In November 2005, I filled out an employee purchase form for my first Cannondale. Sure, I had sold thousands of these oversized, U.S.-made gems to countless cyclists on both coasts and points in-between. However, even with all of my theoretical understanding of Cannondales, I had very little first-hand experience.
I had just sold my Look 585 and I was hoping to downsize the cost of the frame in an effort to purchase an SRM. Employee purchase price - $800: frame, fork, and FSA headset. I ordered the SRM at the same time. It cost 3X the price of the frame. This was to be an experiment, an attempt to learn first-hand what the SRM was all about. Two seasons later, the SRM is gone and CAAD8 remains my go-to bike.
The CAAD8 arrived four weeks later and it was a vision of practicality and functionality. The frame was brushed al-u-min-e-um with a clear coat. The tubes were classic Cannondale/Fosters: (largely oversized) with welds that were ground smooth. The decals were PRO-style (read: big and everywhere) and, aside from the legal disclaimer on the down tube, the bike looked the same as Cunego's: PRO. The fork had a classic curve to it: sexy, like the forks of yesterday and a trait that appears to be less common as the years go on. The fork was Cannondale's Premium and had alloy drop outs.
I promptly built the CAAD8 with a Record group, Classic wheels, and an SRM. It was fully equipped to handle the rough winter that lay ahead. I immediately packed the bike into a box and shipped it off to Massachusetts for my annual winter training camp. I spent hours and hours on it, alone, hammering the back roads and quaint villages of the New England seacoast. I spent most of my time pushing buttons on the SRM and watching the numbers. The bike was almost invisible, a trait I often equate with excellence. The ride was stiff; stiffer than the 585 vertically but laterally, the bikes stiffness reminded me of stepping off a loading dock. The BB was rigid and uncompromisingly stiff.
Following the winter camp, I arrived back home and eagerly joined my local group ride. I wanted to talk numbers with other power users and to see how the Cannondale rode in a group environment.
My experiences at this point were limited to solo rides on smooth country roads. The Cannondale had performed no better or worse than any other bike I had ridden. But when paired with 30 other eager roadies and let loose in a group setting, the CAAD8 unleashes a side of its personality that can only be defined as brutal and 100% business. To quote my pal BI, the bike becomes a weapon.
Cannondale has managed to capture the heart of a killer in a sweet and innocent package. Of course, the CAAD8 was the choice of Cunego (despite his access to the CAAD8's big brother, the SIX13) and for good reason, but when one compares the Cannondale's price tag to that of other PRO machines (Colnago, Pinarello, BMC) it can easily be dismissed as unable to deliver the soul and liveliness of these other, higher priced machines.
The stiffness generated in the BB would lead one to think the corresponding ride would be too stiff, abusing the rider and beating their kidneys into submission. However, Cannondale has blessed this bike with the ability to deliver a very comfortable ride, one that is not often associated with oversized aluminum. My longest ride on this bike hovers around 4.5 hours and, at this point, the ride has yet to leave me asking for relief. When paired with tubulars, the bike takes on an even greater degree of comfort.
When out of the saddle the CAAD8 begs for more, any effort put into the pedals is directly transferred into forward momentum, driving even a clincher tire to sing like a silk tubular. The stiffness of the BB is simply intoxicating. The bike begs you to train harder and to hit the weights in the off-season in an effort to build the very legs this bike deserves. Whether slamming closed a gap or shooting for the town line sprint, the Cannondale is as eager as a groom on his wedding night.
There is only one sensation from the CAAD8 that can rival its acceleration and that is cornering. I'd be selling the Cannondale short by suggesting anything less than taking one for a spin, but for the sake of this post, this is where the weapon analogy really takes hold. The Cannondale is like the friend in high school who was blessed with the ability to avoid trouble and injury, he always had a way of talking you into doing things you knew you'd regret. The Cannondale is simply fearless in turns. High speed sweepers or off camber 90º turns, the CAAD8 is up for it if you are. Go ahead, I dare you.
It may seem tough to believe that a bike could be so inexpensive and perfect at the same time. Well, there were some issues with the bike. Upon arrival, the clear coat was applied over some oxidation on the tubes, giving the creases and corners of the frame a smokey, black appearance. I recall thinking this must be a fact of the employee purchase price. But then again, an employee purchase would indicate the CAAD 8 would be leveraged to sell other Cannondales. Perfection should be a priority.
The other issue was the fork: the Premium fork was a constant source of concern for me in the early months because I was never able to adjust the HS and have it stay snug. After a couple of rides, the HS would work its way loose again. I pulled the fork and replaced it with a Premium+ I purchased from eBay. Apparently, the Premium+ was not available as an aftermarket option so gray market was my only choice. With the Premium+ installed, my problem was solved. Although, I am not one to believe a small change such as carbon drop outs vs. aluminum drop outs would affect the ride, but the Premium+ is a better riding fork. The Cannondale rep said the fork had a different carbon lay up, but I wasn't able to confirm this. My thought is that it's doubtful Cannondale would change the lay up of carbon for the Premium+ without sacking the fork with a "premium" price tag.
The CAAD8 has served me very well, better than most road bikes, the Cannondale has remained in my stable longer than any other production bike (barring my Bridgestones).
I have ridden the CAAD8 with Record, tubulars, clinchers, light wheels, heavy wheels, and with an SRM and without. The bike has been built in many a livery, most recently Dura Ace. Back in July of this year, following a brief Italian holiday, I cobbled the CAAD8 back together in an effort to perform a side-by-side comparision. A winner takes all competition that would pit the Cannondale against the Don from Cambiago. It was not about pride, or bragging rights, it was about money. More specifically, the 4k I had tied up in the Colnago. One weekend, one bike left standing.
My Cannondale enters season three in December.