Last Tuesday Cannondale revealed its new Synapse endurance bike. In our coverage of the launch (opens in new tab), in which we included our first impressions and embedded a video (opens in new tab), we called it a “game changer”.
The new Synapse Carbon is designed to run what Cannondale calls SmartSense technology. This is a system of lights and radar that actively communicates with the rider, bike and surroundings. SmartSense is powered by a single battery and controlled by an app.
SmartSense by name and in our view smart sense by nature: most riders use daytime running lights now; radar increases awareness and therefore confidence on the road and who enjoys removing all the lights off their bike every time they need charging? Cannondale says SmartSense is all about confidence and convenience.
So why were the comments underneath our YouTube video (opens in new tab)so overwhelmingly negative, even hateful? Yes, it can take the notoriously conservative world of road cycling years to accept new technology (disc brakes, for example), but this wasn't just non-acceptance, it was bordering on hostility.
“People who want lights add their own anyway… this is just some stupid proprietary bulls**t” or “Useless - considering how low the power outputs are and how big the battery appears to be.”
Also: “The fact that they didn’t integrate the cables and clean up the rear and front lights is a giant miss.” There’s more: “Looks like a solution to a problem that does not exist…..I think Cannondale have misread the market,” or “Boy, those pot smokers at Cannondale are really putting things together for us cyclists. Imagine, a bike with brake lights. Welcome to 2022.”
However, there were also some practical questions about the SmartSense bikes: “Where does the saddle bag go?” And: “Need to know how the lights connect. The front light mounts with a standard GoPro mount, if that cable going to the battery is USB then great, you can change that huge front light to something sensible.”
So we put these questions - a bit more politely of course - to Clive Gosling, Cannondale’s director of marketing and David Devine, global director of product.
Cycling Weekly What has been your/Cannondale's reaction to all the negativity surrounding SmartSense and the huge amount of positive support for the threaded BB, external head tube cables and 27.2 seat post?
Clive Gosling "SmartSense is new and different so there’s always going to be a mix of reactions. Technology and innovation moves things forward. I remember when you used to have to turn the lights on in a car when it got dark, or the wipers when it started to rain and looking over your shoulder to reverse, but now updates to those actions fit seamlessly into our daily routine. Disc brakes are another example of an innovation that has become totally normal and accepted.
"We’re proud of this launch and believe that experiencing the system will help answer questions and put smiles on a lot of faces. Your reactions after experiencing Synapse with SmartSense was to call it a “game changer” and that you “expect other brands to follow our lead with this big step forward,” and that’s exactly what we’re going for. While we know there is plenty for experienced riders to enjoy about Synapse with SmartSense, we’re also excited about this being an invitation for newer riders as well. Cycling can be intimidating and we’re helping to alleviate that through the confidence and convenience of Synapse with SmartSense. We encourage people to check out Synapse with SmartSense to experience how the features will enrich their ride."
CW Will SmartSense ever be something that is purely an 'opt in' feature? People are pretty annoyed that it's not optional, especially when they already own 'better and brighter' lights. Some already own a Garmin Varia, most already have lights and they'll be forced into buying the same thing again if they wanted one of the higher spec bikes.
CG "We’ve provided a roster of options with the new Synapse from the 1 RLE, equipped with all elements of SmartSense, to the 4 without the SmartSense hardware. We’re very pleased with the Lezyne lights that can come on automatically when the rider walks up to the bike, adjust themselves in low light, alert approaching drivers and the ride for added safety and work seamlessly with radar for additional awareness. All this without having to charge and remove on average four items off the bike but just a single battery. The SmartSense lights provide a perfect balance between output, runtime and weight and is an integrated feature of the new Synapse."
CW Can you fit a brighter front light?
CG "Not currently, but please see attached [above] a picture of the light in actual use on Dorset's darkest lanes. As you can see, and have heard from Simon [Smythe's 'first ride' report for CW], the output far exceeds what you would expect from a 350-lumen light."
CW How are you able to use a saddle bag with the light/radar fitted?
CG "The lights are attached via GoPro-style mounts, so easy to relocate with GoPro extender arms. See the pic attached [above] of one with a pretty big bikepacking bag, but with three sets of bottle cages and top tube mounts. I think a top tube bag is a better solution for UK riders. These extenders could also relocate the front light for use of a bar bag. There are also saddle bag options that fit the current set up. It’s all about finding what works for you."
CW Will a better battery be made available to provide a longer run time?
CG "The run time is a range depending on how the battery is used. The maximum is 20 hours and with the ability to whip it off and charge it mid-ride if you are doing an all-day ride, we feel it is the right balance. A small, light (179g) battery with a maximum 20hr run time is at the heart of SmartSense."
CW How would you foresee charging the battery mid-ride? I'm assuming this would mean stopping somewhere, rather than charging while riding?
CG "Yes of course. Most rides involve a coffee stop or lunch break, you could very easily top up the battery at most places, if required."
CW Will the battery ever be internal? Comments are suggesting it looks 'ugly'.
CG "If it was internal you would struggle to remove it in two seconds for charging which is a key contributor to the convenience of SmartSense. Ease of use trumps hiding the battery and with bottles on the bike the battery is virtually hidden."
CW Same with the lights, will there be a version made available which is less bulky and looks more streamlined?
CG "There is one light shape available."
CW Will any extra 'GoPro style' extender arms be included with the bikes?
CG "No, as we feel the mounting options are adequate for tool keg or top tube bag. Remember there is also an extra set of bosses under the down tube as well that could mount a tool keg."
CW When do you think we could expect to see SmartSense-compatible lights from other brands? Care to mention any names that may be working on this?
David Devine "The daytime running Lezyne lights are great for this bike and as you mentioned in your testing, they are “bright enough to see and be seen,” which contributes to the confidence SmartSense helps deliver. That said, we don’t have current plans for additional integration."
CW Would you ever license out SmartSense for other bike brands to incorporate into their bikes?
DD "Right now we are enjoying it being something unique to Cannondale and developed in concert with industry leading partners like Garmin and Lezyne. We’re focused on developing a solid user experience and consistent environment. We’re excited about this launch and the potential it has to influence the industry."
CW Was it ever considered to offer some models through the range as 'SmartSense Ready' to begin with so people could have a smoother transition into the idea of the system and then potentially this wouldn't force customers to buy from competitors?
CG "We offer the Synapse Carbon 4 model SmartSense ready, without the hardware. Of course we would love riders to experience Synapse with SmartSense and see how the new features can make their ride more enjoyable. We agree that it’s a big step forward."
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Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor on the magazine following an MA in online journalism (yes, it was just after the dot-com bubble burst).
In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends a bit more time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.
What's in the stable? There's a Colnago Master Olympic, a Hotta TT700, an ex-Castorama lo-pro that was ridden in the 1993 Tour de France, a Pinarello Montello, an Independent Fabrication Club Racer, a Shorter fixed winter bike and a renovated Roberts with a modern Campag groupset.
And the vital statistics:
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