There are a lot of bicycle companies around these days but few have the colorful history of Cannondale
. A lot of these companies sprang up in people’s garages and basements back in the day but how many can say they began life in the loft of a pickle factory? And very few of those companies that were around back then can claim they still manufacture they’re goods here in mainland America. Thirty five years ago Cannondale debuted the first trailer for a bicycle, the Bugaboo, and since then it’s been an interesting ride. The first bike, a touring model, was sold to the public in 1983 and that was followed a year later with a road and mountain bike. All three of these were built with aluminum tubes which today are not such a big deal with a score of aluminum frames being welded in Taiwan, China and even Vietnam for almost every bike company out there. A lot of the credit for the acceptance of aluminum being used for bike frames years ago should go to Cannondale, as they manufactured one of the first readily available alloy bike lines.The small company named after a train station in Pennsylvania is not so little anymore but they are just as innovative as they were back in 1971. Does anyone out there remember the original Gemini DH bike with two rear shocks? Or how about the Raven, a carbon bike with an aluminum exoskeleton. While both of these are history, Cannondale does still make the Headshock and the Lefty, a single legged fork with a square stanction tube.
7 months ago I found myself thinking about a new bike. Not that I needed one, that’s for sure, more for me just to try something different. I will admit that I have never actually worn any bike out and had to replace it, I am just always curious as to how so and so’s bike rides or how this or that new design really changes anything, if at all. I also like to keep things fresh. Instead of riding the same bike for 3 years I seem to rotate between DH race bikes, freeride rigs, and hardtails or shorter travel all-mountain machines. I’ve spent the entire previous year on a DH race bike and was feeling just a little lazy with 8” of travel to soak up my mistakes and inadequacies on two wheels so I figured something with 5-6” of travel in front and out back would be nice. Enough ‘give’ to take the edge off for my wobbly ankles but a lot more manageable on the four hour exploring rides I had gotten used to doing on the big bike. I wasn’t trying to fool myself though, when pointing down the hill I would ride it like a DH bike so it had to be sturdy enough to take some abuse. The last concern was that it not be as long as the Orange 223 I was used to, a big race bike is fun but there is something to be said for a bike that manuals easy. The way I look at it is that an easy manualing bike is a fun bike on the trail.
There were four or five bikes on my short list but I ended up pulling the trigger on the Cannondale Team Replica 4-Cross
. Not that I’d ever done 4x race or planned to but on paper it had all the ingredients I was looking for. The rear end measured in at 16.5” and the top tube at 22” so I knew the front end would come up easy, especially after the 17.8” backend I was used to. Besides the fun-loving geometry it came with a killer parts spec. The Magura Louise FR brakes with a 7” rotor up front and the 6” in the back looked promising along with the FSA carbon K-Force 31.8 bar. To top it all off it runs a SRAM X.0 transmission, which in my opinion (which is the right one!) makes XTR and Saint feel like a badly set up Sturmey-Archer friction shifter. The only consideration to price was the Truvativ Hussefelt cranks and while they might not be Middleburns or RaceFace arms they do now come with steel pedal inserts so pulling my pedals out like so many people have done with the older versions was no longer a concern.
Besides geometry, suspension is the most important part of any chassis. Like I said above I like to try different things and this bike did not disappoint. The Marzocchi Roco RC
shock is new this year and has a lot of hype surrounding it. The idea is to go back to non-platform shocks that are more active but better damped. Marzocchi also claims the Roco to be easily rebuildable with basic tools and only a little bit of know how, which is ok because I only have a little. As for knobs to fiddle with it has rebound, high-speed compression and preload, which is a refreshing change. Unfortunately I won’t be able to have trailhead talks about what my threshold pressure and volume adjustments are set at, oh well.
The ROCO in all its servicable glory
The front end on the other hand is quite the conversation starter. In case you didn’t know, a LEFTY has a fork leg on one side only (guess which side) which is a little different from other things out there. From an uninformed point of view it looks flexy and weak but looks can be deceiving, and they were. I’ll talk more about how it performed later but for now I’ll just explain how it works! First I’ll let you know that it only weighs 4 pounds and is stiffer then any DH fork I’ve been on. Most DH forks come in at more than four pounds with all the internals dumped out and maybe missing a steerer tube. The people at Cannondale have put a lot of thought into this fork. If they had used a round stanction tube the front wheel would have just pointed and gone wherever it wanted so they used a square tube instead.
You could have thought of that right? But you can’t use a square bushing, that wouldn’t have worked…..So they didn’t use a bushing at all. Instead they used four strips of roller bearings, one on each side of the square tube. The stanction actually rolls into and out of the outer leg. The alloy lower rolling on the steel needle bearings would have made short work of the stanction and upper, so they used very thin precision steel strips for the inner and outer bearing races. With a conventional fork you are depending mostly on the axle and the arch to keep things going in the right direction which is why longer travel forks have 20mm thru-axles and beefy lowers and arches. On the lefty you have a huge diameter, 4 sided stanction tube and an axle that looks like it belongs on a car, a much, much stiffer setup.
There are a few other neat features worth mentioning, one is the slotted caliper mounting bracket. It is not post mount so depending on what brake you are using it is a little harder to setup but once you have the correct shims in place you don’t have to fully remove the bolts to take off the caliper. Just undo them a few turns and pivot the caliper out, pretty nifty. There are actually ten different Lefty’s depending on price, level and what you’ll be doing on it. The fork on my bike is a Lefty Max Carbon with SPV Evolve. The carbon means that my outer leg is made entirely of carbon fiber (bling!) and the rest tells me that my internals are from Manitou and use the newer version of SPV that is supposed to be more sensitive to smaller bumps. The Lefty gives up 140mm of travel which matched the Roco’s 140mm from its 2.0” stroke.
There are actually two different Prophet frames, a heavier duty 4x version and the more run of the mill all-mountain version. The 4x frame is aimed more at the pinners among us, having a 135mm/12mm thru-axle rear end with pinch bolts as opposed to the regular frame's quick release swing arm. The other two differences are the ISCG chain guide mounting tabs around the bb shell and the large down tube/head tube gusset. While I’m sure the stock Prophet frame can take some abuse, the 4x version is more suited to bike parks and the closet chucker in some of us.
Besides that both frames are the same. Both have two shock mounting positions that change the head angle from 69 to a less twitchy 67.5 degrees but not affecting travel. They also share the same 1.5” head tube for a super strong front end. For all the boring numbers hit up their website
or stop at a Cannondale dealer. It also comes with a lifetime warranty on the frame so you know that they are confident in it and you’ll never have to worry. After building it with all the stock parts the trusty fish scale in the shop told me 33lbs which is right around what I was expecting. At 33lbs it is ten pounds lighter than most people’s downhill bikes and a good 17lbs lighter than some of the free ride hogs being pushed up hills out there! It would be an understatement to say I was looking forward to givn’er on the new bike after the weigh in.On the Hill
A lot of you reading this probably don’t care how well this bike climbs but too bad, some of you might, so I’m going to tell you anyhow. The first thing you need to know is this is not a Scalpel or any other 3” XC bike with a pedaling platform. It has 5.5” of travel with a very active rear shock so it would be unfair to compare the 4X to a Giant Anthem. Keeping that in mind I was actually surprised as to how good it did climb. If you were to jump on, drop it into a big gear and mash away at the pedals you won’t get anywhere fast but you will look funny. The key with this bike is to stay seated and spin your ass off all the way up. The 4X does not depend on a Swinger or 5th Element to make up for your pedaling inadequacies, so you actually have to think about what you are doing. While I was climbing rough and rocky fire roads I could look down and see that the Roco was gently pulsing in the same frequency as my body was rocking as I pedaled. It’s not sapping any energy from me it’s just reacting to my body pitching from left to right and up and down. A DHX, Swinger or 5th all have a pedaling platform and a lot more low speed compression dampening so they won’t react to your weight being thrown around (low speed compressions). Climbing on the 4x is easy and efficient if you don’t pedal squares and don’t bounce around, so just pay attention to what you are doing and the climb will fly by. While the Roco might not have all the new fancy shock mumbo jumbo it is definitely not an old RC or Super Deluxe. Older shocks tended to settle deep into their stroke on longer travel bikes whereas the Roco will stay high up in its stroke after sagging to the right amount but stay active to take all the square edges and bumps. As far as climbing with a SPV fork goes, it does not move at all, even when I was tired and pedaling like a goof. There is not much to say about the fork when climbing besides it pedaled well and felt stiff.
It climbs well
Now to the fun part. Like I said above I would be treating this bike just like I would my DH bike. I wanted to ride it as fast as I could and try to take the same lines that I would have taken on something with 8” of travel. On paper the 67.5 degree head angle sounded steep for something I would be trying to keep up to my friends with on their big bikes and the first post-build parking lot ride had me a little nervous. After playing around on flat ground I felt like it handled like my road bike at first and I will admit I was nervous of opening it up on the dirt. I’m glad I kept my worrying to myself though because once on the brown stuff it felt about right.
First things first, to all those peeps out there that say weight does not matter on a freeride bike, you are wrong. It actually took a few rides to get used to the 10+ pound loss. The acceleration of this bike compared to a DH bike is incredible, especially the light front end. I found myself having to lean forward a little more when really giving it gas otherwise the front end wanted to leave the ground! All of a sudden I felt like I had been doing squats and dead lifts in the gym for the last 2 years, a good feeling for sure. The 67.5 head angle that had me worried pre ride actually seemed just about perfect once I had gotten used to pinning it on the bike. I think I would describe the handling of this bike as being similar to driving a Renault Formula One car. You definately can’t just fall asleep behind the wheel otherwise you’ll get your ass kicked. I will admit that the first month on this bike was a re-education as to how to ride bicycles on dirt. It turns out I was getting really, really lazy riding big bikes but hadn’t realized it. This is not a “monster truck” bike people, more of a finesse (not that I have any) and play bike. I actually have a theory that I’m sure most of you on DH bikes will disagree with that goes like this…A lot of DH bikes people are riding today are coming out of the factory with 64 degree head angles and close to 18” long rear ends which is fine if you happen to hold a Pro race license but its too much bike for 90% of us riding out there. It’s not the amount of travel that is doing harm but the bike's angles. A ride that slack is meant to be ridden wide open, if it is, it works and lets the rider go faster and be safer. If it isn’t ridden fast then all of a sudden that 64 degree front end becomes a big liability. It will take a lot more effort to get it through that slow speed left you always have trouble with and you’ll find the front wanting to “flop” over whichever way it wants. And that wide open fast section you think you are really opening it up on= you actually don’t, sorry. Watch any of the Earthed movies or the old Headliners movie and you’ll see what going fast looks like and we aren’t doing it. Not to say that DH bikes aren’t fun, it’s a great feeling to know that when you are ready to let it go the bike won’t ever let you down and having all that sag makes for great traction. I think bikes like the Cannondale 4x are the future of progressive riding though. You can still go just as fast in 90% of places as a big bike but I can also jump on it and go for a 6 hour epic without feeling dumb, go hit some dirt jumps or spend all my spare time at Whistler in the summer. The angles on this bike combined with the stiffest fork I’ve ever ridden make it the most agile bike I’ve been on but without feeling like its going to spit me over the bars on every other stunt. You just have to think about railing that corner coming up and it happens with so little effort its surprising. Like I said above though you can’t just be lazy and let the bike do it all but I think that is half the fun of a bike like this. Yes, when the trail got really rough I had to work harder but I also had more fun. All of a sudden I could see small natural trannies and lips all over the place, some to hit just for fun but others booted me over roots and rocks that would be killing my speed if I was on the ground. This bike opened my eyes and instead of just riding down a trail I was on a dirt skate park that happened to be pointed down and I was using the terrain to my advantage instead of just riding down it.
It descends great
I was surprised at how well the suspension worked. I like to try new things that other people don’t have and this was the ticket for that. I’ll start with the rear end because that’s what I’m all about. The ROCO RC is completely user serviceable and anyone with a little bit of adventure in them can take it apart to see what’s going down inside. The ROCO on my bike was a very early production version and had a very limited range of rebound adjustment. The majority of the clicks did very little but the last turn and a half turned the rebound damping on all the way which was really, really slow. This has apparently been fixed on later models so it’s not something to worry about and I don’t feel that it affected the performance but it did make dialing the bike in a little harder. I also had to bump up 100lb’s on the stock spring in order to get the right amount of sag which I found a little weird because I’m only 160lbs. Once on the trail though I was glad for the spring swap as the frame is a falling rate design meaning that as the suspension gets deeper into its travel it takes less force to move the shock. The best words to describe the Roco would be sensitive and fun. The 4X has 5.5” of rear wheel travel but it a lot smoother over the smaller bumps then my DH bike with a DHX 5.0 on the back. It turned trails that weren’t super rough to begin with into something that basically felt paved. Even though I tend to run a slower rebound setup then most riders I still found it really easy to get more pop off lips then a 5th or DHX. The falling rate design meant that I had to run a little more high speed compression damping then I would have expected to keep from blowing through the travel. But the combo of the stiffer spring and 1 turn from closed on the compression adj. kept me from bottoming to hard and too often. It is a very active riding shock and I’d be interested in trying one on a long travel bike to see how it performs but overall I was impressed with the Roco on my 4X.
To give a good impression on the Lefty I’ll break it down into two parts, damping performance and how it performed mechanically. As I said above this is a Left Max with SPV Evolve internals. The complaint most riders had with the original SPV forks was the lack of sensitivity they had on smaller hits and I can agree with this but the SPV gives great bottoming control on the big hits. SPV Evolve is supposed to be the best of both worlds, more sensitive but still have good bottoming control that it’s known for. On the trail it didn’t quite feel like this was happening though. At any speed it felt like the front end was deflecting off of the smaller bumps and rocks on the trail instead of absorbing them. I think this feeling was magnified by the incredibly stiff steering fork, a flexier front end might have compensated for the harshness of the SPV but instead I was bouncing off the rocks and it made the front end feel very loose at speed. Almost like I was riding fast over loose gravel. I experimented with the whole pressure and volume range of the SPV and just couldn’t come to terms with the front end while pinning it, so I decided to “downgrade” to the TPC internals (also from Manitou). Manitou has been running the Twin Piston Chamber design in their forks for years and it is a proven design that works and I have prior experience with it so I knew this “downgrade” could turn an ok fork into something amazing. I also made the decision to build it up with 10wt. Oil instead of the 7.5wt recommended in the fork manual. This gave me a little heavier damping all round which I prefer. The swap was very easy due to Cannondales excellent step by step instructions, every other fork manufacturer out there should be putting something like this in with their forks instead of just explaining what the dials do. I also dropped in a heavy lefty spring to compensate for dropping the SPV. The parts swap transformed this fork from an ok fork into something amazing. I instantly felt more comfortable on the bike and could push it a little further because of that. That skittery feeling from the front end was gone and it just felt planted and ready to rip. The 10wt. Oil gave me a little wider range of rebound adjustment that I like so I could slow it down. I ran minimal preload on the spring, 1 turn on compression damping and the rebound full closed and that setup felt like home to me whether I was sessioning drops and jumps or practicing a DH course. Anyone that owns a Lefty with SPV or is thinking about riding one needs to put in the TPC guts, it went from being ok to one of the best forks I’ve ever ridden period.
Good old LEFTY in action
I think the best part about the Lefty is all the kids on the hill whispering about it being flexy and insisting that it’s about to snap. It is without a doubt the stiffest fork both torsionaly and laterally that I have ever ridden. Far stiffer then any single crown fork or inverted fork but also superior to anything upright from any company out there. The HUGE square stanction tube, massive tapered axle and big diameter carbon upper tube all play a part in this. Any input you put into the bars is instantly transferred to the wheel with zero lag or hesitation. It was almost like my brain was directly connected to the front wheel, think about railing that corner and it just happens, amazing. The last 5 months that I’ve been on the bike have not been kind to my body though. Some monster crashes have left me battered and beaten but the fork is still kicking. Two of the crashes were huge and involved massive forces on the front end that I’m sure would have broken many a DH fork out there but there was zero damage to the Lefty, it didn’t even twist in the crown or steerer tube! Maintence on the Lefty is pretty simple but there are a few differences. Besides the usual oil change we should all do more often you also need to reset the bearing races in the fork after about two months of hard riding. What you are fixing is called “bearing migration” by Cannondale and is super easy to do. Remove the top cap and front wheel and pull the axle down hard enough to tap the bearings and races back into their proper spot. Bearing Migration is easy to spot because C’dale actually gives axle-top cap height and when you are lower you know its time to do the fix. It takes about 3 minutes to perform. Since the stanction tube is square C’dale couldn’t run a traditional fork seal so it depends on a thick black rubber boot to keep the nasties out. I managed tip rip mine on a friends pedal during a truck run and had to replace it, fortunately it is cheap. Overall I was stoked with how my Lefty performed, especially after installing the TPC. There are a few quirks to it (bearing migration, boot) but it is the stiffest and best working 5.5” travel fork I’ve been on……and it weighs 4 pounds!
There is more to this bike then just the suspension though, it comes with a great parts spec. The standouts for me are the Magura brakes and the X-O running gear. If you’ve never ridden an X-O shifter/derailleur combo you don’t know what you are missing. I’m a big fan of how positive the shifting is, grab a gear at the shifter and you’ll hear a “clunk” as it shifts, very cool. The 1:1 cable pull ratio between the shifter and derailleur (Shimano is 2:1) means that cable stretch and other nastiness that affects the shifting performance is reduced by half. As minimal as the X-O rear derailleur looks it’s actually very strong. I managed to catch it on more then one rock hard enough to bend my hanger a few times and the derailleur emerged unscathed every time. It is a very expensive kit but having ridden it for 5 months now I’d gladly sell my kidney to afford it.
The Magura Louise FR brakes also worked great. More modulation then Hayes Mags, super easy to bleed and lots of power using a 7” rotor up front and a 6” out back. They also have the most comfortable lever blade for my fingers I’ve ever used. Everything else worked good with the exceptions of the parts changes I mention below.Things I changed
Any off the shelf complete bike will have some parts that you’ll want to swap out for something else, and the 4X was no exception. The only two necessary parts you’ll have to change will be the tires and the stem. The stock tires are Maxxis Highrollers in Supertacky which is great but they only have single ply sidewalls so you’ll have to run more air pressure to keep from pinching if you don’t tubeless them. Much like the under sprung forks on nearly every DH/FR bike out there, there are too many expensive bikes with single ply tires. If you are buying this bike, pay your shop a little extra and get them to swap for something better/thicker. The only other must-do is the stem. I know C’dale needed a stem long enough for the bar to clear the large Lefty top cap but 80mm!? Order up a SIC
Cannondale stem (1 9/16, not 1.5”) in 40mm and drop a few spacers under it so your bar clears the rebound adjuster and hit the road.
The rest of the parts I changed are just down to personal preferance and not because they didn’t work great. I used an SDG I-Beam post and seat because it’s the best way to do it and its light, threaded some Syncros Mental pedals into the cranks arms because I haven’t slipped a pedal in over a year on them and also installed a MRP carbon chain guide just because I’m a geek.
The biggest change I made was the brakes. Like I said above I was super happy with how the Magura brakes worked and they never let me down in any way but once an Avid user always an Avid user. After four months I bolted on a set of Juicy Carbon brakes that as you could have guessed also work great.
Riding off into the Kamloops evening
The Cannondale 4X is the kind of bike we should all be riding. It is the most versatile type of bike you could buy. I’m no XC racer but I never felt it hold me back on the climbs and while my dirt jumping skills are pathetic I had more fun and confidence on this bike then any other I’ve been on. The best thing though is that when you point it down a trail its rips. It’s not a DH bike but it feels very comfortable at speed and it can take a beating as good as any bike out there. If you are looking for a mid-travel bike the 4X should be on your short list especially if you are want something that might turn a few heads on the mountain.
If you are looking for even more information on the Cannondale 4X or other Cannondale products, please visit www.cannondale.com