From Transition, Cannondale, Oakley, Muc-Off and Mobi
Last year Cannondale launched the budget Topstone with an aluminium frame, and this year it has launched the Topstone with a carbon frame and a radical new Kingpin rear suspension design providing 30mm of compliance to deliver a gravel bike it intends to provide the “smoothest and most capable ride.”
The new bike has all the hallmarks of the original Topstone. It’ll fit 700x42mm and 650x48mm tyres, has internal cable routing and lots of mounts for additional water bottles, racks and mudguards. There are disc brakes, obviously, but it has embraced Mavic’s SpeedRelease 12mm thru-axle for easier and speedier wheel changes.
From there it gets a bit different. It has a carbon fibre frame and fork, obviously, and your eye has probably been drawn to the rear triangle. Here Cannondale has developed what it calls the Kingpin suspension system, a combination of specially shaped tube profiles for the top tube, seat tube and chainstays, in conjunction with a thru-axle connecting the seatstays to the seat tube, all intended to provide up to 30mm of compliance.
The system essentially works as a leaf spring. The seat tube bows under impacts and the axle at the seat tube and seatstays junction increases the amount of rotation in the rear triangle and means the seat tube can bend more than it would if the stays were fixed to the seat tube. It works in combination with the SAVE seatpost which also bends under loads.
“Kingpin utilizes a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube that allows engineered flex zones in the rear stays, the seat tube, and even the rear portion of the top tube to deflect more than they ever could with a fixed-stay design. This offers riders smooth, progressive compliance without the weight and complexity of a shock, pivots and linkages,” explains Cannondale.
Cannondale has given the new Topstone Carbon size-specific carbon layup and tube profiles with Proportional Response across the five sizes. The geometry, called Endurance Fit, is the same as the alloy Topstone and not a million miles away from the Synapse endurance road bike.
Like that previous Topstone, there are mounts of all sorts of accessories ensuring it’s as versatile as a modern gravel and adventure bike needs to be. There are fittings for mudguards, a front rack, extra water bottles and a top tube bag. It’s also compatible with a dropper seatpost.
The Topstone Carbon range will include five bikes priced from £2,099 to £4,799. The top-end model gets SRAM Force eTap AXS in a 2x flavour - there is no 1x option yet - with Cannondale’s snazzy Hollogram integrated handlebar and stem and new Hollowgram 22 carbon wheels. Tyres are 37mm wide WTB Riddlers across the range.
There’ll also be Ultegra RX, Ultegra RX 2, and a 105 version as well as a Women’s Ultegra RX 2. Men’s Topstone Carbons will range in size from XS, S, M, L, XL, and the women’s bike will be available in XS, S, M.
The Topstone Carbon is also the latest bike in the company’s range to integrate the new wheel sensor it developed with Garmin and first debuted on the Treadstone urban bike a few months ago. The small wheel-mounted sensor automatically records rides with speed, distance and time, with a 900-hour memory enough for more than 30 days of riding, and a battery that lasts a year.
The sensor connects to the Cannondale app where a plethora of services await, from sharing your ride to getting personal health reminders and also providing warranty registration, bike servicing reminders, fit and setting details and much more. It can also connect to other sensors and be paired with Garmin and other computers.
How does it ride?
cannondale topstone carbon dirt roads.JPG, by Dave Arthur
It’s fast and comfortable, on the road on the graded dirt roads I tested the new bike around Vermont, the backdrop to the worldwide launch. The ride was insufficient in distance to really get to know the bikes, so full assessment will wait until we get our hands on a bike for a longer term test on more familiar roads and trails, but first impressions point to a bike that is indeed as smooth and capable as Cannondale set out to create.
There’s a big question marking hanging over the durability of the Kingpin system but it did appear to provide not only more comfort but also more control on some of the rougher surfaces I pedalled the bike over. Despite the undernourished 37mm wide tyres, the comfort was a highlight of the ride with the Topstone Carbon appearing to smooth out the imperfections well, whilst also dealing with bigger impacts.
I’ve ridden many gravel and adventure bikes with different frame materials and size tyres, and it’s clear despite the brevity of this first ride, the Topstone Carbon delivers very good seated comfort, more than simply increasing the tyre size and dropping the tyre pressure, something which can then compromising rolling speed and handling back on the road.
One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to swing my leg over this bike again for a more in-depth review. Watch this space.
David has been a tech editor on road.cc since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.