It’s 2014 and I’m on a bullet train from Taichung to Taipei, where I’ve been commissioned by the tourism board to write an article about the island’s drive to develop cycling. It’s been a hazy week and a half of bikes on the brain – bikes in meticulous factories, in rental stalls, on the slopes of Taiwan KOM, on bike paths and in clusters.
At that moment, I want to look out the window at the patchwork of paddy fields, jungle and heavy industry passing by. I want to deal with the contradictory whirlwind of the country I find myself in – the puff of incense in the streets, the bustling night markets full of selfie sticks. Especially at this time, I don’t really want to think about bikes anymore. But I can’t do that, because across the aisle there’s an Industry Bro in a Cannondale T-shirt with his laptop open and a screen full of secrets.
As we arrive in Taipei, he reviews the paint work on the rendered outlines. There’s an aluminum road frame with a level top tube and a Cannondale logo on the down tube – like the CAAD10, which in 2014 is selling like hot cakes. But something is wrong, because this frame says CAAD12 on it.
I come home and tell wide-eyed biker friends a boring anecdote about how the industry has to work two models up front: the CAAD11 hasn’t even been released yet, so the CAAD12 must logically be in years. Everything will be alright. Cannondale’s defining, beloved and sequentially numbered CAAD series will surely remain intact. What could go wrong?
A new model
Just under a year later, the Cannondale CAAD12 lands, directly replacing the beloved CAAD10, first introduced in 2010. Crafty bike reviewers at product launches note that Cannondale can’t seem to count. The world wants to know what happened to CAAD11: why would Cannondale go straight past an iteration, after carefully bumping up the previous numbers? Where is CAAD11?
The company’s responses at the time didn’t seem particularly compelling. A brief overview:
- A Road.cc reviewer was told that Cannondale didn’t want to be accused of a Spinal Tap-esque “it goes to 11!” moment – which to me doesn’t particularly sound like the truth, and it’s also kind of weird to let a cult comedy reference from 1984 dictate your branding in 2015.
- A Cycling Weekly reviewer was told by a Cannondale rep that the CAAD12 was so superior that “one jump didn’t seem like enough. It’s so good that we skipped a note. We have passed CAAD11 and we have no plan for it.
- A Cyclist reviewer, at the same launch, tantalizingly wrote that “nobody could give me a definitive answer” why Cannondale went from 10 to 12.
Something about Nigel Tufnel’s amp, explosive marketing communications, a silly reason for a nonsensical skipped model. Clear as mud. But there was another twist…
In subreddits and industry whispered conversations, another theory has emerged involving Australia’s most beloved road cyclist.
Cadel Evans – Australia’s only Grand Tour winner – spent his illustrious mountain biking career as a rider for Volvo-Cannondale, piloting the company’s bikes to UCI Mountain Bike World Cup victories in 1998 and 1999. In 2001 he switched to the road for Saeco – again sponsored by Cannondale – before changing teams in 2002, parting ways with the American marque.
In 2010 Evans signed with Swiss team BMC Racing, won the Tour de France in 2011 on a BMC and when he retired from the sport in 2015 he became the company’s global ambassador. – a title he holds to this day.
I would like to claim that these shifting sponsorship arrangements opened a loophole that would nullify a product line; that abandoned Cannondale instituted a company-wide scorched earth policy on Evans as he slowly moved away from their grip. But that’s not how Cadel’s theory goes. It’s much funnier: “Cadel Evans” sounds almost exactly like “CAAD11”.
From a marketing point of view maybe there’s a certain logic to it: if you were Cannondale, would you want the name of your flagship aluminum model to trigger a mental association with BMC? But – like the Spinal Tap thing or the “it’s so good it skipped a note” thing – it still feels like a bit of a silly reason to break a decades-old naming convention.
The official word
To recap: we have three possible theories about what happened to CAAD11 and no clear answer. Eight years later, the CAAD12 was replaced by the CAAD13, which is likely to be replaced by itself shortly. All of that is now very low-stakes ancient history. Perhaps Cannondale no longer needs to engage in elaborate cover-up. Maybe they’ll confess and clear up a mystery.
So I asked them.
Now I like Cannondale and I like their CAADs. I also like that they are patient with what I can only describe as “My Bullshit”. Little did I realize how closely guarded the secrets of the missing CAAD11 were – a sacred Aluminati text released to no one.
After nearly two months of back and forth with Cannondale’s Media Relations Manager, the final official, taped and recorded answer came to my silly little questions: Was that the Spinal Tap thing? Was it the Cadel Evans thing?
“I can’t say much more than it’s neither – yes, there is another reason…the missing CAAD11 will continue to remain a mystery to Cannondale fans everywhere.”
A deeper layer
I could have let it be. Maybe I should have. But it left a question unanswered, and that question has been nagging me very quietly for the better part of a decade.
Another fight with the Internet.
Was there another product called CAAD11 that put the company at risk of infringing a trademark? Not that I could find. Suddenly, could it have been due to the CAD11 protein responsible for bone cysts? Has Cannondale Dealed With a Disputed Car Amplifier Manufacturer? I was at a loss – until I slipped into the DMs of an industry source with intimate knowledge of the company at the time, along with the inside word.
The story: The company was in a “disruptive” phase – it was the same model year that Cannondale released its bonkers, brilliant Slate – and when it came time to replace the beloved CAAD10, marketing was become creative. It “made sense to jump [the 11] to shit and laugh”, I was told, “but they were always suspicious [about it] like it was an inside joke. Marketing has struck again.
And then, without being invited, a little nugget:
“Marketing, and that sounded too much like Cadel Evans,” the post read. “Mostly the Cadel Evans thing, though.”
A well-placed source says one thing; Cannondale HQ says another. Oral history is an imprecise thing, so perhaps these two realities can co-exist. More broadly, some things in life are meant to remain mysteries and that’s something I have to learn to come to terms with – especially when it’s related to a bike that doesn’t even exist nearly of a decade.
But you have to admit, there’s something objectively funny about the CAAD series from a decades-long company aging alongside an uncommonly-named cyclist, both on a collision course. . A bomb turns into an explosion when the clock strikes 11.
Mostly, however, I think of a product manager on a bullet train from Taichung to Taipei looking at graphics on a frameset in 2014, quietly gutted from the model name CAAD11 that could never exist because of Cadel Evans, or maybe just for shit and giggles. Or both, or neither. May be.