Have you ever tried
to make everyone happy? It never works. Have you ever
tried to do too many things at once? That usually comes
up short too.
That describes Cannondale's
new 2003 Ironman 600. We don't like the bike. It has a
conflicting design philosophy (to us), a disappointing
component group overall and we're still not sure who would
want this bike and what for. That's a shame because it
compromises the excellent frame workmanship on the bike.
It's a little like dressing Anna Kournikova in Anna Nicole
Smith's wardrobe: A bad fit and a big shame. Read this
review though, because we do have some to sell and maybe
this is a match for you. Honestly, it's hard to imagine
being excited about owning one.
The frame on the Ironman 600 is
excellent- typical of Cannondale.
Sorry Cannondale, the rest of your bikes are
great- they really are. I own three right now (that I had
to pay for with my own $$$, and I can buy anything I want).
Cannondale tells us this bike is for the entry-level
triathlete who wants to do a few triathlons for fun, casual
road riding and wants to sit in a comfortable, upright position.
The problem is, like a politician trying to be all things
to all people the result is you're not of much use to anyone.
I'm opinionated: The only thing in the middle
of the road is yellow lines and dead animals. A bike either
works or it doesn't, and I don't think this one does. This
bike, boring and compromised, is the exception to Cannondale's
2003 Ironman triathlon bike line.
The rest of Cannondale's triathlon bikes are
truly excellent. One of them, The 2003 Cannondale Ironman
2000, is the closest thing to a perfect triathlon bike I've
ever seen from any company (read
our review here). I own a Cannondale triathlon bike
that I love- a 2002 Multisport 5000. I've won races on it,
I've done hundred milers on it, I've maintained it, I've
ridden it in bad weather and good, flat terrain and hilly.
This bike is proof Cannondale makes excellent triathlon
This is what Cannondale is best
at: The Cannondale Ironman 2000 is a masterpiece, perhaps
the best triathlon bike from the past decade.
Every company is entitled to one goof, and
the Ironman 600 is Cannondale's. Ford had the Edsel, Coca-Cola
had New Coke, McDonald's tried Pizza, Hughes Aircraft built
the Spruce Goose: Every company has its embarrassments.
While this is a far cry from a project Harland and Wolff
shipbuilders had in 1910 named the RMS Titanic, the Cannondale
Ironman 600 is the reason why Ferrari doesn't make pick-up
trucks. It's not what they do. Cannondale makes performance
bikes. Many of their bikes are the best aluminum bikes in
the world. In fact, the execution of the Cannondale Ironman
600 is not all that bad (except for the lame component spec);
it's the concept that was compromised from day one.
The Ironman 600 is an attempt to do something
that probably shouldn't be attempted: Build a triathlon
bike for $1000. It takes a certain amount of money to build
a good triathlon bike, and $1000 isn't enough.
Triathlon bikes are racing machines, and any
racing machine is expensive. You are spending money for
performance, efficiency and dependability. The more you
spend, the more performance, efficiency and dependability
you get. There is a point of diminishing return however.
With the exception of titanium or carbon fiber frames, bikes
above $2500 seem to be above the convergence of price and
performance. Bikes below $1200-$1300 dollars have chronic
shortcomings that really compromise their performance, ability
to fit precisely, efficiency and dependability. If your
price range for a new triathlon bike is $1000 I urge you
to save another $300-$400 before you make your purchase.
That is 30-40% more money but the bike you get will be 100%
better than what you get at $1000, and the Ironman 600 (at
$1000) is a case in point.
The bladed Cannondale down tube
and double heat treated frame with smooth, super-strong
welds are great but don't make up for a weak component
We almost never ask what your price range
is at Bikesport, Inc. Instead, we ask what you are going
to do with your bike, what your goals are, where you ride,
how much experience you do or don't have (most of our customers
are first timers), what specific events may be of interest
to you and take a detailed set of measurements of you to
determine which bike is best suited for you. This is especially
critical for a first time triathlon or road bike buyer.
We make an assumption: You are willing to
spend as much money as it takes to get the job done but
no more (unless you specifically indicated otherwise). We
assume that for every $1 you spend on your bike, you want
100 cents worth of performance, efficiency and dependability.
The Cannondale Ironman 600 is an attempt to
build a $1000 triathlon bike that has a relaxed, upright
aero position (an oxymoron to some degree) and a high degree
All triathlon bikes are built around comfort
and aerodynamics. The triathlon bike itself is designed
to make the rider more comfortable and stable in an aerodynamic
body posture. Done correctly it works great. If your bike
fitter did a good job and you are acclimated to the position
you can ride for hours in the aero position with a high
degree of efficiency and comfort, then get off and run well
too. The more sizes a given bike is offered in the more
tools your bike fitter has at his/her disposal to fit you
accurately. If you are fit accurately and you acclimate
to a good riding position you will be comfortable and stable
and your bike will go fast.
My first criticism of the Cannondale
Ironman 600: It is only available in four sizes. Some Quintana
Roo models come in 14 sizes. Some Cervelo models are available
in virtually 16 sizes (using their variable geometry seatpost).
Felt makes a bike, the S32, for $1349 in eight sizes.The
Ironman 600 size names say little about what the bike really
measures. Using T-shirt size names for bikes is a bad idea
because it doesn't give the fitter even the vaguest idea
of what they're working with. All good fitters should measure
the bikes they are working with anyway, rather than relying
on manufacturer's measurements that are frequently wrong.
Most names of bike sizes are misleading, but do reflect
some aspect of the bike's measurements. The Ironman 600
is available in small, medium, large and extra large. What
does that mean? The seat tube angle is 75 degrees. The top
tube slopes upward from the seat tube, not downward from
the head tube like a compact geometry frame. The result
is a high head tube. Cannondale Outside Sales Rep. Jason
Edinger told me this is for riders who want a higher handlebar
position. With a 75-degree seat tube angle many riders will
need a higher handlebar position- that angle is too relaxed
for a lot of riders in the aero position. The problem with
this position is it is difficult to control weight distribution
and most of the rider's weight ends up on the rear wheel
and the bike does not handle well. Another problem with
this position is you have no flexibility to lower your aero
bars if you want a more aero position. The aerodynamics
of the bike itself have got to be pretty cumbersome too.
At $1000 having an aerodynamic,
bladed carbon fiber fork is an incredible deal. It is
a shame these straight guage, 32 hole wheels are so heavy.
The component group on the Ironman 600 is
another let down. In fairness, you can only expect so much
for $1000, and this is all you get. The wheels, tires and
hubs are heavy- very heavy. They will soak up a lot of abuse
though. The wheels on my cyclocross bike are actually lighter
than the hulking pair of Mavic CXP 22 rims spoked with no
less than 32 straight gauge DT spokes. Again, what do you
expect for $1000? They are simple to use and durable- like
mountain bike or touring bike wheels, but this is supposed
to be a triathlon bike, isn't it? I haven't had 32 spokes
on a triathlon bike wheel since 1982.
The fork and frame are very good- no complaints
with the build quality: Just the frame geometry and sizing.
The construction is excellent: Cannondale's double heat-treated
frame with smoothed weld beads and good, smooth shifting
and easily maintainable external cable routing. I even like
the silver color and black graphics.
When I saw the Cinelli Corna aerobars
I launched into a tirade. One of my more diplomatic employees
said "Maybe you should just say you don't like them".
The stem is a good quality Cannondale branded
stem and the Cinelli base bars are nice but the aero bars
are those awful Cinelli Corna aerobars that just won't go
away. These things are vaguely adjustable, hard to keep
tight, uncomfortable and weigh a ton. We've complained about
them for years. Cannondale has gone to better aerobars on
every other model of triathlon bike in their line, except
this one. Damn.
The drop base bars and Shimano 105 STI shifters
make the set-up good for rolling terrain, if the bike
weren't so heavy.
The shifters are excellent, new 2003 Shimano
105 STi levers. The rear shifting feels crisper than Shimano
105 from two years ago and the new levers are a nice pearlescent
black color. They shift the new 2003 Shimano 105 rear derailleur,
which works very well in the back, but they substituted
a Shimano Tiagra front derailleur used in combination with
a Cannondale branded crank. Front shifting is fleeting and
barely suggestive of mechanical precision. To make matters
worse, the crank seems to be some mutation of a triple,
with a number of mysterious protrusions on the inside of
the spider that suggest a mounting point for a third chain
ring- but they aren't taped for chainring bolts (thankfully).
If you should drop your chain to the inside (you probably
will with this Tiagra derailleur the only thing between
you and mechanical Armageddon) these protrusions will seize
your chain and maul your drivetrain. There is mention of
a triple option in the spec sheet on Cannondale's website.
While selling thousands of triathlon bikes over the past
ten years I have never once entertained a request from a
triathlete for a triple chainring. This crank/front derailleur
does not deliver very crisp shifting, even with meticulous
adjustment. No excuses for this drivetrain- it's butt-ass,
We didn't get good shifting from
the Cannondale house brand crank and Shimano Tiagra front
derailleur. You have to spend more to get better shifting.
The seatpost is a horrid affair with obnoxious
serrations that facilitate every saddle angle except the
one you seem to need. It belongs on a $329 mountain bike.
Its weight is comparable to most medieval battle weapons.
Total pooh. If you buy this bike, replace the post with
something nice that has a micro-adjust head. Better yet,
save your money and buy a Cannondale Ironman 800.
The RoyalGel Lookin saddle is
comfortable but that serrated seatpost is a nightmare.
The saddle is a very comfortable gel saddle
labeled "Lookin" with a Royalgel brand on it.
Nope, I've never heard of it either. It's heavy but it is
comfortable. A little too comfortable maybe. This saddle
is for my Mom, she's 80. There are two mysterious plastic
pods on either side of the saddle rails at the rear of the
saddle. We read the little "owner's manual" attached
to the seat and it offered no explanation for these protrusions.
They must be "decorative". Nice.
Plan Nine from Outer Space? Dilithium
Vortex-Impedence Wake Generating Downforce Stadders? What
are these silver things? Do they do anything?
I didn't ride the Cannondale Ironman 600 extensively
for this review. Usually I put 500 miles on a bike before
I write a review. A thousand is better (doesn't happen very
often). I didn't want to ride it much though. The bike is
boring and I had more exciting bikes to review (like that
awesome Ironman 2000). Also, I didn't know how to evaluate
this bike: What was I supposed to compare it to? It is part
touring bike, part road bike, part triathlon bike.
The impression I did get during three short
rides was that this thing is heavy. It has to be every ounce
of 23+ pounds. That is 22% heavier than some bikes we sell
in the sub-$1500 range. Bike weight is not as critical an
issue as some people make it, but 23 pounds is obese. This
bike is overweight by any standards. The other thing I noticed
was sluggish handling. Like driving a big truck.
So what should you do if you were shopping
for a Cannondale Ironman 600? I would save another $300-$400
and buy a Cannondale Ironman 800, Felt S32, Cervelo Dual
or Quintana Roo Kilo- whichever one of those bikes fit your
body best. On the other hand, we do have a few of these
to sell, and after this review, I imagine they'll be going
The new Shimano 105 STI levers
are even better than last year with a slightly crisper
feel and nice, new finish.
If $1000 is an absolute ceiling for you for
a triathlon bike then I recommend waiting for our review
of the 2003 Cervelo One. This bike may be of interest and
will be available around January of '03. Based on a brief
examination of the bike performed by Lindsay Brandon and
Mark Trzeciak of Bikesport, Inc. at the annual Interbike
trade show in Las Vegas in September of 2002, this bike
is promising. Realistically, it may also be difficult for
Cervelo to do a whole lot better at $1000. It is too much
to expect from any bike company. The truth is, no one can
make a really nice triathlon bike in a wide range of sizes
for $1000. It simply takes more money to do a good job.