A Powerful Motor Is Hardly the Most Exciting Thing about This New Gravel E-Bike

The Cannondale Topstone Neo offers a democratizing combo of power and performance, as our tester learned when his parents saddled up alongside him.

Brand: Cannondale
Product: Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 1
Release Date: May 27, 2020
Price: $9,000
From: cannondale.com

Last weekend I went for a long ride, connecting a web of dirt roads around my rural county. Spinning knobby gravel tires for roughly two-and-a-half hours, I escaped the constant noise of current events and sweated out some stress. With my phone on airplane mode and a few snacks in my top tube bag, I was temporarily free.

The difference between last weekend’s 40-mile loop and previous weekend rides? My parents came along – and set the tempo.

For context, both of my parents are retired and in their mid-60s. They’re both healthy, in that they do a fair bit of gardening and on most days hike a mile or two, but well past the days of endurance workouts. The opposite is true for me. I’m an avid runner and cyclist, still seeing improvements in my early 30s. The equalizer? An e-bike of course. 

Before your inner skeptic starts yelling, hear me out. E-bike complaints are always the same chorus. “They go too fast, rip up trails, and push out of the way,” followed by “it’s cheating, you don’t even get a workout” and crescendoing with “they are noisy, big and dangerous!”

The problem with this angry ballad is that it’s far from the truth. All bikes can rip up trails, there is strong evidence to suggest you can get the same workout on an e-bike, and new models are nearly inaudible. Also, e-bikes are just damn fun. This becomes clear the moment you jump on one. 

On our Sunday ride, my parents both rode a new Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 1 from Cannondale. It’s an electric pedal-assist bike built for gravel and allowed our family to get outside together, helping us bond and exercise, two good things that seem especially critical these days. 

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What We Like

The Topstone Neo Carbon has a lot going for it, starting with its Lefty fork, an iconic Cannondale feature. After riding it for the last few weeks – about 100 miles – I’ve grown progressively fond of its versatility. When locked out. the Lefty is stiff and great at climbing and when open it adds 30mm (a bit more than an inch) of travel, noticeably softening rough roads. Combined with a KingPin suspension in the rear (which also has 30mm of travel), the Topstone Neo provides comfort and traction on all surfaces.

I’m also a big fan of the drivetrain, a Bosch motor and battery that runs for about 50 miles, depending how hard you push it. The bike has room for large tires (stock is 42c, wider than most), a dropper post, and lots of gear mounts. Paired with a SRAM Eagle groupset with a 500 percent gear range, the Topstone Neo is great for riding on pavement and loose, steep climbs, too. Overall, this bike pushes the gravel category closer to the mountain world.

Watch Out For

There are three obvious trade-offs with the Topstone Neo. First, it’s not light. My $9,000 build is 43 pounds, without water, bike bags or other accessories. (Cannondale offers two lower price point options as well: the $6,500 Neo Carbon 2 and $5,800 Lefty 3). Also, due to larger tires, the top speed isn’t quite what my non-electric gravel bike can descend at. Last, when set on high power, the battery drains quite quickly, which can get you into trouble if you’re not paying attention.

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Just over an inch of front and rear travel make going airborne more fun than frantic.

Other Options

There are a few e-gravel bikes already on the market, including Pinarello’s Dyodo Grevil ($4,500) Giant’s Revolt E+ Pro ($4,200), and my personal favorite, the Creo SL from Specialized. The bikes from Pinarello and Giant are notably lighter than the Topstone Neo, but don’t offer the same comfort or traction. The Creo is the only one of the four with a custom motor and battery, making it the lightest and the longest range — but also the priciest, ranging from $6,500 at the low end to $13,500 at the top. 

Verdict

In just a few weeks of testing I’ve taken the Topstone Neo a lot of places. We’ve ridden flowy singletrack, cruised 10 miles into town and back to pick up groceries, and gone on long dirt rides with my parents. For our neck of the woods, where nearly all of the roads are gravel and laden with potholes, it’s perfect. For other areas, maybe less so. Like any bike it depends on the type of riding you enjoy and have out your front door. Set at a reasonable price point for a high-quality carbon build, the new Topstone Neo has a rugged design and build for heavy users – people who want to get out and play hard.

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Cannondale provided this product for review.

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