Size Tested : Large
When Cannondale announced that they were going to be making a fat bike, I have to admit that I was more than a little bit excited at the prospect. Before RockShox introduced the Bluto fat bike specific fork, canny fat bike riders were custom machining fork crowns to adapt their Cannondale Lefty forks for fat duties. However, the thought of a Lefty designed from the outset to work with fat wheels really caught my imagination. I’ve always liked Cannondale products, having previously owned a CAAD 3 cyclocross bike. However, it was somewhat unyielding to ride so I was intrigued to see how much technology and design has moved on in the interim.
A trip to Germany to test the Cannondale Habit range last summer completely sold me on the Lefty fork design and when the offer of a fat bike to test came along, I practically snapped their hand off. Forth Fat afforded me the perfect opportunity to ride it for two days on a mix of beach, forest singletrack and rock crawl shoreline and to gauge other riders reaction to it when the inevitable “Give us a go, Sanny” request was made – I almost lost track of who was riding it for a while and began to wonder if I would actually get to ride the darn thing at one point.
The Fat CAAD 1 is Cannondale’s top of the line fat bike (albeit in a range of just two bikes, with the rigid forked, double chainset sporting Fat CAAD 2 sitting just below it). The frame has a number of features that set it apart from other fat bikes I have ridden, not least of all the Olaf fork with 100mm of oil damped travel with an easy to access rebound adjuster on the top of the fork leg. Starting at the front, the enormous head tube connects to an elegantly curved down tube to accommodate the fork at full compression. The top tube is heavily oversized while the seat tube is designed to work with an internal dropper post. All cables run underneath the downtube which, to my eyes, gives the bike really clean lines. The bottom bracket is Cannondale’s own BB30 design. Cannondale make a big thing of the bottom bracket having the narrowest Q factor of any fat bike on the market. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t notice it although this may be more due to me spending most of my time on fat bikes these days and being used to the extra width. Cannondale supply the bike with 80mm Sun Ringle rims which are fitted with 4.8 inch Schwalbe Jumbo Jim tyres with room to spare in terms of mud clearance.
The drivetrain is a SRAM 1 x 11 number with a 30 tooth ring up front coupled with a 10 – 42 cassette at the back. Cranks are Cannondale’s own brand Si cranks. In order to hit the price point, Cannondale supply the bike with an own brand seat post, no dropper here folks while the saddle is made by Fabric. It is the first time I have ridden one and while not as comfy as my go to WTB saddle, is actually pretty good. Bars, stem and grips are all Cannondale branded kit with the bars and grips giving a comfortable position and feel from the off. Rounding things off are a quick release bolt thru axle at the rear with SRAM Guide brakes taking care of ground anchor duties.
On the trail (and off it)
With this being a First Dates ride, these are only my initial thoughts. As luck would have it, Cannondale have kindly granted me the opportunity to run the bike as my new long term tester so I will be able to go into greater detail in the future. That said, I have plenty to write about. First and foremost, the fork is really rather special. Once I got my head round the fact that one side was missing and just rode it, it quickly became apparent that it offers a level of plushness that I haven’t ever experienced with traditional twin legged forks. It eats up small bumps with ease. On bigger hits, I found that it dived just a little but I plan to play about with air pressures before making further comment. As for loading the fork into corners, I genuinely could not tell that I was on a single legged fork. It just went where I pointed it and despite having the weight concentrated on one side, I didn’t feel in any way unbalanced or that the bike was trying to pull me to one side. Never before have I ridden a bike where so many people have wanted to have a shot of it. It is undoubtedly a bike to promote discussion and debate. Doubters who initially said that they didn’t like the look of the fork and didn’t expect it to work were quickly converted to the “Church of Lefty” after even the briefest of spins.
Quick, real quick
Hopping on and spinning the cranks, my initial impression was one of “Blimey, this feels quick!” As the ride progressed, the feeling of easy gained speed persisted. It is the first fat bike that I have ridden and not immediately thought that it feels like a fat bike. I don’t consider the quality of fat bikes to be in any way bad but the Fat CAAD just feels like a really rapid hard tail. I found myself just getting out of the saddle and sprinting for no good reason other than I could. I hadn’t expected that.
Taking the rough with the smooth
On the beach, the Cannondale with its large footprint made short work of even the softest and most waterlogged of sand, requiring less effort than fat bikes shod with a 3.8 inch tyre. I suspect that this is as much to do with the lack of weight in the Schwalbe tyres as well as their not inconsiderable width. On the rocky foreshore, the width proved to be a boon, seeking out and finding traction on even some of the slimiest and off camber sections of bedrock. However, the wide spacing between the tread and lack of depth in the lugs meant that I would occasionally lose traction where a Surly Bud and Lou combo would just keep powering through. As such, there is a discernible trade-off between weight and grip. Given the aspirations of the Cannondale, I reckon that the tyres will suit the majority of rider the majority of the time. However, for regular rock crawling, I’d be looking to switch to something a little meatier.
Two by or not two by, that is the question.
One thing I immediately noticed when I jumped on the bike for the first time was the lack of a double chainset. The 30 tooth single ring and 10 – 42 set up seems to be the spec of choice for higher end bikes these days. Throughout the period of the test, I can honestly say that there was no point at which I found myself wishing for a lower bottom gear, even when powering up a short but steep slope from the beach. Regular forum readers will recognise that early adopters of 1 by technology are vocal in their support for it. However, without the opportunity to take the bike out into some proper hills, I remain sceptical of the practicality when the trail turns upwards. As someone who relishes the challenge of long, steep and technical climbs as well as multi day bikepacking trips, I know how often I will reach for my 20 – 36 set up. Frankly, I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it. For the majority of riders, I suspect that the stock set up will serve them well.
With the Fat CAAD 1, Cannondale have succeeded in bringing something radically new to the fat bike market. The Lefty fork is a genuine pleasure to use and noticeably improves ride comfort off road. The frame is stiff but doesn’t punish you after several hours in the saddle making it the weapon of choice for everything from bikepacking adventures to point and shoot XC blasts. It offers fast and fun fat biking in a lightweight package. It looks cool as hell too! But how will it cope in the long term? Fortunately, courtesy of Chris at Cycling Sports Group, I have the opportunity to test one as my new long term test bike. Will I come to love 1 x 11, will it surpass my Surly Ice Cream Truck, will it become my bikepacking and mountain riding bike of choice? Only one way to find out. On first acquaintance, I’m impressed.
|Tested:||by Sanny for|