My wife asked an interesting question the other day in regards to the differences between my Trek and Cannondale. She wanted to know the difference between the two, or why I like the Trek so much more. My Cannondale is a 56cm frame while the Trek is a 58cm and she also wondered how there could possibly be a difference in ride with only a 2 cm difference in frame sizes. I can say this for sure, the differences between the two bikes are great, and now that I’ve had a chance to ride the Trek outdoors, I can do a fair deconstruction of differences; I’ll go from most to least important.
I’ll begin with sizing first, because it’s made the most difference and it’s fairly simple. First of all, the Cannondale is a Criterium Race Frame, meaning it’s a more compact design. If we were to stack a picture of the Cannondale Race frame and the Criterium frame, there’s quite a difference. The front rake is completely different on the Race Frame. This is where I got into trouble on the Cannondale. Being 6’0″, a 56cm frame is on the extreme low-end for my height. The problem with the Cannondale is that it’s not only too short (by 2 cm which should not be a big deal or so it should seem) it’s also compact frame with a shorter wheel base. The top tube on my Trek is 4cm longer than the Cannondale, so when I’m on the hoods or in the drops, I’m stretched out more on the Trek so my diaphragm can actually work properly to suck air into my lungs. This was very noticeable yesterday. This lead to not feeling like I was squished and out of breath all the time. Because the Cannondale was so short and I had my seat way up to get the proper distance from the top of my pedal to the top of the seat, the bar stem – maxed out – was at least 10cm lower than the seat… So I’ve got the worst of two worlds working against themselves: I’ve got a short top tube and a huge drop to the bars. I had to arch my back to get to the bars which compacted my core making it harder to breathe:
Cannondale Crit Frame Cannondale Race Frame
When you consider that the Trek 5200 is a race frame (so it’s stretched out, compared to Crit frame) and a full 2cm larger, the difference is considerable though it may not be as easy to understand why a difference of just over 3/4″ should matter. Lastly, and this is a smallish detail, the actual top tube on the Cannondale sits lower by another couple of centimeters than does the Trek:
The difference would be akin to fitting in a Miata in lieu of a Benz SLR:
There is one problem inherent with fitting on the Trek though… With the seat/bar drop on the Cannondale, I could get lower, in a more “aero” position and slice through the wind a little better (if only I didn’t have to arch my back to do it). This position can be attained on the Trek, as I learned yesterday, if I only bend my arms slightly in the drops (which is proper form anyway because the bend at the elbows help to absorb bumps). The combination of the flatter back and bent arms also means I don’t have to crane my neck to see the road which was a huge concern on the compact Cannondale. My shoulders and neck were always strained and hurting after a ride longer than ten miles.
Another difference between the two is crank arm size. The Trek’s cranks are 172.5 mm compared to 170 mm on the Cannondale – each arm of the crank is almost a full inch longer. If I were 5’9″, the 170’s would be right, but I’m not, so I get the natural leverage on the pedals that works with my height. This means I can power up a hill faster in an easier gear which translates into not being as taxed at the top.
Another difference is in frame material. Aluminum frames are notoriously stiff while carbon fiber is a little more forgiving. There are two schools of thought on this and in the end, it’s really up to the rider’s preference. I could accelerate faster on the stiff aluminum frame of the Cannondale, but only by a second or so. This translates into getting to speed faster, but once at speed, any little bump provided a little shock that made it harder to maintain my speed. Just riding on rough pavement (it’s common in my neck of the woods for the road commission to spray tar on the road and top that with fine gravel to resurface the road) made maintaining speed unbearable. I have a mile and a half stretch on my usual 14-16 mile course that is uphill and resurfaced as I described. That stretch is the ugliest on my ride – on the Cannondale, I’d have to dig deep just to keep at 15 mph because of the combination of climb and rough pavement. The Trek’s carbon frame, on the other hand, is a lot more forgiving on the rough roads and I was able to maintain 17 mph on the steeper climb and 19 mph on the flatter (but still uphill) section – and that was with a killer cross wind:
So this comes down to that matter of preference: Trade the responsive acceleration for a smoother ride and faster speeds on the rough patches or keep the acceleration and pound through the rough patches… For me, I like the smoother ride. It translates into a faster overall time at the end – by a long shot and I’m not going to have to fight through the demoralization associated with that climb anymore. To me, the question answers itself.
Finally, we get into the intangibles. My 1990 Cannondale was fitted with the RX100 Group. All of the components worked well (I believe the equivalent in today’s terms would be Tiagra) but the bike had the shifters on the down tube. The Trek, on the other hand, is fitted with the Ultegra Group and STI shifters. Shifting is not even in the same ball park – heck, it’s barely in the same time zone. In addition, the rims on the Cannondale (700×23) are the standard square U-shape while the Trek has V-shaped Rolf Vector wheels. Even considering the additional material, the vector wheels (while reportedly heavy) are considerably lighter than those on the Cannondale… Another great plus with the Rolf Vector Comp wheels is that they’re darn near bullet proof in terms of staying true, the Cannondale rims require a little more work to keep true.
There was a very big lesson in this for me too. I tried to get by on the cheap with the Cannondale. The price was right, $300 for a road bike is darn good, especially when you consider that the construction of the Cannondale is top notch. The problem therein was that I tried to fit that 56 cm bike to me to achieve the cost advantage and I figured I could “just learn to accept” the down tube shifters. I didn’t want to ask my LBS’s opinion because I wasn’t spending the money there (and we all know how tacky that is). I truly thought in my “noob-ness” that I could make the Cannondale fit me and learn to like it. In the end, I got a great bike that made me suffer…and now I’ve gotta sell that Cannondale.
My main worry now is what happens if I crash the Trek… If I go by the rules (#12), the proper amount of bikes to own is n+ 1 with a minimum of 3 – “n” being the number of bikes currently owned… So that would be for me, minus the Cannondale, would be 3 (two road and my mountain bike). However, part two of the rule is s-1, where “s” represents separation from the spouse. Considering that, the number is definitely 2. I’ll just have to take out an insurance policy on the Trek for replacement cost.