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Review: Cannondale Slate Gravel Bike

By Bruce Lin
Photos By Chris Motta

Check out our Cross & Gravel Collection here.

Cannondale Slate Off-Road Bike - Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Cyclocross Bike

Every summer, thousands of riders descend on the small American town of Emporia, Kansas for Dirty Kanza, the world’s premier gravel event. This difficult 200-mile race sends riders deep into the flint hills of Kansas, so named for the abundant residual flint gravel that litters the ground. It’s what arrowheads were made from and it shreds tires, batters bodies, and destroys dreams.

Flint is essential to the character of the race and, along with the sheer distance, it’s what makes this race the stuff of legend. In 2016, retired WorldTour racer, Ted King, decided to test himself here. He broke away early, soloing off the front to win his first Dirty Kanza title in convincing fashion.    

His ride was impressive, but what many people seemed more interested in was the bike he did it on. The 2016 Dirty Kanza gave us an early glimpse of one of Cannondale’s newest, and perhaps strangest bikes: the Cannondale Slate. It’s an aluminum gravel and adventure bike unlike anything else, with a miniature version of Cannondale’s Lefty front fork and 650b wheels. It’s one of the most unique gravel options on the market and it’s proven itself to be a formidable race weapon.

Parker Lindley, IT Department, climbing up Caribou Road, Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Gravel Bike

The Slate’s party piece is its one-of-a-kind Lefty Oliver Carbon fork. It dominates the front end of the bike and captures the attention of all who look upon it. The carbon construction of the fork upper keeps the weight reasonable while providing 30mm of travel. It’s enough to effectively dampen harsh bumps and chatter in rough terrain, which can be the difference between feeling fresh rather than shattered at the end of a hard ride. The fork has a fair amount of low-speed compression damping to keep the fork from moving too much when climbing out of the saddle, but if you want to lock out the fork fully the pop lock on top of the fork crown is easy to reach.

 Pre-Ride Prep, Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Cyclocross Bike

The 650b wheels reflect a trend that’s been quickly gaining traction in the gravel world. The idea behind the 650b is that it allows you to run a much wider, higher volume tire, and still have it measure the same overall diameter as a normal 700c road wheel and tire combo. This gives the bike a ride feel that's similar to a regular road bike in acceleration and handling, while also providing more comfort and grip through the larger tires.

Parker explores the gravel backroads near Peak to Peak Highway, Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Cyclocross Bike

The Slate is set up with ultra wide, 42c tires made for Cannondale by Panaracer, the producers of the famous GravelKing tire. For looser terrain, there are plenty of knobby and competitive 650b gravel tires to choose from. The open nature of the Lefty Oliver fork also gives you the ability to run a truly massive front tire (including some 27.5” mountain bike tires) for even more compliance and traction. The Slates here at The Pro’s Closet are built with Stan’s NoTubes Crest MK3 wheels, which are lightweight, easy to set up tubeless, and measure 23mm internal to give wider tires ample support.

Historic Caribou Mine, Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Cyclocross Bike

The different drivetrain options include the higher end SRAM Force 1 and Shimano Ultegra drivetrains, or the more budget friendly SRAM Apex 1 and Shimano 105 drivetrains. The basic entry-level build also uses a rigid aluminum fork to make it even more affordable.

Ride Break, Nederland, ColoradoCannondale Slate Cyclocross Bike

The Lefty, though, is what really makes the Slate a Slate, just as the flint rock of Kansas is what makes Dirty Kanza the Dirty Kanza. With the Lefty Oliver and a nice set of fat tires, the Cannondale Slate is a bike that can not only win races but also go anywhere you dare to ride. It can tackle rough gravel and singletrack, then get back on the pavement and go fast. It’s a bike built to explore any road, and there's nothing more fun than that. 

Check out our Cross and Gravel Collection here.

Bruce is a writer, a rider, and not much else. He loves getting his bikes dirty, trying new tech, and riding tough trails that make him suffer for hours at a time.