Cannondale is setting out to “redefine the limits of adventure” with its completely refreshed Topstone platform. Gravel racing, bikepacking and even a little bit of singletrack shredding along trails cut for cross-country mountain bikes are all on the cards.
To facilitate this, Cannondale’s given the Topstone's Kingpin rear suspension a revamp and made a few tweaks to the geometry. Naturally the Lefty Oliver suspension fork is still making a presence – as is the polarising SmartSense system of integrated lights and rear facing radar. But if that’s not your bag, there are still models available without those features.
Backing up a second to the outgoing model, we’ve had quite a few of the different spec options in on review – all great fun to ride – but there were still a handful of aspects that we weren’t so keen on. Which makes it especially nice to see those points of contention being addressed head-on in this latest iteration – let’s take a look.
What we wanted
The wish for wider tyre clearances is a pretty common refrain for so many models of gravel bikes, but it was especially pertinent for the previous iteration of the Cannondale Topstone. In its full sus guise it cries out for rough terrain, but you need tyres that can handle it. The previous limit of 650b x 47mm and 700c x 37mm was, in our experience, far too narrow.
For the new Topstone, this has now been boosted to 650b x 2.1” (54mm) and 700c x 45mm – not groundbreaking, but still very much on the wider side of gravel and better aligned with the type of riding the Topstone is made for.
Our second and third issues regarded user-friendly standards. On the previous Topstone, Cannondale went for a PressFit bottom bracket and an alternative rear wheel-dishing which – although mechanically more robust – meant that you’d have to completely re-true any wheel you wanted to swap in.
The brand has since rowed back on both of those. The new Cannondale Topstone has a threaded BSA bottom bracket and has gone with a standard dishing, so you can now swap in pretty much any rear wheel you want – so long as it has a 142x12mm hub. The models with the Lefty suspension fork do still require a specialist hub, though.
Cannondale’s SmartSense system, integrating a set of lights, a rear facing radar and battery, debuted on the Synapse endurance bike earlier this year and got a rather mixed reception.
Although there are SmartSense equipped models in the Topstone line, if you neither want nor need this extra functionality, you aren’t being railroaded into it – there are plenty of model options that come without. That said, should you feel like you’re missing out later, all the Topstone Carbons are SmartSense Ready, so there is the option to upgrade down the line.
We didn't have a problem with the previous iteration of the Kingpin rear suspension, but nevertheless, Cannondale went back to the drawing and has come up with a system that's claimed to be 100 grams lighter, more durable and more streamlined than before. It's also been tuned to give a better response across sizes.
With the geometry updates, some of that has been down to pure pragmatism. The 415mm chainstays of the previous iteration were particularly stubby for a gravel bike and prevented wider tyres from being fitted. Now at 420mm, they’re still on the short side and should keep the handling notably lively, whilst also allowing for those wider tyres. For context, most racing gravel bikes come in at 425mm and endurance models are generally 435mm.
In conjunction with this, Cannondale has lowered the bottom bracket by 6mm, from a drop of 61mm to now 67mm. Typically, this gives a sensation of feeling a little more planted as if you’re ‘in’ the bike, rather than being perched precariously on top.
Finally for the geometry, although the models with rigid forks retain the same head angle of 71.2 degrees, the those sporting the Lefty Oliver forks have been raked out to 70.5 degrees. This isn’t new ground in the gravel world, but it’s still very much on the slacker side of things and should provide more control on steeper descents – quite appropriate for the full sus models.
It’s not so often that it’s worth giving a mention to the elements that haven’t changed, but with the fast-moving world of gravel, this is one of those times. The Topstone still uses a 27.2mm seatpost, making it dropper compatible, and there is still the capability to run a front derailleur for 2x setups.
Models on offer
Now, if an £8,000 / $7,800 light, radar and battery equipped, rear suspension sporting gravel bike doesn't float your boat – even when combined with a 2x12 SRAM Force AXS groupset – there are at least plenty of alternatives.
Starting at the bottom of the range, you can get a Topstone Carbon 4 without the lights and without the Lefty Oliver fork for £2,800 / $2,800 and equipped with a 2x10 Shimano GRX drivetrain.
Should you want the suspension fork but without the SmartSense system, that’ll set you back £4,500 / $4,200 for the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty, which benefits from an Ultegra equivalent Shimano GRX 800 series drivetrain.
For more information and the complete range, you can find them on Cannondale's website here.
Is the Topstone good value?
Between the Lefty fork, SmartSense system and their various different combinations, the new Topstone range is pretty heterogenous and not the easiest for comparing apples with apples, so to speak.
So, to zero in on just one one of those builds, let’s take the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty, with that single leg'd fork and no SmartSense, wearing a 1x11 GRX 800 series drivetrain along with a dropper seatpost. The price for this one stands at £4,500 / $4,200.
Perhaps it's biggest rival would be the Canyon Grizl, one of the most famous gravel bikes sporting front suspension – although lacking any form of active rear wheel suspension. In most respects, the Grizl matches the Topstone pretty closely. It also features a GRX 800 series drivetrain, dropper seatpost and provids 30mm of front suspension, courtesy of the RockShox Rudy fork. The price is quite different, though, at just £2,949.00 / $3,899.00.
It’s possible to go cheaper still if you’re really after suspension on a budget. The Vitus Substance CRX-1 HT comes in at a mere £2,499.99 / $3,499.99, also sporting the RockShox Rudy gravel fork. You can see where the money is saved though, with the 1x11 drivetrain being old SRAM Rival, the dropper from Brand-X and rolling on Prime wheels. All solid and functional components, but all cheaper than the Canyon’s.
If you’re in the US, the Topstone doesn’t actually come at that much of a premium. But for those in the UK, you would have to be very much sold on the rear suspension, geometry or the SmartSense upgrade line for it to be worth the additional cost against the competition.
We've got one called in for a review so watch this space for that.
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