There's a saying in auto racing attributed to Dr. Ferdinand Porsche where he states: the perfect race car falls apart right after crossing the finish line, implying that the ultimate race car should have the perfect balance of light weight, performance and durability – and it also implies that auto racing fans love watching cars fall apart – which they do. This statement also suggests that racing vehicles are, to a certain degree, disposable. You're not going to get a latte in a F1 car (as there's no cup holders), you're not going to use a rally car to drive to your ski house, nor would you use a NASCAR sedan to rob a liquor store – although it seems perfectly suited to that sort of activity. Racing bicycles, in part, share this element of disposability. Obviously, you wouldn't want your bike falling to pieces after every race finish, as it would be very painful and you'd have to be cleaning up your detritus from the roadway every week — but a good racing bicycle should be one that, should a mishap or racing calamity occur — you wouldn't mind seeing mangled in a mass of wheels, frames and wobbly categorized racer parts. You wouldn't enjoy it (unless you're a NASCAR fan - then you would really enjoy it), but the event wouldn't cause the sorrow you would feel if, say, one of your children got caught in that mutilated mess of asphalt, bike components and regrettable calf tattoos.
Since racing bicycles share this aura of disposability, it stands to reason that the best bike for racing would have a perfect balance of disposability and performance. I've been riding and racing a Cannondale CAAD9 for about 5 months now, and I think it's very close to having that elusive balance that makes a race bike both expendable and valuable at the same time. There are a lot of very nice and very expensive bikes out there that will outperform the CAAD9, the Cannondale's SuperSix for example, but if you're looking for a bike that will perform admirably without risking the emotional upheaval of seeing a $9,000 bike thrown into a cartoon cloud of limbs, bikes and Primal Wear jerseys, the CAAD9 is hard to beat.
A Brief History of CAAD
Right now I'm forgo the usual bike review format (thus relinquishing the opportunity to say the bike tracks like a bloodhound with OCD) and delve instead into the history of the CAAD line of bicycles from Cannondale – as no one else has done it – at least according to a my very thorough 30 second Google search. In 1994, CAAD began as CAD, or "computer assisted design", which is a generic term, not specific to Cannondale in any way. In 1994 computers were a big deal, unlike today they were not yet able to play little movies of cats boxing nor could they serve as an electronic strip mall – allowing us to order Canadian Viagra and shirts with wolves on them. So a bicycle designed with the aid of a computer was a significant development, significant enough to warrant naming the process, but not significant enough to apply that label to the frames. In 1994 the Cannondale frames were labeled according to their weight in pounds – what was to become the CAD frame was known as the 2.8 series, because the frame weighed 2.8 pounds. This frame was, of course, more popular than the 45.6 series Cannondales, which were sold only to lumberjacks.
In 1996, the notion of computers designing bikes had apparently become passe (perhaps the engineers at Cannondale were tired of cat boxing movies), and Cannondale began describing their framemaking as CAAD or "Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design", dropping any mention of computers. They introduced the CAAD models 1, 2 and 3 – with CAAD3 being the top of the line, and CAAD1 being the lower tier model. CAAD in this instance only applied to mountain bike frames with traditional UCI friendly "double diamond" shapes, and, confusingly, the frames wore decals stating they were "CAD" 1, 2 and 3 frames. The road frames were still labeled 2.8, and the 45.6 series was dropped due to lack of interest from the lumberjacking demographic.
1997 though turned out to be a landmark year in the history of CAAD, the CAAD name supplanted the 2.8 monicker; and Cannondale began sponsoring the Saeco team, and in the process, becoming Marco Cipollini's costume enabler. The CAAD process was labeled as "CAD" on the frames themselves, proving that the people who wrote the Cannondale catalogs were not allowed anywhere near the people who made the labels for the bikes, which must have made for awkward lunch times at Cannondale. The CADs ran from CAD3 to CAD1, the CAD3 had a carbon fork, the CAD2 had a steel fork, and the CAD1 was mostly reserved for hybrid bikes. Cannondale developed a CAD0 frame to appeal to the zinc mining demographic, but the idea was scrapped after market research showed that (duh) zinc miners would only ride frames made of zinc.
1999 saw the end of the internecine lunchroom battle of the CAADs at Cannondale with the introduction of the CAAD4, bringing an era of peace and shared luncheon meats at the Cannondale facility, as the CAAD4 name graced both bicycle frame and marketing materials. The CAAD4 also introduced the hourglass seat stay shape, which was promptly banned in Denmark for being too suggestive. From 2001-2003, the CAAD frames ruled the roost at Cannondale until finally in 2004, when the "Six" era of carbon fiber began, relegating the aluminum CAAD frames to the second tier of the Cannondale line. Adding insult to injury, the CAAD frames are re-labeled as "Optimo" frames, while still holding onto their CAAD description in company literature. The tenuous peace at Cannondale lunchroom ended, and luncheon meat stockpiling began.
2005 saw the introduction of the CAAD8 Optimo to placate the warring meat factions, culminating in the CAAD9 Optimo of 2007. The CAAD9 had a top tube with a larger diameter at the head tube, and a down tube and seat tube that enlarged as they reached the bottom bracket. In 2008, the Optimo is dropped, and the CAAD9s are given names with numerals that range from 5-6, with the 5 being the top of the line and the 6 reserved for the blacksmith demographic. 2009 saw the introduction of the CAAD9 7, after market research found that blacksmith's found Shimano's Tiagra components too "hoity toity".
Currently in 2010, Cannondale offers CAAD9s in numeral 1, 4, 5 and 6 – models 2 and 3 are special "secret frames" offered only to chimney sweeps and bootblacks through direct purchase programs. Also, for 2010, Cannondale reintroduces the CAAD8 to make all the people who bought CAAD9s feel better about themselves.
Where does this leave us?
So there you have it, an informal (and partially un-factual) history of a bicycle frame naming convention that no one asked for in the first place. But what does this tell you about the Cannondale CAAD9? Well, it's a solid racing bike that won't force you to Twitter about losing your best friend should it be hurled into the ground during the maelstrom of a category 4 park finish.
I should mention that I've found the CAAD9 to be a great performing bicycle. Plus, this bike has a bitchin' paint (or decal) job (which is all I really care about). I have no performance issues with the bike. It is solid, well balanced and predictable. My one issue is that one of the water bottle mounts has come loose and it will require some fixing from a certified Cannondale dealer, and as soon as I get around to it – I will get that fixed. In the mean time, I have engineered a zip tie solution.