The recently announced, but widely trailed, Cannondale Slate has certainly divided opinion in off-road circles. From gasps of “fu’gly” and absolute condemnation of its basic premise, to curious interest and wide-eyed wonder, their curly-barred, Lefty suspension forked adventure/gravel/everything bike has already done what it set out to do: get column inches and generate chatter about the brand. Plus, what’s good for Tim Johnson an’ all that.
Not that it’s really new. Tomac rode something similar back in the 1990’s, the short-lived Yeti C-26 and of course there were the numerous Paris-Roubaix experiments with suspension forks and even more daft ideas consigned to the collector’s ‘Where are they now’ file. Softride beam suspension anyone? However, these anomalies weren’t really rooted in ‘cross, and were certainly of their time.
I’ve been riding a titanium, custom-built, suspension ‘cross bike for the majority of this year. Like the Slate, it’s designed for both 700c and 650b wheels. It’s got a Rock Shox 30 Gold fork up front with 80mm travel, variable lock-out, 1×10 set-up and geometry that when loaded, is spot-on, race-specific.
So why the hell am I riding something that would cause cyclocross purists to barf up their stroopwafels and mountain bikers to colour me puzzled?
Let’s cut to the chase, convention states that cyclocross bikes shouldn’t have suspension because they should be ‘pure’. Sod convention, bikes aren’t about being conventional. They’re about having fun. But where do we stop? Let’s track back – electronic shifting, 11-speed, hydraulic disc brakes, 10-speed, mechanical disc brakes, 9-speed, carbon frames, alloy frames, brifters.
Cyclocross is just like every other iteration of the bicycle, innovation on innovation on innovation, marginal improvements with a few missteps along the way.
Having a bike you can chuck down a rocky descent is ace. Having one that completely smothers a washed-out gravel back road is great. Having a bike that you can play out on, yes play out on, like when you were a kid, is absolutely fantastic.
Last winter, others were hammering me on bumpy, technical, ‘cross courses on their front-sus equipped, 29ers and hard tail mountain bikes. I don’t have the room for a mountain bike, and I’ve already got a rigid, traditional race-specific cyclocross bike. So I designed a bike that I could race those occasional gnarly courses on, one I could train on, one that would help me develop confidence and bike handling, and one that most importantly would allow me to have stacks of fun on terrain that ordinarily intimidates me.
Sure my bike doesn’t fit the ‘cross “aesthetic”, and it certainly it doesn’t measure up well against the ‘spirit of cyclocross,’ whatever that is. But for miles and miles of outdoor awesomeness, sheer enjoyment and all-round suitability (and sometimes stupidity) it’s probably the best bike I’ve ever had.
We’ll see whether suspension drop-bar bikes catch on, and if the Slate might just be a mis-step in that evolution. But in the meantime I’m proudly flying the flag for the good ship fu’gly and enjoying every minute!