Cannondale Moves to Asia

I read on the Italian Cycling Journal that Cannondale is auctioning off its aluminium manufacturing tools from its factory in Bedford, Pennsylvania. As the Journal rightly comments, it marks the end of an era.

Once the height of modernity

20 years ago practically every frame was steel. The likes of Vitus and Alan made “alloy” frames but these were very flexible and with the pros, had to be replaced several times a season because the lugs came unbonded. Carbon and titanium were exotic materials, novel and at times experimental.

Then Cannondale came along. Until then practically all frame tubing was the same diameter, one inch and an eighth, or 27.2mm. Even carbon and alu tended to use the same measurements. But thanks to massively oversized tubing, Cannondale were able to produce stiffer frames.

The tubing was so thin that “can” came to mind. A few years later I was a teenager earning pocket money in a bike shop. I was assembling bikes and the shop owner was insistent that you didn’t torque the bolts sensibly, he wanted everything cranked to the max. This way customers wouldn’t find the bars slipping, rather something would break and he’d get the sale (I know!). He tested a fork steerer bolt and declared it too loose. So he set about tightening when the bolt snapped and the Allen key flew up in the air. It landed on the top tube and left a big dent. If a light tool could drop on the tube it suggested the material was nearly as thin as a beer can.

This practical consideration aside, it marked the beginning of a leap in frame technology. But with hindsight Cannondale seemed too ambitious. Funded with cheap capital during the dotcom boom, the business ventured into motorcycles, using its alu frame technology to produce some clever machines but which sold at a loss. Good reviews meant sales picked up, the irony of this meant losses increased proportionately too. By 2003 the company filed for bankruptcy. The bicycle division was bought by a venture capitalist outfit and in turn sold to Canadian company Dorel, owner of GT, Schwinn and Mongoose amongst other brands as well as Sugoi clothing, plus an extensive range of baby strollers. No jokes please.

But if the company has been through a lot, it has consistently backed pro cycling. What started with the Saeco team in the 1990s continues today with the Liquigas team and it was the first time a US bike manufacturer sponsored a European team. The difference today is that Cannondale frames are today made in Asia… and whisper it by the same Taiwanese manufacturer as some Scott and Specialized frames.

12 thoughts on “Cannondale Moves to Asia”

  1. Just a point, Cannondale followed Klein in the use of oversize aluminium tubing. Gary Klein began experimenting with this design in the mid-70s I believe.

    Thanks for the great 'site, Oli

  2. Oli: thanks, that's a good point. I think there were others too but Cannondale seemed to popularise this. I can remember the Kleins thanks to some fantastic paintwork, as well as good reviews.

    Anon: inch and a 16th then? Tubes were drawn to an old Imperial measurement and long remained this way.

  3. Specialized frames are made by Merida almost exclusively…and I think you have some of the dates wrong in regards to cannondale being bought out

  4. Anon, the Merida deal is for most frames, no? But not all I gather.

    As for the Cannondale buy-out, the only date is the Chapter 11 filing which happened in 2003.

  5. Don't forget, Cannondale also supported mountain bike racing in a big way – Missy Giove, Myles Rockwell and more…

    Charlie Cunningham built some awesome oversized aluminum mountain bike frames in the Bay area around the same time Gary Klein was supporting the idea of oversized aluminum bicycle frames.

  6. I'd say C-dale's biggest contribution(?) was/is their drive to innovate. Along with aluminum frame design: triple clamp forks long before anyone else, integrated cranks, lefty forks, large chainstays/small seatstays, the headshock (on road bikes too!). just to name a few off the top of my head.

    as a side note: in regards to the riders mentioned earlier (Giove and Rockwell)…both have been caught on various marijuana related charges. SO C-dale apparently didn't help enough.

  7. Charlie Cunningham didn't build his first bike until 1979, Klein pre-dated him by 6 years.

    It's hard to argue that Cannondale brought the oversize aluminium frame tube to the market…

  8. Cannondale als0 perfected painting aluminum. Heat treating it properly (was a patented process now every aluminum frame builder uses) was a Cannondale exclusive for a while.

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