Cannondale

Kyle's First Ride Impressions of the 2016 Cannondale Habit Carbon 3

This past Saturday, I finally had the chance to take out the shop's Demo 2016 Cannondale Habit Carbon 3. After a quick stop at Mr. J's Bagels in Harrisonburg, my buddies and I headed out to the the George Washington National Forest to ride the iconic Lookout Trail. The mix of road and rocky single track was going to be the perfect testing ground for the Habit.

We met another friend at the Wild Oak parking lot and after a few minutes of debating how to dress for the weather and adding some air to our tires, we set off.

The first half of the ride is on paved road or fire road. This was a nice way to get acquainted with the Habit. The Habit is a 120mm full-suspension bike designed for a mix of trail and XC riding. The front triangle of the bike is made from BallisTec carbon fiber and the rear triangle is Cannondale's famous aluminum. The build I was riding was a mix of Shimano parts; Deore brakes, SLX shifters, and an XT rear derailleur. Suspension components were a newly trail-tuned 120mm Lefty and a Rockshoc Monarch DebonAir rear shock. Tires are Schwalbe's Nobby Nic (front) and Rocket Ron (rear).

Right from the start the bike felt light and fast. Climbing up the nicely paved road was simple. The headtube angle is a comfy 68 degrees, so it is slack, but far from crazy. The front wheel didn't wander at all and the suspension was efficient. I probably could have tweaked the air pressure in the rear shock a bit, but overall the lock-out switch did the trick. I like the simple on/off that the Monarch has. The tires rolled fast and showed their advantage as we transitioned to the fire road. They were grippy, but not big and heavy.

At this point the bike was already a winner in my book, but the real test had yet to come, because we all buy mountain bikes for the trails and not roads. Right?!

It was a foggy morning and the trail was damp from a light rain the night before. In addition to the damp trail there was a good bit of leaf cover on the ridge. All things to consider as I played devil's advocate on the trails.

We arrived at the trailhead after 7.5 miles on the roads/fire road. As we entered the woods it was eerily quiet. The animals were still and the wind was nonexistent. This was going to be fun!

We jumped on the trail and immediately I wished that the Habit 3 came with a dropper post. I've had a dropper on my bikes for the last year and a half and to ride a bike without one now feels odd. That being said, someone who hasn't had a dropper would be fine without one. (The next build up, the Habit SE does come stock with a dropper.) 

The trail was riding great. The dirt was tacky and the leaves weren't as deep as I imagined they would be. Our group blazed through the trail pretty quickly. We stopped to session a few sections and on a few situations I wished my tires were a bit meatier, but they still did well. I imagine if it had been dry I would have been 100% OK with the tires. I must also mention that the drivetrain was flawless. This Habit has a 2X, so I had plenty of gears to choose from, which made the short and punchy sections of the trail a breeze. Personally, I love the simplicity of the 1X set-up and it would be nice to see the weight difference with a 1X versus a 2X.

As we covered more ground I couldn't help but think that this bike would be perfect for longer distance trail rides and races. The bike is set-up for climbing and descending. The 120mm is great for your average descent with a mixture of rocks and drops, but just avoid the super steep sections unless you're an above average bike handler. I never once hit the bottom of the Monarch; however, I must confess after riding a 150mm bike, I did bottom out the Lefty once.

The trail kept going and did its best to throw as many rocks our way as it could. The Habit took them all with grace and I was able to go over or around them with ease. As someone who road a Cannondale Scalpel for a year, the Habit very much reminded me of that bike with it's precise handling. 

Sadly, all rides must come to an end and this one brought us back to the car far before I was ready. As I mounted the Habit back to my car I thought to myself that I could easily see this bike being a part of my collection. I'd make a few simple changes (dropper, maybe tires, and maybe change to a 1X), but honestly I could ride the Habit and be very happy with it right out of the box. 

I encourage anyone looking for a truly well balanced bike for conquering trails and finding speed on the flats to take a long hard look at Cannondale's Habit Carbon 3. I can see people riding all over the George Washington National Forest on this bike, the trails out in Pisgah, or even the awesome trails in Richmond's James River Trail System on this bike.

Curious about the Habit? Come demo one from the shop today!

 

First ride: Cannondale Slate

MALIBU, California — It’s exciting to ride what the pros ride, to throw a leg over a bike made to go as fast as possible. But realistically, that bike isn’t made for the everyday Joe who won’t toe the Tour start line anytime soon (or ever, actually).

Cannondale believes that we will be much happier — and therefore more excited to get out for a ride — astride a versatile bicycle that’s not made for racing, but for everyday multi-surface conditions we face and sometimes seek out.

The Slate aims to be that jack-of-all-trades. But don’t mistake it for an old-man-hybrid: The geometry is road-bike inspired, which means it’s low and long, though the chain stays are short at 405mm. In order to wed that short rear end with high-volume tires that make the bike trail-worthy, Cannondale downsized from 700c to 650b wheels that allow for bigger, higher-volume tires without lengthening the stays, while leaving the roll-out unaffected. The pairing of the 650b wheel with the 42mm wide, 300-gram tubeless slick tire — developed in conjunction with Panaracer — creates an identical roll-out, in fact, to a 700x23c tire/wheel combo.

So essentially this is a road bike … but not quite.

That’s a Lefty Oliver fork up front, sporting 30mm of travel and set up with a minimalist 2mm of sag. It sits at full ride height for absolute stiffness on the pavement, and since that travel comes from the stiff Lefty carbon chassis, what results is a suspension fork that doesn’t really act like one. Pop the button on the crown to unlock it and roll on the dirt, and you’ll get just enough compliance for comfort and control without all the bob and squish of a longer travel set-up.

Long advocates of aluminum frames, Cannondale has stuck with metal for all Slate models. Cannondale dramatically flattened and shaped the chain stays and seat stays to offer  compliance that combats aluminum’s harshness and stiffness to ensure power transfer when pushing hard. More lateral stability comes courtesy of the 142×12 rear axle spacing and the BB30A asymmetrical bottom bracket, which also allows for a wider chain stay spacing and, consequently, wider tire compatibility. The frame, which is the same for all build levels, weighs 1,200 grams (size large).

The top of-the-line SRAM Force 1 model offers a 1×11 drivetrain with a big 10-42 cassette mated to a 44-tooth chain ring on the Cannondale Si Hollowgram cranks.

First Ride

The canyons that twist inland from the Pacific Coast Highway boast sustained climbs, from leg-achingly steep to long and mellow. As we left the ocean behind, a few things became immediately noticeable: The aluminum frame offers an exceptionally smooth ride, even more so than that of the CAAD12; and, the Slate climbs much better than expected. Not surprising, given that much of the frame design is trickle-down technology from Cannondale’s Evo and CAAD12 frames.

While the Slate stops just short of being peppy, it climbs reliably, and there was no noticeable flex. The wide tires do make some noise, but they didn’t feel sluggish. No, they’re not skinny road tires by any stretch, so it’s not reasonable to expect them to perform as such. The 42mm tires also offer plenty of traction over chattery roads, thanks to a wider contact patch. If you’re used to riding race bikes, be prepared for a bit of a learning curve, albeit a brief one.

Cannondale’s efforts to keep the chain stays short paid dividends on sweeping switchbacks leading back down into the valleys toward the ocean. Again, you’ll lose a few miles per hour to the tires, but the added traction in corners is worth the sacrifice. Because there’s more rubber to contend with, you’ll need to muscle the bars at high speeds, but the trade-off is confident, stick-it cornering.

Off road, the Slate is an entirely different animal. Cannondale’s reps recommend 45psi as a compromise for on- and off-road performance; on pavement, the tire pressure feels just right. Off road, it helps to scrub 5 psi. While the wide tires offer more traction off road — especially when tubeless — in dry, marbly conditions, some sort of semi-slick knobby tires would be better. One minor over-correction in a corner and your front wheel washes out, putting you on the ground. The Slate makes trails a bit more challenging, and you can’t be lazy. If that doesn’t sound like your bag, keep an eye out for a savvy tire company to develop a semi-slick to suit your needs.

The Lefty soaks up enough chatter that you’ll be happy you’ve got that 30mm, but it’s by no means intended to take on big hits. Mellow singletrack? The Slate is on board. But more-advanced trails could take the fun out of a bike like this.

By the end of the ride, it seemed entirely unnecessary to lock and unlock the fork since it’s so stiff. Even leaving it open on the descents left enough stiffness for some impressive tracking through turns. Kudos to Cannondale for creating tailored suspension that makes sense for a part-time road, part-time dirt bike.

This of course begs the question: Why not just get a cyclocross bike? It’s a valid argument, and the easy answer is, you could. A ‘cross bike can handle on-road and off-road use, certainly. But the Slate pips a ‘cross bike in handling versatility: the wide tires do, indeed, make for more stable handling off-road and, quite frankly, more fun handling on-road. A cyclocross bike is likely designed for racing; the Slate is designed for enjoying.

Who is this bike for?

The separation between what the pros ride and what everyone else rides is becoming more vast, and that’s a good thing. It means more practical bikes for real riding we do. If you’re looking for a do-it-all bike, the Slate’s an option. But if you’re looking for a specific precision instrument for an application like cyclocross, or road riding, or mountain biking, there are better options for each category.

The Slate is designed for everyone, and no one in particular; it’s no beginner bike, but it’s a great bike for introductions to cycling both on and off road. It’s no race bike, but it’s got enough chops to go fast on the black top and the trail. And that’s the fun of it: The Slate encourages you to find yourself, especially if you know you’re not headed to the starting line. Murray Washburn, Cannondale’s global director of product marketing, said it best: “You can have a lot more fun in a lot more places with this bike.”

MSRP: $2,980 for a 105 build; $3,520 for an Ultegra build; $4,260 for a SRAM Force 1 build
Availability: Now shipping

Editor’s note: Cannondale provided travel and accommodations for this product review.