Cannondale announces a welcome overhaul to the Topstone Carbon gravel bike
The new build says goodbye to a whole lot of proprietary component fitments.
The new build says goodbye to a whole lot of proprietary component fitments.
Less than three years after its introduction, Cannondale’s Topstone Carbon gravel bike range is being overhauled in ways that should please everyone. While the bike retains its versatile and comfort-inducing approach to gravel riding, Cannondale has waved goodbye to its weird offset rear wheels, special crankset spacing, and press-fit bottom brackets. Huzzah!
We’re yet to get a ride on this new and improved model – that’ll come later – but for now, let’s talk about what is and isn’t new.
Cannondale’s first gravel bike of the modern era, the Slate, was arguably released before its time. As a result, the Slate is without a question an instrumental bike in helping to raise the profile of gravel amongst the masses. However it didn’t take long for Cannondale’s competitors to join the party and eat their cake, and at times it has felt that Cannondale has been quietly sulking in the corner since.
The company known for doing things differently has been doing things a little too differently and without obvious benefit to the consumer. More specifically I’m talking about the company’s Ai concept which offsets the drivetrain outward by 6 mm in an effort to maximise tyre clearance when combined with short chainstays and double crank compatibility. However, that increased tyre clearance advantage wasn’t so apparent against many competing bikes, and Cannondale’s approach came with a proprietary press-fit bottom bracket, special crankset spacing, and the need for a specifically dished wheel where the rim sat offset. These were technical decisions that saw many would-be buyers take their money elsewhere.
The new Topstone Carbon is showing that what we saw recently with the new Synapse Carbon endurance bike wasn’t just a one-off – Cannondale is indeed becoming more approachable with its technical decisions. Gone is the company’s Ai concept, and in its place sits just a plain old English threaded bottom bracket (68 mm), a regular dished rear wheel, and compatibility with a whole host of common cranks. And they’ve done all of this while actually increasing the available room to fit 700 x 45 mm or 650B x 2.1”tyres (6 mm surrounding gap). And that’s still allowing fitment for a double crank, too (via a removable front derailleur mount).
And how did Cannondale achieve all of this? Firstly, they took advantage of Shimano and SRAM’s “wide” drivetrains with outward-placed chainlines (+2.5 mm). And then they dropped the driveside chainstay. Yep, a dropped chainstay just like the original Open UP did many years ago, and what almost everyone else has done in the years since.
Cannondale is keeping the essence of the Topstone Carbon largely unchanged. That is, it’s still intended to be a do-it-all gravel bike with a sporty feel and a more comfortable ride. However, since the original Topstone Carbon, Cannondale has released a dedicated gravel race bike, the SuperSix Evo SE, and with that, it seems the new Topstone Carbon has been pushed towards the slightly rowdier end of the gravel spectrum.
The geometry still utilises the company’s combination of a slightly slacker head angle and long fork offset to achieve a handling characteristic that’s both stable and responsive. Overall there aren’t massive differences in the figures from old, however, the frame is now intentionally designed around 700C wheels rather than 650B. As a result, the bottom bracket now sits a smidge lower (but is still comparatively tall). Similarly, that increased tyre clearance has come with a 5 mm increase in chainstay length (now 420 mm).
The Topstone Carbon uses a regular round seatpost in a 27.2 mm diameter that is now held in place with an external clamp. And like the previous version, additional comfort is added through Cannondale’s flexible SAVE seatpost. And for those wondering, the frame is ready to accept a dropper post for those ultimate road aero gains.
Meanwhile the ability to mount things onto the frame in various ways hasn’t changed – there are still provisions for a variety of cages, bags, and full-length fenders (via a removable seatstay bridge).
Gone are the Mavic SpeedRelease thru-axles, good news for anyone wishing to use the Topstone Carbon on an indoor trainer without fuss. Regular style thru-axles now take their place.
The new Topstone Carbon keeps with Cannondale’s Kingpin technology that places a physical pivot point between the dropped seatstays and seat tube in order to maximise the available material flex in the rear end.
And while the comfort, control, and traction-inducing concept is the same, the execution is subtly different. The original Kingpin rotated on cartridge sealed bearings, however, this second iteration moves to a simpler and lighter self-lubricating IGUS bushing system. It’s a proven path and one that you’ll find in the suspension linkages of a select few popular bikes (Ibis being one example).
In Cannondale’s case, this change has helped to lop off 100 g from the frame while at least retaining and perhaps improving durability. A new Topstone Carbon frame is claimed now at around 1,200 g for a painted medium frame.
Up front you’ve got a choice. The Topstone Carbon continues to be available with either a rigid fork or a Cannondale Lefty Oliver with 30 mm of lockable suspension travel. It wasn’t all that long ago that Cannondale released the Topstone Carbon Lefty and so it’s not surprising that the fork is mostly unchanged, except that it is now optimised for 700c wheels rather than the previous 650B limitation. That change to 700C is seen throughout the whole Topstone Carbon range, and out of nine models, only two come stock with 650B.
The rigid fork features bag and cage mounting points along its carbon fibre blades. The Lefty offers no such provisions, something that’s most obvious when looking at the right-hand side.
The new Synapse Carbon made so many right steps in removing consumer barriers from why they wouldn’t buy one, but Cannondale arguably offset that with one highly polarising element – SmartSense. And the new Topstone Carbon follows that same path.
SmartSense is Cannondale’s attempt to integrate common safety-based cycling electronics to work more like a system and be a little more set-and-forget. In its current iteration, the system uses a single central rechargeable battery pack to power front and rear lights (designated with an “L” in the model name), a Garmin Varia radar sensor (designated with an “R”), and a matching radar head unit (can be replaced with a regular GPS head unit of your choosing). For a refresh on the details of the system be sure to check out our previous coverage of the Synapse Carbon.
Bikes equipped with SmartSense place the battery at the base of the down tube. Models without SmartSense are supplied with a small tube and tool-holding accessory to utilise this space.
Only a select number of rigid-fork models come stock with SmartSense, while the entry-level options and Lefty-equipped versions are without it. However, all of the new Topstone Carbon bikes feature the internal wire routing and battery-holder space in anticipation.
The new Topstone Carbon range starts from US$2,800 / £2,800 / AU$3,900 for a bike with a rigid fork, Shimano GRX 400 in a 2×10 configuration, and 23 mm-wide tubeless-ready wheels (WTB rims and Formula hubs). The range tops out at the Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty (US$7,800 / £N/A / AU$9,300) equipped with the Lefty fork, SRAM Force AXS XPLR groupset, and Cannondale’s new Hollowgram 22 wheels. Those new Hollowgram 22 carbon rim wheels feature a 25 mm internal rim width, a shallow 22 mm rim depth for compliance, and a 1,500 g weight.
In the middle sit the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty and Topstone Carbon 2 L (SmartSense Lights) which each sell for US$4,200 / £4,500 / AU$6,400. This model offers a Shimano GRX 800-level groupset in a 2×11 configuration, and 23 mm-wide tubeless-ready wheels (WTB alloy rims and Formula hubs).
Most models are available in a choice of two (or more) paint schemes. Cannondale has yet to announce updates for the Topstone Alloy range but one has to expect changes are incoming for that platform, too.