Sponsored by athletes and touting wins in major racing events, Cannondale pushes the envelope of technology and advancement in the cycling world.
With industry firsts (and a start that was never thought of) Cannondale continues to innovate and excite the cycling community.
The Cannondale Brand:
A History of Challenging the Status Quo
Cannondale was founded 5 decades ago by Murdock MacGregor and Joe Montgomery.
The company name came from the train station across the street from their original headquarters, which happened to be a pickle manufacturing plant.
Joe and Murdock were initially focused on developing a concrete housing unit (strangely enough). Then Joe, after a camping trip with his son, came up with the idea of a bicycle trailer. That trailer was eventually called the ‘Bugger’ and gave them a foothold into the biking world.
In an attempt to add storage capacity to the trailer, the team started to focus on side bags. Joe was a manufacturing perfectionist and started to develop world-class bags. The demand for the bags started to quickly outstrip the demand for the trailers. Murdock, who was as good at Marketing as Joe was at manufacturing, started a nationwide sales campaign and develop a large distribution footprint with bike dealers and distributors.
The momentum in bags led to forays into camping, tents, and outerwear. This success more fully immersed the company into retail networks.
The next step in the evolution came when Todd Patterson, a natural mechanical engineer and supernatural designer, joined the company and brought a focus to welding aluminum frames.
Bikes were trending towards lighter designs, and aluminum was the right metal to base frames and forks on. This focus and Todd’s talents jumped Cannondale to the head of the pack of high-quality bike designers.
Not everything Cannondale did was successful. In the 1990’s the company started to focus on motor-cross and dirt biking. They could not engineer their way out of the fixed costs of this industry.
This division was persistently cash-flow negative and eventually led to a Chapter 11 reorganization in early 2000’s. In 2008, the company was purchased by Dorel Industries, who made the decision to shift production to Taiwan. Obviously looking to reduce fixed cost in production.
The company culture is probably best exemplified by the insight provided by Murray Washburn, Director of Road Bikes, in a November 2015 interview:
“There was good energy and camaraderie there [Cannondale]; we did a lot of group rides,” said Washburn. “We had something we called ‘workday 100s,’ where we’d get up early and do 50-60 miles, do another 20-30 at lunch and do the rest to get up to 100 after work. We did those about once a month. It was great to be part of a cycling culture like that.”
Their motto: A company built for riders by riders. The passion for lighter designs wasn’t just for market share, it came from a passion to deliver the best ride.
Cannondale became the first company to introduce the Bugger, a bicycle trailer. The followed that up with a canvas bag that saw orders in the late 70’s reach 25,000 in just two short years.
By 1983 Cannondale, who took their name form the local train station, released their first bicycle. It was all downhill from then. Since that inaugural bike in 1983, Cannondale has forged new paths with mountain bikes, road bikes and urban bikes.
In 2004 they led the industry with the aggressive adoption of Carbon into their assemblies and their bikes continued to outperform. Cannondale is a company that is driven with an engineering mindset.
Cannondale Road Bikes
The first road bike frames were produced in 1983, exclusively of aluminum. The forks were still steel but had internal reinforcing ribs inside. The thing that separated these early frames was that, unlike steel, they had no lugs. All joints were hand welded and heat treated. Eliminating this extra hardware helped reduce the complexity of assembly and the overall weight of the bike.
It also made the frames feel more rigid and many riders started to have an immediate preference. This was the first aluminum bike series to be massed produced.
In the 90’s, Cannondale started to focus on CAD design and started to produce frames weighing less than 3 lbs. The 2.8 series (named after its weight in pounds) also introduced aluminum forks. Again the integration between forks and frames set Cannondale apart.
Cannondale Mountain Bikes and Advanced Manufacturing Design
In 1997, the company applied it Computer Design approach to the mountain bike and developed a term/process called Cannondale Advanced Design (CAAD). Cannondale did not stop with Aluminum they were early adopters of Carbon. Their advanced manufacturing techniques and the fact that they experimented with design on a computer predominantly rather than physical prototypes allowed them to use expensive material and still maintain decent margins.
The Cannondale Six13 Design
This was the companies first attempt to use a carbon/alloy design. The joins (weld in frames and forks) and alloy tubes separated this bike from its contemporaries. In 2005, Cannondale took the next step and replaced the alloy portion of the design with a “Full Carbon.”
This Six13 design and the next 2 generations of designs eventually led to a top ranking in “bottom bracket stiffness” and runner-up in overall frame torsional-stiffness. Frame stiffness is directly proportional to torque and gives riders incremental efficiency. At the highest of biking this is a significant differentiator.
Cannondale Sponsorship of Riders
Cannondale started to sponsor rider in 1999. Mr. Mario Cipollini was their first star. He won four straight Tour de France. Cannondale was also the sponsor of the Saeco team that won the Giro d’Italia five times.
On the Mountain bike side, the company had similar success. Tinker Juarez is probably the best known. The company enjoyed is most sponsorship success at the US National 24 Hour Championship.
The Cannondale Fork called “Lefty”
The "Lefty" has a unique look. The design only a left side running down to the hub of the wheel. This design had a benefit in mountain bikes. It allowed for additional travel room during turning, and allows for additional mud clearance. This design shows up on the high-end bikes: Scalpels and Rizes. The final benefit is the weight reduction-- a pretty smart idea. The material and welding technology allowed this development.
The future of Cannondale
A lot of the company’s engineering talent was focused on the recent launch of SystemSix.
This design focused on the core six components of the bike (wheels, frame, fork, seat-post, stem, and handlebar) where each are positioned and connected in a synergistic manner. Cannondale claims that this design is the most efficient bike on the market on a climb greater than 6%. The Cannondale team is an engineering team at heart, and I take them at their word.
Next, "Gravel bikes" are starting to get market attention. The bike was built to share the quickness of a road bike and the sturdiness of an off-road bike. Often times that dual purpose results in a bike that feels very bumpy when you get off-road. Cannondale is focused on introducing a suspension system for these Gravel bikes to mitigate this issue.
The suspension system will reduce the bumps but still maintain the control and stiffness that allows a road bike to move efficiently.
Sneak-peak to 2020 and Beyond
I found an interesting report from Criterium du Dauphine. It showcases a potential update to the Cannondale SuperSix Evo. If this is true, the new bike, with its dropped seatstays, is a radical departure from the current SuperX series.
The new bike is clearly a lightweight race bike, aimed at competitive cyclists. Personally, I'd love to see Cannondale become stronger in the touring bike market as well, currently they only have the Apex SE. Nevertheless, the future for Cannondale is a bright one.