- The ride feel
Price as reviewed:
Cannondale’s latest Topstone Carbon gravel/adventure bike is one of those machines that blurs the lines with regards to what a bike is capable of.
Launched just a few short months ago alongside Cannondale’s brand new SuperSix Evo race bike, the Topstone Carbon sits atop of the brand’s All-Road segment. By which Cannondale intend the Topstone Carbon to be a bike to take on everything; from multi-day off-road bike-packing trips through gravel and ‘cross racing to becoming your favourite winter road bike. This Ultegra RX model sits second tier in a range of five models and, in our eyes, represents the best value for money spec of the lot.
The newly revised Topstone Carbon platform has done away with the traditional stylings of the existing version and in it’s place utilises a frame that not only looks radically different but works in a different way.
Riders with a long memory, especially ones with knowledge of mountain bike evolution, will be aware that Cannondale has a long and rich history in bringing to life some pretty wild suspension concepts. Whilst some might not have been the best of ideas, much of the technologies have become commonplace in the off-road world.
Recently Cannondale began pushing this advancement over into the road world with its Slate range. Featuring a single legged ‘Lefty’ suspension fork at the front, it soon developed a big fan base amongst riders wanting to push the boundaries of where a road bike can go. This latest Topstone Carbon furthers Cannondale’s suspension palmarés by showcasing Kingpin, it’s lightest active suspension system to date.
Kingpin centres around a thru-axle and sealed bearing pivot located part-way up the Topstone’s carbon seat tube. Unlike most active suspension systems that rely on multiple pivot points and a shock damper unit, this Kingpin design utilises an engineered leaf spring style suspension design. To this end the Topstone’s chainstays, seat tube and top tube have ‘flex zones’ designed to deflect more impacts than in a traditional fixed stay frame setup.
This flex equates to around 30mm of movement at the saddle, with around 25mm of that movement coming from around the bottom bracket area and a further 5mm centred around the rear axle path. Cannondale describe it as being the equivalent of running a 9mm wider tyre but without the performance losses.
From an efficiency perspective this movement only kicks in when the saddle is weighted, i.e. the rider is seated. Stand up and push hard on the pedals and it behaves just like a ‘standard’ carbon frame with no additional flex.
In total, the additional hardware and frame engineering adds around 150 grams to the frame weight but that’s far less than a complete suspension system of shocks and pivots. Cannondale are also keen to point out that this is a far less complex and a more user friendly system; maintenance is at a complete minimum and it does away with the need to setup the suspension (and bringing in user error).
To add to an already feature packed frame it also includes mounting points for three bottles, a top tube mount for additional storage along with discreet mudguard eyelets. And for a bike designed to take on any type of trail there is sufficient clearances to easily swallow a 40mm tyre using 700c wheels or up to 48mm if running the 650b wheel size that is often associated with gravel riding.
For sheer reliability and ease of use this particular version relies on Shimano R8000 Ultegra for the majority of its groupset. The only deviations from this are where Cannondale thought it could improve on performance and versatility. Namely a change to the more off-road inspired Ultegra RX rear derailleur, with its clutch mechanism to help retain the chain on bumpy terrain and Cannondale’s own Hollowgram chainset. This chainset features an unusual combination of 46 tooth outer and 30 tooth inner chainrings to provide a gear spread that can cope with anything you throw at it.
At this point in the Topstone Carbon range the wheel spec shifts up a notch to include Cannondale’s Hollowgram HG22 wheels. These include a wide and shallow carbon rim that is not only strong enough to take on rocky singletrack but is light and fast rolling enough to happily use as your favourite set of road wheels. A mention has to be given to Cannondale’s neat little gizmo attached to the front hub. This little sensor measures distance, speed and time and can record up to 900 hours of data that can then be linked via Bluetooth LE or Ant+ to your cycle computer, smartphone and any compatible app.
Over the past few months I’ve ridden the Topstone carbon extensively. From the fast unpaved roads of Vermont at its launch through riding the South Downs Way and as an everyday road bike it has excelled. So much so that I knew I had to use it for my attempt at an unsupported, fully-laden LEJOG ride a few weeks back. It has an almost magical mix of reassured responsiveness under power and a comfort level like no other. The new Kingpin system works so well I can see it branching out into other sectors of Cannondale’s road range. I was expecting a slightly vague feel to the ride owing to the promised flex and rear wheel travel but I felt none of it whilst on the road. What is noticeable is how well the rear end tracks the terrain when actually riding off-road, just like a full-suspension MTB.
The geometry of the Cannondale Topstone Carbon encourages you to ride confidently off-road thanks to the more relaxed steering and higher handlebar position. Whilst this might not be as ‘aero’ on the road it has meant the Topstone Carbon has been a mighty mile muncher. The gearing provided by the Hollowgram chainset is an absolute godsend too. At first I was unsure as to its road going capabilities, i.e. would I spin out too easily, but in reality that 46 tooth outer in combination with the lower portion of the cassette made it easy to sit at 20mph+ when my body was able to. And the 30 tooth was an even bigger benefit when riding fully-laden on the horrendous hills of Devon and Cornwall!
With a change of tyres the Topstone Carbon is capable of becoming as close to a one bike ‘quiver killer’ as I thought possible.
As it stands the Ultegra RX version of the Topstone Carbon represents pretty good value. The extra cost over the model below not only gets you the superb Hollowgram HG22 carbon wheels but also the lighter Hollowgram chainset, carbon SAVE seatpost, titanium railed saddle and higher tier Ultegra derailleurs. As it stands there is nothing you would need or want to change from the spec in order to improve on the package.
If the price is still a little too much to justify the good news is the entire Topstone carbon range use the exact same frame. So the Shimano 105 equipped version will, to a greater extent, share the same fantastic ride quality.
As close to a one-bike-does-it-all as I've got to so far. The Cannondale Topstone Carbon has been endowed with a magic carpet level of ride quality. Fast, efficient, confident off-road and above all supremely comfortable, there really is nothing to fault.
Frame: BallisTec carbon
Fork: BallisTec carbon
Groupset: Shimano R8000 Ultegra 11sp, Cannondale Hollowtech chainset 46/30t, Ultegra RX rear derailleur
Wheels: Cannondale HG22 Hollowtech, Carbon rims 22mm depth/25mm internal dial, 24h (f)/28h (r)
Tyres: WTB Riddler TCS Light, 700x37c
Handlebar: Cannondale 3, 6061 alloy
Stem: Cannondale 2, 6061 alloy
Seatpost: Carbon SAVE, 27.2mm
Saddle: Fabric Scoop Shallow Race, Titanium rails
Weight: 8.46kg (18.65lb) - Large