13 March 2012

When I Was A Guinea Pig: Riding An Early Cannondale

Today I am going to reveal one of my dim, dark secrets.  Yes, even at this late date, I still have them.

Here goes:  I actually owned--gasp!--a Cannondale racing bike.  One of the very first ones, in fact. 

One might say it was one of my youthful follies. The year was 1984.  I was working for American Youth Hostels. Back then, the organization was located on Spring Street, near Wooster, when the neighborhood (Soho) still had some halfway interesting art galleries and eccentric stores and cafes.  At that time, AYH had an store and mail-order service that sold bicycling, camping, hiking and other outdoor equipment.

Back then, Cannondale was known mainly for its bags and outdoor wear. Their bike bags were actually well-made and reasonably priced:  I used a few in my time. And I used one of their backpacks for the longest time.  AYH employees were able to buy Cannondale goods at their wholesale prices.

So I became, in essence, a guinea pig.  I bought their original model racing bike, with a full Campagnolo Nuovo Record component grouppo, for something like $500. 

It was one of the first--and last--times I succumbed to the urge to be the "first kid on the block" with some new item. 

The photo doesn't do justice to just how ugly that bike actually was.  The welds were cobbly; later Cannondales have the smooth joints you see on today's models.  Plus, the oversized aluminum tubes were very in-your-face, especially if you were used to steel-tubed frames. 

Being a snot-nosed kid with something to prove, getting such a bike wasn't enough for me. I wanted to be really badass, so I got it in black. I don't remember what kind or color bar tape came with it; whatever it was, I replaced it with red Benotto cellophane tape. And, I got cable housings to match.

Aside from its proportions, another thing that struck me was how much lighter the bike was than others I'd ridden.  Also, it was--as advertised--the stiffest bike I'd ridden up to that time. Maybe it's still the stiffest bike I've ever ridden.

What that meant is that the bike could go very fast. However, it also meant that it rode like a jackhammer.  Even my young, sevelte self felt beat-up after a ride on it.  I think that it actually slowed me down, ultimately:  I can ride only so hard or so long when every bone in my body is aching.

A few people swore by those bikes.  It's hard to imagine that anything Cannondale--or any other bike maker, for that matter--has made since then could be any stiffer.

Those early Cannondales came with CroMo steel forks--Tange, I think. I'd ridden the bike for close to a year when those forks were recalled.  After I got my replacement, I stripped the Campagnolo components off  the bike and replaced them with other stuff I had lying around or that mechanics of my acquaintance filched fetched from their shops' parts bins.  And I gave that Cannondale to my landlord for a month's rent.

Those Campy components went on to bigger and better things (ha!) I'll describe in another post.

Note:  The frame in the photo is larger than the one I had.  Plus, it has different components. 


  1. I really like my Cannondale. Too bad they had that ATV episode.

  2. I also have a aluminum framed Cannondale. It is a Cadd4, and it also rides like a hard rock, but it feels so fast. Not like the touring barge I also ride.

  3. I have one of those Cannondales in the garage (bright orange). Bought it from a friend about 15 years ago, who'd had it for about ten years. Feels a little small for me, but it is light as a feather. Compared to my (circa 1992) Giant Iguana city slicker, the Cannondale makes me feel like a ballerina. Your comment about proportions might explain the too small feeling, and the comment about jackhammer stiffness probably explains why I don't enjoy long rides on it. Or am I just looking for an excuse to spend more money on bikes?

  4. Steve, David and Julia--Some people like the ways their Cannondales ride, and won't ride anything else. If you feel that way, by all means, you should ride one. Even though their early bikes were not very refined, and I don't care for the look of most of the current bikes (Then again, I can't stand the graphics on most new bikes!), I think Cannondales are well-made. And, having worked in shops, I noticed that they were always an easy company to deal with. I think that, as Julia noticed, the ride might be too stiff for some tastes, and its proportions aren't right for some people, including me.

  5. Yeah, I rode a friends first generation Cannondale, harsh is right! Also, the look of those tubes was shocking to say the least. But boy could they climb or sprint! One's bum can only take so much though. A few years ago I rode a Cadd 7, what a difference. It actually road pretty good for an all aluminum bike. Engineering is a great thing!

  6. We must have been thinking alike, well I wanted to be invisible back then, so when I built my Holdsworth light tourer in the mid 70's my bike shop was devastated that I ordered it in plain black, had to have the badge! To a casual passer by it looked very dull and worthless which is what I wanted!

  7. Coline--A Cannondale is, even today, pretty difficult to camouflage.

    Anon--Yes, those bikes could climb and sprint. And, yes, they were a rough ride!