A full-suspension gravel bike? The Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 1 promises extra control and comfort thanks to the KingPin system at the rear and the Lefty Oliver suspension fork up front. Read on to find out how the progressive concept fares against the competition.
A quick overview of this group test: The best gravel bike 2021
With the Topstone Carbon Lefty 1, Cannondale presented one of the most polarising gravel bike concepts of the 2020 season. The bike is bursting with innovations, including the 30 mm travel Lefty Oliver suspension fork and the KingPin suspension system which offers 30 mm travel at the rear. You also get a factory-fitted Garmin speed sensor with ANT+ connectivity and the proprietary HollowGram SAVE cockpit. Included with the cockpit is a GPS mount but it sits quite high up and doesn’t blend well with the rest of the bike. We would have preferred more flare to the drops of the HollowGram SAVE bars as they hold back the bike on technical descents and when sprinting. However, replacing it would mean having to buy a conventional stem too due to the proprietary design. The carbon frame features a nice looking oil-slick finish and the shape of each tube is elaborately shaped. While the cable ports on the down tube are compatible with all conventional groupsets, they were a bit distracting on our test bike with its wireless SRAM AXS components. A dropper post would suit this bike brilliantly and you have the option of fitting one with stealth cable routing. Cannondale don’t offer one on any of their standard builds but with a seat tube diameter of 27.2 mm, there are numerous aftermarket options available.
Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 1
Seatpost HollowGram SAVE 15 mm
Brakes SRAM Force 160/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Force eTap AXS mit Eagle AXS X01-Schaltwerk 40 (10–50)
Stem HollowGram SAVE 100 mm
Handlebar HollowGram SAVE SystemBar 420 mm
Wheelset Lefty 50- und HollowGram-Naben, HollowGram 23-Felgen
Tires WTB Venture TCS Road Plus/WTB ByWay TCS Road Plus 47C
Size XS S M L XL
Weight 9.75 kg
Cannondale Lefty Oliver suspension fork with 30 mm travel
Mounting points for mudguards rear only
Bolting points at the top of the top tube and at the bottom of the down tube
|Seat tube||410 mm||458 mm||505 mm||553 mm||600 mm|
|Top tube||525 mm||544 mm||561 mm||579 mm||596 mm|
|Head tube||97 mm||131 mm||165 mm||198 mm||232 mm|
|Chainstays||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm|
|BB Drop||69 mm||64 mm||61 mm||61 mm||59 mm|
|Wheelbase||999 mm||1,010 mm||1,030 mm||1,049 mm||1,068 mm|
|Reach||368 mm||377 mm||385 mm||394 mm||401 mm|
|Stack||518 mm||550 mm||579 mm||610 mm||641 mm|
Despite all our criticism of the Cannondale: To ride with the bike offroad and on the trail is really fun!
The groupset is spot on, combining SRAM RED eTap AXS shifters with an Eagle AXS X01 derailleur. However, the mountain bike derailleur came into contact with our shoes (size 45+) in certain situations. If you’ve got the cranks parallel to the ground with your right foot at the back during descents, the derailleur will hit your heel. Fortunately, we never encountered this problem while pedalling. Our € 7,499, size M test bike weighs a considerable 9.75 kg, making it one of the heavyweights of the group test.
The playful and lively character of the Topstone Carbon Lefty 1 is a lot of fun off-road, inviting you to veer off the gravel highway at every opportunity. The FUSTLE’s, a bike with a similar intent, marketing claim of “This is a mountain biker’s gravel bike,” is just as applicable to the Cannondale. If you translate the two bike concepts into the mountain bike world, the FUSTLE would be an enduro and the Cannondale a trail bike.
Although there are more nimble models on test, pedalling as you exit the corners and on short, intense climbs is a lot of fun on the Cannondale. The bike’s lack of light-footedness is most noticeable in mountainous terrain and on the road. In these situations, it prefers taking things easy. However, the bike’s off-road efficiency is excellent since its comfort makes it easier to maintain form on long rides. This is thanks to the large volume 650B tires, the damped Lefty Oliver suspension fork and the compliance of the frameset. In general, the Lefty Oliver fork delivered a convincing performance throughout. The KingPin system also does a great job of swallowing small vibrations but it acts a bit like a catapult on large compressions. The lack of damping at the rear is particularly noticeable when sitting. Get out of the saddle and the imbalance in the damping is less pronounced. Apart from that, it’s only the WTB Byway tire on the rear that occasionally slides out on damp and loose surfaces and thus clouds the rider’s otherwise high level of confidence. The WTB Venture tire on the front offers a lot of grip in every situation.
Tuning-tips: grippier rear tire | standard stem and handlebar with more flare | optional dropper post
The Cannondale Topstone Lefty 1 is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of those who want a drop handlebar combined with that mountain bike feeling on the descents and when riding off-road. With its lively handling, it makes you want to go on quick after-work rides interspersed with a few sprints. The bike lacks efficiency and mounting options for the mudguards or luggage you’d need for longer distances and commuting. The componentry also left us wanting a little more for it to deserve a top spot in the test.
- lots of fun off-road
- comfortable on most terrain
- lively, balanced handling
- suspension fork performs brilliantly
- componentry could be better
- lack of damping at the rear
- large feet come into contact with the rear derailleur
Not sure which gravel bike you should buy? This guide will help you for sure: gravel bike buyers guide.
You wonder what tires to put on your gravel machine? We recently tested the best gravel tires against each other in our gravel tire group test.
More information here: cannondale.com
Get an overview of this group test: The best gravel-bike 2021 – 13 models on review
All bikes on review: 3T Exploro Race EKAR 1X13 (Click for review) | ARC8 Eero (Click for review) | BMC URS 01 ONE (Click for review) | Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3 | Canyon Grail CF SLX 8 eTap (Click for review) | Fustle Causeway GRX600 (Click for review) | OPEN WI.DE. (Click for review) | Ridley Kanzo Fast (Click for review) | Ritte Satyr (Click for review) | ROSE BACKROAD FORCE ETAP AXS LIMITED (Click for review) | ROSE BACKROAD AL GRX RX600 1X11 (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Diverge (Click for review) | Trek Checkpoint (Click for review)
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50↩
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70↩
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl