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Cannondale Slate review

17 Mar 2018
Verdict:

The Cannondale Slate caused quite a storm when the first pictures were leaked, but what is it for?

Price: 
£2,800

Over the years, Cannondale has taken more of a lead-not-follow approach to its designs. As a result it now has technology at its disposal, such as its single-legged Lefty suspension fork, that it can use on interesting projects such as the Slate. It’s certainly distinctive, which makes it difficult to categorise.

Is it a road bike, a mountain bike, or is it that latest of cycling trends – a gravel bike?

Influenced heavily by the US market, the concept of the ‘gravel bike’ arrived in the UK relatively recently, and brands have scrambled to add one to their portfolio.

Opinions on this classification remain divided. In a country such as the United States where dirt roads are common, there’s a justifiable need for a road-style bike that has capabilities beyond tarmac.

In the UK, and indeed much of Europe, the need is far less. Furthermore, the clear similarities between these gravel machines and cyclocross bikes have many people scratching their heads about whether the small differences warrant a separate class.

Cannondale Slate aluminium frame

Cannondale’s David Devine, a key engineer working on the Slate project, says, ‘Our industry does like its segmentation, but with the Slate I definitely would not say we set out to make a gravel bike.

‘We set out to make a road bike that was just more fun,’ he adds.

Buy the Cannondale Slate from Hargroves Cycles

‘If we made a gravel bike, its geometry would most likely be less aggressive, with a taller front end and shorter reach. But what you really want is a bike that rides like a road bike most of the time, but can also handle itself off road and in the gravel.

'That’s what the Slate is about. It might have a suspension fork and wide tyres but it is a road bike at heart.’

Identity crisis

In response to the countless questions I received from curious companions while out riding the Slate: it’s not a gravel bike. Nor a cyclocross bike.

Neither is it a road bike built for the cobblestones of the Spring Classics (so don’t expect to see it used by race teams there). Instead, think of the Slate more as a road bike that you can take practically anywhere.

That’s exactly the mentality I set out with to test the Slate, and it’s fair to say I had a lot of fun. I had rather more punctures than I would have liked (the fault of flimsy tyres), but I always came home grinning.

Cannondale Slate Lefty fork

I’d be the first to agree that the Cannondale Slate does look a little more like an off-road machine than a road bike at first glance, and it’s a bold move by Cannondale to try to combine these two worlds.

But look beyond any preconceptions caused by its wide tyres and Lefty, single-sided suspension fork, and you’ll find geometry that’s surprisingly road bike-esque.

Compared to Cannondale’s own pro-level race bike, the SuperSix Evo, only a slacker head tube angle (1.5° less) and the resulting marginally increased wheelbase stand out.

It also has a slightly higher bottom bracket, to give you a bit more pedal clearance on the rough stuff. Otherwise it’s very similar, and the result is that it feels and reacts more like a road bike than expected.

Its weight of 9.6kg means it doesn’t have the pick-up of a race-level road bike, but once up to speed the 650b wheels roll well.

They may be slightly smaller than normal, but paired with a bulbous set of 42mm tyres the overall circumference works out practically the same as a standard 700c wheel with 23mm tyres.

It just takes a little more effort than usual to get them going.

The bigger tyres emit a constant hum, suggesting further speed-sapping drag, but despite that I was pleasantly surprised by how much like a road bike the Cannondale Slate felt.

I was still able to achieve a decent road position, and I certainly didn’t feel out of place in the chaingang line. Its portliness holds it back on the climbs, but the trade-off is on downhills, where it displays superbly assured handling.

Lefty fork

Cannondale Slate gravel ride

I found to my further surprise I was able to ride for the majority of the time with the front suspension setting on ‘active’, as the Lefty fork has zero sag.

That is, the fork doesn’t compress into its travel when you sit on the bike, as a mountain bike suspension system would, so it doesn’t bob and wallow as you ride out of the saddle, or dive under braking.

It seems Cannondale has struck a good balance here to soften the blows of rough terrain without any discernable loss of performance.

Only during full-on sprinting or steep climbing was it preferable to flick the fork back to ‘locked’, achieved by a simple press of the knurled top cap.

I was impressed by how well just 30mm of suspension travel helped to soften the ride when heading off the beaten track or hitting potholes.

I would say the Slate seems prone to catching a bit more crosswind than a standard road bike, but not enough to be of any real consequence.

A bigger concern was that on more than one occasion while standing to tackle a steep gradient I clipped my knee on the back of the top mount of the Lefty with enough force to nudge the steering and swerve a little.

I found myself consciously making a slight adjustment to my riding style when I knew there was a risk of ‘knee-strike’. Once I had the hang of it, it ceased to be a problem.

One of the great things about riding the Cannondale Slate was having the opportunity to link up road sections with bridleways and gravel paths, of which there are many in my home region near the New Forest.

Which brings me back to that question of ‘What’s it for?’

I’d say it’s best to ignore fixed ideas of cycling categories, and just remember the reasons why we love to ride bikes in the first place: the simple enjoyment of getting into the great outdoors and riding wherever you like, just because you can.

If that’s the way you think about cycling, then maybe the Slate is the right bike for you.

Specification

Cannonda Slate
Frame Cannondale Slate w/ Lefty Oliver fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra
Brakes Shimano BR805 calipers
Chainset Cannondale Hollowgram Si cranks
Cassette Shimano Ultegra
Bars Cannondale C2 alloy
Stem Cannondale C1 alloy
Seatpost Cannondale C1 alloy
Wheels Slate 650B
Saddle Fabric Scoop Radius
Weight 9.6kg
Contact cyclingsportsgroup.co.uk

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