Cannondale Vs Trek: Everything You Need To Know

Cannondale and Trek are two of America's most famous bike brands - but what sets the two apart?

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reviewed by Ben Gibbons
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When it comes to choosing a new bike or just one to add to your ever-growing collection, it can be hard to decide between all the different bike manufacturers.

To help you out, in this article, we take a look at Cannondale vs Trek bikes to see how these two giants of the bike industry stack up against each other.

We’ll be comparing the histories of the two bike brands, which has the greater reputation for innovation and performance, and comparing three of the key bikes from each company head-to-head.

Whilst Trek might have been a big name in cycling for a little longer than the upstarts at Cannondale, both brands continue to build fantastic bikes.

At the top end, their bikes are trusted by the pros in the Tour de France, but they also make great bikes for the everyday rider who doesn’t want to spend the equivalent of a new car on a bike.

Close-up of a Cannondale bike on a pink background.

Trek Vs Cannondale In Numbers

Before we dive into the differences between Cannondale vs Trek, let’s look at some key numbers.

Whilst there are over 200 bike brands in the $8.2 billion US market, Trek has the largest share of this market at a whopping 22.5%. They sell twice as many bikes as their nearest rival!

Cannondale, on the other hand, has managed to grab just 3% of the US bike sales market.

With $8.2 billion spent by Americans on bikes in 2022, it is easy to see why Trek has a listed revenue of $900 million compared to Cannondale’s annual revenue of $74 million.

This market share also translates to company size, with Trek employing around 1800 people compared to around 500 at Cannondale.

Let’s take a look at a brief history of the two brands.

Cannondale: A Brief History

Old photo of racers for cannondale cycling.
Credit: Cannondale

They might be famous among cyclists nowadays for their bikes, but it didn’t start like this. Like all good stories of innovation and entrepreneurship, the Cannondale story starts in the loft above a pickle factory, Mrs. Forrester’s pickle factory, to be precise.

In 1971, founders Joe Montgomery, Murdoch MacGregor, and Ron Davis just wanted to build stuff but better. They made everything from prefabricated concrete to air conditioners.

Then in the mid-’70s, they released the “Bugger,” a practical bike trailer for kids and luggage that sold by the bucket load. The success of this product and the racks and panniers that were designed to go with it set Cannondale on a path to making great bikes.

Side note – the “Bugger” still looks great, and I am now looking for one to buy to ferry my kids around.

This was a path where rules were meant to be broken. They wanted to create a different bike, and they went back to first principles, pioneering materials and ergonomics.

Cannondale’s first bike was finally released in 1983, the ST-500 touring bike. A road bike model followed shortly but what made both bikes stand out at the time was the aluminum frame material.

This was genuinely groundbreaking and years ahead of the competition.

Cannondale bet big on aluminum. It was lighter and stiffer than the traditional steel and allowed Cannondale to popularize the more modern-looking oversized tubes.

From there, the company grew, and by the early 90s, they had released the CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design). It was so revolutionary and ahead of its time that it is now in its thirteenth generation and a hugely popular entry-level road bike.

Every bike brand needs a cheerleader, and they don’t come much bigger than Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini. He started the trend of customizing the color of his Cannondale bike to match the jersey he was wearing at the time.

Just like they did with aluminum, Cannondale was also one of the first bike manufacturers to research carbon fiber. The Synapse, another legendary bike frame, was born out of this research in 2006.

The American professional team EF Education-EasyPost continues to trust the mighty Cannondale SuperSixEVO to win stages in the Tour de France. A fittingly eccentric bike manufacturer for the most colorful team in the peloton.

It’s not just road bikes, though, and in 1994, they created their very own mountain bike team, Volvo-Cannondale, riding on the explosion in the popularity of mountain biking in the 90s.

Trek: A Brief History

Richard Burke and Bevil Hogg, the founders of Trek, sit next to a Trek bike.
Credit: Trek

Trek was born in a small barn in Wisconsin back in 1976.

The founders Richard Burke and Bevil Hogg set off on a mission to change the world one bike at a time and break the dominance of the Italian and Japanese bike brands.

Although a household name, the Trek name hit the stratosphere when they became the sponsor of the wildly successful US Postal Service Pro Team spearheaded by Lance Armstrong in the late ‘90s.

This was a time when Americans were winning the biggest bike race of them all, in American teams and on an American bike.

It wouldn’t last, of course, yet despite the fall-out from the Armstrong doping revelations, Trek continues to co-sponsor teams in the pro peloton.

From the outset, when they only had five employees, Trek has been committed to building high-quality bikes that were sold through specialist bike shops rather than general stores. The message was simple – we build bikes for people who care about cycling.

After earning their crust and making hugely popular different types of bikes, in 1983, Trek wanted a piece of the nascent mountain bike market and introduced the 850.

Fatter tires and more gears set the 850 apart from the competition at the time.

More innovations followed; its first aluminum bike, the Model 2000, was introduced in 1985, and just the following year, Trek released its first carbon frame, the Model 2500.

Another thing that set Trek apart from its competitors, particularly in America, was that throughout this period of rapid growth, most of the manufacturing and development was done at home instead of in Taiwan, like the majority of bike manufacturers.

This allowed Trek to keep a close eye on quality control, and they worked hard to offset the higher costs of manufacturing in the US.

Cannondale Vs Trek: Pricing

Both brands offer bikes across a wide range of price points, from entry-level bikes under $1000 to flagship premium models retailing for over $10,000.

For example, the FX 1, an entry-level hybrid bike, is among the cheapest bikes available from Trek at $499. Cannondale’s similarly-equipped Quick 6 currently retails at almost the same price, $530.

At the other end of the spectrum, the flagship Trek Madone racing bike with top-level specifications currently retails for around $12,500, while a similarly-equipped Cannondale SuperSix Evo can be anywhere from $11,000 to $13,000 (although some specifications can take the price up to $15,000).

Neither brand particularly has a reputation for offering better value than the other. Both offer bike models of similar standards at similar price points.

Cannondale vs Trek: Which Brand Has The Greater Reputation For Innovation?

Historically, Cannondale has the greater reputation for constantly looking for new innovations to improve performance compared to Trek.

Cannondale is constantly pushing the envelope, as seen with quirky designs such as the Lefty fork, and has also made significant advances in how frame materials are used (CAAD technology being a great example).

That being said, Trek have made significant design breakthroughs in their history too, perhaps the most important being the trademark OCLV carbon fiber technique which revolutionized carbon frames.

Let’s run through some of the key innovations introduced by both Cannondale and Trek so you can make a judgment for yourself.

Famous Design Breakthroughs From Cannondale: Key Examples

1. Cannondale BB30 Bottom Bracket

Cannondale introduced the BB30 bottom bracket system back in 2000, going on to release it as an open standard in 2006. There was, at long last, an alternative bottom bracket standard on the market.

The BB30’s bearing cartridges are pressed into an engineered shell that removes the need for separate bearing cups, helping to reduce the weight of the bottom bracket.

The larger diameter aluminum spindle also allowed for a stiffer crank and more efficient power transfer since there was less axle twisting.

2. Cannondale Lefty

The Lefty might have been around for 20 years now, but it still turns heads and invites the usual jokes about missing half your front forks.

As the name suggests, the Lefty packages the entire front suspension on a hardtail mountain bike into one single fork. Is it a novelty? Yes. Does it work? Also, yes, and at a lower weight than the traditional system.

The Lefty was born from another Cannondale innovation, the Headshok, where the front suspension system was moved to the head tube in an attempt to overcome issues of lack of suspension stiffness that had compromised control for mountain bikers.

It not only looks cool, but it has a proper race pedigree. The Italian mountain biker Marco Fontana rode to Bronze at the 2012 London Olympics on a Lefty, and it continues to win races at the Mountain Bike World Cup and Unbound Gravel events.

3. Cannondale SmartSense

The latest Cannondale Synapse bikes come equipped with a new, fully integrated SmartSense system that combines lights, sensors, radar, and batteries to increase safety and confidence out on the roads.

Cannondale knows that the versatile Synapse bike is a favorite amongst commuters, and this new system is designed to keep them safe in traffic.

4. Cannondale Hollowgram Si Cranks

These one-piece direct-mount chainrings are light, stiff, and innovative for the time. Plus, like a lot of Cannondale innovations, they just look cool on a bike.

5. Cannondale CAAD

Although Cannondale was not the first to design and manufacture aluminum bikes, they took the technology to a whole new level through their CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design) frames.

Previous generations of aluminum frames were flexible to the point of compromising bike handling. It’s not a great trade-off for only a few extra grams of weight saving over more traditional steel frames.

Cannondale’s solution was to use larger-diameter aluminum tubes. This vastly improved the stiffness whilst keeping the weight down.

6. Cannondale Slate Gravel Bike

Cannondale was way ahead of the gravel riding curve, releasing the small-wheeled Slate back in 2015. Just one year later, it crossed the line first in Dirty Kanza, the Tour de France of gravel racing.

The Slate used Cannondale’s Left Oliver front suspension fork and, perhaps more importantly, 650b wheels and tires. Unique at the time, but now de rigor for gravel bikes. Smaller wheels can mean wider tires, giving more control and traction on the rough terrain.

Famous Design Breakthroughs From Trek: Key Examples

1. Trek IsoSpeed

Although the latest Trek Domane bikes have ditched the IsoSpeed, this was revolutionary when it launched in 2012.

In simple terms, the system aims to smooth out bumps in the road by decoupling the seat tube from the frame. Everything feels the same as a normal road bike, but the added vertical flex improves the comfort of the ride.

It is simple yet effective and proved itself in the toughest Spring Classics such as Paris-Roubaix.

2. Trek 5200 OCLV

Two Trek 5200 OCLVs next to each other.
Credit: Trek

The birth of robust production carbon frames can be traced back to the first Trek 5200 OCLV in 1992. Carbon frames existed before 1992 (Greg Lemond won the 1986 Tour de France on a LOOK KG86 carbon bike), but there were significant challenges around carbon bonding.

Trek looked across at what the aerospace industry was doing at the time with advanced materials.

The result was a new production method of layering carbon and then pressing it together in a mold using pressure and heat.

Using this new manufacturing method, Trek not only created more reliable carbon bikes but also the lightest production road frame at the time, weighing in at only 1.1 kg.

3. Trek Project One ICON

The evolution of bike design was always going to point towards customization and with the Project One model, Trek was the first major bike brand to offer full customization.

Riders could choose the paint job and the components and get the bike they want without having to make any compromises along the way. Whether this is the future of bike buying remains to be seen, but it certainly offers something new to customers with deep pockets.

Trek vs Cannondale: Head-to-Head Bike Model Comparison

In this section, we will compare three key bikes from each company head-to-head within their similar categories.

If you have specific models from each brand in mind that you want to compare, then you can use this tool to see their specifications head-to-head.

#1: Premium Road Bikes

For the top price point, both brands offer superb options with superior ride quality and durability.

Cannondale SuperSix Evo

Cannondale SuperSix Evo on a beige background.
Credit: Cannondale

The SuperSix has always been a winner, especially among weight weenies who love testing themselves on long climbs. The latest version, after a revamp of the range in 2019, offers a more rounded experience.

It is a much more versatile machine with aero features that make it just as good on the flat as it is at home climbing mountains. The modifications amount to a substantial 30W saving at 30 mph (according to Cannondale).

Trek Madone

Trek Madone on a black background.
Credit: Trek

The Madone is everything great about an aero road bike, but with added comfort, thanks to the IsoSpeed lifted from its more endurance-focused model, the Domane.

Even the top-end racers covet comfort as it helps to reduce general fatigue and helps them stay sharp at the pointy end of races.

As you would expect from a top-of-the-range bike with a price tag to match, it features internal cabling and an integrated cockpit for those marginal.

The only compromise with this machine is that the tire width is limited to 28 mm.

Perhaps a more comparable bike to the Cannondale SuperSix Evo would be the Trek Emonda, the lightweight option in the range although even this bike has morphed into much more of an all-round riding option.

#2: Endurance Road Bikes

Cannondale Synapse

Cannondale Synapse on a white background.
Credit: Cannondale

The Synapse has always been hugely popular with riders who don’t want an all-out racing machine and prefer the more comfortable position and increased stability of an endurance bike.

The aluminum frame is complimented with carbon forks and seat posts to help keep things lighter and add more compliance to the ride.

The additional compliance and wider tire clearance (up to 35 mm) mean that the Synapse is also a good entry point for riders who want to experience a little gravel riding in their life.

The bike is so versatile that the latest iterations are double-down on the commuter market by incorporating integrated lights and a rear-facing radar system.

Trek Domane

Trek Domane on a black background.
Credit: Trek

Although still very much an endurance bike, the latest iteration of the Domane has spiced things up with some additional aerodynamic trim.

The Isospeed decoupler is still in place for additional comfort, and unlike its premium cousin, the Domane can accommodate 38mm tires.

#3: Mountain Bikes

Cannondale Scalpel-SI Hi-Mod 1

Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike on a white background.
Credit: Cannondale

The Lefty is the standout feature of this Cannondale cross-country (XC) machine, but it is chock full of great features. 100 mm suspension travel at the front and rear but with a longer reach for taming downhill sections.

Going uphill is also less of a drag thanks to the remote suspension lockout and the BallisTec carbon frame to keep things as light as possible.

Trek Fuel EX

Trek Fuel mountain bike on a black background.
Credit: Trek

The Trek Fuel EX has always been a solid operator, so much so that other mountain bikes are measured against it.

The top-spec version of the Fuel EX uses the OCLV carbon frame, but you can also get the bike with an aluminum frame. It adds a few grams, but you will save a bunch of dollars.

It comes with all the features you would expect in a top-of-the-range trail bike: internal cable routing, 140 mm of rear travel, and contemporary frame geometry. There are also some welcome yet unexpected features onboard the latest version.

There is storage in the down tube beneath the bottle cage that is a great place to store tools and spares (or a sandwich), and there is also rubber protection all over the frame to prevent damage and quieten chain slap on bumpy trails.

Where does your heart lie in the battle between Trek and Cannondale? Cycling behemoths or pluck underdog?

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David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

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