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Cannondale Topstone Lefty and Topstone Neo: two all-new gravel slayers from the venerable US brand

27 May 2020
Verdict:

Cannondale releases all-new full suspension and electric versions of its Topstone carbon gravel bike

Cannondale was way ahead of its time when it launched the Slate back in 2015. While few other brands were even tentatively dipping their toes into so-called gravel bikes at that point in time, it had come to market with a full on gravel slayer, with 650b wheels and front suspension.

Predictably it was considered a bit of an oddball, slightly weird looking as it was, and as such very much divided opinion, not just over its looks but also about the necessity for such a bike in the market.

But one thing we know about Cannondale is it’s not afraid to innovate and create divisive products, after all it’s a brand with a number of industry firsts to its credit.

Fast forward to summer 2019 and Cyclist was there in Vermont, USA, when the Topstone Carbon was unveiled. Again it was a bike that drew a huge amount of interest, and as well divided opinion, mainly thanks to the arrival of a rear suspension system, which Cannondale called Kingpin.

Just to recap, the Kingpin system suspends the rear triangle of the bike not by virtue of an active shock, like we are used to seeing in mountain bikes, but by using a leaf spring concept - with a pivot point where the seat stays meet the seat tube, combined with specially formed chainstays, to facilitate up to 30mm of rear end 'travel'.

At the time, though, it seemed curious that Cannondale had launched the Topstone with just rear suspension, and no provision of any front suspension - the exact opposite to the Slate.

But if we were to speculate, we could maybe suggest Cannondale found itself in a situation where it was ahead of time on the development of the Topstone carbon frame, but perhaps a bit behind on the fork? Who knows? But regardless, it’s here now.

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The full suspension version of the Topstone carbon, with all-new Lefty Oliver, a 30mm travel, single crown fork.

Lefty Oliver

Thanks to its single-sided design the Lefty Oliver is lightweight as far as suspension forks go, weighing just 1340g in its carbon version (1610g alloy version)

Cannondale claims the Lefty Oliver pushes gravel suspension to a whole new level. So we caught up with Cannondale’s director of suspension technology, Jeremiah Boobar, to get the lowdown.

‘This is not just a shrunken version of the Ocho mountain bike fork’, says Boobar. ‘It’s actually very far from that, with a completely specific damper design and tuning to cope with the very different demands of the gravel market.

‘Mountain bikes have had suspension for many years and riders are very familiar with having it there and also accepting the compromises this can make to the way a bike rides in some scenarios, such as when climbing. But the gravel market is not there yet.

'It can’t be like a mountain bike fork, where people want it as plush as possible. Gravel riders want to ride a variety of surfaces, and [we feel] are less willing to accept compromises. Gravel riders have really high expectations, especially those crossing over from the road side, and that was really challenging to tread that line and find the perfect balance to offer the benefits of suspension but eliminate compromises.

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‘We have the lowest friction suspension fork system on the market, so that enables us to really focus all our attention to the damper circuit. You really need to control the damping, because you only have such a short amount of travel. We had to completely rethink the way the fork damper is tuned and we’ve done a heck of a lot of dyno tests and real world testing.

‘Essentially we’ve arrived at something with a lot more low speed compression damping and a lot more rebound control than the mountain bike fork, so the fork doesn’t feel like it's too active. But once it gets moving you want to feel like it's moving, so we had to control that too.

‘The spring rate is very much ramped up through the travel. It was important to have that to avoid moving through that 30mm too quickly. The spring curve was a really important piece of the puzzle. We’re really pleased with what we’ve achieved. Thanks to that spring curve, that last part of the travel is so pillowy you may not even know you’ve bottomed the fork out.’

The Lefty Oliver features an on-the-fly lockout - easily activated with a lever on top of the fork crown - for maximum efficiency on the road and on climbs, although from our first ride experiences, if the fork is set up correctly for the rider's bodyweight it is rarely needed, save for perhaps on steep road ascents.

From the outside the single crown design of the Lefty Oliver is much less jarring visually, compared to the old triple-clamp Lefty fork, although we’re certain there will still be those that find it hard to get their heads around the look and feel of the design.

One huge benefit of this new Lefty Oliver is that it is now completely retrofittable to other bikes too as it’s based on a standard, tapered fork steerer. Priced at $1500 (about £1200) all that would be needed in addition would be a specific front wheel, with the Lefty hub.

Another great feature on the Lefty Oliver is the tool-free StopLock brake calliper removal - something that was a bit of a faff with the older Lefty design, as it requires the calliper to be removed to take off the front wheel.

Now a single flip down lever releases the calliper from its mount, making wheel removal cinch.

But of course there is less need to do this on a single sided fork. Even in the event of a puncture, the wheel does not need to be removed from the bike.

Other details

Elsewhere on the Topstone things are pretty much exactly as they were previously. Cannondale’s proportional response construction remains: a fancy way of saying that each frame size is engineered with a specifically tuned carbon lay-up to ensure the same ride feel.

Geometry wise the Topstone comes under Cannondale’s endurance fit remit - relaxed enough for the long haul with a 71.2° head tube and 165mm head tube length (size medium) but still spritely enough to whip in and out of fun woodland singletracks.

Speed release thru-axles are a nice touch for fast wheel removal, in just a few turns of the axle the wheel can be removed, leaving the axle in the hub, so you don't have to put it down in the dirt.

The frame is compatible with internally routed dropper posts, should you feel the need to add one, too.

Cannondale’s integrated wheel sensor is included as standard, offering a neatly concealed and subtle way to collect heaps of ride data plus it contains service information and even delivers maintenance prompts once you've connected to it.

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There’s a full quota of luggage mounts and mudguard mounts too, for maximum versatility, however you decide to use the bike.

Fitting to its more rugged intentions, the Topstone Carbon Lefty will come fitted with 650b x 47mm tyres, although it is also compatible with 700c x 45mm wheels/tyres, if that's more your bag.

Topstone Neo e-bike

Music to the ears of the burgeoning market for electronically assisted fun, will be that also joining the Topstone range are two new e-bikes, called Topstone Neo.

Both will benefit from many of the features described above, based on the same Topstone platform, but the Neo Carbon will come with a rigid carbon fork and 700c x 37mm tyres - aimed at those who wish to put speed and performance as their priorities, while the Neo Carbon Lefty will also feature the Oliver 30mm travel suspension fork, and comes with 650b x 47mm tyres, ready to tackle more rugged adventures.

Both models utilise the latest integrated Bosch motor and battery with a stated range of 127km (79 miles).

Models and pricing

New Topstone Carbon Lefty

Topstone Carbon Lefty 1: £6,599.99  
Topstone Carbon Lefty 3: £3,399.99  
Topstone Carbon Lefty 3 Wmns: £3,399.99  

New Topstone Carbon Neo and Neo Lefty

Topstone Neo Carbon 1 Lefty: £7,999.99  
Topstone Neo Carbon 2: £5,499.99  
Topstone Neo Carbon 3 Lefty: £4,999.99  
Topstone Neo Carbon 4: £3,999.99