Gravel bikes have been experiencing a renaissance over the previous a number of years.
It wasn’t that way back that the majority severe riders would scoff at throwing chunky tires on a gravel body to get extra versatility, as hardtail mountain bike may doubtless do the identical factor, solely higher.
Naturally, a full-suspension gravel bike might appear to be a stretch for some. However as gravel driving matures, so too have the rigs accessible for the bizarre in-between areas.
Cannondale’s newest full-suspension Topstone Carbon Lefty gravel line marks a big step into that type of specialization, concurrently striving to be a motorcycle that’s as environment friendly on the street as it’s compliant within the tough.
The Cannondale Topstone has been the model’s key gravel rig for years. However the newest model includes a sharp carbon body and trail-smoothing entrance and rear suspension, making the Topstone among the many most snug gravel bikes.
After spending 2 days on the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty within the Colorado mountains, I really feel like Cannondale has give you one thing that isn’t exaggerating when it says “nothing is impassable.”
Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty
Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty isn’t the costliest choice within the Topstone lineup, however it’s in regards to the closest factor to a mountain bike as you’ll discover in a drop-bar gravel bike. Nonetheless, that is decidedly not a mountain bike or a street bike for that matter.
It’s a particular type of platform that felt prefer it reached as much as fill gaps between street and grime, somewhat than making compromises. It by no means actually strayed too far towards the texture of a street or mountain bike to make it something aside from a devoted gravel rig.
I spent 2 days placing greater than 70 miles on the Carbon 2 Lefty on a mixture of street, gravel, and singletrack in Aspen, Colorado. I made positive to punish my physique to the perfect of my capability to see how the bike held up.
These 70 miles got here with practically 3,000 toes of elevation every day on diversified terrain. I obtained really feel for the way the bike features in all kinds of situations. For a rider based mostly in Austin, Texas, that type of elevation is one thing I all the time must journey for, and it’s all the time punishing on my physique.
The Topstone proved to be the companion I wanted to cut back a few of the fatigue that may normally minimize my time within the saddle quick at greater elevations.
Descending, the bike was quick, enjoyable, and snappy. Cannondale’s Kingpin rear suspension helped the bike hook as much as grime and rocks to forestall sliding out. Likewise, the Lefty Oliver Fork made large impacts really feel much less extreme.
The suspension setup created extra dealing with compliance whereas lowering the fatigue many gravel riders really feel constructing of their arms, arms, and backs throughout large rides.
I continuously discovered myself searching for out kickers to spring myself off of. I felt snug within the data that my wrists wouldn’t buckle from a front-heavy touchdown due to the Lefty. The rear wheel felt glued to the bottom, so coming into corners scorching wasn’t as problematic as on inflexible bikes.
The rear suspension gives 30 mm of journey on the saddle. You get an extra 10 mm or so of rear axle journey as a result of rear triangle body flex.
The Lefty fork delivers 30 mm of journey. It isn’t a lot, nevertheless it created simply sufficient flex to really feel responsive and playful whereas retaining effectivity on climbs and sprints when situations referred to as for it.
The Carbon 2 Lefty additionally includes a dropper submit, which is a kind of options that appears to scream “off-road” on the prime of its lungs. It gave the bike an excellent larger feeling of functionality, particularly whereas pointed downhill.
The bike nonetheless felt like a cushty climber. It didn’t bob beneath drive, and the identical flex that helped it observe effectively in livid descents stored me from getting bumped out of the saddle whereas creeping over roots and rocks on steep-graded singletrack.
Taken alone, the Kingpin, dropper, or Lefty Oliver fork would all be welcome additions to my inflexible gravel bike. Taken collectively, they’re extra of a revelation. Regardless of my lungs and legs burning, I used to be remarkably snug over each sort of terrain.
The Topstone Carbon line is accessible in inflexible and suspension fork choices, however all characteristic Cannondale’s Kingpin suspension system.
With the Kingpin setup, the again of the Topstone body flexes round a through-axle pivot positioned on the seat tube to create an built-in rear suspension that doesn’t require a shock. As a result of it features via flexing, it doesn’t have a real bottom-out mark and doesn’t require servicing like different suspension techniques.
It’s a bit counterintuitive. Carbon normally is lauded for its stiffness, which supplies riders extra effectivity via the switch of energy via the body. Cannondale has as an alternative used carbon as a pliable materials to extend consolation and compliance, not rigidity.
Whereas driving behind a Topstone Carbon, I noticed the flex of the bike, nevertheless it’s not one thing I felt whereas driving in the identical approach as a standard air or coil shock. The flex was adequately subtle that I forgot about it till I spotted that the terrain ought to have felt more durable, or I took a large enough hit to acknowledge it.
Kingpin made a very spectacular distinction when descending in broadly various situations or whereas peddling over chunky gravel or single observe. The motion of the body’s rear helped the bike’s tires observe the bottom constantly. That feeling contributed to much less time spent chattering into corners or drifting.
The Carbon 2 Lefty’s dropper submit made the bike really feel like an ultra-stable platform whereas descending, even at speeds of 40 mph or extra. The low middle of gravity the bike afforded me was confidence-inspiring regardless of the terrain.
Utilizing the dropper submit barely inhibited the bike’s quantity of journey, because the Kingpin is supposed to flex all the way in which as much as the rider via the seat submit. However the movement makes a giant distinction with both setup.
The bike has sufficient house for 700c x 45mm tires or 650b tires as much as 2.1 inches. However the additional assist from the entrance and rear suspension offers comparable ranges of compliance with smaller, sooner, and lighter tires. Most inflexible bikes may solely discover that with greater choices.
The Lefty Oliver gravel fork introduced 30 mm of journey to the entrance of the bike, turning gentle gravel into butter. And it considerably smoothed out extra technical terrain, together with tough gravel roads and singletrack trails peppered with rocks and roots.
Even massive potholes on the street that may ship riders over the bars in a heartbeat felt like small bumps. The Lefty Oliver’s progressive tuning solely kicked in when the bike took a large enough hit to generate a response. Typically, particularly whereas climbing, I wasn’t conscious that the shock was doing something in any respect.
I didn’t really feel massive, springy actions or dramatic flexes that appeared like energy dumps except I put my physique’s full weight into the bars. For these instances once I absolutely loaded the entrance, the fork includes a full lockout choice that stiffened issues up.
Whereas driving the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty, I used to be surrounded by others driving the rigid-fork sibling, the Topstone Carbon 1 RLE. The numerous variations between these two bikes are the Carbon 1 RLE’s inflexible fork and its included SmartSense system.
Cannondale says it doesn’t embrace SmartSense within the Topstone Carbon Lefty fashions to maintain the worth down, which is comprehensible. It’s already giving riders a full-suspension, carbon gravel bike with a fork that prices greater than an MSRP of $1,500. Throwing SmartSense on may value out a big contingent of consumers.
Nonetheless, the Carbon 2 Lefty is constructed to just accept the system, ought to riders decide to spring for the extra money, as are all Topstone Carbon fashions.
SmartSense is a totally built-in radar and lightweight system that features the Garmin Varia Radar, Lezyne entrance and taillights, and a Cannondale wheel sensor. A single battery that mounts to the body powers the entire system. It begins mechanically when the bike strikes and makes use of gentle and sound alerts to make sure that riders are conscious of approaching visitors and vice versa.
Riders can customise and management the system via Cannondale’s app. Solely the higher-end fashions of the rigid-fork Topstone Carbon come outfitted with SmartSense. With out the system put in, the battery mount within the body features as a spare tube or device storage space.
Who Is the Cannondale Carbon 2 Lefty For?
The Topstone Carbon Lefty is a motorcycle that begged for chunky, aggressive gravel driving. The Lefty Oliver offered consolation to the arms and higher physique, considerably lowering fatigue after hours of rattling over difficult terrain.
The inflexible fork Topstone Carbon lineup is extra environment friendly and contains SmartSense expertise to make time on the street safer. It additionally has extra mount factors for gear for bikepackers and those that have to haul extra gear.
Each are comfortable and succesful bikes that make gravel driving extra enjoyable and accessible.
Cannondale Topstone Builds and Pricing
In a phrase, Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon lineup is all about versatility, each in options and value factors.
The Topstone Carbon Lefty fashions are available 4 varieties. The Topstone Carbon Lefty 1 and Carbon 1 Lefty, go for MSRP of $8,500 and $7,850, respectively. The Carbon Lefty 1 is pricier and options the SRAM Power X01 Eagle eTap AXS mountain bike groupset. The Carbon 1 Lefty trades that out for the SRAM Power eTap digital 12-speed street groupset.
The Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty and Carbon 3 Lefty value an MSRP of $4,250. The Carbon 2 Lefty comes with a Shimano GRX800 11-speed groupset. The Carbon 3 Lefty options the Shimano GRX 11-speed groupset.
The one bike within the bunch that comes with a dropper submit is the Carbon 2 Lefty.
Topstone Carbon Fashions with out the Lefty fork vary from an MSRP of $7,850 for the Topstone Carbon 1 RLE to $2,625 for the Carbon 6.
The Carbon 1 RLE options the entire bells and whistles of the platform. It contains the built-in SmartSense system and the SRAM Power eTap digital 12-speed groupset. The Carbon 6 drops SmartSense and contains the Shimano GRX 400 10-speed groupset. A number of builds exist for riders to search out the best setup to satisfy their efficiency and value level.
Both approach, the Cannondale Topstone Carbon lineup will make your gravel grinds a lot much less of a grind.