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Topstone Carbon – Cannondale’s all new gravel bike review

20 Jun 2019
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

First ride review: Cannondale Topstone Carbon

I had an opportunity to spend a few hours getting to know the Topstone Carbon on location at the launch event in Stowe, Vermont.

With myriad of singletracks, dirt roads, and even some mountain bike trails to play on, plus plenty of rolling tarmac hills it was a great opportunity to see what Cannondale has delivered with this completely new platform.

Obviously the first thing I did once I’d clipped in was to bounce around like Tigger to assess how effective the Kingpin suspension was at soaking up rear end strikes.

The movement is immediately palpable. When you push down on the saddle – either on the bike or off - you can visibly see the tubes flexing. Riding, then, the cushioning effect is really noticeable, and the Topstone Carbon felt like it handled the chatter of a trail or dirt road with a deft efficiency, undoubtedly smoothing out the ride.

The handling felt close to a cyclocross race bike, definitely not languid and slow to respond. But where a cyclocross bike might feel sketchy and quickly out of its depth on a rough mountain bike trail I found the Topstone Carbon was much more adept and surprisingly capable in varied terrains.

Hopping rocks, locking the rear wheel and skidding through tight switchbacks on singletrack trails, the Topstone Carbon encourages a playful riding style. I could confidently make quick direction changes and switch lines in wooded singletrack with ease. Even on steeper descents the Topstone Carbon maintained its balance and poise well.

That’s pretty impressive for a bike that, on tarmac, is no slouch either. It lacks the immediacy of an out-and-out road machine when it comes to accelerations, but mostly that is down to the extra weight overall, not any floors in the suspension system.

Hunkered down in the drops I could imagine the Topstone Carbon would have little trouble keeping up in the chaingang with a simple switch of tyres.

It’s fair to say the front end falls a long way behind the rear when it comes to dealing with bumps, but that’s ok. This is the better way round, to my mind. Up front you have the ability to always see what’s coming on a trail and make the necessary body adjustments to cope – you can change your grip or flex your elbows more to absorb the impact better, for instance.

That said, it does seem a little odd that Cannondale – having been first to the gravel market with a front suspension fork on its Slate and with its own recently updated suspension fork (Lefty Ocho) seemingly the perfect candidate for this bike in a shorter travel form – did not consider a fully suspended version. Maybe it did and that’s one for the future? Who knows?

If I had to sum up the new Topstone Carbon in a single word, I’d say: capable.

My lasting impression from my first ride is this: I felt like if I’d started a ride with a group of road buddies I’d be able to hang with them on the Topstone Carbon, but, if half way round I caught sight of some fun trails and fancied a change of scene the Topstone Carbon would also take me home off road with not a second thought.