Weight: 16.5 lb. (58cm)
Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-Ace 11-speed
Material: Aluminum frame, carbon fork
Wheel Size: 700c
Tire clearance: 700 x 25mm
The right bike for: Riders who want a great race bike, with great parts, for a low price.
Carbon may be king, but aluminum is back in a big way, and not just for entry-level bikes. The CAAD12 Dura-Ace will make you question any belief you might have that an elite-level bike has to be carbon to even be up for discussion. This aluminum frame with Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical components and Cannondale’s HollowGram Si cranks (with a power2max NG Eco power meter) gives all the feelz of a high-test race bike at a fraction of the cost.
Nearly identical to the Cannondale SuperSix EVO in geometry, this bike has some serious high-end chops. The big, round tubes, reminiscent of pre-carbon Cannondale, come together to make a bike that’s stiff, strong, and snappy underneath you, but won’t beat you up over long days in the saddle. Tight handling gives you the feeling that you can drastically change your line at a moment’s notice, but doesn’t feel twitchy when cruising in a straight line.
Since it’s aluminum, the CAAD12 will withstand hits that may render carbon bikes useless. And also because it’s aluminum, it’s offered at a price that’s far cheaper than a comparably outfitted carbon bike. If you’re looking for a high-end race bike that can last multiple seasons and has a great components selection, look no further than the Cannondale CAAD12 Dura-Ace.
The CAAD12 Dura-Ace is built around Cannondale’s CAAD12 aluminum frame and full carbon fork. You may be inclined to think that because it’s an aluminum frame this bike isn’t designed for high-octane, full-throttle racing, but you’d be dead wrong in that assumption. This stiff, lightweight frame is extremely race-capable and will give you all the race feelz you could ever ask for.
Let me elaborate on what I mean by “stiff.” That term can get thrown around pretty casually when talking about bikes, and can sometimes feel almost meaningless because of how often it’s used. But in this case, stiff is truly an accurate description of this frame. Unlike carbon frames, aluminum frames don’t have the benefit of fancy layup schedules that can tune the ride feel to be compliant in some key areas and rock-solid in others. The best you can do with aluminum is adjust the shape and diameter of the tubes to augment stiffness and compliance.
Cannondale didn’t go nuts with crafting fancy shapes over every inch of the frame. Instead, this frame resembles the Cannondales of old, before the carbon invasion—big, round tubes everywhere. This frame is stiff, as in solid-as-a-rock stiff. You feel the road, every aspect of it, and when you step on the gas the bike is still solid as a rock, which is a pleasant surprise considering the Fulcrum Racing 400 DB aluminum wheels. That’s not to say they aren’t good wheels, but considering the rigidity of the frame, I was expecting the wheels to have more give. But they were as solid as one could expect from a pair of aluminum clinchers, and I’d love to see how fast and responsive this bike would feel with a pair of deep-section carbon tubulars. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why aluminum frames have been making a comeback. Although it didn’t happen on a Cannondale, let’s not forget that Johnny Brown won the USPRO road title last summer aboard an aluminum bike.
Frame aside, this bike has a great perk that may not be apparent at first sight—the HollowGram Si cranks are outfitted with a power2max NG Eco power meter. It’s not activated—you have to purchase a product code for 490 Euros (about $557 currently) to use it—but anyone who has ever attempted to move a crank-based power meter from one bike to another knows how infuriating it can be to deal with crank, bottom bracket, and frame compatibility in the process. No problems here.
Mechanical Dura-Ace shifting With Ultegra Rim Brakes
The CAAD12 Dura-Ace is, as you might guess from the name, outfitted with Shimano’s mechanical Dura-Ace 11-speed shifters and derailleurs. But Cannondale didn’t use the complete Dura-Ace groupset, opting for Ultegra rim brakes and an Ultegra 11-30 cassette. It’s been five years since I’ve had mechanical shifting on one of my personal bikes, but if I were to make that choice, this current generation of mechanical Dura-Ace would be my pick. It’s phenomenally smooth, crisp, and reliable. Plus, the hood design and levers feel fantastic.
Cannondale’s C1 aluminum bar and stem round out the cockpit, and its SAVE carbon seatpost is a nice touch to dampen some road vibrations. The bar has a slightly ergonomic drop, and I was really excited to find that it wasn’t a short-reach bar. Anyone who has a riding position that errs on the long and low side will greatly appreciate that. For anyone who doesn’t, the bar and stem are refreshingly easy to swap out. After all, we’re dealing with a normal bar and stem here, not an insanely complicated integration that’s common on aero, disc-brake road bikes.
If the CAAD12 Dura-Ace isn’t your cup of tea, Cannondale offers the same kick-ass aluminum frame with a few other build options. The CAAD12 Ultegra is an absolute steal at $2,050, followed by the CAAD12 105 for $1,575. A frameset will set you back $1,100.
Aggressive, Race-Ready Design
If you had any doubt as to whether or not the CAAD12 was intended to be a racing bike, a quick look at the geometry clears that up for you. I welcomed the aggressive 584mm stack height on my size 58cm test bike. Even better was the 2.5cm headset cap that, when removed, revealed a nearly flat headset cap that allowed me to #slamthatstem. I frequently battle short-reach bikes and never have the luxury of using a stem shorter than 130mm, so I appreciated the relatively long 399mm reach. That, along with a longer-reach bar, gave me the extension I need, which isn’t always the case with the current trend of shorter reaches and compact drop/short-reach bars.
If you’ve ridden a SuperSix EVO, this bike will look extremely familiar, and that’s because it is. The geometry on the CAAD12 is virtually identical to the SuperSix EVO and even closely resembles the SystemSix, which is 1mm shorter on the reach and 4mm lower on the stack height.
The CAAD12 also lines up very closely with the Allez Sprint, Specialized’s high-end aluminum race bike. The 400mm of reach on the comparably sized frame is just 1mm longer than the CAAD12, and the 583mm stack height is just 1mm lower.
5 Things We Love About the CAAD12 Dura-Ace
It may not seem like much, but it does a good job of damping road vibration.
The 11-30t cassette provides a great range and minimizes large jumps between gears.
The CNCPT team paint scheme is subtle but has cool hidden details throughout.
No messing around with crank compatibility—just purchase an activation code and go.
Shimano Dura-Ace shifters look cool, feel great, and perform flawlessly.
Makes You Want to Race
If you haven’t been picking up what I’m putting down, here it is: I really like this bike. In fact, I was a little bummed that I had to test it during the winter months, without the chance to ride it in some races. For that matter, the mere fact that this bike makes me want to race on the road should be a pretty strong indicator as to how much I like the way it rides. (I retired from professional racing in 2016 and can count on one hand the number of skinny-tire races I’ve done since—last year, that number was two.)
After a lifetime of riding road bikes, both good and bad—now that I’m no longer paid to say all of my equipment is the best equipment ever made, I can admit that I raced on some bikes that really weren’t that awesome—it’s easy to tell when a bike is ready to carve up a criterium course and handle the highly technical demands of pro-level racing. Some years I’d get on a bike at training camp and right away think, holy shit, yes!, or groan as I’d think about a summer of wrestling a wet noodle around tight corners. The CAAD12 falls into the former category. There isn’t much give in this aluminum frame, which, from a racing perspective, is great. You feel the road, you feel the contours of the pavement, and you feel more connected to your tires and what they’re doing than on a finely tuned and vertically compliant carbon bike. Some may not appreciate that level of input from the road, but I was pleasantly surprised to finish a 4-hour ride without feeling like I had bruised a kidney. Sure, the ride wasn’t buttery-smooth, but it wasn’t harsh, either.
The other “holy shit, yes!” factor was the really quick, but not twitchy, steering. In a race bike, you want something that drives nicely in a straight line but can very quickly change lines. The CAAD12 checks both of these boxes with aplomb.
The Elephant in the Room
With all this talk about high-level race performance, the elephant in the room is that, in an age where carbon is king, we’re talking about an aluminum bike. It’s been nearly 20 years since aluminum bikes won anything of substance on the World Tour. So why are they coming back now?
It turns out that carbon isn’t always better. Sure, there is a lot you can do with carbon that isn’t possible with aluminum, but when you get into this price range you rule out most of the bikes that use carbon to its fullest extent. And, lest we forget, one crash can turn your nice carbon bike into a pile of abstract art.
Aluminum presents a really great alternative to midrange carbon bikes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a high-end carbon frame outfitted with top-flight components like the CAAD12 for anywhere remotely close to the same price. If you do find a carbon bike with similar parts, you can be confident it’s not going to produce the same high-end ride quality as the CAAD12. Furthermore, these aluminum frames will last. And they’ll take a beating. A hit that could shatter a carbon frame may only dent an aluminum tube. And even then, an aluminum bike with a dented tube can still be completely sound and safe to ride, with no discernible change in performance.
So if you want a great race bike with really great components at a fraction of the cost of carbon, you’re not going to find a better option than the CAAD12 Dura-Ace. Race this bike, travel with this bike, and use it hard with the confidence that it can take a beating. Take one for a test ride. You won’t be disappointed. You may even be shocked.