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Photo: Meg Mcmahon

First Ride Review: Cannondale’s Topstone gravel bike

Cannondale takes a unique approach to full-suspension gravel with a leaf-spring system.

STOWE, Vermont (VN) – Cannondale has completely revamped its gravel bike, the Topstone, for 2019 with the addition of rear suspension. The company claims its suspension provides 30mm of travel when seated in the saddle. This new rear suspension damper where the seat stays meet the seat tube is one of the first of its kind. Before you draw quick comparisons to Niner’s take on full-suspension gravel, take in the Topstone as a unique beast.

A different bike

Cannondale was of one of the last major brands to enter the gravel market and did so with a three-bike lineup of aluminum frames — all for $2,000 or less. It was gravel on a budget, but with the market ballooning exponentially every year, especially in the U.S., Cannondale has gone the high-end route. All bikes in the new lineup cost more than the previous top model Topstone.

The dropper post that came with each of Cannondale’s previous Topstone models is gone too, but each seat tube is dropper-post-ready if you would like to add your own.

The rigs come ready for an adventure with room for 700x40mm tires. Wider tires are possible, but Cannondale cannot recommend such in order to meet clearance regulation standards. New Topstones also have mounts for three water bottles and an additional mount on the top tube for a snack pack. There are mounts for fenders and a front rack too.

New Suspension

Cannondale has dubbed the new suspension system on the Topstone “Kingpin Suspension.” It is a leaf spring system and Cannondale claims the absorption of the mechanism is equivalent to a 9mm wider tire.

Due to the flex point being situated where the seat stays and seat tube meet, a sitting rider uses more of the 30mm of travel than a standing rider would. As a small rider myself, I had an issue with activating the suspension when I was setting the bike up in a parking lot, which caused me some initial worry. More on that in a moment.

The Kingpin system is also firm enough that it is not very noticeable when out of the saddle climbing or full-speed sprinting. That’s a benefit and a drawback, depending on your riding style.

Cannondale says they tested multiple variations of the Kingpin suspension and found 30mm of travel to be just right. That’s based on consumer feedback that found more suspension to be inappropriate for the application.

The system does not include a lockout feature.

The Topstone lineup

Gravel riding and racing are booming in the U.S. and abroad. Cannondale seems to have banked on this trend continuing in its upward trajectory.

The top of the line Topstone costs a hefty $6,500. It comes with SRAM’s new 12-speed Force eTap AXS with a 2x drivetrain. Considering the common 1x spec on mountain bikes and mostly cyclocross bikes, it is interesting none of the Topstones offered come with a 1x setup.

The next step down is the Shimano Ultegra RX 2 mechanical build, which comes in two versions. The two models at the Ultegra RX 2 level are $4,000 and $3,200 respectively; both models come with hydraulic disc brakes. A women’s version of the Ultegra RX 2 with mechanical disc brakes is also available for $3,200.

The entry-level  Topstone comes with a Shimano 105 groupset and costs $2,700.

All Shimano-equipped Topstones come standard with a 46/30 crankset and an 11-34 cassette. The top-tier SRAM rig has a 46/33 crankset and a 10-33 cassette.

Also, the frame has been designed with a relaxed geometry and the stack and reach dimensions are similar to Cannondale’s Synapse. The bikes are available in x-small (48cm), small (51cm), medium (55cm), large (58cm), x-large (61cm).

Topstone First Ride

VeloNews had the pleasure of testing the top-tier Topstone with SRAM Force eTap AXS on the paved and gravel roads just outside Burlington, Vermont. Our gravel ride started from Ted King’s home and, yes, he does have a classic Vermont red barn.

Most noticeable from our adventure into the Vermont wilderness was the gearing. With a 2x drivetrain, the gearing ratio allowed us to spin up any climb. We even took the bike onto a bit of hilly single track and had no issues spinning over rocks and roots.

The Kingpin suspension wasn’t too noticeable on the gravel roads, but when hitting the occasional pothole, the system helped by providing less of an impact on the lower back, as the system did its job for the rear wheel. This is a subtle system, as it was intended to be. If Cannondale’s hopes were to create a suspension system that addresses the needs of gravel riders, rather than adapting a system from the mountain bike world, this certainly fits the bill. But we’ll need far more time on our home roads to determine whether the leaf-spring system activates enough on rough terrain, especially for lighter riders like myself.

After just a single ride, I felt satisfied with the new Topstone, but is the top-tier model worth the price tag? Dropping $6,000 on a gravel bike is a considerable chunk of money, and you can save a couple thousand dollars by simply getting mechanical shifting instead of electronic. But if you’re a racer, the high-zoot build kit doesn’t disappoint and would find itself right at home among its fiercest competitors at Dirty Kanza.

Cannondale provided airfare and accommodation for VeloNews to attend the launch of its new Topstone lineup.