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Which Cannondale bike is right for you?

By Bruce Lin

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Cannondale can never be accused of playing it safe. From CAAD aluminum frames to Lefty mountain bike forks, Cannondale’s radical engineering ethos, proprietary technology, and novel designs have offended some, but also captured the hearts and minds of many forward-thinking cyclists.

Born in Wilton, Connecticut, this scrappy American brand has designed some of the industry’s most innovative bikes and components and grown from a quirky little bike builder into one of the most influential players in the business. For Cannondale, the constant pursuit of innovation is the key to producing better bikes.

Cannondale Topstone carbon Lefty gravel bikeThe Topstone Carbon Lefty gravel bike is the result of Cannondale tireless innovation.

Cannondale’s catalog includes everything from race-ready road bikes, to trail-shredding mountain bikes, to reliable cruisers for your daily commute. But how do you know which Cannondale bike is right for you?

This overview is your guide to Cannondale’s current bike line-up. It will cover Cannondale’s history, some of its innovative technologies, and its most popular road, gravel, and mountain bike models. (For brevity, time trial, electric, urban, and budget bikes are omitted.) Find out what kind of rider fits with each model so you can make an informed decision when buying your next bike.

Contents

History

Cannodale history bugger bicycle bagThe Cannondale story begins with a bike bag. The company was founded in the Cannondale train station in Wilton, Connecticut by Joe Montgomery and Murdock MacGregor in 1971. Montgomery got the idea to make a specialized bike bag after going on a bikepacking trip with his son. He came up with the Bugger bicycle trailer. It was the world’s first mass-produced, bicycle-towed trailer.

The Bugger was constructed with high-quality cloth bags and quickly became a must-have for bicycle dealers. In less than six months Cannondale became the world's largest manufacturer of lightweight bicycle bags. It eventually expanded to camping goods like tents and backpacks and even received a patent in 1975 for its “fabric utility bags.”

Cannondale vintage bikes st500 road bike sm-500 mountain bike

Cannondale started building bikes in 1983 with the first mass-produced aluminum bike, the ST500 touring bike. The frame was constructed from oversized aluminum tubes that were TIG-welded, a method that was relatively new to the bicycle world. A passion for sailing actually inspired Joe Montgomery to build an aluminum bike frame. He had seen boat masts evolve from wood to aluminum, and with the help of engineer David Graham, came up with the idea of building a bike using similar large-diameter aluminum tubes.

The next year, Cannondale went off-road with its first mountain bike, the SM-500. Cannondale gained notoriety through the ’90s by pushing aluminum frame manufacturing techniques, creating new suspension designs, producing a whole host of innovative components, and supporting legendary mountain bike racers like Missy Giove, Alison Sydor, Myles Rockwell, and Tinker Juarez.

Cannondale history vintage volvo cannondale mountain bike team fulcrum dhThe legendary Volvo-Cannondale team of the ‘90s deserves some mention because it was the first time a major corporation had committed a large budget to downhill mountain bike R&D and competition. The team’s crowning achievement was the 1998 Fulcrum DH, the most advanced full-suspension mountain bike ever seen.

The project was ultimately too expensive. It was estimated that each bike cost $20,000-30,000 to make and the program was canceled after just two years. The Fulcrum's lifespan, however short, proved the extreme measures Cannondale would take to achieve its design goals. The Fulcrum's innovative spirit lived on. For example, the suspension fork used on the Fulcrum eventually evolved into the iconic Lefty fork.

Cannondale history vintage Saeco road racing team Mario CipolliniIn 1997, Cannondale began providing the bikes for the Saeco road racing team, which was built around legendary sprinter Mario Cipollini. At the time, many professional teams believed that an American-made bike, especially one with an aluminum frame, wouldn’t succeed in Europe. But Cannondale took a gamble and put in $500,000 to become a team sponsor. It paid off — Cipollini loved the light and stiff aluminum frames and scored dozens of grand tour stage wins. After one Tour de France win, Cipollini famously approached the TV cameras and said, “Cannondale makes the best bikes!” It cemented Cannondale’s reputation among road racers for years to come.

Cannondale has also continued to be a key player in the highest levels of racing. It supports the EF Education-Nippo World Tour team, the Cannondale Factory Racing cross-country mountain bike team, and the Cannondale Mountain enduro team.

Technology

Cannondale is well-known for its proprietary technology and innovative designs. Below are just a few of the key technologies found on some of Cannondale’s current models.

Lefty forks

The single-sided Lefty fork is Cannondale’s most iconic mountain bike component. Traditional mountain bike forks have two legs, the left side containing the spring (air or coil) and the right side containing the damper, which controls how the spring behaves. The Lefty takes these two components, and combines them together into the left leg, hence the name “Lefty.”Cannondale lefty ocho mountain bike forkThe Lefty Ocho mountain bike fork.

Consolidating the fork components into a single leg reduces weight, which is essential for cross-country applications where the Lefty shines. But more importantly, the upside-down design and use of needle bearings improve the fork’s stiffness, reduce stiction, and eliminate bushing bind. This makes a Lefty more comfortable and controlled compared to a traditional cross-country fork. The latest version of the Lefty, the single-crown Lefty Ocho, is found on the F-Si and Scalpel cross-country bikes. There is also a short-travel 30mm Lefty Oliver Gen2 fork currently used on the Topstone Carbon Lefty gravel bike. 

The Lefty is a divisive product and there is a lot of history and technology behind it. If you’d like to learn more, check out “Should you ride a Lefty fork?” for an in-depth guide to all things Lefty.

CAAD frames

CAAD (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design) series frames are aluminum bikes designed to satisfy the needs of serious cyclists. As mentioned earlier, Cannondale pioneered the use of large-diameter aluminum tubes in the early ‘80s to improve stiffness. But these large tubes created a harsh ride. Cannondale solved this problem with the introduction of the CAAD series in 1997.Cannondale CAAD13 aluminum road racing bikeThe current CAAD13.

CAAD frames use heat-treated 6061 aluminum alloy tubing to produce a stronger and more durable frame that relies on thin-walled tubing to improve ride quality. These tubes are also hydroformed, butted, and in some cases tapered to achieve specific ride characteristics in different areas of the frame. Before heat treatment, the welds are also filed smooth to eliminate stress risers (this only applies to CAAD10 and later models).

Carbon is the dominant frame material for high-performance bikes, and many brands have relegated aluminum to entry-level bikes. But Cannondale has always believed in aluminum and continues to produce high-performance CAAD models that can match the weight, aerodynamics, and ride quality of carbon competitors at a lower price. This has long been appreciated by riders who prioritize value and durability alongside performance. In recent years, aluminum has experienced a resurgence in popularity with bikes like the current CAAD13 leading the way.

Ai Offset rear ends

Ai stands for Asymmetric Integration. An Ai Offset rear end moves the rear triangle and drivetrain 6mm toward the right (drive side) of the bike. This allows for shorter chainstays, which improve handling and responsiveness, without compromising tire clearance.

Cannondale Ai offset rear end explainedThe asymmetrical offset also means the rear wheel can be built stronger and stiffer because the offset places the rim symmetrically between the hub flanges. An Ai rear wheel benefits from even spoke tension and spoke bracing angles. Cannondale claims that Ai offset wheels are up to 60% stiffer as a result.

For Ai offset bikes, aftermarket wheels need to be re-dished to be compatible. Most bike shops can complete the job in 10-15 minutes but it’s also easy to do at home with the proper tools. Some aftermarket wheel manufacturers also offer an Ai offset option from the factory.

Ai Offset rear ends are found on several of Cannondale's off-road models: SuperX, Topstone Carbon, F-Si, Scalpel, Habit, and Jekyll.

Gravel bike technology

Cannondale Slate 650b gravel bike lefty oliverIn 2015, Cannondale released the Slate gravel bike, which was unlike any existing gravel bike. It came with a 30mm-travel carbon fork called the Lefty Oliver and high-volume 650b tires. Gravel was still developing as a genre, and the Slate shocked riders with its innovative design and performance. Multiple wins at the world’s premier gravel race, now named Unbound Gravel 200, helped redefine what riders expected from gravel bikes. The Slate is actually responsible for the development of modern high-volume, 650b gravel tires. Other brands have since followed suit with gravel-specific suspension forks and 650b wheel and tire options.

In 2019, the Topstone Carbon took over as Cannondale’s flagship gravel bike. It has its own piece of innovative gravel tech: Kingpin rear suspension. It uses a thru-axle pivot on the seat tube that allows the back of the frame to flex, providing 30mm of travel. This acts like rear suspension, improving comfort and traction but adds very little weight. Paired with the new Lefty Oliver Gen2 fork, the Topstone is one of the most capable gravel bikes ever made.

Gemini shocks

Cannondale Jekyll enduro mountain bike gemini shock Enduro bikes sacrifice efficiency for suspension travel. That has always been the case for bikes focused on downhill performance. Shock valving and suspension kinematics can improve pedaling performance to some degree, but Cannondale created a simple solution for its Jekyll enduro bikes.

The Gemini shock is the result of a collaboration with Fox Racing Shocks. It has a separate “hustle” and “flow” mode that riders can switch between using a bar-mounted lever. The standard “flow” mode keeps the shock open for gnarly downhill riding. Switching to “hustle” reduces the shock's air volume, reducing travel by 20%. Damping control and sensitivity remain similar, but the rear end feels much firmer for climbing, pedaling, and pumping through rolling terrain.

Cannondale road bikes

Cannondale SuperSix Evo road bikeThe Cannondale SuperSix EVO

SuperSix EVO

Cannondale SuperSix EVO road bike2021 SuperSix EVO Carbon Disc sold at The Pro's Closet. 

The SuperSix EVO is Cannondale’s classic road racing machine. It’s an all-rounder, designed to be light and agile for road racers who want to conquer big mountain stages or smash their Strava PRs. The newest model is also focused on aerodynamics and comfort. The current SuperSix EVO is 30% more aerodynamic than its predecessor, saving precious watts at high speeds. But with dropped seat stays and clearance for wide 30mm tires, it is also compliant enough to handle rough roads and occasional dirt and gravel too.

For an in-depth look, check out our long-term review of the SuperSix EVO

Who it’s for: Riders looking for a lightweight bike for climbing, racing, and all-around road riding.

SystemSix

Cannondale SystemSix aero road bike2020 SystemSix sold at The Pro's Closet.

The SystemSix is Cannondale’s aero road racing bike. It is one of the most aerodynamic bikes ever tested in a wind tunnel, and Cannondale has enough aero data to confidently claim that it is currently the “fastest bike in the world.” Interestingly, it isn’t referred to as an “aero bike” in Cannondale’s marketing. Cannondale still considers it an all-rounder that is capable of climbing and providing a comfortable ride. The deep-section aero tubes do make it slightly heavier than the SuperSix EVO, so that is worth taking into consideration. But it will satisfy sprinters, crit specialists, and road racers searching for every aero advantage possible.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for maximum speed and aero gains, especially on flat and rolling roads.

Synapse

Cannondale Synapse endurance road bike2020 Synapse Disc SE sold at The Pro's Closet.

The Synapse is Cannondale’s endurance road bike. Compared to the SuperSix EVO and SystemSix, it has a more relaxed geometry and an upright riding position to enhance rider comfort. It also has clearance for large 32mm tires that provide more comfort and some off-road capability. Sleek hidden fender mounts give the Synapse more versatility in wet climates. The Synapse is available in both budget-friendly alloy and high-end carbon models. The Synapse Carbon adds a unique split seat tube at the bottom bracket junction to absorb even more bumps and vibration. Despite all this focus on comfort, the Synapse is still light, efficient, and fast. It lets riders go farther, ride longer, and explore with more confidence and less fatigue.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for comfort for long rides, rough roads, and light gravel.

CAAD13

Cannondale CAAD13 aero aluminum road bike2021 CAAD13 Disc sold at The Pro's Closet.

The CAAD13 is Cannondale’s high-performance aluminum race bike. CAAD bikes have set the standard for aluminum frames for nearly 40 years. With the first CAAD3, Cannondale proved that aluminum bikes could win at the highest level, taking multiple Tour de France stage wins under Mario Cipollini. The CAAD series of bikes has continued to carry the torch for aluminum even when the rest of the industry began moving to carbon. Amateur racers love CAAD bikes because of their combination of price, durability, and performance. The latest CAAD13 is the best CAAD bike yet. It features a redesigned frame with aero-shaped tubing that keeps it competitive with the fastest carbon bikes on the market.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for a budget-friendly, high-performance road racing bike.

Cannondale gravel / cyclocross bikes

Cannondale Topstone carbon gravel bike The Cannondale Topstone Carbon

Topstone Carbon

Cannondale Topstone carbon gravel bike2020 Topstone Carbon sold at The Pro's Closet.

The Topstone Carbon is Cannondale’s flagship gravel bike, evolved from the groundbreaking Slate. The lightweight carbon frame uses Cannondale’s new Kingpin Suspension. Instead of a shock and linkage, the entire rear triangle flexes up to 30mm on a thru-axle pivot at the seat tube. This improves comfort and traction without adding weight. With 37-40mm 700c tires, it rolls fast on pavement, and is ready to attack tough gravel roads.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 650b full suspension gravel bike2020 Topstone Carbon Lefty sold at The Pro's Closet.

For riders who want even more off-road capability, the Topstone Carbon Lefty adds the Lefty Oliver Gen2 fork, built off of the Lefty Ocho mountain bike fork, to provide 30mm of suspension travel in the front. With high-volume 650b wheels and tires, it can handle the roughest terrain.

Who it’s for: Riders looking to tackle rough and loose gravel roads on their regular rides

Topstone Alloy

Cannondale Topstone alloy aluminum gravel bike2020 Topstone Alloy sold at The Pro's Closet.

The Topstone Alloy is Cannondale’s budget-friendly gravel bike. Rather than Kingpin Suspension, the Alloy version relies on Cannondale’s aluminum framebuilding expertise to provide a smooth and snappy ride on pavement and gravel. It has clearance for 42mm tires, is dropper post-ready, and has mounts for bags and fenders. It’s perfect for gravel riders, bikepackers, and commuters looking for a tough, versatile, and affordable adventure rig.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for a budget gravel bike or bikepacking rig.

SuperX

Cannondale SuperX carbon cyclocross gravel bike2019 SuperX SE sold at The Pro's Closet.

The SuperX is Cannondale’s race-ready carbon cyclocross bike. Precise and agile geometry lets it excel in demanding off-road conditions like mud, sand, and grass. Thanks to the Ai Offset rear end, it has short chain stays and huge mud and tire clearance. The SuperX is not only a competitive ‘cross racing rig, but with clearance for 40mm tires, it can serve as a great gravel bike for riders who enjoy the more agile feeling of cyclocross geometry or need a bike that can transition between both disciplines.

Who it’s for: Cyclocross racers looking for maximum performance

CAADX

Cannondale CAADX aluminum cyclocross gravel bike2019 CAADX SE sold at The Pro's Closet.

The CAADX is Cannondale’s aluminum cyclocross bike. It shares geometry with the high-end SuperX cyclocross bike and will perform similarly on mud, sand, and grass. To reduce cost, it uses a slightly heavier CAAD aluminum frame instead of carbon, but thanks to Cannondale’s aluminum framebuilding expertise, it still possesses the precise and agile ride quality that makes the SuperX a competitive racer. Like the SuperX, the CAADX is also capable enough for most gravel riding.

Who it’s for: Cyclocross racers looking for a budget-friendly race bike.

Cannondale mountain bikes

Cannondale habit mountain trail bikeThe Cannondale Habit

F-Si

Cannondale F-Si carbon hardtail XC mountain bike2019 F-Si Hi-Mod Throwback Edition sold at The Pro's Closet.

Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: 100mm front

The F-Si is Cannondale’s hardtail cross-country race bike. It’s not necessarily official, but F-Si supposedly stands for: “For those with serious issues.” It’s a joke, but it gets at the core of what the F-Si is all about. XC racers who obsess over having the most efficient, agile, and lightest race bike possible are the type to be drawn to an all-out race machine like the F-Si. With the Lefty Ocho fork (some entry-level models will come equipped with a standard fork), Ai Offset rear end, and ultra-light carbon frame, it will be hard to beat on fast XC terrain.

Who it’s for: XC riders who want the lightest, most efficient bike, or who ride less technical terrain.

Scalpel

Cannondale Scalpel full suspension XC mountain bike2021 Scalpel sold at The Pro's Closet.

Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: 100mm front / 100mm rear

The Scalpel is Cannondale’s full-suspension XC bike and it has been in production for nearly 20 years. With the Scalpel, Cannondale has always prioritized creating the lightest and most efficient full-suspension bike possible to give its riders an edge on rough and technical courses. The latest Scalpel uses more progressive geometry, with a slacker headtube for confidence on descents. The new FlexPivot suspension uses thin, flexible carbon plates near the axle that act as pivots without the added weight or maintenance of bearings. Combine this with Lefty Ocho fork, and you have the ideal recipe for coming out on top in tough races.

Who it’s for: XC riders looking for the lightest, most efficient full-suspension race bike available.

Scalpel SE

Cannondale Scalpel SE downcountry xc trail bike2018 Cannondale Scalpel SE sold at The Pro's Closet.

Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: 120mm front / 120mm rear

The Scalpel SE is Cannondale’s short-travel trail bike based on the ultra-fast Scalpel XC race bike. It has been beefed up with 20mm more travel and trail-oriented components to make it more capable than the standard Scalpel on descents. The Scalpel SE can be considered Cannondale’s “downcountry” bike, a cross-country bike that is aimed more at downhill performance than maximizing efficiency. It will hold its own in XC races, but it will be more versatile for trail riders who enjoy big rides on technical terrain more than racing.

Who it’s for: Marathon XC racers and riders looking for a more capable “downcountry” XC bike.

Habit

Cannondale Habit 29 trail mountain bike2020 Habit Carbon SE sold at the Pro's Closet.

Wheel size: 29” / 27.5+
Suspension travel: 140mm front / 130mm rear

The Habit is Cannondale’s mid-travel trail bike that is as comfortable pedaling uphill as it is shredding back downhill. It’s an all-rounder to suit the majority of riders and the widest range of terrain. Modern trail geometry and an efficient 130mm of travel mean it can handle anything from all-day cross-country adventures to the occasional gnarly downhill track. Frames come in carbon or aluminum, and a flip-chip allows riders to adjust geometry to run either 29" or 27.5+ wheels (27.5+ versions are dubbed the "Bad Habit"). If you’re looking for a quiver-killer bike that will feel comfortable and capable on any ride, the Habit is a top choice.

Who it’s for: Trail riders looking for one bike to handle everything from flow trails to technical downhill tracks.

Jekyll

Cannondale Jekyll 29 enduro mountain bike2020 Jekyll Carbon 29 sold at The Pro's Closet.

Wheel size: 29” / 27.5”
Suspension travel: 29" - 150mm front / 150mm rear, 27.5" - 170mm front / 165mm rear

The Jekyll is Cannondale’s enduro race bike. It provides the most suspension travel and the longest and slackest geometry in Cannondale’s mountain bike line-up. With ample suspension travel, its number-one priority is maximizing downhill speed by smoothing out the gnarliest terrain. The addition of the Gemini shock, however, allows rider to switch between a regular "flow" mode and an efficient "hustle" mode, which reduces rear travel to 120mm (29") or 135mm (27.5") for extended pedaling. It is available with either 29” or 27.5” wheels and an alloy or carbon frame. The Jekyll is used by Cannondale Mountain, Cannondale’s Enduro World Series race team, and will suit riders looking for a competitive enduro race bike, or a bike that will enhance their confidence on steep and technical downhill trails.

Who it’s for: Enduro racers and riders looking for the most downhill capable bike that can still be pedaled uphill.

Cannondale F-Si carbon hardtail XC mountain bikeMy most recent Cannondale Purchase — a 2019 F-Si Hi-Mod Throwback Edition.

Cannondale has always been at the forefront of bike design and its line-up is often the first place I look when it comes time to add a new bike to the quiver. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of owning and riding several Cannondale bikes: a CAAD9, CAAD10, SuperSix EVO, Synapse, CAADX, SuperX, F-Si, Trigger, and Jekyll. I actually might be The Pro’s Closet’s biggest Cannondale fan. And I am just one of many.

If you’re interested in seeing more, check out our Cannondale collection and discover for yourself why so many riders love Cannondale bikes.

 

Photos courtesy of Cannondale.


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