Cannondale vs. Trek: Know the Differences Before You Buy

There are hundreds, even thousands of bike brands around the world and over the history of the sport. It can be an intimidating task for new cyclists to navigate the industry, let alone try to figure out which bike will suit them best.

No doubt you’ve come across the world-renowned brands of Cannondale and Trek. They are two highly sought-after American companies known for style and innovation. But what makes them unique or encourages a buyer to choose one over the other?

You’re likely tired of hearing this, but it does depend on what you are looking for. Do you want a high-quality entry-level bike to have fun on? Or are you a performance-focused cyclist who needs to shave every ounce of unnecessary weight off your bike?

Trek bicycle
Many excellent-quality Trek models are available for less than $1,000. (© Paul Arps | Creative Commons)

Cannondale and Trek both design a wide range of bikes. Each bike manufacturer has options based on riding style, performance needs, and price points. But Trek has a much larger, more customizable line of bikes, while Cannondale specializes in optimizing high-end, lightweight premium bicycles.

So if you want more options, you should lean toward Trek bikes. If you’re after the best of the best, no questions asked, and money isn’t an object, then Cannondale is the way to go.

Cannondale bike
© Jason Young | Creative Commons

In case you are unfamiliar with the two companies, let’s start with their origin stories.

History of Cannondale

Cannondale opened its doors in 1971 in Bethel, Connecticut, specializing in aluminum and carbon fiber bikes. Lighter is better is the name of the game for Cannondale. They were one of the first companies to introduce carbon fiber frames to the market, and they’ve never looked back. Steel frames are not even in their repertoire.

Cannondale is an industry leader in research and innovation. They were the first to introduce suspension forks and shocks for mountain bikes. In 1992, they introduced their Head Shok suspension system. Its design includes 88 needle bearings divided evenly between four strips of needle bearings. They are sandwiched between an inner and outer tube, which creates a telescoping effect and enables the system to roll instead of slide. The result is a flex-free, rigid fork that is still considered the most effective and reliable on the market.

Cannondale’s bold innovation didn’t stop there. They were also the first to come up with single-sided or lefty forks, making their mountain bikes even lighter than their competitors.

They reinvented the wheel with their slice wheel system, which allows riders to change their tire and tube in mere seconds without any tools.

This video is pretty old, but it offers a deep look at the highly precise assembly process of Cannondale bikes:

History of Trek

Richard Burke and Biseau Hogg started Trek in 1975 from humble beginnings when they made bikes out of a red barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin. They incorporated a year later. Trek handmade 904 touring frames in the very first year with only five employees. They quickly grew in size, prestige, and sales. They also began acquiring long-established companies such as Gary Fisher, Electra, and Bontrager.

Trek earns praise for high-quality steel frame bikes. But they also compete in the aluminum and carbon fiber realms. They score big points with their customizability, allowing consumers to build bikes on their website from the frame up, right down to the custom paint job.

Their biggest claim to fame came on the shoulders of Lance Armstrong. If you didn’t already know, his seven consecutive Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005 (since disqualified due to doping violations) were all on Trek bikes. This helped cement Trek’s reputation for speed and world-class quality.

Now that you are familiar with the lore of each brand, let’s see what sets them apart from one another.

Differences Between Cannondale and Trek

Cannondale and Trek both manufacture bicycles categorized from mid-range to high-end. They also cover a wide range of riding styles, from road cycling to trekking, mountain biking, and hybrid bikes. Most recently, they each ventured into the electric bike craze.

Each company’s bikes have specific features that set them apart.

Frames

Cannondale

As mentioned above, Cannondale only makes frames from aluminum and carbon fiber. But the geometry varies from bike to bike. The Cannondale 6 and the Synapse models incorporate curved chainstays. This helps them to absorb more of the road shock.

Cannondale bicycle
© Ryoichi Tanaka | Creative Commons

Trek

Trek frames come in steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber for optimal selection. They earn praise for frame geometry that allows them to maintain rigid stiffness, even when the rear wheel gets knocked out of alignment. This is a great attribute for mountain biking and rough trails.

A selling point for me is that Trek bikes have shorter, more angled top tubes, making them the ideal choice for riders with shorter torsos. They also have more frame size options in general, so it’s easier to find the right fit.

Trek bicycle in the woods
© Scott Ritchie | Creative Commons

Wheels

Cannondale

On most of their bikes, Cannondale uses aluminum rims. They harden them to make them lighter and stronger. They also offer carbon fiber rims at a higher cost.

Cannondale bike wheel
Wheel on a Cannondale bike (© Simon Carr | Creative Commons)

Trek

Trek’s high-end models come with carbon fiber rims. This increases the price but makes the bikes lighter with optimal aerodynamics.

Tires

Cannondale

Cannondale specializes in high-end road bikes, so it should come as no surprise that most of their models come equipped with narrower tires. Typically, between 26 mm and 28 mm of clearance is what’s found on most Cannondale bikes.

A bonus is that Cannondale tire designs include a special reflective coating. It’s an important feature when you’re riding through the city. These tires help improve visibility during late-night or early-morning rides.

Cannondale wheel
Tire on a Cannondale bike (© Peter Hellberg | Creative Commons)

Trek

Trek is geared more toward the all-around rider who likes to keep their options open. Trek bikes have more clearance and can fit a wider range of tires. This is key once you’ve worn down your factory tires and are looking for available replacements, or if you’re just keen to customize your riding experience. Most Trek bikes can fit tires up to 32 mm.

Weight

Cannondale

Cannondale prides itself on making some of the lightest bikes on the market. That’s why they stick with aluminum and carbon as their main materials and use only the necessary amount of hardware.

Trek

Trek can make very light bikes as well. But head-to-head and pound-for-pound, they are usually heavier than comparable Cannondales.

Brakes

Cannondale

Cannondale uses the best of what is available. Before disc brakes were on the market, they used V-brakes. Nowadays, their high-end performance bikes use hydraulic disc brakes.

Trek

Same with Trek. You can find entry-level models with entry-level V-brakes or linear-pull brakes. If you are willing to spend money for top quality, you won’t even consider a bike that isn’t equipped with mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes.

Bicycle disc brake
If you need more power from your braking system, hydraulic disc brakes are the best option on the market.

Price

Cannondale

Cannondale specializes in ultra-light carbon performance bikes. These models use as many carbon components as possible. Carbon is not a cheap material. Thus, Cannondale’s high-end bikes are some of the most expensive on the market.

Mountain bikes like the Scalpel Hi-MOD Ultimate cost five figures. Their top-of-the-line e-bikes, such as the Topstone Neo Carbon 3 Lefty and SuperSix EVO Hi-MOD Disc Dura-Ace Di12, aren’t far behind. But most riders don’t need everything that Cannondale has to offer. The company also has a range of bikes priced between $1,000 and $5,000.

Trek

Trek offers a wider variety of products, so it makes sense that their prices also range widely, from the high-end Supercaliber 9.9 XX1 AXS hardtail MTB to the affordable Trek 820. For e-bikes, the Speed Concept SLR 9 eTap is at the high end, while the Dual Sport+ is at the low end.

Trek wins in the category of world’s most expensive bike with the Butterfly Trek Madone. Designed by British Artist Damien Hirst and ridden by Lance Armstrong, it goes for a whopping $500,000! If that’s not in the cards for you, try the 520 Disc.

Trek has many more options in more bike categories. Their mid-range bikes provide excellent bang for your buck without breaking the bank. Many models are available for less than $1,000

If you are looking for an excellent bike and still want to afford to eat, Trek is the better bet.

Lance Armstrong riding Trek bike
Lance Armstrong, 2009 Tour of California (© Anita Ritenour | Creative Commons)

Availability

Cannondale

To purchase a Cannondale bike, you have to find a distributor and hope that your model and size are in stock. Call around or visit multiple bike shops until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Or you can find them online at REI.

Trek

Trek makes it easy when stock is sufficient. Not only can you order a bike right from their website, but with the launch of Project One, you can customize the entirety of your Trek bike down to the paint job.

Amid a summer rush, you may be waiting awhile. But when it arrives, you’ll have the one-of-a-kind, perfect bike of your dreams!

Final Thoughts on Cannondale and Trek

Two home-grown American companies. Two fantastic lines of bikes. Deciding between them is difficult. There are lots of things to consider when purchasing a new bike. But frame fit is the most important. This is why it always comes down to the individual rider.

I recommend that you get out there and test ride as many bikes as possible. Get a feel for them and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you have the right frame to build on, you can customize the details to your preference.

Man riding Cannondale bike on street
It’s a high price to commute to work on a Cannondale. Hopefully you’ll save a lot on fuel costs! (© Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious | Creative Commons)

For folks who are less sure of their requirements, I’d steer you toward Trek bikes. With more options, wider availability, and customizable features, it will be easier to find a bike that suits you.

If you’re an experienced rider, know exactly what you want, and have been saving up, I’d say go for a Cannondale!

Trek bikes are the better known of the two, partly because of their Tour de France wins and partly because they have acquired some other bicycle companies.

I first became aware of Cannondale through my colleague who has been in the bicycle industry for over 20 years and knows nearly all there is to know about bikes. When it was time for him to select a new frame to build up, he chose a Cannondale. His credibility is more than enough to convince me.

If you’re looking for a prestigious, world-class brand praised for its research innovation and style, and you really want to turn heads, Cannondale is the right pick.

Top image: © Andreas | Creative Commons