EXCLUSIVE: First Ride on Cannondale’s Slate
CJ has taken a look into the future and he likes what he has seen.
One of the great things about press launches is that sometimes you get to try something entirely new that has the potential to genuinely advance bike development and, more importantly, enhance the ride experience. Some things only become obvious when riders and designers get together and decide to defy convention. Cannondale’s Lefty fork being a good case in point. Stiff, direct and smooth travelling suspension – it’s been around in fundamentally the same form (albeit constantly developed and improved) for some fifteen years and yet still there is a need to explain it to Joe Public – yet in the motorbike and car industry, nobody bats an eye at single leg suspension designs. Go figure!
Front suspension on a cross / road / gravel / gnarmac bike? Why not! How about 650b wheels and clearance for 42 c tyres? Sounds good! Throw in some curved and shaped stays, road bike-esque geometry and suddenly you have a very interesting proposition on your hands. Having seen the teaser trailers for the new range on t’interweb over the last few weeks, We were keen to get our hands on a production version of the bike. As luck would have it, a trip to Cannondale’s German HQ for the press launch of their new Habit range of 120mm travel full suspension bikes afforded us the opportunity. Faster than you could say “Stop thief!”, we were ripping around the grounds of the brewery in which Cannondale base their operations (yeah, that’s what we thought too!) as if we were riding a crit.
Enough blether, how does it ride?
Bloody fast and comfortably is the short answer. The brewery has a useful-for-testing mix of tight corners, pave, smooth Tarmac and some rougher sections and edges that would jar even on a normal cross bike. Up front, the 30mm Lefty Oliver fork with climbing lockout was impressive. It may not seem like much travel but on the pave, it removed the juddering harshness meaning that we could press through hard in comfort. Whether it is the curved and shaped stays of the frame, the wide 42c tyres or the 27.2 seat post at play, the back end followed through with comfort on par with a carbon framed road bike tuned for comfort. Many years ago, We ran a Cannondale CAAD3 cross bike with aluminium forks. It would be kind to call it harsh. The Slate is light years away from that old frame.
All of the frames in the range are aluminium. As a material, aluminium has been losing out in the road bike wars to carbon but on this showing, Cannondale have come out of their corner swinging. Given the all-road aspirations of the bike, we reckon that they may just have proven that (carbon) oranges are not the only fruit.
Diving into corners, the Slate has a sharp but forgiving edge to it. Point, commit and it rewards in spades. You don’t need to have pro level handling skills to get the best out of it though. The wide 42c tyres give comedy amounts of grip in the dry. As hard as we tried to unsettle the bike by sharp changes of direction on both the pave and some of the rougher sections of Tarmac, the Slate took everything we could throw at it in its stride. It reminded us a lot of the Kinesis Tripster ATR, another bike which we regard as a bit of a skill compensator.
With the lock out engaged, out of the saddle sprints felt direct to the point that we couldn’t tell that we were running a suspension fork. With it switched off, the suspension quietly goes about its business unnoticed. The front end feels stiff and direct and the only indicator that the suspension is working is a lack of judder and buzz when riding over rough ground.
Braking duties are taken care off on the Ultegra equipped model courtesy of Mr Shimano’s direct mount (incidentally a standard which Cannondale developed and championed) hydraulic brakes while the tyres were non standard spec Maxxis which will be replaced on the final production models. Shifting and braking were flawless. Perhaps the highlight of the ride was the combination of 650b rims with wide 42c tyres. The reduced diameter compared to a standard 700c wheel gives the Slate an instant zippy feel. The 42c tyres, despite their additional width, roll quickly with not a lot of effort. It would be interesting to see how they fare on road rides in a group.
So where does this lead us? Is this the future? Quite possibly. Our brief encounter has left us itching for more. We’d love to see how it fares on off road adventures when shod with a meatier tyre such as a Surly Knard. Watch this space.