Race-ready road bike with a mudguard-ready frameset
This competition is now closed
In many ways, Cannondale’s CAAD Optimo is a throwback to bikes from a decade or so ago – an aluminium frame and a carbon fork accompanied by a predominantly Shimano 105 drivetrain.
Disc brakes? Nowhere to be seen. But look a bit further and the newest incarnation of the Optimo road bike has followed at least a few more recent trends in road-bike design.
Gearing is lower than you’d have found a while back, the tyres a fraction wider and the seatstays have inevitably been dropped for extra rear-end comfort.
Just a couple of years ago, a 105-equipped road bike from Trek, Specialized or Cannondale was yours for a grand. Sadly, those days are now receding in the rear-view mirror, and the £1,200 price of the Cannondale is £50 less than you’d pay for similarly equipped road bikes with rim brakes from both Trek and Specialized.
When it comes to geometry, the Optimo is pretty similar to the Specialized Allez, with the Cannondale being marginally the racier of the two.
We tested four bikes around the £1,000 mark that are all suitable for commuting, but each can be used for much more than the daily grind to work.
Their aspirations take in leisure riding, fast fitness and perhaps even racing ambitions, plus loading up for trips away. As such, while they are all around the same price, each offers a distinct set of characteristics and features. Be sure to check out all four reviews to see which one might be a good fit for you and the cycling you do.
The 54cm frames have similar head- and seat-tube angles close to a classic 73 degrees, and similar-length top tubes – 546mm for the Cannondale, 552mm for the Specialized – but the Cannondale’s head tube is more than a centimetre shorter and its stack 15mm lower.
In spite of this racier edge, the Optimo does have fittings and clearance for mudguards – with a very neat chainstay bracket – though with the 25mm Vittoria tyres actually measuring 26mm, any mudguards will be a tight fit.
The riding position still isn’t that extreme – you’re not riding nose to the stem – but the Cannondale’s handling is pin-sharp and the acceleration decent, even with quite modest wheels and tyres.
Those dropped seatstays really do help the riding experience, and I had no discomfort through the saddle, even when riding on unsurfaced grit tracks.
I also found the own-brand saddle comfortable and unobtrusive, which is exactly what you want. This bike’s certainly comfortable enough for commutes on tarmac where, once you hit your cruising speed, you’ll be able to keep it with minimal effort. The stiff frame proved a good climber too, either in or out of the saddle.
While Shimano’s excellent 105 components are at the heart of things, in keeping with a lot of bikes at this price, you don’t get quite the full groupset. This Optimo has an FSA chainset and Tektro caliper rim brakes.
Shifting across the chainrings was accurate and the R741 brakes are one of Tektro’s higher-end offerings, around 40g per brake lighter than 105, and the braking was very good: up there with the power and control of the 105 equivalents.
There was no flex from a skeleton design that resembles that of SRAM’s rim brakes, with a bracing triangle providing extra stiffness. The braking may not be as powerful as disc braking – especially hydraulic discs – but if you’ve had decades using rim brakes, these are absolutely fine.
As for the bottom bracket, well, Cannondale was one of the drivers behind the far from universally loved BB30 bottom bracket, which used to feature on its Optimo bikes. Not now.
The 2022 Optimo bikes come with an FSA Mega Exo threaded bottom bracket that will be easy for the home mechanic to replace, was free of squeaks and squeals during testing and is likely to stay that way.
I would have liked to have seen Cannondale go modern with a wide-ranging 11-34 or 11-32 cassette, but the 11-30 still offers a lower bottom gear than you’d have found a few years ago.
There are a lot of riders who don’t want disc brakes or the option of fitting 35mm tyres on their road bikes, and Cannondale’s Optimo is a fine choice if that includes you.
None of us knows how much longer manufacturers will even make bikes with rim brakes, but in the meantime we’ll still be able to enjoy the likes of Cannondale’s dynamic, fast-handling Optimo.
This endurance road bike has a full-carbon fork with a thru-axle. The 10-speed Tiagra groupset includes hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors. You also get a wide-ranging 11-34 cassette and 30mm tyres.
The entry-level CAAD Optimo has the same frame and fork as our test bike and an eight-speed Claris groupset, while the rim calliper brakes are Promax RC-452s.
Simon has been cycling for as long as he can remember, and more seriously since his time at university in the Dark Ages (the 1980s). This has taken in time trialling, duathlon and triathlon and he has toured extensively in Asia and Australasia, including riding solo 2900km from Cairns to Melbourne. He’s been testing bikes and working for Cycling Plus in various capacities for nearly 20 years.
Sign up to receive our newsletter!
Thanks! You've been subscribed to our newsletter.
Already have an account with us? Sign in to manage your newsletter preferences
First 3 issues for £5 when you subscribe to Mountain Biking UK magazine!
Get your first 3 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to Cycling Plus magazine today!