Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3 review: a sublime blend of exuberance, speed and comfort

US brand's signature gravel bike comes in various guises and even without the Lefty fork it still delivers

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3 on a pink background
(Image credit: Future)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

The slightly softer 700c build of the Cannondale Topstone Carbon still has exemplary handling and an exuberant yet confidence-inspiring geometry. I found myself wanting to push the bike over tougher and tougher terrain, and even hacking around the Ridgeway fully packed with gear, it did not falter.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Versatile, exuberant frameset

  • +

    Kingpin comfort with minimal compromise to stiffness

  • +

    Clever spec for the money

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Stock tires could be slightly wider

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If Cannondale’s ‘full suspension’ Topstone Carbon Lefty gravel bike is too outlandish for you, then maybe the standard Topstone Carbon 3 could be up your street. The standard Topstone shares the frame with the Lefty model but sits as Cannondale's speed-orientated gravel bike.

Having put plenty of miles onto the new, more middle-of-the-road gravel offering, including an overnighter on the Ridgeway - the UK's 'oldest' road that dates back at least 5,000 years - I can confirm I have had plenty of fun!

Poised, playful, and super fast, Cannondale has put together a winning formula - this frameset is undoubtedly the building block for one of the best gravel bikes of the year, proven by its inclusion in our Gravel Bike of the Year awards.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3: frameset

Cannondale has long been known for pioneering weird and wacky suspension solutions and on the Topstone Carbon, it is no different.

This time Cannondale has gone all out to drop those seat stays. They sit at a similar height to a lot of full suspension linkages seen on mountain bikes, and it’s at this junction that the ‘Kingpin’ technology can be found. A thru axle and a set of bushings here allows the seat tube to act like a leaf spring. The lack of moving parts, and low friction bushings on the system, aim to reduce maintenance as well as save a claimed 100 grams over conventional cartridge bearings. 

The real flex is engineered through the carbon layup, which has been really impressive at providing comfort whilst not feeling sluggish. Cannondale says this allows for a full 30mm of flex at the seat tube and 10mm of vertical compliance at the rear dropout - both of which are pretty significant numbers for a 'rigid' frame.

Cannondale tosptone carbon 3 sandstone medium kingpin

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

Notable too is the compatibility with Smartsense, which is Cannondale's own external battery and light/radar setup. This bike pleads you to leave asphalt behind, so I’m not sure many people will consider the radar package aimed at traffic detection, but for long-distance riding, the long battery life of the light setup could be worthwhile. The mounting point for the battery at the bottom of the down tube is also a great place for an extra tube or tools, which Cannondale does sell a strap for.

Cannondale also seems to have returned to some sense and simplicity with the Carbon Topstone frameset and quite frankly it’s a very welcome sight for riders and mechanics alike.

A standard 27.2mm round seat clamp allows for the use of any standard seatpost, including some of the best dropper posts. Okay, a dropper, for the non-lefty edition of the ride, might be a little over the top for this bike’s 38mm Vittoria Terreno Dry tires, but it’s great to see this as an option should you want it.

Cannondale topstone carbon three front tyre clearance

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

Gone too is the slightly irritating AI (Asymmetric Integration) wheel standard. The technology, aimed at accommodating higher cassette ranges, sees wheels dished 6mm over to one side. This means aftermarket wheelsets would ordinarily need a full re-dishing before being compatible and in a lot of cases this voids the warranty. Again this step back to simplicity allows for a greater choice for the consumer when it comes time to upgrade to a pair of the best gravel bike wheels.

The final feature that will please mechanics around the world is the return to a Shimano BSA 68 threaded bottom bracket. And although only about 6-800km into testing I can confirm not a single creak or complaint was made by any part of the frame, even when the going was pretty tough…

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3: Components

To my mind, Cannondale has done a great job speccing this bike at the $3335 / £3200 price point. While many opt for SRAM Apex on bikes in this range, the people from Connecticut have gone for Shimano GRX 11-speed throughout.

It is the 2x offering though, which gives a good range of gearing, but isn't as simplistic as many 1x groupsets on bikes at this price point. That said, the Topstone Carbon Lefty, aimed at rougher terrain, ditches that extra chainring, and so Cannondale does seems to be making the distinction between the two models.

Cannondale topstone carbon 3 sandstone m groupset

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

Rolling duties are handled by Fromular sealed cartridge hubs laced up to WTB ST i23 tubeless ready rims. They felt pretty good all round, and I didn’t have any trouble with durability.

The package as a whole really makes sense. The lack of proprietary parts coupled with a great frameset and groupset really lends this bike to be modified as time goes on whether its a lighter bar and stem or maybe a more flashy wheelset.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3: the ride

The testing grounds for the Cannondale Topstone Carbon consisted of trail riding, bike packing, and even some jumps too - so safe to say a bit of everything.

The highlight was an overnight ride along the Ridgeway and this is where I got to really know the Topstone. Riding poorly lit trails is a lot more fun aboard a confidence-inspiring bike and that is exactly what the Topstone delivered.

Loaded up with all my gear the kingpin suspension was sublime. Most minor imperfections on gravel trails were totally accounted for by the 30mm of seatpost flex - even on the stock 38mm tires - while larger bumps and rocks just had the edge taken off. This undoubtedly reduced fatigue and made me want to push the bike on more gnarly terrain. 

Speaking of the rubber the Vitorria Terreno Dry’s are a perfect starting point for riding on mixed terrain. On roads, the penalty is marginal and on most gravel, they supplied ample grip. The only time they did come unstuck was through the thunderstorms, but as the name suggests wet conditions aren't likely to be their forte.

Cannondale topstone carbon 3 sandstone bottom bracket

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

When climbing the increased traction was noticeable, which made riding far easier. I didn't detect a hint of power loss from the rear end either, even when pressing on out of the saddle.

On single-track, I felt totally at home hopping around the trails. The 10mm of travel at the rear axle is subtle but does deliver a hint of 'full sus' style rebound. This bike really does have a spring in its step and I found myself wanting to push it on seemingly more and more silly terrain - hence the aforementioned jumps.

All in all, the Topstone passed with flying colors. So much so in fact, that I have put my money where my mouth is and gone ahead and ordered the exact bike I had on test!

The make-or-break factor in any bike purchase is always going to be the way it rides. And this is where the Topstone Carbon shines. I absolutely fell in love with the playful yet stable geometry of the bike and felt urged on to keep pushing it further and further.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3: Value

I truly believe Cannondale is delivering plenty of value with the Topstone Carbon 3. At $3,325 / £3,200 the spec brings together a high-level and accomplished frameset with a respectable groupset as well as a solid set of finishing kit. This, coupled with more standardized parts allows for a great platform to upgrade too, if that’s the route you choose to go down. It's worth noting that the specs do differ slightly between the US and UK models.

Trek’s Checkpoint SL 5 is a fair comparison, but comes in at £3,700, which is a not insignificant price hike for a similar spec. However, in the US the two bikes are more evenly matched, with the SL5 retailing at $3,399.

Not only that but blend of comfort, speed, and exuberance of the Topstone lends itself to a wide range of riding. And particularly in the gravel market, a versatile bike is likely to be a better value bike.

Perhaps the best compliment I can give the Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3 is that the range of riding I ended up doing far exceeded what I expected to be doing - and that’s because the bike willed me on to do so.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 3: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
FrameCannondale Topstone Carbon, Kingpin suspension system, SmartSense compatible, 12x142mm thru-axle, 27.2 dropper post ready, BSA 68mm threaded BB, DirectLine internal cable routing, removable mudguard bridge, multiple gear/bottle mounts
ForkCannondale Topstone Carbon, 1-1/8" to 1.5" steerer, 55mm OutFront offset, flat mount disc, internal routing, 12x100 thru-axle, triple bottle/gear mounts, mudguard mounts
BrakesShimano GRX 600 hydraulic disc, 160mm RT64 rotor
Brake leversShimano GRX 600 hydraulic disc
Front derailleurShimano GRX 810, braze-on
Rear derailleurShimano GRX 810, Shadow RD+, 11-speed
ChainsetShimano GRX 600, 46/30
CassetteShimano HG700, 11-34, 11-speed
WheelsetRims - WTB ST i23 TCS, 700c, 28h, tubeless-ready / hubs - Formula cartridge bearing, 12x100mm, Center Lock
TyresVittoria Terreno dry 700 x 38c
SuspensionKingpin pivot

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