When Cannondale went back to square one and redesigned the Cannondale SuperX cyclocross weapon for 2017, the bike they created just happened to fit the bill for gravel riding too. And so Cannondale took the SuperX frame, decked it out with a gravel grinder’s wish list of components and set it free on the backroads.
It’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
The fast end of the spectrum
In the world of gravel bikes, there’s a real spectrum of bike styles. At one end, you’ve got your long-haul truckers, bristling with mounts for bottles, fenders, bags and dynamo-powered things, with an upright riding position. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got bikes which are zippy, light, with more road bike DNA, and are better suited to day rides.
The SuperX exemplifies that more performance-oriented gravel bike – it’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
Can a CX bike really be gravel-worthy?
You may have heard that cyclocross bikes are dramatically different to gravel bikes, and many brands have unique framesets for cyclocross versus gravel. So are Cannondale cheaping out on some frame moulds and trying to trick us into thinking that a ‘cross bike is suitable for all-day mixed terrain adventures, simply by running some oversized tan walls and some easy gears?
Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops.
Firstly, it’s worth considering the actual differences between a traditional cyclocross bike and a new school gravel bike. Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops. The current breed of cyclocross bikes have changed quite a lot in recent years, to the point where there is as much geometry variance within cyclocross bikes or gravel bikes, as there is separating the two ‘categories’. So, no, Cannondale aren’t just cheaping out!
The SuperX’s gravel makeover sees it get a bunch of simple spec changes, compared to its CX brethren. The brakes get more bite thanks to the use of 160mm rotors at both ends, reasonably aggressive 37mm tyres (WTB Riddlers, in a funky tan wall, nice), and a smaller 40-tooth chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette for better climbing range.
About that geometry
The SuperX has frame geometry inspired by concepts that have been around in the mountain bike world for some time now; Cannondale call it Out Front geometry, but in a nutshell the idea is running a longer front end and a slightly slacker head angle, but using a fork with more offset to reduce the trail measurement. Put all the numbers into a large pot and simmer, and you get handling that is both stable at high speed (thanks to the slack angles) but still zesty at slow speed (thanks to the short trail measurement).
It works. The SuperX feels brilliant in the corners, fast or slow. With a 90mm stem fitted, it’s a confident position, and it’ll hook into a turn in neatly whether you’re on the hoods on in the drops. Thanks to the slacker head angle there’s plenty of toe clearance too, even with 40mm rubber fitted.
Given the firm overall quality, the SuperX is more comfortable than you’d expect when flying down loose fireroads too, as testament again to the good geometry mix, particularly the slack head angle.
At the other end of the bike, Cannondale have done a lot fiddling to get the rear end tight (422mm) while still keeping room for rubber up to 42mm wide. The whole rear end of the bike is offset to the right, by 6mm, to create room for the chain ring and big rubber. Of course, this then requires that the wheel be dished 6mm in the other direction. Apparently this makes for a stronger rear wheel, as the bracing angle of the spokes is more evenly matched on both sides of the wheel. But we feel it’s a pretty complicated solution, with the downside that you can’t just borrow a wheel in the event of an emergency. Other brands have been able to achieve similarly short rear ends without using custom wheel dishing (such as the Norco Search XR we’re reviewing).
Regardless, the short rear end makes it a blast to ride when things are a bit technical. It’s an easy bike to hop, wheelie or flick the rear wheel about, which is part of the appeal to us – it’s just a playful ride – and it feels incredibly responsive.
Firmer than a hospital mattress
Despite the use of Cannondale’s slender, supple 25.4mm Save seatpost, the ride is firm overall. The frame is stiff, a constant reminder that this bike’s origins lie in the one-hour of power that is CX racing, not eight hour back country grinds. If more serious gravel work is in your plans, we’d recommend putting on some 40mm tyres. There’s more than enough clearance to do so, and the extra bag makes this bike much more forgiving over a long ride.
That said, the frame stiffness is reassuring and rewarding too. When the going gets rough or fast, those big hoods of the SRAM Force 1 give you plenty to grab on to, and the bike doesn’t flinch. You feel the bike fly forward under power too, it converts your effort 100%.
And the annoyances?
We did have a few gripes. The seat post is prone to creaking, and a generous amount of carbon paste was required to silence it where it’s clamped into the frame. We also found the rear brake tricky to align to run drag free, with the SRAM brakes not offering a lot of pad clearance. The brakes do have a pretty wooden feel overall too – the power is good, but they just don’t feel great.
If you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.
Ride it off road, ride it on road
For us, the real novelty of the SuperX is the performance edge it carries. It’s a very fast gravel bike, way lighter than most – ours was under 8kg setup tubeless – and with a bit of Formula 1 pep that sets it apart. Beyond the two bottle mounts, you won’t find any other mounting points for extra cages, bags or fenders, so if you’re looking to go extra long, there are better options out there. But if you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.
Everything. Cannondale went right back to the fundamentals with this one, leaving a lot of previous development behind. We think it was the right call. Cannondale’s mountain bikes have been crying out for an injection of practicality and rider-first design, and with Jeremiah Boobar (the man behind the RockShox Pike) at the helm of suspension design now, they’re getting it. The only carry over from earlier Jekylls is the fact you can adjust the travel on the fly.
Not a trail bike, no sir.
The previous Jekyll awkwardly tried to straddle the divide between trail bike and enduro bike, but Cannondale have been clear this time around. This bike is here to win Enduro races and hammer descents. 165/170mm travel, slack as, big rubber.
Yes, it has adjustable travel down to 135mm, but that doesn’t mean it’s trying to disguise itself as a trail bike – the travel adjust is there to add a little zest on the climb to the top of the next descent.
Where does this model sit?
Our Jekyll 2 is the second top model in the range, at $7999. You can spend a little more to get Eagle XX1 and Factory level FOX suspension, plus carbon wheels, but we don’t think many people will be looking to upgrade beyond this level.
How’s the build?
The aesthetics of this bike were a little jarring to us at first – we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing the rear shock tucked down low on most new bikes, that it seemed quite strange to have such a high and forward shock position. The advantage of course, is that you can still run a water bottle, which is a big plus on an enduro race bike, where lots of riders are looking to ride without a pack if possible. Anyhow, we’re used to the frame layout now, and we’ve been impressed by the attention this bike gets – the general consensus is that it looks “hot”.
The finish and construction are beautiful. The paint job is so crisp, and in the sunlight, the darker olive patches come alive with glimmering metallics.
Is that link carbon?
Sure is! The link is massive, so making it from carbon was probably pretty important to keep it all light, but it also adds stiffness to the frame. Looking at the distance from the rear axle to where the linkage joins the frame, it’s a pretty long unsupported span. If the link wasn’t super stiff, this frame would definitely be at risk of being quite flexy. As it stands, it’s not the stiffest bike we’ve ridden, but the whopping chain stays and linkage keep it all in line. Less obvious is the use of expanding collet style hardware on all pivots, which has been rock solid over the course of our testing.
Tell us about that shock!
The Gemini shock is a partnership between FOX and Cannondale, with on-the-fly adjustable air volume/travel. Using a handlebar mounted lever, you can switch between two modes, that Cannondale have called Flow and Hustle. Flow gives you the full 165mm of travel. Flick it into Hustle mode, and the air volume of the shock is reduced, giving you 135mm of travel and a much firmer spring rate. This means less sag, a higher bottom bracket height, and more lively pedalling performance.
It’s not a remote lockout – the compression damping doesn’t change at all when toggle between modes. It’s simply an air volume and travel adjustment. It’s simple to use and cleanly executed.
TEST LOCATION: TRAILSHARE CABINS
As part of our review of the Cannondale Jekyll 2, we spent a weekend up at the new Trailshare Cabins, Kulnura, just over an hour out of Sydney. This place is remarkable: over 20km of private trails, in beautiful blackbutt and turpentine forest, rider-friendly sustainable accommodation. It really is a little piece of paradise, and we’re certain we’ll be using it as a base for a lot more bike testing in the future.
There’s accommodation for up to six people, with a communal kitchen, relaxed outdoor dining with a fire pit and as you can see below, the trails literally start from the edge of the verandah. Peace and quiet, trails all to yourself, it’s the ideal place for a chilled out weekend away. Take a look for yourself right here, or book via Air BnB.
Cannondale have done their darnedest to overcome the perceptions on impracticality from the previous Jekyll. The new shock is easy to service (unlike the notoriously expensive and fiddly DYAD pull shock of years past), and the frame will happily accept any standard off-the-shelf shock, should you wish to change shocks or if you need to get yours serviced.
The spec is super practical too, all carefully selected to give enduro racers peace of mind; beefy down tube protection, a chain guide with bash guard, alloy rims rather than carbon, and a whopping gear range, thanks to the Eagle 12-speed drivetrain.
It’s all very descent focused here; 65-degree head angle, a very low bottom bracket for good stability, a steep seat angle for climbing. But it’s the rear-centre measurement that stands out. Through cleverly offsetting the rear end (they call it Ai – Asymmetric Integration) and then using a custom dished rear wheel, Cannondale have kept the chain stay length to just 420mm. That’s very, very short for a bike of this travel, and it has a big impact on the lively way this bike rides.
Getting the most out of the Jekyll took a couple of rides. Initially we ran the bike with 30-35% rear sag, which is not uncommon for a bike like this, with our thinking being we’d use the Hustle mode to keep it up in the travel on the climbs. But we found ourselves blowing through the travel too often, and feeling like we were stuck down in the suspension. Upping the pressures until we had 25% sag was the key. With things a little firmer, we had heaps more support, and the bike’s agile and urgent character came to the fore.
What’s the ride like?
This is one of those bikes that suits a rider who likes to work the terrain for speed. As we’ve noted above, the rear end is short and the bike reacts best to a slightly firmer setup, which makes this bike a very lively ride. It likes to get on its rear wheel and manual out of trouble, or jump over ruts looking for a faster line. It wants to pump down the backside of every compression or lander, giving you good feedback about what those big 2.5″ Maxxis tyres are doing beneath you.
The proportions feel great as well, we like the length of the bike; it might be long and slack up front, but the short rear end means you’re never feeling like you’re at the mercy of a massive wheelbase when you need to change direction quickly.
The pedalling performance isn’t mind blowing (unless you switch into Hustle mode), but we found ourselves working the terrain to go faster, rather than hammering at the pedals. In short, it’s much more engaging to ride than a lot of long-travel bikes.
The Jekyll is a very silent machine – no cable noise, a chain guide and dense chain slap protection keeping the chain quiet. It’s a nice feeling, just hearing those big tyres on the rocks, and not being distracted by noises that make you think everything’s shaking apart around you.
What about the climbs?
Switching into Hustle mode makes all the difference here. We only used the shock’s compression lever perhaps once in the whole test. Instead, we just left the shock’s open-mode compression setting in number 2 (the little black dial), and engaged the Hustle mode when it was time to climb. Because Hustle mode doesn’t add any extra compression damping, the shock is still able to deliver excellent traction on slippery surfaces, which is usually compromised with a lockout.
It’s still definitely an enduro bike though, not a trail bike, and it prefers long fireroad grinds to technical singletrack climbing. Nothing will change the fact you’ve got 65-degree head angle to contend with on the climbs, so don’t expect any miracles when you’re climbing, Hustle mode or not.
Would you recommend it?
For enduro racing, or descent focused riders, 100%. If you’re more of a trail rider, then take a look at the Trigger which shares all the same construction and suspension features, but with a little less travel and more climb friendly geometry.
The new Jekyll is a big victory for Cannondale – a triumph of practicality and playfulness that they definitely needed. We like that Cannondale have been able to retain the key elements of the previous Jekyll that shone (the travel adjustment) and rework the rest into a glamorous, modern enduro bike. Welcome back, dudes!
After the muddle and excessive techiness of the past Jekyll, this version carries itself differently. Like it’s gone through some kind of Anthony Robbins self-actualisation course, and can finally express its real character. Unashamedly, it’s here for a good time, not trying to impress you with complicated proprietary tech solutions. Even the marketing language around this bike is right, read Cannondale’s blurb and it’s all about how the bike feels and should make you feel, rather than burying you in jargon and carbon layups.
It’s a full blown Enduro beast, not a long-legged trail bike like the old Jekyll. The angles are more relaxed than a medicated lap-dog, and travel is a robust 165mm out back, 170mm up front. A long reach paired with a 35mm stem, Maxxis WT rubber, SRAM X0 Eagle… all the fixings are there to see you through a very rowdy day out.
When this bike first emerged, there were a few comments out there about the unorthodox placement of the shock and linkage – it definitely goes against the usual trends in frame design of getting the shock lower and more rearward. But in the flesh it all ties together nicely, it doesn’t come across as kooky, and if it makes room for fitting a water bottle then we’re on board.
Cannondale haven’t abandoned the adjustability that has always been part of the Jekyll’s identity, but they’ve found a way to incorporate it in a far more appealing manner. You can still adjust the rear travel on-the-fly, but the rear shock no longer looks like a scuba tank and can be serviced like a regular FOX shock. When you toggle between the Hustle and Flow modes, you’re actually altering the usable air volume of the shock, which adjusts the available travel (165mm – 130mm) and the spring curve too, as opposed to simply changing the shock’s compression damping. It’s a similar solution to that found on the Scott Spark and Genius.
With the tubes ditched (honestly, why doesn’t this bike come setup with proper tubeless rim tape?) our Jekyll 2 weighs in a 13.8kg. We’re genuinely excited about this bike, and have been for sometime. The new Jekyll is the product of the involvement of Jeremiah Boobar (read our interview with him here), who was hired by Cannondale after a distinguished career at RockShox, where he led the team behind the Pike. The freshness that his involvement brings is written all over this bike, so let’s go hit some trails!
NB. Pricing on this bike is yet to be confirmed, we’ll update this post as soon as it becomes available.
When we interviewed Boobar last year, he alluded to us that the Jekyll would be a major focus for him. And not too much later we started to see EWS legend Jerome Clements on board what looked to be a decidedly different shaped Jekyll, which has evolved into the beasts you see here.
The Trigger is completely new too. For all intents and purposes, it’s a shorter-travel, less aggressive version of the Jekyll. All the key tech points are the same, so we’ll deal with both bikes together below.
In a nutshell
Jekyll:Full-blown Enduro beast machine. 170mm front, 165-130mm rear. Slack and ready to get nasty.
Trigger:Trail weapon. 150mm front, 145mm rear. Still pretty slack and hungry for the gnar, just not as much so as the Jekyll.
No more DYAD shock on either bike!
Gone are the funky dual chamber FOX DYAD shocks, which looked a lot like a scuba tank bolted to the bike. While we liked the way these shocks facilitated on-the-fly travel adjustment, they were tricky to set up, required an aerospace engineering degree to service them, and limited frame layout a lot. Plus they just looked weird, and if they blew up (and they did) you couldn’t just bung a different shock in while yours was getting revived.
Ditching the DYAD has meant that Cannondale can now fit a water bottle into the frame too. Good.
Say hello to the Gemini shock!
If you’ve been a long-time Cannondale fan, you’ll no doubt be happy to see the name ‘Gemini’ back in the C’dale vernacular. The new Gemini shock is a partnership with FOX, like the DYAD, but for all intents and purposes it’s not too different to a regular FOX Float shock, other than the on-the-fly air volume adjustment talked about below.
This means you can also fit ANY other shock to the Jekyll or Trigger. Blow up your shock? No worries, stick a mate’s shock in there and go. Want to fit some exotic shock your mates don’t have? Go for it.
Is it still rear travel/geometry adjustable?
A key component of the Jekyll has always been its dual identities (Jekyll/Hyde) via adjustable rear travel and geometry. This has been retained in the new bikes, just with a much simpler shock arrangement. As in previous versions, a bar-mounted lever switches modes on the fly. There’s a longer travel Flow mode (145mm in the Trigger, 165mm in the Jekyll) and the shorter travel Hustle mode, which reduces the shock’s air volume and drops the travel to 115mm on the Trigger and 130mm on the Jekyll.
We like this system. Because it uses volume reduction rather than compression adjustment to achieve the change in travel, you don’t lose suspension performance when you change modes, you just get a firmer spring curve.
What are the geometry standouts?
Cannondale describe the Jekyll and Trigger as having ‘proper’ geometry, which just means they’ve been brought up to speed with the slackness and reach measurements that are now expected on modern trail and Enduro bikes. The Jekyll runs a 65 degree head angle, the Trigger is 66 degrees, and both use steep seat angles to stop you feeling like you’re pedalling a recumbent.
Cooler are the super short rear ends. Both bikes have 420mm rear-centres, made possible by Cannondale’s Asymmetric Integration (Ai) rear end spacing, which was launched on the Scalpel last year (read all about it here). All you need to know, is that 420mm is super short, which should make these bikes very playful.
By the way, the Jekyll and Trigger are 27.5″ only. For now. We’ll bet you $50 there’s a 29er Trigger one day soonish.
We’ve got a Jekyll coming our way on an plane very soon, so hold tight for a review!
The Cannondale Scalpel is a bike that has always polarised with its weird and whacky frame and ‘fork’ designs since way back. It’s always been a platform to showcase Cannondale’s latest designs and material technologies. The Scalpel was an early adopter of a carbon ‘flex stay’ arrangement, at one point had plastic chain stays, super minimal and light nylon bushing pivots in the linkages, remote lockouts and always with either bold or ultra subtle graphics. Fast forward to today and the latest incarnation of the Scalpel is a beautifully finished bike with attractive and sleek lines.
A Scalpel is what you’d want underneath you when it comes time to race, its long-standing reputation for one of the finest elite cross country racing bikes made it even more exciting to hear that Cannondale had announced a refresh for 2017. But they didn’t just make small improvements to an already light bike; they totally went to town on it. So when we secured the top model for review we were in for something extra special, here is what we thought of the new sub-10.5kg Scalpel.
For our first impressions and some saucy photos of the lush Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team click here for our Flow’s First Bite.
Sharp name, what’s it all about?
The Scalpel is a purebred racer; there are no two ways about it. Razor sharp in its frame geometry, minimal in suspension amount and built with some of the lightest kit you’ll ever see gracing a bike shop showroom. The Hi-Mod Team is the top option, the highest spec of all the Scalpel models available in Australia comes in at a mighty $11999, but you can see where the dollars lie, with its complete premium parts kit from SRAM, ENVE and FSA.
We weighed our medium sized bike at 10.47kg after tubeless conversion and without pedals that alone is enough to make the thirstiest XC racer salivate.
Are they all $11999?
Thankfully not! Available in Australia in five models, the one we have on review is the top of the top. Starting at $4399 you get an aluminium frame version, and then there are carbon models starting at $6599 and the premium Hi-Mod carbon starts at $8799. Hit up the Cannondale site for more on the range.
Who needs – or wants – a Cannondale Scalpel?
The Scalpel is the type of bike you would choose over an XC race hardtail if your race courses are rougher, more technical and longer – and they seem to be progressing that way – a dual suspension will always be a safer option. They handle rougher surfaces with more composure, provide more traction on the climbs and turns, and of course, they are a whole lot less fatiguing on the body.
Just because it’s a dual suspension bike the Scalpel is not the type of bike you could simply fit a bigger front tyre and a riser bar and throw down some reckless trail riding, though, it demands way more respect than that. If you want to race short course cross country, Olympic format, marathon, multi-day or your trails are simply buff, and fast then this is your ticket.
So what we’re trying to say here is – buyers beware, this bike sits right on top of the pointy end, and you need to be that type of rider to enjoy and make the most of it. Sitting one step to the left is the Cannondale Habit, similar in construction but far more relaxed and ready for fun trail rides. We’ve ridden and rated the Habit, and it’s rad. Check out our review here: Cannondale Habit SE Review.
What’s new with the frame?
A lot. It’s lighter, slacker, stiffer, longer out the front and shorter out the back. The whole structure is wildly asymmetrical too, what Cannondale call AI (asymmetric Integration), with the drivetrain shifted outwards by 6mm. To achieve a straight bike, the rear wheel is 6mm back the other way. The asymmetry then allows a zero dish rear wheel with even spoke length for a stiff wheel and more clearance for the tyre and front derailleur.
The new frame is now Shimano Di2 compatible (and the FSA bars have provisions for internal wiring) with specific ports for the wires and a cradle for the battery inside the frame. And they’ve also managed to retain mounts for two water bottles on the frame, excellent stuff for marathon events or multi-day racing.
Compatible with a front derailleur the Scalpel doesn’t rule anyone out with the option, by using the S2 style mount you can still have a clean frame free from the unsightly front derailleur tab on the seat tube, a nice touch. We’re also very stoked to see Cannondale accommodating for a dropper post with the provisions for internal routing, as the race courses on the World Cup are becoming progressively rougher more of the top riders are using them, we are 100% supportive of this movement!
We’ll be repeating ourselves if we delve into fine details of the new frame anymore, so for a lot more head over to our feature on the 2017 Scalpel here: Cannondale Announces New Scalpel Si.
Nope, this medium size one rolls on 29″ wheels, but the small and extra small frames use 27.5″ wheels.
What makes this new Lefty so unique?
This is our first ride on a Cannondale Lefty with the new ‘2Spring’ internals, a small internal part that has taken a lot of development but smacks previous models right out of the park. While the Lefty is very light and incredibly stiff to ride we traditionally had a gripe with the spring rate, it always felt a little harsh when compared to competitors from FOX or RockShox. That has all changed, and this is the nicest feeling Lefty we’ve ridden.
More on how it performs in the ride section below.
2Spring is named for its self-balancing positive and negative air springs a completely new part developed by the team at Cannondale that can be retrofitted to 2014-2017 model Lefty forks and fitted as standard going forward with 2017 bikes.
Want more details on the 2Spring in the new Lefty? Click here.
The Lefty uses the less seen 1.5″ steer tube size, which limits stem options somewhat, but Cannondale Australia keep a vast range of lengths and gradients, and they’re only $50. And we’re told other notable brands like Syncros, RaceFace, Easton, Thompson and Truvativ also make stems for 1.5″ steer tubes so if you want to go higher, shorter or longer you have options.
How’d it go?
Amazing to say the least, this is an unquestionably fast handling bike! Though it did take some getting used to as we expected, like hopping out of a Subaru Forrester and into the driver’s seat of a Formula 1 race car, it requires focus, or it can become hard to hold onto when the trails get angrier and faster.
We took the Scalpel to a variety of trails, race tracks and got a good feel for where it is most comfortable. One particular ride on the most buff and twistiest singletrack racecourse around, we walloped it, lap after lap we got faster and faster holding great speed through the undulating climbs and finding the limits of how hard you could push the Scalpel in the turns and descents.
The cockpit and geometry put you in a position that lends itself to an aggressive attacking style of riding, and when you put in the effort, the reward is immediate. No wonder here, but it’s a very fast and efficient climber! Stand out of the saddle and crank down hard on the pedals, it flies up the hills, with plenty of room for you to move forward over the front end without banging your knees on the bars when gradients are steep and the legs begin to burn. We lowered the stem down on the steer tube for a slightly lower front end; there’s plenty of adjustment range and aftermarket stems
A sub 10.5kg bike will no doubt be a pleasure to climb but coupled with the stout 100mm of travel and a laterally stiff frame; there’s no unwanted loss of energy at all.
Lock it out and unleash the sprint.
The Team model uses the RockShox hydraulic button on the bars, which simultaneously locks out the fork and shock. The rear shock lockout hydraulic is quite impressive the way it travels through the top tube, you never see it. While it’s an excellent feature for quickly locking out for sprints or tarmac, we did find the on/off nature of the lockout a little restricting. We tend to appreciate suspension designs when in their firmest setting can still react to quick impacts to help the wheels from skipping around. The suspension at both ends lacks adjustability, while there is only 100mm we found ourselves wishing for some degree of slow speed compression tuning options, and air spring volume adjustment.
With the lockout so easily accessed at any time with just one press of the thumb lever the bike transforms into a sprinting rocket, and because it is so quick to press we used it to milk every piece of performance on short pieces of trail that we knew suspension would be obsolete.
Descending at speed, woohoo!
The first thing we noticed when we turned the Scalpel down the trails was how well the fork was coping with the quick and repetitive impacts, we mentioned it before, but the new 2Spring internals has done wonders to the Lefty. We were hitting rocky straights off the brakes and could feel how well the fork was working away beneath us, reacting quickly to each impact with little force required to get it moving into its suspension stroke.
The Lefty, dropping into a sharp corner under brakes it feels super stiff and direct, it doesn’t dive backward like a lightweight 32mm legged fork typically would.
For such a light frame, the rear end feels very laterally stiff when you push it through corners; it doesn’t wobble on hard landings or chatter across the dirt when the rear brake is locked like we might expect. And with the Lefty leading the way with a 69.5-degree head angle and a long top tube reach there is a lot of bike in front of you, but it still steers so quickly and lightly. It’s quite impressive how far steering geometry has progressed over the years!
The new Scalpel is dubbed ‘XXC,’ not just XC; the extra ‘X’ is for extreme. With more progressive geometry numbers like a longer reach, shorter stem, and shorter chain stays, Cannondale wanted to widen the bike’s versatility to appeal to more than just the racers. While these improvements to make it handle hard impacts and twisting singletrack very well, it wouldn’t necessarily be our go-to bike for fun blasts around with mates on a Sunday arvo; it is still a race bike at heart.
Big bucks, are the parts worth the spend?
You won’t find many bikes with a spec like this out of the box, but you can always trust the folks at Cannondale to do so. The Hi-Mod Team is dressed in the ultimate parts, the lightest and hottest.
It’s a 100% SRAM bike with brakes, drivetrain, and suspension from the fast moving brand. Most notably is the SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with its massive 50T cassette; the range altogether denotes the need for a front derailleur, but the whole system operates on another level from their premium 11-speed offerings. The shift action is crisp and light, the drivetrain glides along so smoothly, and the tension on the chain and derailleur cuts out the noise and helps it shift through the wide range even when the trails are extra bumpy.
You won’t find many bikes with a spec like this out of the box, but you can always trust the folks at Cannondale to do so.
Released last year is SRAM’s new cross country specific brakes, the Level, with a single piston caliper and a minimal lever body without the reach adjustments to cut weight down.
The brakes respond very nicely under the finger with a smooth and consistent feel, and the power is bitey but easy to modulate.
Those wheels though…
The ENVE wheels are a real advantage when you’re pushing the bike around, they strike a perfect balance of weight, rolling speed, compliance, and stiffness. It is no wonder that ENVE is held in such high regard when it comes to carbon wheels across the entire world of cycling.
Would we change anything?
We’d have to be pretty damn snobby to want to change anything on a $11999 bike, wouldn’t we? In our minds, the original parts are well picked, thoughtful, and spot on.
Just a few little niggles with this one, but nothing major. The front brake is a bit of a headache to setup drag-free, in place of a regular brake mount are two black spacers which add additional amounts of movement, and we battled to get the brake to spin freely despite many efforts.
We also noticed that while the tester of this bike may be toward the upper end of a size medium at 180cm tall, we were surprised to see the seatpost was a maximum height, definitely worth keeping an eye on during a fitment assessment. There’s no protection on the chainstay from a slapping chain, while the Eagle drivetrain puts loads of tension on the chain to reduce slapping we did still manage to chip the beautiful paint, so if it were ours we’d look into some form of rubber strip for noise and paint protection. And lastly we did hear the brake hose rattling around inside the frame, nothing a little bit of attention to the cable length and internal housing ports couldn’t sort out.
Enough waffle, verdict, please!
Cannondale has made their fastest bike ride faster, not just by dropping weight out of the frame, but by improving on the Lefty suspension action, tweaking the frame geometry and increasing frame stiffness too. The Scalpel maintains its position in the elite pack of dual suspension bikes that you’d see raced at professional level where weight and efficiency are paramount.
If you are 100% certain you know what you want, then rest assured the Scalpel will reward even the most earnest racer with ultimate speed.
On review we have the cream of the crop, the top of the shelf race bike from prestigious brand Cannondale, the Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team. The highest spec of all the Scalpel models available in Australia comes in at a mighty $11999, but is dressed accordingly in an absolute premium parts kit from SRAM, ENVE and FSA.
Our medium sized bike tipped the scales at 10.47kg after tubeless conversion and without pedals, top that!
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the review, here is what we are looking at.
Who is the Cannondale Scalpel for?
The Scalpel has been around for many, many years and has always catered for the cross-country and marathon racing crowd with its lean and lightweight frame and minimal suspension travel. It rolls on 29″ wheels, but the size small frame uses 27.5″ wheels.
It’s not for the faint hearted though, this is a seriously fast handling race bike. There is the Cannondale Habit for anyone looking for a more fun and confident trail bike on a variety of terrain, read our review of that one here: Cannondale Habit review.
Check out the numbers on this one.
It’s a new frame for 2017, what has been changed?
Lighter, stiffer, slacker, shorter, longer etc. The new Scalpel is ‘Built For XXC’ by adding another ‘x’ to ‘xc’ they want the message to be that this is an XC bike that can handle the rougher race courses out there. Shorter chain stays, slacker head angle, increased fork offset, and Cannondale’s new OutFront Geometry. We’ll have more to say on that in our final review.
There’s not a lot of symmetry going on here, aside from the obvious – single sided fork – the rear end and wheel is also wildly offset to help achieve shorter chain stays with good tyre clearance. It’s a trippy bike to look at!
There’s also a new internal cable routing and provisions for Shimano Di2, and the rear shock remote lockout cable is the neatest we’ve ever seen, travelling inside the top tube to the shock.
Si stands for System Integration, where many of the components of the bike are closely integrated into the frame like the cranks, fork, stem etc. Cannondale take this a few steps further than most with their proprietary front suspension ‘fork’, the Lefty.
So what’s new about this new Lefty then?
We have ridden and rated dozens of Cannondale Leftys since 1998 when it was introduced to the world, but they’ve always polarised with their obvious appearance and performance when up against the likes of FOX and RockShox. While we’ve always had plenty of great things to say about the light weight and steering precision of the single sided fork we’ve had just as many unhappy opinions on the plushness and sensitivity of the air spring and damper. At a time where the suspension market is making huge improvements with air spring curves we wanted more from the Lefty, we wanted it to be more supple off the top of the stroke and lighter in the compression tune.
Enter 2Spring, a completely new part developed by the team at Cannondale that can be retrofitted to 2014-2017 model Lefty forks and fitted as standard going forward with 2017 bikes. After one short ride we can certainly say that this is the best Lefty we’ve ever felt, far more sensitive and supple over the small bumps and it remains that way when the impacts become faster and harder. So far we’re very, very impressed.
Here’s the word from Cannondale on 2Spring:
“2Spring is named for its self-balancing positive and negative air springs, which are controlled by two coil valve and top-out springs that deliver significant improvements in performance and dependability.”
“First, the coil top-out spring reduces friction, allowing Lefty to move more freely at the top of the travel, which provides increased traction. Second, the simple design combines multiple parts into one and reduces part count by 17% which increases reliability. Third, softer material and reduced surface area at contact points create a soft touch, further removing feedback to the rider. Fourth, the air piston geometry was changed to hold more oil against the seal which keeps the fork moving more smoothly.”
“Finally, 2Spring’s valve and top-out springs have been designed to last the lifetime of the fork, unlike previous systems that required servicing every 100 hours.”
Pretty high spec, is it worth the cash?
It’d be hard to find a bike with such a high spec as this one, especially with SRAM Eagle and ENVE wheels. Then there’s the premium stuff from FSA with the bars and post, and Schwalbe tyres all ready for tubeless. So, yes it is mega bucks, but mega high-end too.
We’ve already had one quick ride on this thing and holy moly it is quick. We were very well acquainted with the older Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate after a few weeks testing and racing it at the Cape to Cape, and already this feels like a very different beast. Once we got the suspension setup and tyre pressures sorted we began to put huge confidence in this bike and really let it gallop on fast singletrack, we were absolutely flying. For such a rapid handling front end, there was also a lot of stability on the descents, not what we’d expect from a racey 100mm travel 29er.
As we gear up for a few more solid test rides we’re going to get to know the details behind the 2Spring part in the new Lefty, and investigate what tuning capabilities there are with the front and rear suspension. We’ll also look into stem configurations too, we may want to get those bars down a little lower and we also noticed our medium frame had us nearing the limit of the seat post maximum height out of the frame.
Stay tuned, we’re going to love sinking our teeth into this one!
The company that brought us ‘over-mountain’ are back to their category creating tricks again! This time they’ve added another ‘X’ to XC with the launch of an all-new Cannondale Scalpel Si, which Cannondale say is ‘Built for XXC’. It looks bloody fantastic.
In case you’re wondering, the extra X is for X-TREME, so get radical, dudes. Cannondale have designed the Scalpel to be capable beyond the bounds of a traditional XC bike (i.e. getting all XTREME), but it’s also X-TREME (ok, we’ll stop that now…) in that it’s extremely stiff, extremely light and generally on the cutting edge of this category.
Putting the XXC stuff aside, the new Scalpel doesn’t desert its racing roots but the geometry and construction have been thoroughly modernised, broadening the appeal of this already super popular cross-country machine. We took some time away from the race track at the Cairns World Cup to get a better look at the Scalpel Si. In fact, the bikes we were lucky enough to inspect were the race machines of superstar racers Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana.
Cannondale are fortunate to have this popular and progressive pair of riders on the team; they’re well known for being incredible bike handlers, and their feedback has clearly influenced the shred-ability of the new Scalpel Si. Let’s delve into the details.
OutFront Geometry: More stability without sloppy handling.
The Scalpel Si gets Cannondale’s OutFront Geometry treatment. Essentially this relates to the Lefty’s large 55mm offset, which greatly reduces the the trail of the fork, allowing Cannondale to run a slacker head angle, without the usual floppy climbing performance. Paired with a shorter stem and wider bar, it gives the Scalpel more confidence-inspiring, trail-bike-ish handling, but still a nice agile, light steering feel. Cannondale aren’t the only company to use custom fork offsets to improve steering feel, but the 55mm offset is significant and should have a big impact on handling.
Shorter Rear End: Asymmetric Integration.
Long chain stays are so 2012. In order to get the Scalpel’s chain stays down to a snappy 435mm whilst still retaining front derailleur compatibility, Cannondale have employed their Assymetric Intergation rear end design that was initially rolled out on the F-Si hardtail. In a nutshell, the whole drivetrain is shifted outboard by 6mm, away from the tyre. To compensate, the rear wheel has zero-dish, pulling the rim back 6mm the opposite way, so your bike still rides in a straight line. The net result is that you gain more clearance for the tyre and front derailleur, while the rear wheel gets even spoke lengths on both sides, giving you a stiffer wheel.
Flex Stay suspension with custom RockShox shock.
The Scalpel has long employed a flex stay suspension system, just like the Cannondale Habit SE we reviewed a few months ago. Using a flexing seat stay instead of a pivot point saves weight and makes the rear end laterally stiffer too, as there are fewer places for play to develop. The rear brake is mounted to the chain stay via the new flat mount standard, so the flex stay performance is unhindered by braking forces.
Check out the slick way the rear shock is partially housed within the top tube – it’s gorgeous! RockShox have worked with Cannondale to create a cleaner integration of the Full Sprint dual lockout system too. Both the fork and shock are locked at the push of a button, but the way the rear lockout line disappears straight into the frame is really very tidy, you’d never even know it was there.
Twin water bottles and dropper post and Di2 ready.
Cannondale have managed to create enough room up front to fit two 500ml bottles, which is a rarity with a dual suspension bike, and will be greatly appreciated by marathon racers. While none of the Scalpels come stock with a dropper, there are cabling provisions to run one. On the topic of internal routing, Cannondale have also developed a specific Shimano Di2 battery holder too, which houses the battery securely in the top tube, so you can run Di2 and a dropper without an issue. The weight of the frameset is impressive too. Just over 2.1kg including shock, rear axle, seat post clamp and the hydraulic line for the shock lock out.
Women’s models and 27.5 wheels on smaller frames.
Cannondale have gone down the small wheels for small riders route. On size small men’s frames, you’ll find 27.5″ wheels, and both women’s models get smaller hoops too. We’re happy to see there’s a properly high-end women’s model in the range too, which is often neglected.
It’s still a few months till these bikes arrive in Australia – July or August is the ballpark. Of course, we’ll do our very best to get a ride on one before then, so keep your eye open for a write up!
The Slate is a… ummm…. gravel bike? Road-ish bike?… An almost CX bike? A mountain bike with drop bars? If you really want to break it down, the Slate takes its bars and slick tyres from the road world. It has the groupset and brakes you’d expect to find on a CX bike, but its wheel size means you can’t race it. The tyres are a broad 42mm like you’d usually find on a gravel grinder, but the wheels are a 650B diameter, a size that you’d normally associate with a mountain bike. Oh, and it has a Lefty with 30mm travel too.
So does this make the Slate a jack of all trades, or is it paralysed by indecision on all fronts? Or should we just shut the hell up, forget trying to pigeon hole it, and ride the damn thing?
If you really want us to come up with a label, we’d say the Slate is… a… shit load of fun. We rode this bike on everything from CX bunch rides, to 120km gravel and tarmac adventures, to punchy road training rides and a bit of singletrack too.
Frame and build
The Slate frame obviously stems from Cannondale’s venerable CAAD series road bikes, especially now that they also come in a disc braked version. The aluminium frame is lively, you can feel how thin and lightweight the tubes are just by giving them a gentle squeeze. (Not too hard!) The sleek anodised black finish is made even more slippery with those classic smooth-finished welds that have long been a hallmark of Cannondale alloy frames.
Starting out back, the Slate’s 142x12mm rear axle setup is a bit ho-hum. Full marks for embracing the 142mm standard on this kind of bike, but this particular axle feels and looks clunky in comparison to the rest of the build.
While the big volume of the tyres will do most of the comfort enhancing, the chain stays and seat stays get Cannondale SAVE treatment and are flattened out to provide you a bit of give, and the 27.2mm post has a bit of flex about it too. Bung in a carbon post and you’ll have even more compliance. We’re happy to see there’s decent amounts of tyre clearance, so adding something with some side knobs is do-able.
Having a single ring drivetrain and losing all the faff normally associated with a front derailleur instantly makes a bike look cleaner, and Cannondale do a fine job of internally routing the gear and brake lines too. We did hear a tiny bit of cable rattle from the brake line inside the frame, but jamming a bit of foam in there will alleviate it.
Like a lot of Cannondales, the Slate gets a BB30. Unfortunately, ours developed an annoying ‘click’ after a few rides that would rear its irritating head on every left-hand pedal stroke when climbing out of the saddle. We didn’t have the tools handy to pull the whole assembly apart, and not many home mechanics would either.
Even with the Lefty Oliver strut, the Slate’s riding position can be made relatively aggressive up front. With all the spacers removed, we were able to get the low enough that we didn’t feel at all awkward and upright on the road, with plenty of weight over the front wheel when cornering. If you’re going to be spending more time on the dirt, there’s enough steerer tube there to give you a more of an upright mountain bike-ish position if that’s what you prefer.
If there’s one element of this bike that really sets it apart from other gravel grinder style bikes, it’s the Lefty Oliver. Deriving its name from the fact it allows you to ride ‘All Over’, it has all the usual air spring and rebound adjustability and lockout stuff you’d find on any other Lefty, just chopped down to 30mm of travel.
If you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time on the tarmac, then you could argue the Oliver is overkill, but as soon as the roads get rough or you hit the dirt, then the Oliver gives this bike a real edge. 30mm isn’t a lot of travel, but when you pair it up with the extra cushion of the big rubber you’ve suddenly got the ability to hammer, steer and brake where you’d simply be hanging on on a rigid gravel bike.
When you’re on the bitumen, you can hit the lockout too, so really the only penalty is the weight. Worth noting, is that if you’re on a smaller frame, or you’ve just got long legs, you might find yourself occasionally brushing your knee against the top of the Lefty.
All the bits
CX1: If you’re approaching this bike from a road background, you might be irked by the idea of a 1×11 drivetrain, but it’s really one of this bike’s standout elements. A 44 tooth Spidering, with a SRAM X1 10-42 cassette gives you a huge spread. We never found ourselves wishing for more gears, at either end of the range! The jump when shifting between the two highest gears – going from a 13-tooth to a 10-tooth – is a large one, though you only ever really need the 10-tooth once you’re above 50km/h.
Cannondale have specced a petite chain guide too, and while we’d be happy enough running the bike without it (we don’t use a chain guide on other CX1 equipped bikes) it’s good to have the peace of mind especially if you’re off road.
Brakes: SRAM’s Force Hydro brakes with a 160/140mm rotor combo always had enough grunt. The rear caliper uses the new flat-mount standard, which looks super clean, but we found a bit fiddly to stop the brake dragging. As we’ve noted above, having so much rubber, especially when you’re on the road, lets you make the most of the brakes’ power.
Great contact points: We really like the Fabic Scoop saddle, it’s comfy whether you’re on the hoods or the drops, and the Cannondale branded bar tape is quite thick for a bit of cushion as well. The tough metal expanding bar plugs are a nice touch too.
Rolling gear: Cannondale’s own purple sealed-bearing hubs awaken the 90s revivalist in us, and while the rims are pretty bland looking they are tubeless ready. The tyres are made by Panaracer for Cannondale – they’re a proper 42mm wide, and tubeless compatible. They’re definitely designed for more on-road use than the dirt; there are no cornering knobs, and the sidewalls didn’t take long to show some signs of wear after a few rides on rockier terrain, which led to bit of air seepage. If you’re looking to spend serious time on the dirt and gravel, some tyres that are better suited are going to be your first upgrade, but if you’re on road solely they’re excellent.
So, where does the Slate call home? We first began reviewing this bike right around the time we interviewed Jeremiah Boobar from Cannondale. His advice was ‘ride it everywhere you’d normally take your road bike.’ While you’re never going to win a criterium on this thing, it’s on-road performance is actually pretty decent, and for the average roadie or commuter racer, it’s really a good solution.
The diameter of the 650B wheels with 42mm rubber is only marginally smaller than a 700c rim with a 25c tyre, so it trundles along well. But, of course, you’ve got a lot more rubber on the road which means better braking and more grip overall. The kind of insignificant crap that can so easily spell disaster on roadie (like a cats eye, a grate, or a stick on the road) don’t present the same risks when you’ve got all this grip.
If you’re thinking the big rubber means it’ll be a pig, you’ll be disappointed – it’s pretty quick! We surprised ourselves by setting some of our fastest Strava times on road segments that we’ve ridden dozens of times on ‘proper’ road bikes, an we rarely even bothered to hit the Lefty lock out. You’d probably get some evil looks from the well-groomed roadie folk if you turned up for a bunch ride on the Slate, but we doubt you’d get dropped in a hurry. And you’d definitely be able to huck more speed bumps.
When the road turns to gravel or dirt, the Slate is only held back by its tyres. You can drop the pressures down in the 35psi range to get some more grip, but this bike is begging for something with cornering bite and some more climbing traction to make the most of its abilities and low gearing.
At this stage, there aren’t a huge number of tyres in 650B diameter and a 40-45c width, but that’s changing. Schwalbe’s G-One, the Rock ‘n’ Road by Panaracer and the new Maxis Rambler (coming in a 650b soon) are all options, amongst others. Still, at this stage it’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk into a store and have many tyre options at your fingertips for some time yet.
In all other respects, the Slate is pretty much ideal for getting out onto country dirt roads where you’re not sure what you’re going to encounter. The riding position is really secure – even if you’re up on the hoods, the big reservior of the Force brake levers gives you plenty to hold onto, so you can barrel into things knowing you won’t blow your hands off the bars.
It’s kind of hard to wrap this one up, because there’s just not a lot out there to compare the Slate to! As a road bike, the Slate makes a huge amount of sense to anyone who’s coming from a mountain bike background – the idea of big rubber at lower pressure, disc brakes and bolt-up axles just makes sense. It’s not even that heavy, maybe a kilo more than most roadies. If you’re a gravel rider, get some grippier tyres on this bike and you’ll be in love. If you think this bike is an answer to a question nobody asked, then clearly we’ve all been asking the wrong questions.
While we’ve been dabbling in a bit of gravel riding for a while here at Flow, the Slate is the first gravel bike we’ve had a chance to review. It’s new ground for us, so why not get things started with a bike that’s breaking some new ground of its own?
What is it?
The Slate is truly unique in this category. Built around a gorgeous alloy frame, it eschews the usual 700c wheel size, running 650b rims instead, but with massively fat 42mm slick tyres which give roughly the same diameter as a 700c wheel with road treads. The big volume tyres are designed to be run at pretty low pressures (anywhere between 30-65psi, depending on the where you’re heading).
And, of course, it has a Lefty. The new Lefty Oliver (all-over…. geddit?) has just 30mm travel, but is for all intents and purposes very similar to the strut you’d find on many Cannondales. It might weight more than a rigid fork, yet the overall bike is still only 8.9kg plus pedals. The air-sprung Oliver has a lockout too, so you can stiffen it up for pure road work.
While the Slate does come in versions with a double ring, our CX1 version uses a 44-tooth single ring with the same 10-42 X1 cassette that mountain bikers will be familiar with. If you’re from a roadie background you might feel that the jumps between gears are pretty massive, but for mountain bikers it’s nothing new.
SRAM’s Force Hydro discs pull it all up, and with the fat rubber you’ve got the ability to slow down a lot faster than on a roadie with 25c tyres on the tarmac. Having said that, the limited tyre choice is a concern for us at the moment. In the few rides we’ve had on the Slate so far, we’ve certainly pushed it beyond the capabilities of the slick tyres, but finding semi-slick rubber in a 650b x 42mm size is tough.
Where to ride it?
While plenty of people are going to scoff at this thing, we certainly won’t be. A confused little beast, maybe, but it’s a great tool for exploring the wide blue yonder. We’ve racked up a fair few miles on this bike already, so expect a full write-up soon.
The Jekyll is about as unique as they come, with a wild looking suspension design and a pull shock at the heart of it all. The FOX DYAD rear shock looks more like an underwater breathing apparatus than a mountain bike part, but what it achieves is pretty cool.
The FOX DYAD rear shock. Our first experience with the FOX DYAD rear shock was with the Jekyll’s kid brother, the shorter travel Cannondale Trigger which we’ve spent some time on – Trigger review.
The FOX DYAD RT2 shock is a pretty wild concept. Rather than compressing like we are used to it pulls apart, and is actually two separate shocks in one unit. Using the remote lever on the bars, you can switch between ‘Flow’ and ‘Elevate’ mode, with short (95mm) and long travel (160mm) modes.
The adjustment subsequently has an impact on the bike’s geometry. We’ve seen Cannondale and Scott use this style of suspension adjustability to great effect, there is nothing like hitting that lever when the trails turn up, sharpening the angles, lifting the bottom bracket height and reducing the travel for better climbing efficiency.
Geometry: The Jekyll comes from Cannondale’s ‘Overmountain’ category, with a 67 degree head angle and a 592mm horizontal top tube measurement, it’s a long and slack bike, just how we like a 160mm travel bike to be.
The chainstays are 440mm, that’s pretty long but will also translate to some serious high speed stability.
First thing that stood out to us is the absence of a Lefty, and in its place is the more familiar RockShox Pike. Since the late nineties we have become used to seeing Cannondale’s distinctive Lefty up the front of their bikes but in our experience we’ve had mixed feelings with the unique single sided suspension ‘fork’, the Lefty has its benefits when it comes to weight and steering precision but also downsides when it comes to the damper when compared to modern FOX and RockShox forks.
The Lefty usually dominates our thoughts when reviewing a Cannondale, making this model Jekyll even more interesting, as everyone is familiar with the brilliant Pike by now.
It’s a SRAM show with the drivetrain and brakes, but Cannondale handle the cranks with the trick looking HolloGram SI crank and SpideRing one-piece chainring and spider. The cranks run through the big BB30 bearings, the whole crank area looks very neat indeed.
The wheels will need to be converted to tubeless before we get going on it. The tubeless ready Schwalbe tyres should seal up fine, but the rims will need tape and valves that aren’t supplied.
Righto then that’s the highlights, lets put it to the test.
Hi, I’m Jeremiah Boobar, I’m Cannondale’s director of suspension technology.
So what do you do all day?
Basically, I work with a bunch of talented people trying to turn bumps into heat for Cannondale.
Cannondale have been very innovative and pushed the boundaries in suspension and engineering. How will you enrich that tradition or change that tradition?
Cannondale have a really long history in innovative suspension, with Headshock, Lefty, the DYAD shock on Jekyll and Trigger, even the old Fulcrum downhill bikes. One of the reasons I’m on board is to continue that innovation, but not with features for feature’s sake, with real improvements.
If you had to choose between reinvention and refinment, what would you choose?
I’m more of a refinement guy. I believe there’s a lot of great stuff out there which can be improved. But a lot of invention comes through refinement.
We were talking earlier about the new Cannondale Habit as being a great example of refinement, rather than reinvention. Would comment more on that?
First of all, the Habit was done before I showed up, there was a talented team behind it and I can’t claim any credit for it. But what I think it is representative of, is Cannondale’s product development going forward. It’s a very simple looking, clean bike but it still leverages Cannondale’s Si technology. Having the flex stay arrangement as opposed to a pivot allows that frame to be incredibly light and stiff, it’s about the same weight as our Scalpel but you’re getting a ripper of a 27.5″ 120mm bike. It’s definitely refinement, not reinvention.
You can’t talk about Cannondale with talking about the Lefty. Now, the Lefty is 15 years old next year. Some people love it, others definitely do not. How do you get the haters across the line?
There’s a certain point at which haters are just going to be haters, but for others I think it’s just very foreign. It’s hard to understand for them – I mean, it’s got one leg, how does it even work? People aren’t aware of the roller bearing technology inside, and how it performs under the kinds of loads which would cause friction and binding in a bushing system. Where a bushing suffers from friction under load, the roller bearings do not. It’s the equivalent of you and I trying to drag this rock over here across the dirt, or if we put a whole bunch of logs underneath to allow us to roll it along.
Are there any particular challenges with working within the Lefty chassis that mean it’s more suited to one particular style of riding? Or can it be applied to all areas of mountain biking?
There will be challenges with any chassis package. Obviously with the Lefty, you need to fit spring and damper in one leg, so you need to be more creative. But I don’t feel like it has any particular constraints.
You said before that prior to coming and working with Cannondale, you’d never actually ridden a Lefty.
That’s right. And I think it’s incredibly important to know where you fit in the lay of the land – it’s one thing to know your own product, but you need to understand your competitors’ too, because the customer is exposed to them all.
So knowing that I lacked that information, when I started I took everyone involved in the suspension side of things and we went out to Boulder City outside Vegas for a week of of back to back comparative testing. Everyone had a standardised setup – same frame, same tyres, same tyre pressures. We did a day of runs to get familiar with the track, so we were really in tune with the terrain, and then we began testing – we’d do a run on a Lefty, then immediately swap out the fork for a competitors equivalent, say Lefty Supermax and Pike and FOX 36, and note the performance differences.
It was really eye-opening, particularly in terms of the fork stiffness and seeing how that would benefit you in choosing a line and then having the ability to stay on it. Whereas on some of the other products, you’d find yourself getting sucked off line. Flat corners too, the way the Lefty would left you take a tighter line was really noticeable.
Looking at where you’ve come from, you were with RockShox for 16 years full-time. Over those years, what are the projects you’re most proud of?
It’s hard to say that I’m not proud to have been part of the Pike project. That was big project and a huge success. But other highlights I’m proud of are the creation of a standard for direct-mount downhill stems. And funnily enough, the Bottomless Token system in Pikes too. Those tokens were originally developed as a way of us testing the spring volume in the Pike – we were trying to determine the best air volume for the spring, and using these spacers to tune it. Some of test riders were more aggressive and bigger, faster riders and were bottoming out the fork, others like me ride off the back a bit more and don’t need such a progressive spring curve. Eventually we realised, ‘hey, why don’t we just put these spacers into production and let people tune their fork for their style?”
Electronics. Cannondale were one of the first companies to use electronics in suspension, with the ELO, Electronic Lock Out, and fu#k me if it wasn’t a nightmare soldering those connections back together… Where do you see electronics going?
Electronics allow you to add features that are literally impossible to do otherwise – things that people just can’t act fast enough to do.
So you’re talking about instant about damping adjustments?
It won’t stop there, no way. That’s just the start of it. Personally, the idea of having to charge my mountain bike is a bit uncomfortable. But having been part of the E:i project (read more about the E:i system in our reviews of E:i equipped Lapierre bikes here and here) I know what is possible and what the ride benefits can be, so I’m willing to live with a charger.
I was reading an old interview in Dirt magazine where you said mountain biking needed to be more comfortable in its own skin. Do you feel we’ve got there yet?
I feel like we’ve gotten better. At that time, there was this real divide and confusion in the sport between freeride and downhill. People where adopting styles from everywhere – do I wear a t-shirt when I go ride, or should I be wearing baggy jeans, or maybe tight jeans…? But mountain biking is starting to mature and get it’s own look. We’re getting out of our teenage years, where we’re wearing baggy jeans one day, tight jeans the next, putting on goth makeup for a day or two.
Do you feel that the rise of Enduro has been a big part of that, in establishing an identity?
No, I don’t think that’s necessarily linked. There’s just been a change, a shift towards more professionalism in the sport that’s permeated through, in downhill, freeride, even cross country has more of its own identity away from road now.
On the subject of cross country, as someone who was a big part of developing the RockShox Reverb dropper post, are surprised we haven’t seen more dropper posts in cross country racing?
I am, yes. I mean, those bikes are so stinking light that I thought more guys would have taken that risk and added a few grams. Especially as we’re seeing much more challenging course design, it’s pretty exciting. But on the other hand, those guys starve themselves, they weigh every part on their bike, so maybe the thought of adding weight is too much. I mean, it’ll come, there just needs to be a little more development done to get the weight down a bit more.
Do you think there’s any element of bravado in not running one?
No, I don’t think so. Not from the riders I’ve spoken to anyhow. I mean Marco and Mani (Cannondale team riders Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic) are really progressive, and I know if the weight were down they’d run one in a second. Those guys are entirely focussed on the advantage – will it help me win a World Cup?
You’ve ridden the world over, do you have a favourite, for riding and testing?
Whistler? Did I say that too fast? Hahah! That whole area has a really special place in my heart. It’s also a really great place for product testing too, there’s so much variety. Moab too, that’s another amazing place for product testing, it’s just so rough. I mean, if you stop and take a look around when you’re riding Porcupine Rim in Moab, you’re surrounded by broken bike parts!
How should an average rider be going about working out the right suspension setting for them? I feel like that education is something the industry has not done particularly well with.
Firstly, people need to be realistic about what they’re doing on the bike. I mean, the pros are the fastest people on the planet, so why wouldn’t I use their setup? Thing is, those people have that setup because they are the fastest, not the other way around.
So for the average rider, what’s really important is to repeat the exact same run and don’t make it long – 30 seconds is plenty. So repeat that run, and make one adjustment each time. Do some bracketing – do the run with your rebound all the way open and see what happens, then with it all the way closed. And slowly you’ll narrow it down, making one adjustment each time, and then suddenly it’ll start to click. You’ll be able to interpret what your feeling and what adjustments will impact that. But it takes some discipline and some time, and lots of people just want to ride, which is why we’re producing more suspension setup charts, guides, videos and the like to help people short cut that process.
Do you want to enlighten us about putting together a pressure guide chart for a fork?
According to the internet, the guide is just a wild guess you pull out of thin air! But honestly, committing to a pressure guide is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to do as you know many people will just follow it and never make an adjustment after that. We get a range of riders, of all weights, heights, men and women of all abilities, we have them ride the fork a number of times, we work with them on tuning the pressure till they feel it’s ideal for them. Then we plot the results, run it through the computer to deal with anomalies and then eventually commit to a guide. But whatever you do, there’ll always be someone on the ‘net screaming at you that you’re an idiot.
Working with pro teams has been a huge part of your career. Are their any riders who stand out as terrific or terrible at giving feedback?
Eric Carter, to his own detriment, is one of the more sensitive riders to setup that I’ve ever worked with. He would be constantly testing, and he would develop stuff that we’d eventually transfer over to Peaty. Peaty was interesting in that he loved to test in the preseason, but once the racing started he’d stop the testing entirely and focus just on the racing. Carter would keep testing throughout the season, so Peaty was reaping all the benefits without having to do any test riding! It was a successful combination.
John Kirkaldie also sticks out, but for another reason… I’ve never told him this. Telluride World Cup, there was a big piece of debris that broke loose in his fork and it completely clogged the compression circuit to the point it was non-functioning. Kirkcaldie comes down after his final practice run and is all like, “This fork feels fantastic, can you just do the usual buff up for the race run?” So then we pull it apart and holy smokes it’s a mess in there! So we completely redo the fork, new cartridge and all get it back to him. And he’s all like, “This is great, it’s just like before, just a little bit smoother, perfect!” And I’m like, “Oh no, John, I think you may have just dropped off the test list..!” I never told him that one.
That said, riders have on days and off days – they may have a lot on their mind or be struggling with conditions and give you bad feedback one day, but give you great feedback the next. So yes, some riders are better than others, but most riders can be developed. It just takes effort to develop the feel.
The one total standout who never has a bad day is Nico Voullioz. Unbelievable. His feel for the bike is the best. And his feedback is extraordinary; in English it’s at a high level, but in French it’s another level again, so if you can get a strong translator you will get the absolute best feedback in the business. And he’s still my favourite rider to watch.
Cheers Jeremiah, we look forward to riding more of your work soon!
It was the second time that we found ourselves lying in the dirt laughing in pain that we decided we really liked the Cannondale Habit SE. Counterintuitive it may be, but often it’s the bikes we crash the most which we like the most. A bike which is digs you in the ribs and says ‘you know, you could probably double that up’, ‘there’s an inside line there’. A bike that’s the devil on your shoulder – that’s the Cannondale Habit SE all right.
The Habit is a bike that excites us, and puts Cannondale back up where it ought to reside in our esteem. You see, we’ve always adored the raw racing aggression of the Scalpel, but when it comes to bikes for the larger trail-riding market, we don’t feel that Cannondale has been on their best game until now. The Trigger series which has filled this niche for C’dale over the past couple of years is certainly capable, but it never dunked our biscuit like we wanted. Nice bikes, but the weight and complication of the FOX DYAD shock seemed unnecessary, and the previous version of the Lefty was tough to get along with.
And now here’s the Habit, which on paper might read a lot like the Trigger, but on the trail it tells a different tale.
[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]
The Habit is part of the new guard of aggressive trail bikes: 120mm of travel with 27.5″ wheels, slack geometry, a short chain stay. We’ve ridden a bunch of these recently (the Trek Fuel EX, the Focus Spine and more), all bikes which 27.5′ wheels and great suspension have enabled to absolutely shred.
Being the ‘SE’ version, this bike takes the penchant for rough and tumble a little further than the rest of the Habit line, with a 130mm up front, which slackens the head angle to 67.5 degrees. Its target audience is the one-bike-rider, someone who doesn’t want a quiver in their garage, but needs a bike that’s light enough for the odd marathon race perhaps (and at just over 12kg, that’s certainly the case here) and is confident and burly enough for some over-enthusiastic play.
As we’ll elaborate on more later, it’s a bike that respects authority. Don’t try and baby it, give it your best drill sergeant impression and torment it instead. As such, we feel it will be best in the hands of a fairly competent rider. Those looking for more cushiness or a bike that will soak up mistakes will be happier on the Trigger or perhaps the Jekyll.
The presence of the Lefty is pretty overpowering, but ignoring this element, the Habit is a pretty traditional looking bike. It shares a lot in common with the lines and look of the Scalpel actually. The mainframe is built from Ballistec Carbon which is said be more resilient to abuse than Bob Hawke’s liver. The rear end is alloy, and you’ll probably notice there are no pivots out pack, the Habit uses a flex stay instead. Doing away with a pivot is lighter (tick), stiffer (tick) and there’s less complexity (tick!). On the downside, flex stay designs aren’t usually as smooth as a pivot-equipped rear end, and that’s the case here too.
In between front and rear ends you’ll find a one-piece carbon swing link, and a RockShox Monarch shock. It’s nice and roomy, with muchos space for a proper sized water bottle too.
More stifferer: Cannondale pioneered the BB30 bottom bracket system found on the Habit back in the day, and it makes for a whoppingly stiff platform to bolt the SI cranks too. The head tube is similarly oversized, and the Lefty has a full 1.5-inch steerer. All the pivot hardware uses expanding collet style fittings, again ensuring a rock solid connection between front and rear ends.
Clean cables: Four cables is a good number. Two for brakes, one for your rear mech, one for your dropper post. The Habit doesn’t need or use any remote lockouts, with both fork and shock lockouts easily accessible. Using a combo of internal and external cabling, the Habit is mechanic friendly, but still visually clean.
[divider]Is Lefty alrighty?[/divider]
The 130mm-travel Lefty PBR 2.0 is stiffer than a frozen kipper – you’ll not find another front end this precise outside of the realm of downhill forks. Internally, the fork now uses a hybrid bushing-bearing design, and the slider is square-shaped and runs on needle roller-bearings, which means it cannot twist like a regular fork. Point and shoot – it’s the main contributor to the Habit’s inclination to bite off more than you really ought to chew.
The Lefty packs all this aggro potential into a light chassis too, at 1950g. Externally, your adjustments are limited to air pressure, rebound and lockout, the latter two of which are located atop the fork leg for easy access. You just push the green centre button to lock it out, and the external button to unlock it. You don’t need to be precise or grapple with a lever, which is ideal for those last second unlocks at the top of a descent.
There has been a bunch of internal twiddling to improve the Lefty’s ride quality, and it’s definitely much better than previous versions. Better, but definitely not as good as some of its competition, such as the FOX 34 or RockShox Pike. We still found the Lefty’s rebound circuit overdamped, so we needed to run it as fast as possible to get an adequate rebound speed. Admittedly, heavier riders who will be running more air pressure will likely use more of the rebound range. The initial stroke sensitivity is great now, so it’s good over the smaller rubble. Repeated fast impacts are also much better than in the past, but compared to the amazing reponsiveness of the RockShox Charge or the FOX FIT4 damper, the Lefty 2.0 has a way to go. Cannondale have some good minds on the job, so we’re hopeful.
In our mind, it looks bad ass. (Or just bad, according to some people.)
Flawless brakes and drivetrain: SRAM’s X1 1×11 setup is just so good. Not only is the gearing range whopping, but even after taking the derailleur on speed date with a large rock, the shifting remained perfect. The Guide RS brakes have an excellent lever feel and with 180mm rotors at both ends the power and control is on a level that even Putin would be impressed by.
Fabric butt pleaser: Cannondale’s parent company Dorrell have acquired saddle brand Fabric recently, and their Scoop saddle is not only colour matched to Elton John standards, but it’s one of the comfiest saddles we’ve used.
Mediocre rubber: Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic is a good tyre, but the cheaper ‘Performance’ version found on the Habit isn’t on par with the rest of this bike. We really wish this bike had come with the gripper and more resilient SnakeSkin / Trailstar version of the Nic. The rims are tubeless ready, but past experience has proven the light sidewalls of these stock tyres aren’t really optimal for tubeless use.
Good dropper, but needs a different lever: The KS LEV dropper post is a favourite of ours, but the standard remote lever isn’t brilliant. Ours cracked, and it’s not the easiest to operate either, as the lever sits above the bar meaning you need to move your thumb a long way. Thankfully you can retrofit the KS Southpaw lever, which is a neat upgrade, putting the lever in a more reachable location.
Great cockpit: Cannondale’s own stem and bar are stout, and the width/sweep of the bar felt perfect to us. The grips are unreal too, with a thin diameter that suits the bike
Grip it and rip it, baby: The Habit does its best work when you don’t hold back. On one test ride, we took this bike out after a long, tiring week, with a weary legs, and we couldn’t find our mojo. But when we rode the Habit feeling fresh, excited and pumped up, we had the time of our lives. You see, the shape and stiffness of the Habit is built to give you confidence. It’s a bike that derives its awesome abilities to hammer from its geometry, precision and drive, rather than grip or suspension performance. That means you must be prepared to work the trail if you want to get in the groove.
Climbing: Hanging with the cross-country bikes won’t be an issue on the Habit. The shock lockout lever and Lefty button are within easy reach if you need to really stiffen things up, but it’ll climb efficiently without them. The overall weight of the bike is pretty impressive – it harkens back to the days when Cannondale’s were always the lightest bikes going (though in that era, they were often broken too…) and this is a big contributor to the way this bike goes up. With a 30-tooth chain ring, climbing gears aren’t an issue either.
Cornering: It’s not a matter of whether the Habit will hold a line, it’s whether you can. This bike had us looking for off-camber inside lines everywhere. Even with loads of pressure in the tyres, we felt super confident chucking the Habit into dubious cornering situations, sometimes with less than upright outcomes. The frame and fork stiffness are the key here, and the Habit reinforced to us once again how often this area is compromised in other bikes. Would this bike be even better in the corners with more supple suspension and better, tubeless tyres? Yes, it probably would, but you’d also lose some of that engagement we enjoy so much.
Descending: As they say, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. It’s the same on Habit – sometimes it needs finesse, sometimes it cries out for force. When the terrain is loose or sketchy, the less than supple ride of the Habit means you’re best off getting comfortable with the bike bouncing around and skating on the surface, keeping light. But on the opposite side, when things are rough, when there are big impacts or well-supported corners to hit, the Habit absolutely loves being driven straight into the fray with a firm hand. The relatively slack geometry is confident on steep rollers, and the Lefty doesn’t dive into its travel inopportunely so we never had any hint of getting chucked out the front door.
Not everyone is going to love the Habit SE. The presence of a Lefty alone is enough to put some people off. The colour is divisive. The suspension is far from perfect. But none of that matters to us, especially when we’re out on the trail grinning from ear to ear as we go back yet again to try and make that tricky inside gap line for the fifth time, or as the rear wheel sprays through a loose corner. This bike feels fast, it feels fun, it feels like Cannondales should. This is a good Habit to have.
Cannondale need no introduction, these guys are legends in all areas of cycling. Their innovative nature may polarise potential buyers with their quirky designs but behind each unique element is a perfectly good explanation.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new model from Cannondale so when we first heard of the trick new Habit we vowed to get on one as soon as possible, it looks like our type of thing.
Read for more on what the Habit is all about, where it fits in and our first impressions before we got it very dirty.
[divider]What is it?[/divider]
Slotting in between the featherweight cross country dually – the Scalpel and the mid-travel Trigger, the Habit is an all-new 120mm dually with slightly more relaxed geometry than you’d expect. It’s rolling on 27.5″ wheels, 429mm chain stays and a with a lowly-slung tup tube it looks like a lot of fun straight away.
The ‘SE’ model we have on test is a bit of a half step towards a bigger bike, with a longer 130mm travel fork instead of a 120mm that the rest of the Habit range uses 120mm. This will lift the head angle out to a very trail-friendly 67.5 degrees (half a degree slacker than the regular Habit).
The carbon front end joins an aluminium rear (carbon stays on the higher models) with a single pivot suspension design and a sweet little carbon moulded linkage, but take a closer look at the rear end and you’ll notice an absence of a suspension pivot near the rear hub. The ‘zero pivot stays’ rely on a certain amount of flex to make it all work, doing away with a pivot point and all the associated weight and moving parts.
Let’s just call it a fork, the Lefty is probably the most striking element to any Cannondale, it’s single-sided design has been baffling onlookers sine the late 90s but there’s a bunch of very good reasons they are still around. The latest version ‘Lefty 2’ is on the Habit SE, with 130mm of air-sprung travel it is touted to be the best generation yet, with significant tweaks to the damper units aiming to increase the fork’s sensitivity and lively feel.
The dual crown fork weighs 1950g and slides up and down on a hybrid of needle roller bearings and bushes, eliminating any twisting or biding. For a more in depth breakdown of what makes the Lefty tick click through to the Cannondale link for more.
Our past experiences with the Lefty are a real mixed bag, while we can’t sing enough praise for the steering precision and lateral stiffness we have found some Leftys to feel a little heavy in the damper, with slow rebound and compression speeds. Let’s hope the new Lefty 2 has rectified some of this.
First thing you’ll notice on the Habit is the seriously trick looking cranks. The Cannondale SI (System Integration) cranks use their Spidering SL setup, combining crank spider and chain ring into one unit. It makes for a light and clean looking crankset, and the low range 30 tooth narrow/wide chainring with no chain guide looks so damn good!
A SRAM X1 drivetrain with the lovely Guide brakes will no doubt be great, and we’re always happy to see a KS LEV dropper post fitted as standard.
The WTB rims will need a conversion kit to make them tubeless, and you may get lucky with the Schwalbe Performance tyres but they aren’t too good at sealing up, perhaps the Evolution level Nobby Nics with the TLE (Tubeless Easy) casing would be a handy upgrade early on.
So here we have the new Cannondale Habit Carbon SE, stay tuned for our full review very soon but for now here are some more pretty pictures of a very tidy looking bike.
As we said in our First Bite, this is one good looking bike, but looks aren’t everything. So to make sure the good looks are backed up by good manners, what better bike to lock in as one of our long term test fleet? The Trigger 2 has winged its way north from Flow HQ, to the dusty trails of Brisbane, where it’ll spend the next six or so months under Flow’s test pilot Pat Campbell.
The 140mm-travel Trigger sits comfortably in the all-mountain category, or as Cannondale like to call it ‘Overmountain’. In an era where all-mountain bikes are increasingly starting to have similar basic suspension architecture, the Trigger standouts out. With its chunky Lefty Max strut and customer FOX-made DYAD RT2 pull-shock, it’s something a little different. The bike’s cool on-the-fly rear travel adjust system is a bit of a standout too – it has two modes (Elevate and Flow) with 85 and 140mm of travel respectively.
We’re happy to report that none of the capabilities that we loved about 2014 Trigger 29er have not been lost in the with the 27.5″ wheel size. Overall, it’s a compact feeling bike, but it still provides ample space in the cockpit with no sense of being squished into the bike.
The Trigger is still settling into its new home on the dusty trails of Brissy, and we had some initial teething problems with the KS dropper post not returning smoothly. It turns out the problem had a very simple solution; the seat post clamp was just a smidgen tight. After backing off the torque by .2Nm all is good!
We have made one key change to the bike. Our uncertainty about the Mavic tyres proved to be quite justified – they proved difficult to seal up for tubeless, and the hard compound was too unpredictable for our liking. We’ve switched the rubber for some Bontrager XR3s in a 2.2, and we may even opt for something a bit bigger up front to get more bite again in the loose conditions.
Also in the pipeline is a conversion to a 1×10 drivetrain. We’ll be using the neat CB1 guide/ring from Aussie brand Noble Entities for this. Not only will this reduce complication and weight, but it’ll allow us to run the remote shock lever in a more accessible position which should encourage us to toggle between the ‘Elevate’ and ‘Flow’ modes more.
Getting the suspension dialled has been more involved than usual, but we’ll delve into that a little more next time!
Cannondale are one of those brands that carry an air of prestige both in and out of the cycling world, you can bet that your mate at work who doesn’t ride will know of Cannondale as a premium brand. With a hole-proof line up of top end mountain and road bikes, these guys have a rich heritage in the race scene with their supremely lightweight frames.
With their proprietary suspension ‘fork’ the Lefty, and wild FOX rear shocks Cannondale don’t blend in with the rest, and aren’t afraid to show off their engineering talents. Cannondale may have been a bit quiet in terms of visibility in Australia, but with a recent move to the massive bicycle and motorcycle distributer, Monza, we’ll surely see more of these sweet bikes on shop floors and out on the trails in Oz.
We stuck our head into the Cannondale marquee at their recent 2015 range launch, and these are a few the bikes that caught our eye.
*click on the smaller thumbnail images to expand and more info.
[divider]Cannondale Jekyll 27.5[/divider]
The Jekyll has been around for a very long time, but the name is the only common component, it’s been reinventing itself over and over into a real all-mountain bike, with a whopping 160mm of travel front and back dressed in a parts kit that is clearly ready for some seriously hard riding. The top shelf Jekyll Carbon Team was the first bike that caught our eye in the whole room, it’s a mighty head turner and wherever you look there is impressive technology features and immaculate finished detail all over the frame.
Now only in 27.5″ wheels, the Jekyll is the biggest suspension bike in the Cannondale catalogue, and in Australia two carbon models and one alloy version is available starting at $4999.
There are so many unique features to the Jekyll, but it’s the fork and shock in particular that really make up this unique ride. The new Lefty Max is a whopping big fork, with 36mm lowers that slide on a combination of concealed bushings and roller bearings inside its huge carbon chassis. The Lefty will always freak people out with its appearance, but they do ride great with category leading low weight and massive steering stiffness. We often wonder if Cannondale should spec more FOX or RockShox forks to simplify things for the new consumer, but with Cannondale being all about the system integration, maybe they just wouldn’t have that solid and light feel on the trails?
The Jekyll starts at $4999 in an aluminium frame, and up to the Team one we have here for $8999.
The FOX DYAD RT2 shock is also a pretty wild concept. Rather than compressing like we are used to, it pulls apart, and is actually two separate shocks in one unit. Using the remote lever on the bars, you can switch between ‘Flow’ (what a great name…) and ‘Elevate’ mode, this – to over simplify things – converts the bike into a descending and climbing mode with short (95mm) and long travel (160mm) modes. The adjustment subsequently has an impact on the bike’s geometry. We’ve seen Cannondale and Scott use this style of suspension to great effect, there is nothing like hitting that lever when the trails turn up, sharpening the angles and reducing the travel without locking it out for climbing efficiency and traction.
The Trigger is Cannondale’s all round trail bike, two wheel size options 29″ (130mm travel) and 27.5″ (140mm) and geometry that aims to do-it-all in a lightweight frame. Looking a lot like a scaled down Jekyll, the Trigger also uses a FOX DYAD RT2 using the two shocks to give the rider choice of travel amounts to suit the terrain.
The Trigger starts at $3599 for the Trigger 29 Alloy 4, and goes right up to the Trigger 27.5″ Black Inc for a staggering $11999.
The bike that Kiwi power house, Anton Cooper rode to Commonwealth Gold in Glasgow is now available to the public. The F-Si is their new 29er carbon hardtail with a funky offset rear end to allow a short chain stay for snappy handling but still have the ability to use a double chainring for a big range. Carbon engineering guru Peter Denk is also behind the design of the F-Si, and with a focus on integrating their Lefty fork, a new SAVE seat post and the Cannondale Si cranks to complete the package of a very clean and minimal bike.
Boasting to have the shortest chain stays in its category at 429mm, the F-Si uses new-school geometry and their lightest hardtail frame yet.
You can snag an entry level F-Si for $3999, with four models topping out at the Black Inc F-Si at $12999 with Shimano XTR Di2 electronic shifting.
Their sharpest dual suspension bike in the range, the Scalpel is a real marathon racer’s delight. 100mm of fine suspension in on hand to take the sting out of the rougher or longer cross country race tracks, and all the numbers point to a very quick handling bike for the experienced rider seeking ultimate efficiency.
No changes to the Scalpel for 2015. This featherlight carbon frame does away with a pivot on the rear end of the frame in favour of a slight amount of flex engineered into the tubing, one less pivot can keep weight down even further. This is about as close to a hardtail as you get.
We’ll be testing as many of the new Cannondale’s as possible, first up is the Trigger and then we plan to line up a Jekyll and F-Si for review, so keep an eye out for more from Cannondale on Flow.
Holy smokes that’s a good looking bike! The all-new 27.5″-wheeled, 140mm Trigger is drop dead gorgeous in the flesh. It’s hard to get past the finish and focus on some of the bike’s more unique aspects, like the chunky new Lefty Supermax fork and the suspension-disguised-as-a-rocket-pack DYAD RT2 pull-shock.
We reviewed the 2014 Trigger 29 last year and we came away impressed with the precise steering, traction and the bike’s playfulness despite the larger wheel size. This year the trigger is available in both 27.5 and 29er versions, and as much as we liked the Trigger 29er, we think the snappier, smaller wheel size will be just the ticker and we’re frothing to determine the capabilities of this bike!
One complaint we did have about the Trigger 29 1 was that the Lefty felt harsh through fast and repetitive impacts, so we’re looking forward to see how this year’s iteration of the Supermax feels by comparison; it comes equipped with “trail” tune, a damper that is somewhere between cross-country efficiency and all-mountain suppleness.
Continuing the theme of unique suspension, the Trigger retains the DYAD pull-shock. This multi chambered shock can be remotely switched between an 85mm-travel Elevate mode for climbing and the aptly named 140mm Flowmode for descents.
Another element worth a mention is the combination of Mavic tyres and wheels. On first examination, the compound of the tyres feels rather firm. As out first ride is going to be on some rooty, slippery singletrail, we’ll soon know if we have to switch these out for something with a softer compound. We’re looking forward to the ride, but we’ll be sad to get this glossy, classy finish all covered in mud!
Flow was wandering the watering holes and local delicacy outlets of downtown Park City, Utah recently, when this rare mountain bike gem caught eye eye. Hanging on the wall of a dark and musky bar, with peanut shells littering the floor, and salty locals knocking back cheap beer and $5 burgers was a prototype Cannondale Gemini, with Anne Caroline Chausson’s name on the top tube. We thought we’d share the pics with Flow readers on this #throwbackthursday.
Anne Caroline Chausson may not need any introduction to some, but this French cycling legend has transcended the disciplines of BMX, downhill, four cross and now enduro racing with formidable skill, power and experience.
She won mountain bike races like these ones:
Junior downhill World Champion: 1993, 1994, 1995
Senior downhill World Champion: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005
Senior dual slalom World Champion: 2000, 2001
Senior four-cross World Champion: 2002, 2003
World Cup downhill series winner: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
World Cup dual slalom series winner: 2000
World Cup four-cross series winner: 2002
Racing on the Cannondale team alongside Cedric Gracia, Anne was privy to some amazing prototype bikes with crazy designs that really pushed the boundaries of experimentation. There were some incredible engineers working at Cannondale at that time, namely a guy called Doug Dalton, who actually donated this bike to the bar in Park City. His zany passion for mountain biking has kept his name amongst the greats of the race bike development world.
Some of these crazy inventions made during this era never saw production, or even the race track. This guy in particular; The Cannondale Gemini used two rear shocks. Two!
The aim of this design was to have a bike that handled braking ruts, and ideally allow the bike to track to the ground better when braking over rough terrain. The red coil shock would handle the regular impacts, but their is a smaller short stroke FOX Float air shock tucked away under the red shock that was attached to a floating brake mount.
We would have loved to take this bike off the wall, turn it around (even give it a clean!) to show the brake side of the frame. But, no luck.
How cool is it!!?
[divider]Click the thumbnails below for more [/divider]
Head over to Vital MTB to check out a fantastic interview that Vital did with Doug. There are many more bikes that he keeps in his shed, featuring one of Cedric Gracia’s just like this one.
Summer was hot , dry and sunny… well not anymore. Heading to Austria for the overmountain challenge, the team face a hell of a week.
But even if we haven’t see the sun, Ischgl’s area is so amazing that we still rode all week and loved spending time in the mountain there. Racing, coaching, riding, enjoying austrian lifestyle and gastronomy offered us a nice experience
In this Episode we also wanted to introduce you, Pauline Dieffenthaler, Team manager, communication and logistic director and athlete. She travel all year with the team, take care of us, organised everything and race amazingly fast (Standing 6th overall at the EWS and 2nd at megavalanche). On top of that she loves riding and is not scared of the winter conditions..
A big thank to her, because without Pauline half of our project couldn’t exist.
Summer was hot , dry and sunny… well not anymore. Heading to Austria for the overmountain challenge, the team face a hell of a week.
But even if we haven’t see the sun, Ischgl’s area is so amazing that we still rode all week and loved spending time in the mountain there. Racing, coaching, riding, enjoying austrian lifestyle and gastronomy offered us a nice experience
In this Episode we also wanted to introduce you, Pauline Dieffenthaler, Team manager, communication and logistic director and athlete. She travel all year with the team, take care of us, organised everything and race amazingly fast (Standing 6th overall at the EWS and 2nd at megavalanche). On top of that she loves riding and is not scared of the winter conditions..
A big thank to her, because without Pauline half of our project couldn’t exist.
Fresh from the folk who approach things a little differently comes the Cannondale Trigger, a peculiar looking beast packing enough tech features to make a vegetarian single speeder throw their hands in the air.
With 130mm of adjustable travel, aggressive tyres fitted to 29” wheels, wide bars and a dropper post this guy is pretty new school and attracts a lot of confused looks. For starters, it uses Cannondale’s radical one sided Lefty suspension ‘fork’ (can we call it a fork?) that still puzzles people, and out the back, resembling something you would use for underwater exploration, the FOX DYAD shock. It’s all about adjustability and adaptability for this bike.
Let’s begin with the front suspension. This Lefty is a fatty, with a far bigger girth than any Lefty we’ve seen; hence the steering precision is simply outstanding. To allow you to run a short stem (normally impossible with a Lefty, due to the top of the leg interfering with the handlebars), this new Lefty Max uses a 60mm offset axle allowing Cannondale to run a stumpy 50mm stem for rapid steering.
Without going into too much detail about the fork’s workings and internals, what is does well is go exactly where you point it. With a firm grip on the bars you can steer it through all sorts of surfaces without that uncertainty that twisting fork legs can give you when pushed hard. It was a real highlight in fact, and we found ourselves using the bike’s solid steering to its fullest. Line choices were less crucial, as the notion of simply ploughing through whatever was in your path became a very good option.
It was however not all rosy and sweet. We found the Lefty’s suspension action to be very harsh on our hands when the speeds increased, as if the fork just wasn’t reacting fast enough for repetitive hits, even with the rebound adjuster wound as fast as it would go. We raced this bike in the Flow Rollercoaster Gravity Enduro down Thredbo’s new Kosciusko Flow Trail, where you go flying full speed into repetitive braking ruts for over ten minutes. After back-to-back comparisons between a 26” bike with a FOX fork, the Lefty just felt wooden and harsh on the hands. We tried various air pressure settings, but that didn’t have much of an impact.
At slow speed however, the front and rear suspension felt plush, smooth, sensitive and balanced. It left us wondering if the fork could be tuned internally (or wishing for more external adjustments) so we could dial it in for faster terrain.
The rear suspension on the other hand pleased us and does what it sets out to do perfectly. Via the remote lever on the handlebar, you are able to toggle between two travel modes (130mm and 80mm), noting that this also has an effect on the bike’s riding position. Hitting the ergonomic lever is very easy; pushing it lessens the rear travel and stiffens the suspension, plus it lifts the back of the bike up slightly, putting you in a better climbing position (similar to dropping a travel-adjustable fork down in its travel).
We used the lever regularly when we riding undulating singletrack, partially because in full travel mode the bike did wallow slightly under big bursts of pedal power, but also because it helped the bike jump up and get the uphills over and done with super fast. Setting the rear suspension air pressures is a little bit more involved than usual (as you’ve got two air chambers to deal with), but Cannondale have a handy little app that does the calculations off your body weight for you, taking out the guesswork. FOX also has this helpful page to help you set-up yours.
The way the Trigger rides is what we’d like to call new school. Our test bike came in size small, but still the generous length in the front end coupled with a short stem and wide 730mm bars put you in a position ready for trail negotiation, rather than racing efficiency. Take the Trigger to a technical trail and it will eat it up. The traction from the 29” wheels and the mighty Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres is more generous than we could hope for, and breaking traction through a corner or up a steep climb became a novelty if it ever happened. We absolutely love these tyres, even though they may be a little slower to get rolling, the added traction outweighs that when you need far less braking to get through the turns without slipping.
It seems like when a 29er with more than 120mm of travel is released, all attention goes to the length of the chain stays and how short they can be (shorter means snappier handling). At 448mm it is a couple millimetres shorter than the comparable Specialized Stumpjumper FSR we reviewed recently, and on the trail the Trigger rips through turns as fast as we could ever hope for. 13.6kg is a fair weight too, considering its burly nature.
If you take a close look at the frame, the fine construction and neat finishing will be easy to see. Large axles in the suspension pivots and wildly shaped tubing make the Trigger look even burlier than it rides, and give the bike its laterally stiff character. The rear dropout is a classy feature, using one 5mm allen key in the Syntace X-12 rear axle system, no quick release skewer to bash on rocks, but requires a key for wheel removal like the front does.
Cannondale have dressed the Trigger for success, with all the components performing well during our testing session. Even the basic X-Fusion adjustable post – although pretty squeaky when compressed – was always there for us. The brakes were super, and a Shadow Plus rear derailleur kept the drivetrain from losing composure in the rough. In one muddy ride the rear tyre, being tucked in so close, did deposit a lot of trail gloop right into the front derailleur mechanism and the front shifting started to go bad – just one more reason to fit a single chain ring setup we say! The only real mechanical issues was having to spend 15 minutes with a spoke key on the front wheel, after it lost a lot of spoke tension after only a few rides.
Oh yes we did like the Trigger, if it wasn’t for our aching hands at Thredbo we would have never given it back. It’s a real ‘one bike for all rides’ type of bike, and enjoyed what we were able to conquer on the trails aboard such a grippy and agile riding bike.
Incredible Finale Ligure, Italy was home to the Cannondale mountain team camp the final week of February. Twenty-five journalists from six countries were introduced to the international Cannondale Factory Racing XC team and the Cannondale OverMountain team, making for a week full of interviews, riding, friendly competition and camaraderie.
The Cannondale mountain team is split between four Cannondale Factory Racing riders that will race at the World Cup XC level, and four OverMountain riders that will compete in the Enduro World Series along withvarious other Enduro events around the globe. The Cannondale Factory Racing team is made-up of Olympic bronze medalist Marco Fontana from Italy, along with Germany’s Manuel Fumic, American Keegan Swenson and Anton Cooper from New Zealand. France’s Jerome Clementz and Americans Mark Weir, Ben Cruz and Jason Moeschler are the OverMountain team focusing on the Enduro segment.
“Cannondale team camp was a great experience,” said Fumic. “One of my favorite parts was uniting with all of my teammates and sharing the passion we all have for riding mountain bikes. It was amazing how the team came together as a family, whether on the trail or over dinner.”
Racing can be serious stuff, but you wouldn’t have guessed it that week. Nights were filled with Italian cuisine, wine and antics, while XC and Enduro riding and racing took place during the day. There were smiles all around as the riders and journalists broke into eight, four-person teams and got the chance to race their Cannondale bikes during a XC relay race, which ultimately came down to a sprint for the win between XC specialist Manuel Fumic and Enduro star Jerome Clementz. The fun continued the following day, as team members, journalists, and Cannondale staff competed in an Enduro race hosted by promoters of the Enduro World Series. After three stages of racing their Cannondale Jekylls and Trigger 29ers, Ben Cruz took home top honors from the ‘pro’ division.
“What a great way to start the season. Having a blast in one of the best riding areas of the world with my teammates, Cannondale staff, journalists, and the sun was super fun,” said Clementz. “Spending the week taking pictures, making videos, interviewing, doing fun races and goofing around could not motivate you more for the season and make you love your job even more. I’m already looking forward to the 2014 team camp.”
I was spoilt for choice when it came to choosing a bike to race the BIG HURT on (a 750km unsupported bikepacking race – read more about it in issue #1 of Flow), but ultimately I chose the Cannondale F29 2, and with very good reason.
One reason I specifically choose the super light Cannondale comes down to the geometry of the bike. Cannondale hardtails have a slightly lower seat tube and top tube when compared to other bikes with the same length top tube. For long distance bikepacking this is a boon; getting on and off the bike (which I did an awful lot on the hike-a-bikes of the Big Hurt race!) is much easier with the low standover height. Aside from bikepacking, this lower-than-average top tube height made the bike a singletrack weapon, providing a spacious platform for my knees to sway side to side in the tightest of technical singletrack.
This comfort of this bike is truly awesome too; traditionally a lightweight carbon frame like this, especially one so stiff in the bottom bracket and headtube areas, would have a harsh ride, but this bike is very smooth. The three-way combination of 29er wheels, the supple Lefty XLR 90 fork and the unique “SAVE” seat post take the edge off rough trails when seated. It’s only when you stand to climb, with the fork locked-out that you once again notice the stiffness of the whole bike, and smile knowing the power transfer is going straight into forward movement.
The seatpost design includes a taper in the upper 1/3rd, which allows the seatpost to flex forward and backwards up to ten millimetres. I thought it was a gimmick, so put a Thomson seat post in, and the difference was noticeable enough for me to go back to the SAVE post after an hour. It really works.
The 90mm-travel Lefty XLR 90 fork is another standout feature, and to be honest, loads of people are going to buy a Cannondale to have bragging rights with the design. I was initially sceptical that a single legged fork would A) be rigid enough, B) track straight, C) be a pain when transporting to from the trails. After spending three months on this bike I can confirm that A) the fork combined with oversized head tube makes for an impressively rigid front end, B) the bike tracks straight even in the roughest of trails and C) slotted disc brake mounts make the front wheel easy to remove for transport.
The groupset is a combination of SRAM X9 and XO parts, which work flawlessly. The shifting is well defined, and the brakes, with a front 180mm rotor up front and 160mm up back, pulled me up easily with a nice modulated feel via the carbon lever (even with none kilos of luggage on board).
One last feature that made me smile, is that the wheels are already setup for tubeless use. I simply had to remove to the tubes, install the Stan’s tubeless valve stems (supplied) and pump up with a compressor. It’s small details like this that make a good bike great.
As much as I liked this bike, there were few little things that bugged me. The first is the integrated stem/headset. It just isn’t the most trail maintenance friendly design, as it requires a bottom bracket tool to tighten. Additionally the stem is Cannondale specific, which does limited the choice if you require a change of stem length or simply want to upgrade. The last two points are personal preference, as the Fi’zi:k Tundra saddle didn’t work with my bottom, and the grips didn’t connect well with my hands.
To surmise, this bike really surprised me. I initially thought it was going to be too harsh and uncomfortable, but I have walked away from this bike test smiling. This bike should have been harsher on my body, and slower in the singletrack with its long wheelbase but it was neither of those. It’s comfortable enough for to spend day after day bikepacking with, yet still rock up to a cross-country race and hit the singletrack so fast that you are only limited by your own reaction times.
Flow: ‘Hey guys, we’d love to test a 2013 Cannondale Scalpel, what do you say?’
Cannondale: ‘Sure, how about the Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate?’
Flow: ‘What, like the eleven thousand dollar one!?’
How lucky can you get? The offer to review and test one of the most incredible bikes available, the Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate had us feeling excited and quite honoured.
To test this magnificent machine we took the Scalpel to the four day stage race in West Oz – The Cape-to-Cape. The Scalpel was more like a performance enhancing advantage than just a bike to ride. [private]
Performance And Looks To Match
Cannondale and high end bikes go hand in hand, be it on the road or off it. The American brand is blessed with a strong cycling heritage and a wildly innovative reputation that so many brands will never come close to. From our view point down under, we have noticed Cannondale go through some ups and downs, changed hands in Australian distributorship and international direction. Manufacturing finally made the shift from the U.S.A. to Asia and they look to be back on track, and since, their carbon frames have reaffirmed the brand at the top of the savvy cyclists wish list.
Locally Cannondale bikes frequent the race track more than the back country trails with lightweight race bikes like the Flash and Scalpel. These carbon beauties are well known to be some of the lightest on the market and are the choice of those who both appreciate a fine riding carbon frame and have their head around the Lefty suspension.
We were very impressed with the Scalpel’s performance both during the race and when we got it out to our home trails. What really blew us away was how easily it climbed loose trails. Even with fairly skinny 2.1″ tyres the rear wheel traction was in abundance!
And for a 29er, even in size large, we were able to flick it around tight single track turns with ease. Also it’s sharp but not too much of a handful at speed, magic? Not, just quality workmanship.
For 2013, the premium Lefty Carbon 100 XLR has undergone a serious makeover. Gone is the big rubber boot and in place is a more traditional looking round inner leg and seal. The key to the Lefty’s stiff and precise operation is the needle bearings inside, and this new version uses a hybrid of needle bearing and bushes (bushes are found in traditional telescopic forks).
The forks performance improved over time as the compression and rebound felt very slow to begin with. Whether is was caused by an oil flow restriction or simply the bedding in of the bushes and seals is unknown, however it did improve. Lockout is via a Rockshox XLoc, and it fit neatly within reach of the left thumb. Not only did the fork feel smoother than Leftys of the past, the damping properties impressed us. With less brake dive and unsupported compression damping this Lefty is the nicest we have ever ridden.
Do We Have To Give It Back?
We had to give it back, which was a massive shame. Premium components aside, this bike is simply the ultimate race bike. Thankfully the Scalpel does come in other price points, in carbon or alloy versions, so there is a Scalpel for many more budgets.
The sharp and zippy geometry of the bike lends itself so well for the race track, or the rider looking for one of the most efficient rear suspension bikes around.
What happens when you take one professional XC rider and one professional downhill rider and send them up a mountain above Kaikoura, New Zealand?
We weren’t sure either, but that is exactly what we did in December with current Junior World XC Champion Anton Cooper and 2006 Junior World Downhill Champion Cam Cole.
To make conditions even more volatile we threw in five-time New Zealand downhill champion – turned business professional – Darryn Henderson. He is 47 these days, but still has the mental aptitude of a teenager the instant he touches a mountain bike.
Martin Frey joins the, aghhh, this is awkward … fray. He’s a German XC racer visiting New Zealand to learn some tricks off Anton or at least devise some ways to poison him.
Mt Fyffe is 1600m tall and rises straight above the Kaikoura coast. It’s a hell of a climb, but the descent is oh so creamy.
If you think there will be blood then you’re right. There is blood and lots of it.