Riding on “Hero Dirt” With the Cannondale Habit

After a two-day downpour, Park City trails were rife with a tacky surface known as “hero dirt” — a perfect surfaces for mountain bike testing.

On the East Coast, two days of heavy rain will make an already rocky, rooty, muddy trail — which I have been riding this summer on a fully rigid fatbike — into absolute soup. Yet, in Park City, Utah, where rain isn’t a regular occurrence, a two-day downpour on the trails creates a tacky surface known as “hero dirt” — which fills the air with the sweet smells of artemisia, lupine and conifers. This was the setting for testing the latest mountain bike from Cannondale, the 2016 Habit. One could argue that riding anything that weighs less than 30 pounds, with any kind of suspension, would be a dream — especially in top-notch conditions. I took to the mountain to find out.

With the climate of the mountain bike industry moving more towards the middle — with 27.5 wheels, plus tires, and downhill bikes that can climb — the Habit fits right in as a cross-country feeling all-mountain bike that can drop. This happens for a few reasons. First, the geometry simply works. The Habit’s balance points from the standard 760mm-wide bars allowed me to make cleaner turns with more stability. The 68-degree head angle, coupled with a travel of 120mm, gave me confidence in steep switchbacks. I have heard of people having to adjust to the solo Lefty fork for the first time, but I didn’t find this to be an issue. I simply didn’t look at my fork when I rode and kept my eyes where they should be: ahead on the trail. The Habit’s carbon wheels only lightened the load on the climbs, (which I tried to start from a standstill). The Habit just went up, often without me having to use the RockShox Xloc Full Sprint. But all this was to be expected just reading the specs.

A series of jumps seemed like the perfect way to begin my final run of the day — and if I crashed, it would be.

What wasn’t expected was Jason Moeschler’s downhill victory at the Downieville Classic on a Habit, which couldn’t have been better if it was planned, just days before the Habit’s release. This might be one of the reasons why Cannondale had this test at a Deer Valley bike park, where lifts take riders to the top and gravity brings them down.

Sometime after lunch, I glanced at a row of table tops off in the distance. It was the new Tidal Wave trail built by Gravity Logic, and it had been closed for maintenance in the morning. In the afternoon, though, they opened it up. A series of jumps seemed like the perfect way to begin my final run of the day — and if I crashed, it would be. This is where the rear RockShox Monarch came in handy and that 120mm of travel proved ample for landing jumps. I came down safely and securely, the Habit proving it could handle steep descents, climbs and everything technical in between.

I’ve been back on the East Coast and back on the fatbike since my Utah trip. It felt a bit awkward having to reign in my movements to not upset the powerful fatbike understeer. I missed the Habit’s versatility — the lightness in climbing, the proficiency in the downhill. Even on the tight, bumpy trails of the East, the Habit would be fantastic. And while not everyone can enjoy the Habit on a lift park, for all intents and purposes — not just those glorified “hero dirt” Utah moments — the average mountain biker who climbs as much as descends, the Habit comes in as a deal, not a compromise.

The Habit hits stores mid September. Pricing varies between $1,950 and $12,250.

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