-everything bike it’s been painted out to be, and it needs some refining when it comes to details high-end customers expect — like the fading paint disclaimer, and the poorly-conceived activation fee for the power meter. Still, It’s a welcome addition to Cannondale’s lineup, and one that will find a loyal legion of fans in short order because it’s fast, comfortable, and capable. If you’re after an aero bike with all-around inclinations, it’s certainly a worthwhile investment.