I've blabbered on and on many times about how there's a lack of 'out there' products in the mountain bike world these days; you know, something that makes you go ''Holy shit balls'' when you see it. But then Cannondale comes up with this thing. The Ocho is a single-sided, single-crown fork that's supposed to be both lightweight and relatively torsionally stiff. Now we're talkin'. In case you missed it, last week I wrote approximately a bajillion words about how and why the Ocho came to life
, and I'll rehash some of that below. Or, if you're bored with the details and just want to know how it performs, you can scroll down to the bottom.
The fork has 100mm of travel - no more and no less - and it's aimed squarely at cross-country riding and racing, so don't use it for your down-country antics. There are versions to work with 29'' and 27.5'' wheels, too, with the carbon model of the former coming in at 1,515g / 3.34lb on my scale with an uncut steerer and the lockout attached. The less expensive aluminum fork is said to weigh 220g / 0.48lb more, so it's still not exactly a boat anchor.
Lefty Ocho Details
• Intended use: cross-country
• Travel: 100mm
• Wheel size: 27.5'' or 29''
• Carbon (tested) or aluminum chassis
• Air-sprung w/ volume adjustment via tokens
• New Chamber damper
• External low-speed compression, low-speed rebound adj.
• Remote lockout
• Lefty-specific hub
• Carbon fiber fork guard
• Easily removable brake mount
• Weight: Carbon - 1,515g / 3.34lb (actual, 29''); Alloy - 1,735g / 3.82lb (claimed)
• Only available as OE on Cannondale bikes for model year 2019
The Ocho is air-sprung, of course, and there's a new damper inside that should be miles ahead of anything Cannondale's come up with in the past. And being a Lefty, it requires the same proprietary hub as their previous Lefty offerings, although there are a few different companies making them these days.
If this looks wrong, I don't want to be right. The 100mm-travel Ocho might be the most divisive product since... the last Lefty, but I'm a fan of its unique appearance.
Oh, one more thing: You actually can't buy an Ocho. I'm serious. It'll be available on its own in the future, but if you want one now, you'll need to pick up one of Cannondale's new F-Si bikes to get it. So why bother reviewing this strange looking fork (strut?) if you can't even go out and buy it? Because just look at it - if this isn't 'out there,' I dunno what is. Single-Sided, Single-Crown Chassis
I bet I know what you're thinking: How the hell can a single-sided, single-crown design be in the same ballpark as a traditional, two-sided fork when it comes to torsional rigidity? I'm much closer (but still years away) to paying all my parking tickets than I am to being an engineer, but it all comes back to Cannondale not using round stanchion tubes that require bushings and depend on the fork arch and axle for steering precision. You know, like how nearly every other fork on the market does it.
The one-piece, carbon fiber steerer tube, crown, and upper leg look massive compared to the spindly build of two-sided cross-country forks.
Instead, the Ocho's three-sided stanchion and roller bearing system, along with using the right materials in the right place for the right design, make the Lefty possible. I haven't seen the alloy version in person, but the carbon fork's upper assembly is quite the thing. It looks burly, with a relatively massive structure at the crown and leg junction that leaves the top of other cross-country forks seeming more than a bit tiny in comparison. But, with one side to work with, I imagine that it has to be that substantial.
The tapered axle, which is the same shape as it was when the Lefty was first introduced (any Lefty wheel will fit the Ocho), is roughly comparable in size to the spindle stub axles used on older Volkswagen Beetles. So yeah, it's more than sturdy enough for your cross-country racing ass.
It also features an all-new stanchion and lower tube design that Steve Extance, Chief Engineer for Suspension at Cannondale, says is the lightest that Cannondale has ever come up with. And if you were to strip the Ocho down, you'd find that the stanchion is three-sided rather than four-sided like on all previous Lefty forks. That means that it uses three strips of roller bearings rather than four, of course, and they're now manufactured as a single, flat piece before being rolled up and clipped together to fit inside the fork.
Why the switch to a three-sided stanchion after eighteen years of four-sided tubes? Three strips of roller bearings weigh less than four strips, and there's said to be less friction in the system for the same reason. Also, Cannondale says that it allows the stanchion to self-center, which make for more consistent action from fork to fork; a four-sided tube might have two facing sides that have tighter tolerances than the others.
An old-style bearing strip is pictured on the right (it's the black one), and the new three-sided, one-piece strips are shown on the left.
There's another nearly-hidden detail that's sure to raise some eyebrows: The Ocho has what I'd call a sorta-quick-release brake mount. The SQR (be upset with me for that acronym, not Cannondale) lets you remove the caliper by turning a single, captured 5mm Hex bolt 180-degrees. Doing so rotates a cam that grabs or releases a small steel post, while two cone-shaped extensions should provide perfect alignment every time you re-install the mount.
The sorta-quick-release brake mount is released from the fork by turning that one 5mm hex bolt 180-degrees. It's a neat, proven setup that's been used for years in other applications, so don't panic.
If that sounds scary to you, here are two points to keep in mind: First, just so long as you're not rolling backward down a hill, braking forces want to push the mount onto the fork when you slow down. Second, Magura's hydraulic rim brakes have used a very similar system since the beginning of time (full credit to Instagram user @the_gobshites for reminding me of that), so while I know that the SQR brake mount might sound like a crazy idea, you shouldn't be shaking your head because it's actually an old one that's very proven.
It's also way slicker than the previous Lefty's slotted brake mount
that required you to back out two bolts in order to slide the piece up and off the lower tube. Why would you need to get the wheel off easily if your fork is single-sided? After all, you can fix flat without having to take the wheel off... But those who have to put their bike inside of their car, or on a rack that requires the front wheel to be removed, will be thankful for the Ocho's easy to use brake mount.
You shouldn't ever let a hose rub the wrong way, and the Ocho's well thought out guides prevents that from happening.
But wait, there's more. Sorting out the cable routing on any fork that's not normal - and the Ocho certainly ain't normal - must be quite the task because pretty much every oddball fork on the market makes a mess of it. But not the Ocho. First, there's the slotted cable guide on the upper tube that's split to wrap around the hose before being locked into its home on the leg. Below that is a stiff shroud that clips onto the hose and is just the right length to slot into the upper guide while also resting in a groove at the top of the fork guard.
The fancy looking carbon fiber guard itself is the last component of the system, with a small clamp on the backside that grips the hose firmly. It's all very moto-esque. Inside the Ocho
If the outside of the Ocho is wild, the inside is anything but. It's probably selling the smart people who designed the Ocho's Chamber damper a bit short to say that the internals aren't that exciting, but I only mean that in the most complimentary of ways. You see, Cannondale couldn't mess this fork up in the slightest - it needs to work as well, or better, than a Fox 32 Step-Cast or a RockShox SID World Cup - so they designed and manufactured a relatively straightforward closed damper with adjustable low-speed rebound and compression. Nothing unproven design-wise here, thank you very much.
Are cutaways the gratuitous nudity of mountain bike nerd-dom? Here's what the inside of the Ocho's Chamber damper looks like.
This makes all the sense in the world, of course, but having to cram both the air spring and the Chamber damper into a single fork leg wasn't an easy task. ''We made every millimeter count,'' Bob Slaw, Suspension Design Engineer, told me. ''Some of the ways we got around the space constraint is that we minimized the height of everything in the damper circuit and, separately, everything in the air spring circuit.''
Both RockShox and Fox use bladders in most of their high-end fork dampers, but the Ocho employs an internal floating piston due to, you guessed it, space constraints. And even then the IFP saw an incredible amount of scrutiny to get its stack height as low as possible but also have it be as sturdy as possible.
The production IFP (left), and the production compression piston (far right).
Externally, you won't find any sort of three-position compression lever to toggle back and forth, but rather a remote lockout up on the handlebar and a low-speed clicker at the top of the fork. There's a low-speed rebound dial at the bottom of the leg, too, which is where you'll also spot the air valve to set the spring rate. It's a self-adjusting system that automatically charges the negative spring as well, so setup should be easy peasy.
It might be missing a fork leg, but it still has all the knobs. Low-speed compression is tuned at the top of the leg, while low-speed rebound is at the bottom of the leg.
I've had the Ocho on the front of Santa Cruz's 100mm-travel Blur for the last few months, and it's seen all sorts of terrain in that time, along with plenty of other riders looking at my bike like it's the first time they've seen a single-sided, single-crown fork. Okay, it's a first for me, too, but I couldn't care less what a product looks like (the Redalp bike being my one caveat) just so long as it works well, and you won't know there's only one fork leg if you never look down, right? You're supposed to have your eyes up and be looking down the trail anyway. Jokes aside, if the performance and reliability are there, I couldn't care less how many legs my fork has. Is the single-sided, single-crown chassis stiff enough?
First thing first: Just how torsionally stiff is the Ocho on the trail? I've had plenty of time on older dual-crown Lefty forks, so I was already well aware of how precise they can be, but the Ocho ditches one crown and one side of its stanchion tube, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.
Conveniently, I've logged a ton of time on both a 32 Step-Cast and a SID World Cup, and while I wouldn't try to convince anyone over 170lb that either fork is going to come across as being rock solid, neither feel noodly to me relative to their intentions. No, they're not close to a Pike, 36, or even a 34, but that's also not the goal.
At around 165lb, and with not a lot of qualms about pointing the Blur down some of Squamish's rowdier lines, I'd say that the Ocho is as torsionally rigid as a 32 or a SID. Maybe even smidge better, actually, but with so many variables (different wheels, tires, and completely different bikes) it's hard to be sure. But one thing I am 100-percent sure of is that the Ocho is as precise feeling as a cross-country fork needs to be, with not a single moment over the last few months of testing where the chassis didn't feel stiff enough.
Are roller bearings better than bushings?
100mm is always going to be 100mm but, compared to other cross-country forks, the Ocho excels in those rough, awkward situations.
I'd say the answer to that question is 'yes,' but only in the right package. Despite having relatively little amounts of travel, cross-country forks still need to be supple and active. I might even argue that, because there's less stroke available, it's even more important for them to be slippery and smooth than it is for a bigger fork. And the Ocho is all of that, but the roller bearing system does have a different, slower feel to it when you're just pushing down on the handlebar while not moving, AKA the useless parking lot test. It's on the trail where the Ocho - actually, all Lefty forks - really shine, with the one-sided slider feeling extremely active under you.
I know that part of Cannondale's spiel is how the fork's roller bearings don't bind like bushings during braking or similar heavy loads, but let's be honest here and ask who the hell out there has noticed their fork binding? That word, while accurate, seems a bit harsh to describe the result of forces being applied to a traditional fork - no bushing-based design on the market today has ever had me thinking that it's binding at any point. But the Lefty Ocho is really, REALLY not binding.
Don't tell the fun police, but cross-country doesn't have to be about suffering and spandex all the time. Just most of the time.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that it makes a normal fork chassis feel sticky at any point, but it's definitely doing something different under you, something better. You know those times when you're going through some janky-ass corner and everything feels wrong, and then you hit a rock or root and you realize that everything was fine before but now it actually is all going wrong? Yeah, those are the moments when the Ocho is noticeably better, more than likely because the stanchion can still roll in and out of the upper tube freely while a bushing design would be, er, not bind-y but let's go with less free.
How does the Chamber damper compare?
That action, along with an air spring that feels pretty linear to me, gives the Ocho some unique performance traits. Compared to a SID or 32, I found that it was more important to get my spring rate spot-on with the Ocho, and the higher pressures required by the fork's large air chamber means that it takes a bit of tinkering to nail it.
Due to the fact that there's no shortage of steep chutes and rock faces in Squamish, I also needed some volume reduction via the tokens that go on over the shaft; the job is simple, only calling for you to release the air pressure and undo the cap at the bottom of the leg.
The Ocho is neat, but it'd all be for nothing if the fork's damper was a letdown. Good thing it isn't. The Chamber is every bit as good as Fox's FIT4 or RockShox's Charger system, and it'll be interesting if it eventually ends up in a longer stroke package. There are eight clicks of low-speed compression, twenty-two of low-speed rebound, and both dials have nicely defined detents. I ended up with the LSC dialed four clicks out from closed, and the red LSR knob turned out by only three clicks; I do prefer slightly slower rebound speeds than most other riders, but my settings have me thinking that I'd like a bit more range on the slow end of things. Either way, the stroke felt controlled, composed, and all the other suspension-y adjectives.
The Ocho's chassis passed my bar hump skid test with flying colors.
Because cross-country types sometimes like to keep their suspension from moving for some reason, I know that Cannondale pretty much has to include a handlebar-mounted remote lockout with the Ocho. And that's both expected and fine, but I'd try to swallow a cat litter box-flavored Clif Bar whole if it meant that, in some perverse world, I could delete the remote.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), we don't live in such a world, and the remote has to stay attached to the Ocho. Hopefully that changes when the new Lefty becomes available on its own.
What about the little things?
The Ocho's removable brake mount is a slick system that's been trouble-free for me; there will be absolutely zero drag after you re-install the mount just so long as there was zero drag before you took it off. There's not a lot of room between a disc brake's pads and rotor, but the mount's two cones that interface with the bottom of the leg clearly work as intended. I was a bit curious about how robust the whole thing would be in use, and especially how it'd hold up to some ham-fisted-ness, but it feels solid and has brushed off all my ham fisting so far. It's also never come loose, either, and it's always a plus when your brake stuff doesn't rattle loose.
Thanks to some clever cable management, the other thing that doesn't rattle at all is the front brake line. Sure, it's going to take an extra 45-seconds to set up compared to the single hose guide that a boring fork uses, but there are few things more irritating than a hose rubbing the wrong spot or rattling. None of that with the Ocho, though.
The single-crown design lets the Ocho fit any modern cross-country bike, whereas the old dual-crown Lefty was a PIA on that front.
Performance-wise, I've got nothing to moan about. Compatibility-wise, I have pretty much nothing to moan about. The fork goes on essentially any bike, unlike its predecessor, but you do have to use a Lefty hub, of course. That'll put some riders off, but it's just how it's gotta be. Besides, if you're not okay with having to use a proprietary hub, I suspect you probably won't be okay with a single-sided, single-crown fork, either. But if you are into the Ocho's design, you'll likely look past the hub thing. Pinkbike's Take