The rolling unpaved roads of Vermont offer the ride experiences Cannondale recognize people are seeking out more than ever before. A beautiful ride on a gorgeous late spring day from Ted King’s quintessentially Vermont home with a red barn to the rustic Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe was a natural fit for a first ride on the new Topstone. The carbon gravel bike pairs the American bike manufacturers experience building WorldTour race bikes, comfortable endurance bikes, and fast dual suspension mountain bikes for a fun, versatile and comfortable ride.

Photo: Meg McMahon

The Topstone gets a carbon makeover

After adding an alloy Topstone to the line-up in summer 2018, Cannondale has unveiled a feature heavy carbon version of their all-road gravel bike. The Topstone Carbon expands Cannondale’s offerings of bikes designed to handle the roughest roads thanks to the frame’s geometry, handling characteristics and the ability to accommodate high-volume grippy rubber.

The new Topstone has dropped seatstays and sculpted carbon frame unlike the more straight traditional tubing found on the alloy model of the Topstone released last year. The most radical addition to the bike is the new Kingpin suspension system which provides 30 mm of travel on the rear of the bike to improve traction and comfort.

Photo: Meg McMahon

Ride smoother with the Kingpin

The dropped seat stays are one of the most noticeable characteristics of the bike. At the junction of the seat stays and the seatpost is a thru-axle sealed bearing pivot that delivers 30 mm of travel with 25 per cent of that coming at the rear axle. This helps the bike feel more grounded and stable on rough roads keeping traction and control in tricky situations.

“Our goal was to design the smoothest all-road riding bike. At the heart of that is the new Kingpin suspension system,” David Devine, product director at Cannondale. “It’s the first full-frame leaf spring design suspension system on a bike incorporating flex in the chainstays seat stays, seat tube and top tube to really provide travel seated and movement at the axle for traction.”

For the KingPin system to be effective, Cannondale engineered flex zones into the Topstone’s rear stays, the seat tube and the rear of the top tube. The LockR Pivot thru-axle ensures the two seat stays move together and not independently.

The system is custom tuned for the various frame sizes. Cannondale have layed up the carbon and dialled the tube dimensions for the five frame sizes to deliver the right amount of suspension flex and frame stiffness for riders of various sizes. It’s part of what Cannondale calls the Proportional Response construction.

The bearings and hardware for the KingPin system are the same as are found on the Cannondale Habit dual-suspension trail bike. This should facilitate maintenance for shops if it’s ever needed but the system is meant to be maintenance free with no additional set up required.

One question I immediately had on seeing this bike was why it didn’t also have front suspension. Cannondale envisions the Topstone pushing the boundaries of road riding experiences rather than being a dedicated off-road bike.

“I think we have done front suspension bikes before that trend towards off-road riding. Here we were designing a bike that can be a more utility oriented bike that fits more into that traditional road riding experience of pavement and gravel but that can push a little bit into singletrack,” Devine explained.

Endless riding possibilities

Apart from the smoother ride with better traction on adventure rides, the Topstone is equipped for long distance riding with mounts for a front rack and accessory storage on the top tube. There are also mounting eyelets on the inside and outside the fork legs. Want to ride in the wet? You can mount fenders too. Internal cable routing keeps everything clean and the Topstone is ready to be accessorized with a dropper seat post for more rowdy rides if you want.

The geometry of the Topstone follows the cues of the Synapse endurance road bike with a taller stack and shorter reach to put you in a more upright and comfortable position. Using OutFront Steering Geometry, Cannondale have positioned the wheel farther in front of the rider increasing the trail and wheel base for greater stability.

The Topstone is also ready to accept 650b x 48 mm wheels if 700c x 40 mm won’t quite suit your riding. The Speed Release thru-axles make wheel swaps quieter and easier. At the bottom bracket, Cannondale continue to use their BB30 and the wheels have Ai (Asymmetric Integration) which offsets the rear hub and drivetrain by 6 mm to the right.

The new Cannondale sensor developed in partnership with Garmin comes with the upper spec’ed models of the Topstone.

New gadgets

New for Cannondale is a wheel sensor that was developed in partnership with Garmin. The wheel, sensor which sits near the front wheel hub attached to the spokes, provides more accurate speed, route and distance information. It automatically stores this information even if you haven’t paired it with a device or the Cannondale App. Pairing the new Garmin Edge 530 with the Cannondale sensor was very straight forward initiated by simply spinning the wheel.

VR on the Cannondale App provides details on all the part numbers of cable routing on the bike. Photo: Meg McMahon

Speaking of the app, you can register your bike for warranty and then use it to track your riding or keep up with maintenance. New features include embedded Park Tool videos for specific maintenance procedures. Even neater, you can hold up your phone and point it at the bike to get a virtual reality experience where you can see the internal hardware, cable routing and specific part numbers of all the components on your bike. Fun to play with but also very helpful if you need to replace a part, grease a bearing or you need some guidance as a DIY home mechanic.

Models

The new Topstone Carbon is available in a range of models. At the top end of the line is a SRAM Force eTap AXS with a HollowGram 22 Carbon wheelset and the new speed sensor which carries a $8,000 price tag. The Shimano Ultegra RX version with HollowGram 22 Carbon wheels is available at $5,000. There’s a women’s and men’s version with Ultegra RX and WTB wheels listed at $4,200. The Shimano 105 model is $3,200. The bikes are available in Cannondale distributors now.

From Ted’s to Trapp’s

Our backroad tour of Vermont started from Ted King’s home outside of Burlington. The route took us past the sugar shack where sap is boiled down into maple syrup before it’s turned into an array of UnTapped maple products. We hit some flowy single track, extensive sections of gravel, double track through a field with tarmac in between before the tough gravel climb to the Trapp Family Lodge. From there we headed out for an hour of riding on some proper Appalachian rock and rooty mountain bike trails.

The bike is really capable on gravel. The 37 mm tires and Kingpin absorbed the jolts and bumps of the uneven surface as intended. The sensation of feeling more contact between my rear wheel and the rough stuff allowed me to ride with more confidence. I got out of the saddle on climbs without the hesitation that I might lose rear wheel traction. When I sat back down, my backside was taken care of because of the 30 mm of travel which when weighted with my body weight wasn’t bouncy but definitely provided a smoother ride.

Where I felt the Kingpin shone the most was at speed on gravel descents. On one freshly graded road, I sped down a steep descent without hesitation when I otherwise would have needed to be far more cautious. In the loose gravel, the bike stayed remarkably grounded. On the road, I didn’t sense there was any pedal bounce from the suspension.

On single track, the Topstone was a blast to speed through technical sections and over bumpy roots. The bike felt extremely capable on trails where we saw a number of mountain bikers on full suspension rigs. For an hour it was a ton of fun to push its boundaries. Over roots and rocks, the rear wheel stayed well grounded when I needed it to be.

My first riding experience on the Topstone was perfect. Led by a local along back roads and pristine trails, it was thrilling to make the transition from gravel to single track and back to the pavement without worrying about what the bike was capable of. The steep final climb to the Trapp Family Lodge definitely tested the limits of my climbing form but once at the top there was no doubt that I would say yes when someone suggested we hit the trails behind the lodge. After all, the Topstone is a bike begging to keep being ridden, anywhere.

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