Retro – 10 years ago: Cannondale Six13 launch

There was a training camp in 2004 with the Saeco team at Terracina in Italy. Some of the cycling media was invited along to ride. In the line-up were the likes of Gilberto Simoni, Danilo Di Luca, Damiano Cunego and a host others who were stars of cycling at the time. A lot has happened for these guys since. And so too in the equipment stakes. The reason for this media gathering was that Cannondale was about to launch itself into mainstream carbon-fibre frame production… and, given their history with aluminium up until then, it was only obvious that there be a combination of the two materials.

The Six-13 was the result. The launch of this bike heralded a change in direction for a company that now boasts naming-rights sponsorship of a WorldTour team with more of cycling’s biggest stars. Peter Sagan, Matej Mohoric, Cameron Wurf… these are names associated with the brand with a very green aesthetic. But only 10 years ago, Cannondale’s main colour was most certainly red. The Saeco team is no more. The Six-13 was the catalyst to switch to carbon-fibre production.

This launch was 10 years ago and to mark the anniversary, here is the report written by Rob Arnold in 2004.

 

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 – Flashback from 10 years ago – 

Cannondale were so pleased with their first major road bike redesign in several years that they invited journalists from around the world to test the latest creation at one of Saeco’s early-season training camps in Italy. A mix of carbon and aluminium, the Six-13 made a big impression… even with those from the team who helped design it.

 

MIKE PARKIN IS NOT A MEMBER OF TEAM SAECO, but he was at the squad’s training camp in Italy nonetheless. And like many other invited guests he was able to ride along with the Italian formation during the early stage of their preparation for the 2004 season. Mike never tried to interrupt proceedings in the paceline that would work its way down the Mediterranean coastline from Terracina towards Naples each morning. In fact, the American never lasted terribly long. As passionate a cyclist as he may be, Mike’s role as senior composite engineer at Cannondale has never allowed him enough time to ride as often as he would like.

The Saeco boys didn’t mind at all that he couldn’t match their pace out on the road. Although they were happy enough to chat, they understood his lack of fitness. Instead of training, Mike spent his time improving their team-issue bikes at his company’s headquarters in Connecticut.

A dry sense of humour isn’t Parkin’s only talent. Typical of an engineer, he took every comment about his latest creation, absorbed it and offered an explanation about why the bike performed the way it did. His creation is the Six-13. And he was happy to talk about the many merits of the bike which heralds the beginning of a new era for a company founded on its work with aluminium. The bike’s name is the result of Parkin’s penchant for molecular structure – it’s derived from the atomic number of the materials used.

Six is for carbon, 13 for aluminium.

The combination of these two materials is something we’ve seen a lot on bikes in the past few years. In Cannondale’s usual style, however, Parkin and his colleagues opted to reconsider just how the materials were used in conjunction with one another.

By employing what Mike calls a “tab-and-slot building technique”, the Six-13 frame utilises carbon for large sections of the front triangle – in the top tube, down tube and seat tube. There’s even a glimpse of the composite weave in the head tube. The rest of the frame is made from aluminium.

By cutting out sections of aluminium at the point where the two materials merge and then expanding the braided carbon “sock” during the heating process, Cannondale is able to create a carbon/aluminium frame without using liquid adhesive. Rather, the junctions are held firm by a film of adhesive and the carbon then expands and locks into the cut-outs. This tab-and-lock concept is what makes it viable to create custom bikes even with the use of carbon-fibre.

There are 12 standard sizes in the Six-13 range.

The construction technique allows fine-tuning the tube lengths and angles just like building an aluminium frame. Cannondale are not restricted by expensive moulds that limit the sizing options for companies making monocoque frames.

Parkin is a pedantic type and his attention to detail that few would notice is what makes him more than just an engineer. Although he can sprout facts about the molecular structure of carbon, aluminium and just about any other material that’s been used for building Cannondale frames (as he did late one evening in Terracina), he also enjoys the aesthetic elements of bike design. The aluminium ‘lugs’ which provide the socket for the carbon tab to slot into are made the same way as the  Six-13’s predecessors at Cannondale – ie. as part of a complete frame. Then, as Parkin describes it, they laser cut the main section of the tube, cut out the slot sections and get to work on the carbon phase of construction.

“If the frames were not painted,” insists Parkin, “you could see that there is a flowing line from the cut of the down tube through to the top tube.” He waves his hands in a broad arc to illustrate his point and then adds, “I kinda wish they kept the finish raw.”

Aside from the carbon additions, there are subtle variations between the design of the Six-13 and the last high-end frame from Cannondale, the CAAD7. The seatstays no longer have the wishbone curve as they go from the seat tube join down to the dropouts. And the tubing of this part of the frame is now ovalised, not round like on the CAAD7. “You like that?” Parkin asked, clearly pleased that I’d notice. “That was me on the computer. We’d made the prototypes with the same stays as our other road bikes but I wanted to try something new. I just went into the computer design program, cut the stays from the triathlon frame and pasted them into the same place on the Six-13.

“The new bike is already so compliant on the road that I wasn’t afraid of using stiffer stays. The comfort of the bike – its ability to soak up road shock, yet still be rigid enough to lose no power – comes from the carbon. So I could afford to experiment with the rear end a little and perhaps make that section of the frame a little more rigid. But it’s still a nice ride.”

 

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There were a couple of obvious similarities with the Cannondale employees who were at the training camp in Terracina. First of all, they all ride bikes. Maybe not as much as they’d like but each admitted to sneaking out for more than the odd ride during lunch when they were back at the office. And because of this, they are aware of the nuances of ride quality from one bike to the next. Another thing was that they all seem to love working for the American company. “Best job in the world,” exclaimed Jeroen Wiggers, a tech support dude who is based in Cannondale’s Dutch office. “Wait until you ride the bike, you’ll see why we’re so excited.”

He’d picked me up from Rome’s Fiumicino airport and couldn’t help but talk about the Six-13 as we drove south to Terracina. I honestly believed it was no sales pitch; he just loved riding the bike. Jeroen wasn’t unique in this regard. Another of his colleagues, Mike Cotty, is infatuated with cycling. “I ride every spare minute I’ve got,” said the man responsible for the gathering.

The poor bugger had his own bike stolen on the final day of the training camp when he left his trusty ’dale at the hotel, and snuck out for a pedal on the Six-13. He was no longer able to resist the temptation. He wasn’t alone when the urge to ride the new bike was presented.

After a 22 hour flight and one hour drive, it took me just 45 minutes before I too went for a ride. I can now report that I’ve found a remedy for jetlag: a Six-13 and a perfect day near Terracina.

With my measurements already sent, there was a 56cm bike waiting for me on arrival at the team’s hotel.

It took no time to suit up and start pedalling. I had to be quick to chase the bunch which had left a few minutes earlier but after the first few pedal strokes I was confident I’d be with them in no time at all.

My early impressions? The bike seemed very natural. Without a moment to settle in, I was sprinting towards the group. After only a few kilometres on the Six-13, I was confident I wouldn’t cause any trouble the following days when the schedule included rides with the red Saeco train which was cheered at every village it passed through. The ride quality of the new bike was predictable and there was a certain zing from the carbon.

I’ve tested every incarnation of Cannondale CAAD series and own the CAAD7. And I can assure you the Six-13 offers a different sensation. There’s a touch of liveliness which isn’t part of the all-aluminium frames. You feel as though you’re speeding along with a ridiculously high pressure in your tyres. The acceleration of the bike is wonderful. Quite simply, riding feels real.

Yes, the bike is rigid. And as is common with many modern bikes, it does seem as though the road vibration is being dampened by the time it reaches your contact points. But there’s more to the Six-13 than other bikes that cop this description. It could be something as simple as the light weight. My test bike was 6.7kg, give or take a few grams. This is the lightest I’ve ever ridden and perhaps this is what contributed to the lively sensation. I’m sure that Parkin’s notion of having the carbon sections in the front triangle rather than the rear (as is the case with many other bikes which use the two materials) added to the superb ride quality. Credit must be given to the Hutchinson tyres. These puppies hummed along beautifully and made the roads feel like the boards on a velodrome. Other aspects of the spec of my temporary bike were equally impressive. The shifting of Campagnolo’s slightly modified Record group was superb with a slightly lighter action than the older version of the same group which is on my CAAD7 at home. Mavic’s Ksyriums were a good wheel choice.

Some of the other components on the Six-13 weren’t so great. Fi’zi:k’s Arione saddle is yet another example of this company’s willingness to experiment with design. Long and sleek, there were riders in the Saeco team who took advantage of the extra-long rails.

Andrea Tonti took this to such an extreme that the rear of his saddle was almost in line with the axle of his rear wheel. I’ve heard about Italians and their habit of sitting a long way behind the bottom bracket… but his was bizarre! Some people, it seems, really do like the benefits offered by the saddle. I’m just not one of them.

Mention must be made of FSA’s carbon bars. Riding on the top of the bars was okay but getting down to the drops was horrible. When I tried to sprint while out of the saddle, the top of the bars dug into my wrists. I had bruises that lasted for weeks after sprinting to the back of the red Saeco train after stopping the answer the call of nature on one ride.

This point brings me to another true highlight of the trip to Terracina. Trust me, the chance to ride the Six-13 was the main reason I was in Italy but to do that alongside the likes of Gilberto Simoni, Danilo Di Luca, Evgeni Petrov and Mirko Celestino was brilliant.

If you’re a magazine editor and you can roll along with these boys for the first two hours of a long training day, there are two conclusions you can draw: you’re fitter than you thought, or the bike you’re riding does make you go faster. The team had long days planned, including reconnaisance rides on some of this year’s Giro d’Italia route. We would join them for the first few hours, riding at a steady pace and taking in a few climbs. Although guys like Di Luca were taking it easy on the early rises, it was possible to match their pace. The Six-13 can take some credit for this. The climbs are where you notice the lack of weight of a bike…

On one of the later rides I did with Mike Cotty we were discussing the bike and I was stirring him up about a presentation he’d done two days earlier. “Rocket-like acceleration,” I said in a mocking tone repeating a point of his schpiel. “That’s such a crappy way to describe a great bike.” He cringed at my mention of the phrase.

“We hired an agency and that was the one thing I asked them to take out of the presentation.” He laughed and asked what I’d say. “Bloody great bike! Ride it and you’ll want it,” was my response. It’s true. While I felt like I was riding better than I had in a long time, I was never accelerating like a rocket. That’s not even Di Luca’s domain. But I did want the bike.

 

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Author: rob@ride

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