Cannondale bikes are known for their funky dimensions, single-sided forks and stand-out-of-the-crowd sort of designs. Their engineers joke that, despite the commentary, they don’t sit around and pick weird designs just for fun; instead, they are committed to challenging the capabilities of bikes (as well as riders’ expectations) of where they can go.
One rip on the new Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty proves the Cannondale team is onto something. This bike integrates up to 30mm of suspension in the front and the rear of the bike, absolutely changing the game when it comes to innovating gravel comfort and capability.
What makes the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty different than other bikes?
Gravel riders know that feeling comfortable and grounded on slippery gravel is a tough task. Between loose switchbacks, singletrack or standing up over the top of the hill, it makes a huge difference when you can feel confident in your bike's traction. The suspension systems on the Topstone add as much traction as a tire that's 9mm wider with lower pressure, giving riders the opportunity to run faster rolling, smaller tires while benefiting from the traction they truly could only dream of before this bike.
In front, the Lefty Oliver fork is nearly imperceptible until you need it; on the road, Oliver feels stiff and snappy. As soon as the front end hits a rough patch, Oliver engages, notably softening the ride. One minor downside of the Lefty is the need for Cannondale’s Lefty specific hub and the learning curve associated with figuring out how to properly remove the front wheel. At the end of the day though, it’s a pretty minor downside for some extra squish and comfort.
In the rear, Cannondale created a system called Kingpin: a single pivot-point where the seat stay and seat tube connect. The frame around the Kingpin pivot capitalizes on the flexible nature of the carbon, providing up to 30mm of rear suspension as the carbon flexes, using the frame itself as the spring. The result is a bike that seriously dampens chatter and maintains impressive traction while still providing a quick snappiness. Washboards and gravel are smoother, pedaling is easier and slippery corners are a place to pick up speed instead of slam on the brakes.
In addition, the Topstone uses a Proportional Response construction which changes the layup and stiffness of the carbon based on the size of the bike, meaning any size bike and any rider will feel the benefits of the design. The result of this innovation is a ridiculously fun bike that sticks where you want it. The Topstone is built for riders who are on the lookout for 'Pavement Ends' signs, riders who can’t help but take the singletrack home and riders who want all the offroad fun, plus the ability to fly on the pavement.
Cannondale's Topstone comes with premium components
The Topstone Carbon 2 comes with the Shimano GRX 11 speed gravel groupset, the DownLow dropper post, and WTB wheels rounding out a series of strategic choices which keep the price tag relatively low and the adventure factor high. At $4,250 — still a pretty penny, but less than half of other gravel bikes — the Topstone comes in swinging, ready to hang with anyone in the field.
The Topstone flaunts 44mm tires with clearance for 700x45mm or 27.5x2.1” and 6mm of mud-shedding clearance on each side. New to the Topstone Carbon 2, Cannondale uses a standard dish rear wheel for added versatility.
The Topstone prioritizes safety
For a significant bump in road safety, Cannondale offers an impressive add-on called SmartSense. This system utilizes a removable, single source battery pack which connects to mounted lights and a rear-facing Garmin radar, built to intelligently alert cars of oncoming riders, and vice versa. SmartSense eliminates any fiddling with lights or surprise dead batteries, making it easier to leave worries behind and enjoy the ride.
Choosing to opt out of SmartSense still has its perks. Cannondale added in a clever StrapRack tool-holder which offers a compartment for snacks or tools in the place of a SmartSense battery. The Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty comes stock with StrapRack while the Carbon 1 RLE comes stock with SmartSense.
The Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty: The Verdict
In testing this bike, we ripped up big road climbs, hopped over logs, rode through creeks and rallied down sketchy dirt roads, jumping on little lips and maintaining unprecedented traction in the bumpy corners. The engineers grinned as we told them again, “Damn, this thing really does absolutely rip.” For riders looking for a hidden gem in the world of gravel that can match their stoke on every ride, the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty could be the answer.