Day 2 in the Big Brother Heimat (Read about Day 1 here). After what can only be described as gastronomic excess based on the German BBQ approach of meat, meat und grosse fleischen (with a token side salad and fresh fruit chaser to offset the inevitable meat sweats – something that even lying prostrate, holding a pillow to your stomach, Alka Seltzer and groaning softly can’t alleviate), our very own CJ made his way back to Cannondale’s brewery based HQ to get prepped for the inaugural journo ride on the new Cannondale Habit.
“So how far are we going today then?” Up then down, stop for lunch then up and down again was the answer. Several thousand feet of climbing on a mix of fireroad and singletrack with a healthy dose of dusty, loose rock, verdant bench cut path and the odd steep chute or two. As test rides go, it was pretty much perfect. Setting up the bike was a breeze. Having Cannondale’s Global Director of Product Marketing, Murray Washburn, on hand to take us through set up (hell, he even did it for us!) was very handy. For my part, I was riding the Lefty sporting, carbon main frame with aluminium rear triangle Habit 2, in a subtle but classy matte black finish with blue highlights. Wheels were a mix of Stans 650b Arch rims shod with a Schwalbe Nobby Nic up front and a Rocket Ron out back. Shifting and braking duties were courtesy of Shimano Deore XT with the rear mech a Shimano XTR clutch mech. Personally, I prefer to run a rear mech that doesn’t make me weep gently at the side of the trail when the inevitable combination of clumsiness and lack of talent leads to me bashing my mech on a rock. However, XTR does give it showroom appeal. The chainset is one of Cannondale’s own brand Hollogram numbers running on 30mm press fit bearings and comes with two rings, something I was to be glad of on the second big climb of the day.
Engineer and rider led design that works
One of the things that really appealed to me about the Habit was that Cannondale have taken an engineer and rider led approach to it. The Lefty and rear shock are designed to work in tandem, the carbon pivot link is designed to save a little weight while maximising strength, the rear mech hanger works on a pivot principle meaning that you can remove the rear wheel without having to switch off your clutch mech (neat!) while the cranks are an aesthetic delight with decent size bearings being used in the BB30 design bottom bracket. Kudos to Cannondale for developing and implementing new technology that actually works. Even their use of flat mount brake calipers gives an indication that their engineers and designers are real world riders. All the bolts are easily accessible meaning that set up is no longer the “where did I put that long Allen Key?” fumble through the tool drawer that it all too often can be. Out back, the rear swing arm on both the aluminium and top end carbon models feature a pivot-less design which is shaped and moulded to flex in a vertical plane on the seatstay without the need for additional bearings being added..
Heading off up the long first climb of the day, the lack of heft in the bike combined with the nifty bar mounted lock out feature made for easy progress on the initial smooth section. Hitting the rocky and dusty trails further up, opening up the suspension gave a good impression of sure-footedness. Having spent so much time recently running either 29+ or full fat 100mm rims, I was pleasantly suprised by how capable the bike felt when it came to making a deposit in the gravity bank. Eschewing the UK favoured ‘long travel is king approach’, at no point did I feel any desire to be on a longer travel machine. I could go into techno babble mode and start talking about suspension mid stroke, 68 degree head angles and 50mm offset forks but when it comes to engineering and industrial design, I’m the one in the corner wearing the pointy hat with the big ‘D’ on it – All I know is that it climbed both steep / loose singletrack and open fire road better than I was expecting (to be fair I did have fairly high expectations prior to the ride) with no unwelcome handling traits. Two Siskel and Ebert thumbs up so far.
Dive, dive, dive!
When it came to cashing in the gravity chips, I felt like I should have put a post it note on the back of my hand Jim Lovell style in Apollo 13 to stop me from pressing the lock out every time I thought I was activating the dropper post. Pilot error, one must confess. When my left and right hand side of my brain decided to start working together again, the bike would fly even though I rode well within my limits as I have a tradition of breaking myself and / or bike when riding on the edge on unfamiliar trails. Mixing sweeping turns, long narrow straights and twisty, turny foliage edged trails, the bike felt nicely balanced and had a nice ‘chuckable’ quality. On a couple of sections, despite my best efforts, I came in somewhat hotter than I would have liked – the tyres gripped despite their lack of girth but I couldn’t help wish that I was riding with a heavier, wider tyre and rim combo up front. Jumping from riding fat and plus size tyres and rims with the phenomenal levels of grip and confidence they engender, the lack of heft came as a bit of a wake up call. There were definitely a couple of “Oh hello!” moments but on reflection, this says more about me than the bike.
The Lefty forks are a revelation. They have a beautifully direct feel and soaked up big hits and stutter bumps with ease. As someone who has grown up with traditional suspension forks, I was genuinely impressed by how well the Lefty fork performs. To my non engineering eye, it just doesn’t look right but having tried it, I’m a convert. They have an almost silky smooth action with no fore, aft or twisting movement noticeable. Fixing a puncture without having to take off the front wheel is an added bonus.
In the Habit range, I suspect that Cannondale have managed the difficult task of creating a class leading bike that does an awful lot of things very well indeed. It’s not a long travel trail slayer but that isn’t what it is designed for. Rather, I would regard it as the kind of bike that the vast majority of riders would be more than happy with – proof positive, perhaps, that you don’t need big travel to have big fun. Now if only Cannondale will let me have a play on their plus wheel sized Bad Habit.
We got to test ride the Habit in the southern German University town of Freiburg, courtesy of Clive and Murray at Cannondale. We stayed in the elegantly appointed and friendly Gasthaus Schiff (www.freiburgerschiff.de) which comes highly recommended if you ever decide to visit Freiburg. We got to ride only a handful of trails but it was enough to have us already planning a return riding trip.
|Product:||Habit Carbon 2|
|Tested:||by CJ for Press Launch Day Ride|