The new Lefty is here, and it's unlike anything that's come before it. The Lefty Ocho, which is available for both 27.5'' and 29'' wheels, is a single-crown, single-sided cross-country fork with 100mm of travel that can be had in either carbon fiber or aluminum flavors. Internally, it employs an all-new damper that mirrors the proven closed cartridge layout found in the best forks on the market, and the air-sprung Ocho comes with a handlebar-mounted lockout and separate external low-speed compression and rebound adjustments.
Weight? Yeah, it's light; the carbon model comes in at just 1,515-grams on my scale with an uncut steerer tube and the remote lockout attached, a number that Cannondale says is 250-grams less than the Lefty Carbon that came before it. That also puts it within a handful of grams of Fox's Step-Cast 32 and lighter than a SID World Cup. The aluminum Ocho is said to weigh 1,735-grams / 3.82lb.
Lefty Ocho Details
• Intended use: cross-country
• Travel: 100mm
• Wheel size: 27.5'' or 29''
• Carbon or aluminum options
• New Chamber damper
• External low-speed compression, low-speed rebound adj.
• Remote lockout
• Lefty-specific hub
• Weight: Carbon - 1,515g / 3.34lb; Alloy - 1,735g / 3.82lb
• Only available as OE on Cannondale bikes for model year 2019
The Ocho will be available to buy on its own at some point in the future, but not for the 2019 model year. That means that if you want an Ocho soon, you'll have to get yourself Cannondale's newest F-Si cross-country bike that it's bolted to the front of. I expect that to change in the future, of course. More travel isn't on the cards, either, at least not with the current package: ''With Ocho we wanted to make the best XC fork possible, and that meant focusing on 100mm of travel only,'' Greg Jakubek, Product Developer – Suspension and Components at Cannondale, explained. ''Longer travel is not compatible with this chassis. As for what we have cooking for the future, you’ll just have to wait and see.''
One sided, one crown, and all Cannondale. The new, 100mm-travel Lefty Ocho Carbon weighs just 1,515-grams / 3.34lb on my scale.
I spent a few days at Cannondale's Bethel, Connecticut, headquarters earlier this year to learn all about the Lefty Ocho and also to throw some tough questions at Jeremiah Boobar, the Director of Suspension Technology Components and the project leader for the new fork.
The first and most obvious thing that needs answering has to be: Why pursue the single-sided fork design when it's been, without exaggerating, the single most polarizing product on the market since it was first introduced? ''We're Cannondale; we don't want to be the same as everyone else,'' Boobar countered when I threw that question at him.
''We can offer a fork that nobody else has, we can make it as light as everyone else's forks, we can make it smoother than everybody else's forks, and we can make it stiffer than anyone else's forks. So yeah, we gotta be a little bit different to get there, but we're happy being that way,'' he went on to say.
Fair enough, Jeremiah. But while I can see the benefit to not following the same path as everyone else, I'm also willing to bet that they'd sell a load more of their own bikes if they all came with traditional forks rather than the Leftys on the front of some models. ''I totally agree, there are a lot of traditional looking forks out there. But at Cannondale, we go really far to find unique ways to give riders true benefits out on the trail. And one thing that Lefty has done that no other fork has is being excellent in what we call loaded friction,'' Boobar explained. ''When the fork is seeing loads and starting to bend, the roller bearings inside keep it from having any friction whatsoever, whereas a traditional fork with its bushings starts to get bind-y and reduces that small bump feel.''
So it's not just
to be different for different's sake, he's implying, although being an oddball certainly does also have its benefits, too.
The Lefty Ocho has spent the last few months on the front of Santa Cruz's new Blur.
Boobar continued: ''You take a super lightweight carbon hardtail, and you could be the lightest one out there, but you put the same fork on there and it isn't really special, you know what I mean? And you put the same derailleurs on a bike; you put the same cranks on a bike... You see more and more of that, but by being unique and offering something else, it really attracts people who are looking to be their own person out there.''
''And once they understand the product, they understand that it's more than being unique and different from all your friends. It's about genuine performance and being able to ride faster out on the trail.''
The idea for a single-crown, single-sided Lefty isn't a new one. On the far left is the OG prototype from 1995, and it's pretty much just a standard Lefty with its top cut off and a custom Si crown. Next to it is the proof of concept that went through destructive testing a few years later. The all-black Lefty to its right is the first with a three-sided stanchion rather than the four-sided design Cannondale had used on every prior Lefty. And, finally, the Ocho is on the far right.
The simple fact of the matter is that Cannondale's suspension division is never going to trouble the likes of Fox and RockShox when it comes to aftermarket sales or, obviously, OE spec, but that very fact also frees Cannondale up to be, well, Cannondale. ''Just like somebody loves one suspension company or another, and you're not going to convince them to go the other way. We realize that but we're also not trying to be one of the major players out there. We're trying to be Cannondale, and we're trying to be true to who we are, and we believe that our performance is going to speak for itself.''
Cannondale's main reason for going single-crown? The Ocho can fit on any modern cross-country bike, something that the Lefty 2.0, with its one-piece upper tube and crowns, couldn't do.
But why a single-crown, especially after nearly twenty years of dual-crown Leftys? Most of their reasoning comes down to compatibility: The dual-crown Lefty 2.0, the Ocho's predecessor, has its crowns integrated into the upper tube in the name of weight savings and rigidity, but that also means that a bike's headtube needs to be precisely the right length for the Lefty 2.0 to fit. Even a few millimeters too long or too short means that it's a no-go.
So even if you wanted a 2.0, it might not fit your bike. But with a single-crown design and a standard tapered steerer tube, the Ocho will go on the front of essentially any modern cross-country rig.
In other words, the potential market for the Ocho is much, much larger than it was for the limited fitting Lefty 2.0. And I'd also argue that despite the 2.0 being quite light, the dual-crown design surely put off many cross-country types. ''You couldn't put it on many bikes, and you had limited stem and headset choices, all that stuff,'' Boobar said of the Ocho's forerunner. ''And we're really working to distill down what the genuine benefits are, but put it in a package that people can really understand.''
So, can you - and do you want to - understand a single-crown, single-sided cross-country fork? It's wild looking, no doubt about that, but Boobar stressed that the Ocho's appearance is only part of the story: ''It isn't just that aesthetic. Once people get out on the Ocho, they're really going to notice the benefits out on the trail,'' he said. The fork's design, with its roller bearings and three-sided stanchion, is said to provide the advantage of no binding and exceptional rigidity, and the byproduct of the layout is that it allows Cannondale to go with the single-sided, single-crown design that's sure to turn a lot of heads and blow a few minds.
Three Ocho fork dampers being tested while each being mounted in a stanchion.
The Lefty Ocho has been under an incredible amount of secrecy during its development, with only a handful of Cannondale employees even knowing about the project. Despite the classified work being done behind closed doors, Cannondale gave us essentially unrestricted access to the Ocho, the team behind its evolution, and many of the challenges they faced while working to bring the fork to life.
Developing the Single-Sided, Single-Crown Chassis
If a company was going to come up with a single-sided, single-crown suspension fork, you know that it had to be Cannondale. After all, is there another brand of similar size that's spent as much time, effort, and resources on wild, out-of-the-box projects as Cannondale? I don't think there is. But while the Lefty Ocho is all-new from top to bottom, those decades of developing its predecessors also means that Cannondale are probably the only guys that could pull off a project like this
Steve Extance, Chief Engineer for Suspension at Cannondale, was on hand to answer my questions about the Ocho's radical chassis.
The Ocho doesn't share a single component with the Lefty 2.0 internally or externally, and both the carbon and aluminum models have been designed as a single-crown fork right from the get-go. And it turns out that Cannondale was experimenting with a single-crown version of the Lefty back in 1995, first by taking one of those 2.0 forks, lopping the top off of it, and manufacturing a hollow crown using the same method as they do for their lightweight and stiff Si (System Integration) cranks.
This early proof of concept did exactly that, proving that the idea was completely feasible thanks to the stanchion's shape, the roller bearing design, and some clever thinking.
That early prototype was all Lefty 2.0; it used a mostly standard chassis - aside from it being diced up - the four-sided stanchion tube/needle bearing system that originally made the Lefty possible, and the fork boot that it required. From there, Cannondale set to work on a fresh design, eventually going with a three-sided stanchion rather than the four-sided design that's been used in every Lefty up until now.
The only part of the new Ocho fork that Lefty fans will recognize is the tapered fork axle - it's the same size as what's on all previous Lefty forks, but it's been created via 2D-forging rather than the 3D forging used for the older Lefty forks. ''We found that actually helps the manufacturing process, and we're able to get the stanchion tube section straighter in the end,'' explained Extance.
Extance went on to give a brief, simplified description of the process: ''We bore out the entire ID; it's finish honed, and the OD is polished for a low-friction surface, and then we machine all the flats for the needle bearing races. And we've added a bunch of weight reduction cuts,'' he said, referring to the lightly scalloped sections of the stanchion. The result, he told me, is the lightest spindle and stanchion assembly that Cannondale has ever designed, and one of the lightest cross-country forks on the market.
A big reason for the Ocho's low weight is its all-new stanchion and lower tube design that Extance says is the lightest that Cannondale has ever designed. 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, and its three strips of roller bearings are actually manufactured as a single, flat piece before being rolled up and clipped together to fit inside the fork. If you've ever worked on a Lefty or Head Shok, you'll know that this captured, one-piece roller bearing setup will make the fork infinitely easier to work on.
The three-sided stanchion is said to provide a few advantages over the old four-sided tube; three strips of roller bearings weigh less than four strips, of course, and there's 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.
The three-sided stanchion rolls in and out of the upper tube on Cannondale's one-piece Delta Cage needle bearing system. No more hard to service separate bearing strips.
The single-sided, single-crown design is obviously the big talking point here, but there's another detail that's sure to raise some eyebrows: The Ocho has a (kinda) quick-release brake mount that lets you remove the caliper by turning a single, captured 5mm Hex bolt 180-degrees.
There's no backing any bolts out only for them to roll away into the ether, and the slotted mount found on older Leftys that required loosening two bolts so you could slide the mount up to get it off the fork and allow you to remove the wheel is nowhere to be seen.
Just in case the fork's wild appearance isn't polarizing enough, it's also got a quick-release brake mount instead of the Lefty 2.0's slotted system.
Turning the 5mm hex bolt in the center of the mount 180-degrees unlocks it from the fork leg. The bolt is captured, and there's no loose hardware.
With only a single fork leg, you obviously don't need to take the wheel off to fix a puncture, but the easily removable brake mount lets riders remove the wheel off if they need to put the bike inside a car or do some mechanical work, all without needing to set up the front caliper from scratch afterward. Braking actually pushes the mount onto the fork leg, too, so there shouldn't be any possible way for it to come off. Pretty clever.
The design has two main components that make it possible: The cam itself that grabs onto a small steel post on the fork lower, and two cone-shaped extensions that ensure perfect alignment every time you re-install the mount. The 5mm hex is captured on the mount itself, with the locked and unlocked positions being clearly labeled; turning the bolt to the unlocked position rotates the cam and releases the mount, and doing the opposite locks it back down onto the fork again.
Cannondale tested a bunch of different brake mount designs before settling on what they say is the most robust and easy to operate version.
On the right, you can see the posts that interface with the lower tube and ensure spot-on alignment. If you look inside the mount in the photo on the right, you can spot how the cam comes out to lock the mount onto the fork.
Neat, but it's not exactly like the Ocho needed something else to set it apart from the crowd, is it? Of course not, but Extance was quick to point out that the Ocho's removable brake mount has passed testing with flying colors, and the production version is as robust as anything else out there. It's also a component that saw a load of development, with many different versions being trialed, some of which even employed a locking button, before Cannondale settled on a simpler, easier to use, and more durable design. You can see it in action in the video below.
Inside the Ocho's Chamber Damper
While the Ocho's platform is wilder than anything we've seen since, well, the Lefty 2.0 that came before it, Cannondale took the opposite approach when they designed the fork's internals. That's a very good thing, too, because, after eighteen years of sub-par damping inside previous Lefty models, this one has to be a home run. In the past, Cannondale has either made their own dampers (that weren't great) or licensed technology from other suspension companies.
The latter approach was certainly smarter but, even then, the Lefty was never on-par with whatever fork was best in class at the time.
The new Chamber damper that's inside the Ocho features an internal floating piston, external low-speed compression and rebound, and a remote lockout.
So with the Ocho, Cannondale did two vitally important things: One, they decided to design and build a closed damper that uses a proven layout; second, they brought in Jeremiah Boobar, one of the main guys behind the Charger damper that raised the bar when it was introduced in the Pike a handful of years ago. It's no surprise that most fork manufacturers have since followed the same closed damper route, and it's even less of a surprise that Cannondale is doing the same.
But while they're using a proven damper design, Cannondale does have one big, fat challenge that Fox, RockShox, and the rest of the gang don't have to deal with: All of the Ocho's internals - both the damper and the air spring - need to be shoehorned into a single fork leg rather than the two legs everyone else gets to work with.
With effectively half as much real estate that's defined by the fork's top cap needing to clear the underside of every bike's downtube, and not wanting too much extension below the axle line, it wasn't ever going to be an easy task. ''We made every millimeter count,'' Bob Slaw, Suspension Design Engineer, explained before getting into the nitty and gritty of how his team made it happen.
''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.''
Job done, right? Well, it turned out to be much more involved than just shrinking everything down by as much as possible. The story of the damper's internal floating piston, usually an uninteresting and relatively simple component, highlights the lengths that Cannondale had to go to.
The internal floating piston is a relatively simple component, but things can get tricky when every single millimeter needs to be carefully accounted for.
First, a quick refresher: The IFP is a piston that has the damping oil on one side and gas (usually air these days) on the other. There is essentially no air in the damper, so for the damper rod to compress into the cartridge, the IFP moves and compresses the gas behind it. Not only does this allow for fluid displacement, but the gas behind the IFP also provides important back-pressure to help keep the damping oil from cavitating. This is all proven stuff that's been around for years on all sorts of vehicles, both gas and human-powered.
Proven it may be, but Slaw and his team had quite the time getting the Ocho's low-profile IFP to work as required. ''The reason it has to be that way is just to fit our space constraints,'' he said of what looks a lot like a plastic top hat.
A lot of effort was put into creating a usable, effective damping adjustment range. On the left are a handful of the different low-speed compression adjustment needles, and on the right are the different low-speed rebound needles that Slaw created. Notice the slightly different shape to the tip of each that determines the flow of oil through a small port.
The IFP grew during testing as the larger the diameter, the less it needed to move up to allow for the same displacement. The relatively massive IFP can be so big because the upper portion of both the alloy and carbon Lefty Ochos are huge, so the room was there. Slaw used it, too, and the IFP in the Ocho's production damper has roughly a 10:1 ratio, meaning that it moves around just 1mm for every 10mm for shaft movement.
Long before anything was locked-in for production, Slaw and his team discovered that the large diameter of the IFP, along with the low height requirement, was allowing it to rock ever so slightly under heavy loads.
As you probably guessed, this isn't a good thing. Damping oil was getting around the IFP, so they had to stop it from happening. It just needed more support, but they couldn't add a bushing (like you'd find in a seal head) because then it'd be too tall. And they also couldn't just use a larger outer seal as that'd add far too much friction into the system: ''We were also very diligent with how much friction we have. We wanted to keep that as low as possible because our competitors are doing that.''
A handful of different IFP designs were trialed, and they even modified a prototype damper's top cap so they could push on the IFP to induce the issue on demand. Different shapes and materials were tested, and the final, leak-proof IFP employs a funny looking top cap shape that does the job.
''There is no way we could have ended up with the same stack [height] using aluminum as we did by using Delrin,'' Slaw replied when I asked why they didn't go with metal.
The final product looks a lot like any other high-end fork damper, and that's exactly what Cannondale was going for. For a brand that's never shied away from doing things their own damn way, the damper was one area where it pays to not think too far outside the box. The way many riders look at cross-country riding and racing is changing, however, with more and more people pushing short-travel bikes harder than ever before, which surely means that many of those same riders are expecting more from their damper than someone who might not run a dropper post on their cross-country bike.
The crown-mounted dial controls low-speed compression.
''It's really hard to balance that,'' Slaw said of the task of trying to keep everyone happy. ''I think, kind of to our advantage, most of us here ride a lot of trail bikes and then downhill on the weekends, so we understand that low-speed performance that you're looking for. We did our best to put that more in the max range and have it super compliant at anything below that.''
So while there's no three-position compression switch for on-the-fly tinkering, the Ocho's crown-mounted low-speed compression dial should provide all the range required, Slaw says. ''Between what I think is optimal for a dry day, a pumpy track, somewhere where you can really pump and generate a lot of speed through your progression; that rider should be able to find something they're interested in. Then, also, a marathon rider, or someone who's spending a ridiculous amount of time in the saddle, maybe even sloppy conditions where traction is your main concern; you can dial that low-speed [compression] back and have a super supple, well-tracking fork for that day.''
While the Ocho's low-speed compression is tuneable incrementally rather than a three-position switch, it does come with a handlebar mounted lockout remote... Whether you want it or not, at least right now. It's a two-lever RockShox unit meant to mount below the handlebar, and you can't remove it as it stands right now. So, if your bike already has a remote to control the shock, and a dropper post remote, you might end up looking for room to add a third lever if you end up considering the Ocho.
Slaw designed the lockout piston to allow for as much oil flow as possible when it's in the unlocked position but to also retain some forgiveness when its locked out as pictured above.
Given that it's a pure cross-country fork with race-focused intentions, the lockout makes complete sense. ''Damping was a huge priority for this project, and we felt the only way to get the right performance, the right quality that we wanted, as well as the lockout performance we wanted, was to split it up into two pistons.'' Compression damping is done on what Cannondale calls the 'Performance Piston,' which is where you'll find the shim stack and check valve, of course, while the lockout piston sits above all that and has two jobs to do. First, it needs to firm the fork up substantially while also providing a blow-off for when I forget to unlock my fork because I'm busy suffering an anaerobic death during a race; second, it needs to allow for maximum oil flow when it's not locked out, which explains the large ports machined into it.
The Ocho's air-spring chamber sits below the damper with a Schrader valve down by the axle and a self-adjusting negative spring. Progression is tuned by adding or removing volume-reducing tokens that go on over the damper rod, so you can easily tune how much ramp-up it has.
The Little Things
While the Ocho is sure to make jaws drop from afar, a closer look reveals a few interesting details as well, including a well thought out brake hose guide that consists of three pieces. 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. Just below that is a stiff shroud that clips onto the hose, and it's just the right length to slot into the upper guide and rest in a groove at the top of the fork guard. The guard itself is the last component of the system; a small clamp on the backside of the guard grips the hose firmly.
Even the Ocho's fork guard is wild; it's a carbon fiber piece with an integrated hose clamp.
The slotted upper guide captures a stiff sheath that's pushed on over the hose and slotted into the carbon guard.
If you think that setup sounds a lot like what you'd find on an inverted motorcycle fork, you'd be bang-on. It lets the fork go through its travel and displaces the hose above the slotted guide, thereby keeping it far away from your spokes and the Ocho's lone stanchion tube. You can see how the top guide works in the video below.
The sturdy looking guard itself is also quite the thing, too. It's carbon because why not, and its shape means that it's rigid to keep it from rattling around against the fork regardless of how rough the trail is.
As wild as the Ocho looks, there are a few rather simple questions to answer here: Is the fork's three-sided stanchion and single-sided chassis torsionally rigid enough? And is the fork's air-spring and damper leaps and bounds ahead of what Cannondale has offered in the past? To find out, I've had a Lefty Ocho mounted to the front of Santa Cruz's 100mm-travel Blur for the last few months, but given that the single-crown, single-sided fork sticks out like a cross-country bandit at Crankworx, I've had to be a bit sneaky about it.
Cannondale supplied a trick, 3D-printed extension that clamped under the stem and extended down to the top of the Ocho, an add-on that, at least from a few feet away, had the Ocho looking very much like a run of the mill Lefty 2.0. It even had dials at the top that you could turn; they were obviously not attached to anything, but the stealth setup tricked more than a few passerbys.
The Ocho's chassis is as precise as any other cross-country fork, and its Chamber damper is top notch.
Disguises aside, I'm guessing that you want to know how the Ocho performs. A long term review is almost complete, but for now, I can tell you that yes, the Ocho is more than torsionally rigid enough, and comparable, if a smidge stiffer, than the likes of the 32 Step Cast and the SID World Cup. I'll also tell you that the new Chamber damper is as good as anything else on the market right now, which means that it's light-years ahead of anything Cannondale has used in the past. This is also underlined by the fact that the Lefty 2.0 will be put out to pasture after this model year, with it being replaced in the catalog by the Ocho.
I'm currently putting together my final thoughts and notes on the Ocho's performance, so you can expect a long-term review in the near future.
In the meantime, tell us what you make of Cannondale's single-sided, single-crown suspension fork... Is it too different for you, or do you care what it looks like so long as the performance is there?