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You don’t exactly want a cyclocross bike, and endurance road bikes aren’t burly enough for your dirt excursions. You fit into the very narrow slice of the market for which Cannondale created this aluminum-framed, 27.5-inch-wheeled bike. Oh, and you didn’t really want a front derailleur either, right? The Slate Force CX1 has carved out a whisker-thin niche, and we’re not so sure its versatility makes sense.
Overall, road feel is smooth and pretty quick, even though the Slate has those small wheels. The frame shares the same SmartFormed 6069 aluminum tubes as the cult classic CAAD12 and a BB30A, which makes the bike responsive when you step on the gas. And it certainly fits like a nice, neutral road bike (545-millimeter top tube, 134-millimeter head tube in size M), which is great for long days of pedaling. But good luck keeping up on a fast group ride with that single-ring drivetrain. Even with a 44-tooth ring and a 10-tooth cog, the Slate falls short of a compact-chainring 50/11-tooth combo by nearly four gear inches, and the jumps between the SRAM cassette cogs can be as great as six teeth.
The 42-millimeter Panaracer slicks are a big (literally) reason for the Cannondale’s quickness, but at recommended pressures (35-40psi), they offer weird cornering feel on pavement. The tires are neither here nor there, delivering little in the way of grip on loose dirt, which leaves us wondering if they’re actually good at anything.
The Lefty Oliver Carbon fork is another component choice aimed at the adventure set. Its 30 millimeters of travel helps take the edge off, but it seems unnecessary, and we sometimes smacked our left knee on the fork crown (usually on a steep, loose climb, when the Panaracers failed to grip).
Cannondale’s Tim Johnson calls the Slate “the Swiss Army Knife of road bikes.” Do you really want to dress a deer with a folding knife? Isn’t that can-opener a nuisance? That’s not to say the Slate isn’t a fun, versatile bike. It just seems like a complicated design that tries to do too much for a very specific person. But maybe you’re that person.
Note: Cannondale recently issued a recall on the Slate’s rims. Read more >>
Component highlights: SRAM Force 1 drivetrain and hydraulic brakes; Lefty Oliver fork with 30 millimeters of travel; Slate Disc rims laced to Formula 142×12-millimeter hub