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Topstone Carbon – Cannondale’s all new gravel bike review

20 Jun 2019

Page 1 of 2Topstone Carbon – Cannondale’s all new gravel bike review

Verdict:

Way more than just a carbon revamp of the alloy Topstone; Cannondale has added rear suspension plus a host of other new features too

The Topstone family joined Cannondale’s line-up only last year, as a competitively priced, aluminium-framed entry point into the all-road/gravel market.

A year on and the family has grown exponentially, with 5 brand new carbon models (4 mens and 1 womens) just released and immediately available to buy, with a host of new features besides just being made from the black stuff.

Kingpin

The standout detail is what Cannondale calls Kingpin suspension – a rear end cushioning system that uses a thru-axle and sealed bearing pivot where the seat stays join the seat tube allowing flex zones in the chainstays, seat tube and rear portion of the top tube to create around 30mm vertical deflection at the saddle.

For those with a mountain bike background, you may recall Cannondale’s original Scalpel full suspension cross-country race bike employed a similar ideology (although to a much greater extent with the addition of a shock), whereby pivotless chainstays flexed vertically to facilitate rear wheel travel.

With much less travel on offer here, though, no shock is required, the movement occurs solely through flex in the specially formed tubes, which means moving parts and most importantly weight are kept to a minimum.

Cannondale claims a frame weight of 1,100 – 1,130g (painted size medium including all hardware: 1,305g), which is light given the potential additional versatility the suspended rear triangle brings to the table. What’s more it claims the Kingpin system does not impact stiffness at the head tube or bottom bracket.

‘The goal for Topstone Carbon was to retain the performance attributes of a road bike when riding out of the saddle, but bring a lot more confidence when riding on rough surfaces’, product director, David Devine, told Cyclist at the launch.

Topstone Carbon, then, according to Cannondale, is ‘off-road capable, on-road comfortable’, but I think it’s fairly clear where its allegiances lie most. I can’t imagine many people buying it for its road attributes over what it can accomplish off the beaten path (For more on that see our First Ride on the next page).

That said, the down tube is a beefy, aero profile much more in keeping with what we’re used to seeing on high-end road bikes.
At the launch there was no mention of any aero testing or any aero related stats at all, but it is, perhaps, suggestive of Topstone Carbon’s pretences as more of a fast-paced gravel bike. It would certainly make an ideal gravel racer, especially for events such as Dirty Kanza where speeds are generally higher.

While we’re on the subject of speed and performance the new Hollowgram 22 carbon wheels (Cannondale’s in-house brand, fitted on the top 2 models) look superb with dimensions perfectly suited to all-round use, and of course, fully tubeless compatible.

Multitalented

Interestingly Cannondale has opted to spec double (2x) chainsets on all 5 models, eschewing the trend towards 1x set-ups for gravel bikes. The front mech mount, however, is removable; making a switch to 1x both simple and clean should you so wish.

There’s clearance for 700x40mm and 650b x 48mm tyres, and my guess is most people will prefer to be in the upper realms of the limits more of the time, to realise as much of the Topstone Carbon’s off road potential as possible.

There are 3 mounting points for water bottles (also with the option of a high/low position for the downtube bottle), rack mounts at the front (for obvious reasons there cannot be a rack mount at the rear), an accessory mount on top tube, plus mudguard mounts too.

Few then could argue against the Topstone Carbon’s potential versatility, as it could possibly take on many guises, from commute workhorse to bikepacking expedition bike. My hunch, though, is Cannondale has not designed it for laden tours. Think more lightweight single-day jaunts, or perhaps multi-day rides with a credit card to take the load off.

In terms of fit, Cannondale has given he Topstone Carbon it’s Endurance geometry. That’s to say – a higher stack height and shorter reach, in line with its highly acclaimed Synapse, better suited to longer days in the saddle and also improved control off road.

Speaking of control, the top models have a new Save carbon handlebar paired to a new Save alloy stem, very similar in design to the adjustable aero set-up (8 degrees of bar rotation is possible) we saw launched on Cannondale’s speed weapon - the System Six - last year. Cannondale has not gone for a hugely flared bar shape, there’s just 2cm more width across the drops compared to the tops.

Cannondale claims its ‘proportional response frame construction’ ensures the Topstone Carbon will ride the same regardless of frame size, so expect consistent suspension displacement no matter how big or small you are. This is observably evident from the tube shapes which do indeed vary dramatically across the range of 5 sizes; XS – XL (equivalent to 48-51-55-58-61cm). Although there was no mention of how Cannondale has regulated for variances in bodyweight for a given rider size – the assumption perhaps being smaller riders are lighter, I guess? So what then for a heavier, short rider? We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.

Cannondale’s engineers have considered the practical side of ownership too. Direct line cable routing – a tube in tube solution - means the internal cables are simple to replace when it’s time to service.

Speed release thru axles bring quick and easy wheel removal – the double-pitch thread means far fewer turns are required to remove it, plus there’s no need to remove the axle completely to take out the wheel, so it doesn’t need to be put down in the dirt on the trail.

Extra Extra

Aside from the physical product Cannondale has been working hard in other areas too. It has worked in conjunction with Garmin on a new on-board sensor that attaches to the front hub, and connects to (you’ve guessed it) an App. But what is quite neat is it pairs with a simple spin of the front wheel.

At the most basic level it will record your ride data - speed/time /distance/calories burned and also has a total odometer - but its benefits are much more far-reaching than this alone.

By keeping track of your movements it will not only prompt you with service reminders based on the amount of hours the bike has been ridden, but also let you know a little about your ECO footprint – noting how much you have reduced CO2 emissions by, and indicating the environmental impact of having chosen to ride, not drive etc.

Personal details are also stored, along with warranty info, fit data, service record, and a full parts list for the bike (with part numbers to make finding replacements a cinch) including torque specs. There are even video links to content specific to the bike – e.g. how to perform Di2 service or disc bleed etc.

It’s basically a leap towards a more interactive experience with your bike, very much like how the automotive world operates.

Five models

The 5 Topstone Carbon models are listed below, and will be available in stores from today (20th June):

Sram Force eTap AXS £4,800
Shimano Ultegra RX £3,500
Shimano Ultegra RX2 £2,700
Shimano Ultegra RX2 womens £2,700 (the same spec as mens although has different saddle, handlebar, stem, crank length)
Shimano 105 £2,100

Click through to the next page for our First Ride Review

Page 1 of 2Topstone Carbon – Cannondale’s all new gravel bike review