Cannondale’s new Topstone Carbon is perfect for your summer plans, even if they change


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For our first ride on the new Cannondale Topstone in Aspen, Colorado, our hosts planned a short and easy ride.

We leave town on the trail east of Aspen, an unpaved multipurpose trail that runs parallel to Highway 82, also known as Independence Pass. After a few miles, the trail ends and riders can continue up to the top of the pass at 12,000 feet. This is not our goal for today, so we turn around and head back to the city.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

Read also: The updated Cannondale Topstone received an updated suspension and improved geometry.

However, Aspen is the first place I’ve ever lived in Colorado and every time I’m here I’m overcome with nostalgia, longing and an insatiable supply of energy so I can’t help it. I subvert the jolt:

“Let’s go to Bella!”

It turns out it’s not that hard to convince a group of cycling journalists and the cycling industry to go from a six-mile run to a 20-mile round trip to a turquoise lake nestled under two iconic Colorado fourteen-year-old cyclists.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

And while we ride Topstone Carbon gravel bikes—full suspension, some with Lefty Oliver forks, and some rigid—neither bikes nor riders are put off by the change of plans. Like summer itself, the possibilities on this bike are endless.

Topstone Carbon 2.0

The new Topstone, actually released in April, is the latest in an interesting evolution of suspension gravel bikes from Cannondale.

In 2016, the Connecticut-based brand released the Slate, a bike that lead engineer Darius Shekari called “ahead of its time.”

“I was very excited about this bike,” he said. “It came into the market and people didn’t really understand it, but it also reached out to the market because it was the first drop-beam suspension bike. Now, seven or eight years later, suspension is making its way onto the gravel scene.”

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

In 2019, Cannondale released the first Topstone, which ranked above the Slate as a more advanced gravel bike: it was available in carbon, had a new integrated rear suspension design called Kingpin, could accommodate wider tires, and also replaced the old Crown Lefty dual fork with version with one crown.

The latest iteration of Topstone is even more updated. The Kingpin pendant is back but weighs 100g less. The system is built around a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube that allows the entire rear of the frame to flex for comfort and traction without compromising the road.

Cannondale’s Lefty Oliver gravel suspension bikes fit 700 x 45mm or 650b x 2.1″ tires.

And, to make the bike even more customizable for the rider, the new Topstone features a traditional wheel plate and BSA threaded bottom bracket, making it easy to change to a different wheelset or crankset.

Adventurers will find plenty of bag and bottle mounts on the Topstone (including on the fork of non-Lefty bikes), as well as a StrapRack tool holder on the down tube.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

For riders who need visibility on the road, the SmartSense handlebar, taillight and radar use a single battery hidden under the StrapRack.

Cannondale offers nine different standard versions of the Topstone; seven are fitted to 700c wheels and two are fitted to 650b wheels.

I tested the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty with Shimano GRX 800 mechanical shifting and dropper post. My bike did not have SmartSense.

The road is ready

At this stage in the evolution of the gravel bike category, we don’t have to sacrifice on-road pedaling efficiency for the ultimate in dirt and trail fun. The bikes are so good.

So, while Cannondale has a SuperSix EVO option for lighter/faster/racing gravel, I still found the Topstone to effectively cover miles of road, even with the Lefty Oliver fork adding an extra kilo of weight. And then, of course, the descents were much more fun.

Halfway through our climb up Maroon Creek Road to visit Maroon Bells, I block a fork, though I didn’t notice it either. Super stable under me. Shekari told us earlier that the lack of suspension wobble is due to the high compression damping.

“The circuit immediately opens on impact,” he said.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

Likewise, the Kingpin’s built-in suspension is thin enough that you won’t notice any sag or slosh on the road, but it kicks in immediately if you hit a bump or uneven ground.

The Topstone Kingpin suspension works around a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube, allowing the entire rear of the frame to flex. In addition, the chainstays are quite wide and flat, which also contributes to the vertical flex.

We all make it to the Bells in time, marveling at how alive the bikes feel on the paved climb. Even with the lefty locked down, I don’t feel like I’m bouncing on a pseudo-suspension. The pedaling platform is smooth and efficient, and best of all, when climbing out of the saddle, the rear of the bike doesn’t feel floating or like I have a flat tire.

Oohing and gasping at the triangular peaks, we all climb the eight-mile descent back into town. A tawny fox trying to decide whether or not to cross the road at one point makes me slam on the brakes, making me realize how fast I’m going.

Grind hard

The day after we take the road to the Bells, we will take the Topstones on a real gravel and solo track tour near Woody Creek (famous to Hunter S. Thompson), where we can really test its full potential.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

This is my fourth long ride on the Topstone and I can attest to how effortlessly it transitions between pavement and dirt. Even with Vittoria Mezcal 44c tires, I ride consistently.

Somehow this bike doesn’t feel sluggish when going uphill despite its mountain bike traits – tires, fork, rear suspension.

We climb up to the tiny town of Lenado on a freshly leveled red-iron dirt road. My test bike has a mechanical shifter – Shimano GRX 800 – which actually seems like a novelty in the age of constant charging. It works flawlessly.

We reach the summit after a few miles of easy climbing and have a snack by the river. Then up and over Tinpot, a trail I’ve only ever ridden on a mountain bike. Topstones take on the singletrack like a fish in water. Tinpot is a 2.4 mile climb to about 1200 feet. There are a few climbs up and over small rock gardens, it’s a steady climb and narrow in places so I rate it a 7/10.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

However, riding a bike is a pleasure, and all the time riding a bike requires gritting your teeth. This qualifies as the first.

The descent from the top of Tinpot is a bumpy double track, and here I finally let Lefty go. The front and rear suspension absorb the impact of a child’s head and allow me to release the brakes a little less than if I were riding a stiff hard bike.

I’m nowhere near as free as Alex Howes, who quickly becomes a tiny pink dot on the horizon as he descends, but I’m definitely not captured.

(Photo: @whittonfeer)

Although my bike has a dropper, I tried it but didn’t like it. It just doesn’t feel like it adds anything to the experience. Suspension on gravel bikes = yes. Droppers = mech.

Back in Aspen, we return along the Rio Grande bike path back to the Woody Creek Tavern to complete the circuit and have lunch. We effectively connected paved bike path, dirt bike path, paved road, dirt road and single track on this ride, and Topstone felt right at home on any surface.

In a way, this type of riding epitomizes the best thing about summer—the endless possibilities. The roads are open, the trails are open, the gravel is there too. If you’re lucky, you can connect them all for an off-road adventure. Topstone will comply.

Prices for Topstone Carbon

Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty: $7800 (SRAM Force AXS XPLR, Hollowgram 22 wheels)
Topstone Carbon 1 RLE*: $7,800

Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty: $4200 (Shimano GRX 800 dropper option)
Topstone Carbon 2L**: $4200 (Shimano GRX 800)

Topstone Carbon 3L: $3,300
Topstone Carbon 3L: $3300 (650 baht)
Topstone Carbon 3: $3,300
Topstone Carbon 3: $3300 (650 baht)

Topstone Carbon 4: $2800 (Shimano GRX 400)

*RLE stands for SmartSense system equipped with both radar and lights.
**L means the model has ONLY SmartSense headlights, but no radar, which can be added later.

Topstone Carbon is available in sizes XS-XL.

Full specifications, parts, color options and more are available on the Cannondale website.

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