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2001 Cannondale Multisport 600 Review.
By Tom Demerly.

The 2000 Cannondale Multisport 800 At Domino's Pizzaman Ann Arbor

Six years ago if you told me we'd be selling Cannondale bicycles I would have said "no way".  In the mid-nineties I felt the company's design and manufacturing techniques suffered from several shortcomings.  My opinion was based on an unusually high incidence of broken frames and the harshest ride of any bike I had ever ridden. This came from a cantilevered dropout design Cannondale used for a short time that, in my opinion, was a bad idea.

Apparently, I was not the only one who didn't like the Cannondale 3.0 cantilevered rear dropout frame design (and the subsequent 2.8 design).  The cantilevered dropout was cancelled and Cannondale began work with the Italian professional cycling team Cannondale/Saeco.  Partially as a result of their involvement with Cannondale/Saeco, Cannondale built a frame called the CAAD 4.  CAAD is an acronym for Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design, the number 4 designates the version of the frame.

To add insult to injury, the early Cannondale attempts at building a triathlon bike were equally disastrous.  The top tubes were too high on each size, the head tubes were too tall, the size run was difficult to understand and the seat angle was not nearly steep enough.  And, of course, there were those cantilevered dropouts.

But that was five years ago.

Since then Cannondale has completely redesigned not only their multisport bikes but also their entire line of road bikes.  And the design changes continue to this day with innovative and unusual improvements as a result of their associations with Cannondale/Saeco. 

The current version of Cannondale's  multisport bikes incorporates their CAAD 4 frame design in designs reserved for four models:  The Multisport 600, Multisport 1000, R600 Aero, and R1000 Aero.

These four bikes represent Cannondale's most sophisticated evolution of aluminum frames.  This includes the new CAAD 4 rear triangle.  This new rear triangle uses curved seat stays that bow inward to improve ride comfort, braking performance, shifting and climbing.  The new CAAD 4 rear triangle is one of few design changes that offer exclusively benefits, no drawbacks.  In addition to this, the new CAAD 4 Aero frames use proprietary aero shaped aluminum tubing.  This tubing gives the bikes a tight, responsive ride that is comfortable (unlike the old Cannondales) but stiff enough on climbs.  Both the down tube and the seat tube on the CAAD 4 Aero frames are bladed and airfoil shaped.

A word about aero tubing: We have learned that aero tubing bikes are not any more aerodynamic than round tube bikes.  Dan Empfield, the founder of Quintana Roo and one of the original triathlon bike developers, made compelling arguments for round tube triathlon bikes.  To this day, his brilliant Kilo Private Reserve (1999 version) was one of the best riding triathlon bikes ever built, easily on par with the Litespeed Saber and the Kestrel KM40 Airfoil.  The old Kilo Private Reserve was not without it's problems though.  A carbon fiber fairing built between the down tube and top tube at the head tube was prone to failure.  Front derailleur shifting performance was almost always poor. 

The component specs on the Cannondale multisport bikes are race ready.

Wind tunnel tests at the Texas A&M University low-speed wind tunnel conducted by Aerodynamicist Chester Kyle, John Cobb (who set up Lance Armstrong on his time trial bike and designed his unusual aero helmet) and wheel builder Steve Hed proved the only effective use of bladed shaped tubing was in the fork of a bicycle (before the boundary layer of air passing over the bike/rider combination becomes turbulent) and in the rear of the bike where the swirling vortex caused by the bike/rider combination needs to “reassemble” smoothly.  These tests inspired designs such as the rare Quintana Roo Redstone with its unusual rear fairing.

The raw truth of the matter is that consumers want aero, bladed tubing bike frames for one reason: They like the way they look.  Bladed downtube bikes just plain look faster.  It is nearly impossible to convince a consumer that those big bladed tubes don't do something. On well designed bladed down tube and seat tube bikes (such as the Cannondale CAAD 4 Aero) the airfoil shape of the tubing does improve stiffness of the frame in certain axis.  On most though, it just makes it ride rougher and weigh more.  Cannondale does point out that its aero tubes were developed with the help of the Pininfarinna Wind Tunnel in Italy and that they offered some aerodynamic benefit.

Having said this, Cannondale's interpretation of an aero tubing bike is a triumph.  They have incorporated the aesthetic value of the aero down tube with the functional benefits of the new CAAD 4 technology and built it using the most sophisticated aluminum frame manufacturing techniques anywhere in the bicycle industry.

I have ridden the multisport 800 (2000 version) and, to a lesser degree, the Mutlisport 600 (equivalent 2001 version) for almost a year and these are my impressions:

Dollar for dollar, if the geometry of these bikes fits you, they are the best buy in a performance oriented multisport/triathlon bike from any manufacturer. Period.

This means the Cannondale Multisport bikes (MS600, MS1000, R600 Aero and R1000 Aero) are bikes you could do your first triathlon on, but also bikes that you could win the Hawaii Ironman on.

In fact, stock CAAD 4 Aero frames were used by athletes in the 2000 Olympic Triathlon in Sydney.  There were more CAAD 4 Aero frames on the pier in Kona last year than any other triathlon bike.  This is the same bike you can buy for well under $2000- for the complete bike!  Most of the benefits of this bike will be realized by entry level athletes, but these advancements are not lost on top professionals either.  Many of the mechanical attributes of these bikes and the ride performance exceed those of bikes over double the price.

There were more Cannondale Multisport bikes in the transition area at Kona than any other triathlon bike.

When evaluating this bike it is appropriate to ask yourself two questions:      

1. How much better would a bike that costs $4000 be?

The answer to this question is, considering a $4000 bike is twice as much money, it really doesn’t perform twice as good.

2. How much better is this Cannondale than any bike at the $1000 price point?

The answer to this question is “much better”- Specifically, it is better shifting, more durable, lighter. Has a nicer ride (stiffer side to side but more comfortable) and better component spec throughout.

Riding the bike is a great experience.  It is fast.  Really fast.  If you aren't in great shape the first thing that will occur to you is the ride comfort.  This bike has a firm, racy ride (rather like that of an expensive BMW versus a nasty riding, tightly sprung race-specific car that rides too rough and is too loud).  It is no problem doing 100 mile rides on this frame and getting off in perfect comfort (or at least as comfortable as you can be after riding a hundred miles).  Even on the less than perfect roads around Dearborn the ride of the Multisport 600 was excellent.  The brilliant CAAD 4 rear triangle took all the edge off bad pavement and allowed me to stay focused on getting power to the drivetrain and staying in a comfortable, efficient aerodynamic position.

For a high performance race bike, this bike is comfortable.

When you get out on the hills the frame really shines.  Especially on the Multisport 600 and Multisport 1000 with 650c wheels, the bike leaps out from under you.  Power goes to the crank instantly.  The lowered top tube and light, stiff 650c wheels mean the bike climbs like a rocket as soon as you get out of the saddle.  With this lowered top tube you can "rock" the bike back and forth more than a standard road frame and get better leverage from your upper body on each pedal stroke while climbing out of the saddle.  Also, the smaller diameter 650c (26" road) wheels are laterally stiffer than any 700c wheels, meaning you spend less time and energy flexing wheels side to side. 

Have you ever looked down at your front 700c wheel when you are climbing hard out of the saddle?  If you use Spinergy Rev-X, Rolf or Shimano 700c road wheels the results will shock you.  The wheels flex so much side to side you can easily make them rub the front brake pads on every pedal stroke- even if you aren't a powerful rider.  How much is this wheel flex slowing you down?  This is not an issue on a 650c wheel Cannondale.

Even though the bike jumps under pedal load, accelerates fast and has a responsive ride, the comfort was one of the things that sold me on this bike.  Another big part of the ride comfort (in addition to the CAAD 4 rear triangle) was the Cannondale Slice Carbon Fiber fork.  In truth, this is the Quintana Roo Carbonaero fork.  These forks were made for Quintana Roo and Cannondale by Kinesis.  You may recognize this as the fork on all of Lance Armstrong’s time trial bikes (with a different decal, of course). John Cobb of Bicycle Sports in Shreveport, Louisiana said this was the best fork for a triathlon bike from any manufacturer and I agree.  At lower speeds and on rough roads the large, deep, narrow blades of the fork provide great ride comfort.  At higher speeds and especially on fast descents (Ironman USA Lake Placid, Ironman Canada, etc.) the deep blades of the fork help stabilize the front end of the bike.  Wind tunnel tests at Texas A&M University have revealed that this fork does provide some aerodynamic benefit (unlike like bladed down tubes on frames) especially when used with deep-section aero race wheels.

I found the faster I went on the Multisport 600 and Multisport 1000, the better the ride and handling got.  If you can go 18 mph consistently on your current road bike you will find it easy to cruise over 20 mph on a Mutlisport 600 and Multisport 1000.

Once you become a stronger rider the benefits of the frame are profound.  This bike jams.  You can pound it hard and corner fast with confidence.  This is not normal for a triathlon bike.  Most triathlon bikes have some compromise geometry that causes the steering to be less than responsive.  The Cannondale Multisport bikes cornered with confidence and authority even on rough pavement.  Several factors contribute to this.  One is the 650c wheels, which lower the rider’s center of gravity and make cornering better overall.  Another is the combination of the CAAD 4 frame and the Slice Carbon Fiber fork.

When your legs get strong the stiffness of the bottom bracket from side to side is apparent as you push a big gear.  I could consistently muscle one gear larger up most small climbs and go over them up to 2 mph faster on this bike than my previous aluminum tri bike. 

Remember, this is without sacrificing ride comfort.  This bike is stiff and comfortable.  This is mostly because the frame components that interact with the wheels are configured for ride comfort (CAAD 4 rear triangle and seat stays and the Slice Carbon Fiber fork).  The portion of the frame that interacts with the bottom bracket uses the stiff, bladed tubes and a bottom bracket that is surrounded by substantial reinforcement.

In general, I loved these bikes.  It is either my second or third favorite triathlon bike of all time, behind the Kestrel KM40 Airfoil and the Litespeed Saber.  It is important to point out that both these bikes are over double the price of the Cannondale though, and the difference between them is not great. Again, bang for the buck, the Cannondale Multisport series bikes are the best going.

Another aspect of this bike worth a look is the quality of the finish.  First off, Cannondale finishes all their welds, hand polishing the weld beads smooth.  This is not for cosmetics, but to remove any possible “stress raisers” from which cracks can begin to spread (propagate).  Once the welds have been smoothed by hand the entire frame is re-heat treated as a unit.  This is one of the reasons the bikes ride so well.  It also causes the frame joints to be the strongest part of the bike.  The paint on the bike and the decals are luxurious.  A thick, glossy clear coat covers the decals.  Even under the bottom bracket the bike is beautifully painted.  Compared to every other triathlon bike manufacturer these paint jobs are a cut above.

Something else Cannondale has accomplished with their multisport bikes is a functional range of bikes that work for most athletes regardless of their riding style.

Perhaps two of the most interesting bikes are the R600 Aero and the R1000 Aero.

These are the bikes to buy if you are having trouble deciding if you should buy a triathlon bike or a road bike.

Many of our customers want to participate in triathlons/duathlons but will also be doing group rides where they will be drafting other riders.  A triathlon bike is not ideal in a group setting and a road bike is no good as a triathlon bike.  Clearly, some middle ground was needed.

The Cannondale R600 Aero and R1000 Aero use a steeper than standard 74.5 degree seat angle.  This is a good measure steeper than the 73 degrees of most road bikes, but not as steep as the 78 degree seat angle used on the triathlon geometry bikes.  It is the perfect "in between" geometry.  Add to this the 700c wheels and you have a perfect “half road/half triathlon” bike.

While these bikes are not as fast as the Multisport 600 and Multisport 1000 with the 650c wheels and the 78-degree seat angle, they have much more versatile handling.  The R600 Aero and the R1000 Aero are right at home in a pace line or a big group of riders.  You can do the club ride on Wednesday then do the local triathlon on Sunday morning.

Finally, a word about the component selection on these bikes: It has become a common practice for manufacturers to use “mixes” of components from different component companies.  In truth, this is usually done to cut costs.  In the case of Cannondale, if you really do your homework on the component selection you will get some very pleasant surprises.

Going from the front of the bike to the back: The Michelin Axial Pros are arguably the best clincher racing tire available. In the world of 650c sizes, they are even better. 

Cannondale's Multisport frame geometry is versatile and easily adaptable to almost every rider, beginner or top professional.

The Mavic CXP 21 rim is suitable for training on the worst roads but also not a bad race rim, although certainly not an aerodynamic race wheel.  In general, Mavic brand rims are far superior to most other brands of OEM rims in terms of roundness, trueness and overall durability.  Mavic invented the aluminum bicycle rim near the turn of the century, and has more experience with aluminum, anodized bicycle rims than any other manufacturer.  Cannondale did well to use Mavics on this bike.

The spokes are a black, straight gauge stainless with brass nipples.  Since the wheels on this bike are workhorse wheels designed to be ridden and raced all week and every weekend, this was a good choice.  More fragile double butted spokes with alloy nipples would have been a maintenance hassle especially for entry level athletes, and would have resulted in almost no performance gain at the cost of some major hassles.

Speaking of workhorse, check out the hubs: Genuine sealed cartridge bearings.  This is an enormous upgrade over the Shimano 105 hub that would have accompanied this group.  The hub body and quick release skewers are beefier than the Shimano 105 hub also.  The key here is that the sealed cartridge bearing hubs from Cannondale are maintenance free.  No rebuilding, no adjusting, no water or dirt intrusion under normal riding conditions (including rain).  What kind of hubs are you using?  Other companies using sealed cartridge bearings are Zipp, Mavic, Hed- all the high end race wheel manufacturers.  Probably the only drawback to a sealed cartridge hub is that it cannot be rebuilt.  In general, mechanics may prefer a “cup and cone” style hub that can be rebuilt, although consumers may be reluctant to accept the costs associated with hub rebuilds, especially after being caught in the rain.  Bikesport tech Mike O’Donnell said “In general, the cup and cone style such as Shimano 105 is more serviceable, but the Cannondale sealed hub requires less maintenance”.  Again, for triathletes, especially entry-level athletes, the sealed bearing hub is the way to go.

Moving to the brakes, Cannondale has scored another triumph.  According to Wolverine Sports Club coach Michael R. Rabe “The overall finish on the Cannondale brakes is much better than on the Shimano 105 and perhaps even better than Ultegra".  The Cannondale brakes on the R600 Aero and the Multisport 600 have a black powder coat finish.  Functionally, the brakes use a pad mounting system that is much more advanced than the Shimano 105.  The Cannondale brake uses a metal “shoe” with a cartridge style brake pad similar to the Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura-Ace.  Again, this is a level of technology above that of the standard Shimano 105 group and represents a substantial upgrade.  Even the cam-operated quick release is a plated metal lever, while the Shimano 105 is a plastic affair.

The Cane Creek A-headset is a proven lightweight, durable choice.  This is the same headset that was used on last year’s Multisport 800 and we didn’t see a single problem on any of them.  The handlebar stem is a front-opening two bolt A-head style that has been excellent.  For four times the price you could buy a stem that is 10% lighter, but not as stiff.

One area of interest has been the handlebars.  Especially on the Multisport 600 and the Multisport 1000.  The Multisport 600 is speced with Cinelli drop handlebars, Shimano 105 STi dual control brake lever/shifters and Cinelli aero bars.  The Ultegra equipped Multisport 1000 is built with Syntace cowhorn style base bars, Shimano standard brake levers and Shimano 9 speed Bar-end shifters mounted in the tips of the Syntace aero bars.

The Multisport 600 has a highly versatile handlebar configuration for group rides or triathlons with terrain ranging from flat to extremely hilly.  Especially in events like Ironman USA Lake Placid and Ironman Canada or the Mark Mellon Memorial Triathlon in Northern Michigan, the drop handlebars with STi levers is the combination of choice.  Since most of your shifting in a climbing environment is done from the base bars (not the aero bars) having drop handlebars is a bonus.  The only draw back to this configuration is weight; the STi lever/drop handlebar set-up is about ¾ pound heavier than using the Syntace cowhorns and bar-end shifters found on the Multisport 1000.  However, if you don’t mind a little extra weight, this set-up is perfect for people who want to do more than just triathlons.

A big part of the reason why consumers like the cowhorn base bar and aero bar set-up is looks.  This type of handlebar configuration says “triathlon bike”.  One customer in our store recently was so confused by seeing a triathlon bike with drop handlebars and aero bars that he couldn’t accept it was a triathlon bike.  He kept saying over and over “…But triathlon bikes don’t have drop handlebars…” Never mind that Thomas Hellriegel used drop handlebars to win the first ever Ironman USA Lake Placid.  If you are absolutely married to the idea of having the cowhorn base bars the Multisport 600 can be built with cowhorns, bar-end shifters and standard brake levers (we usually use the Dia-Compe 188 ultra lightweight lever).  Or you can buy the Ultegra equipped Multisport 1000.  On flat courses the Handlebar configuration on the Multisport 1000 may offer a slight advantage since you can shift gears without moving your hands from the aero position.  Once you hit the hills that advantage is gone.

One final word on handlebars: The Cinelli aero bars on the Multisport 600 were not our favorites at first.  On early bikes we were swapping the bars for Syntace Streamliners.  Two things happened to change that; 1. It became cost prohibitive, 2. We learned how to adjust the Cinelli aero bars to accommodate a more comfortable position.  Now I feel the Cinelli aero bars are a good choice, although a bit complex to adjust- there are a lot of bolts that need to be loosened and tightened to get the correct adjustment.  On the other hand, you can adjust these things almost infinitely.

As you move back on the bike another interesting thing are the cranks.  Cannondale uses their excellent CODA lightweight crank and black chainrings.  In addition to the attractive finish this crank is substantially lighter than the standard Shimano 105 crank, and thus a big upgrade.  The crank works with the Shimano splined cartridge bottom bracket.  Our biggest concern with this crank was that the non-Shimano chainrings would not shift accurately with the new narrower 9 speed chains.  With these new 9-speed drivetrains the tolerances for the chainrings being out of position (either due to the incorrect width chainring, bottom bracket spindle, shell width or all three) is extremely low.  We have found the shift quality at the front derailleur is excellent with the new CODA cranks.  This is no small order considering the short, angular chain line on 650c wheel equipped bikes.

All bikes in this series are sold without pedals, which is a good idea since there has never been a customer consensus on what the best pedal system is.

The saddle is a decent standard racing saddle that is good for most cyclists using padded shorts and racing in either a bathing suit or triathlon shorts.  The seatpost is a fairly good (but not great) center mount head style post with two adjustment bolts for saddle angle.  The post works well but is clunky looking.  I prefer my favorite, the Thomson center mount post.

Rear hub matches the front and the Multisport 600 and Multisport 1000 as well as the other Aero R series bikes use genuine Shimano cassette cogs.

If you do a detailed evaluation of the bikes, nut to bolt compared to everything else on the market in this price category (and even $1000 more!) I think you can’t deny this represents the best value in a triathlon/multisport bike line.  The R600 Aero and R1000 Aero bikes also offer versatility not found in any other bike from any other manufacturer.

Cannondale has come a long way with the development of their four multisport bikes.  Their first efforts were weak, but the latest versions incorporate so many changes they have almost nothing in common with the original models.  The new bikes represent impressive improvements that position them at the front of their respective categories.  If you look carefully at these bikes you will find they are "Best In Class" compared to the other triathlon/multisport bikes out there.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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