Guest Product Review: The New Cannondale Topstone Lefty: A Two-Wheeled iPad

This post is something new for RideCycleSpin.com : A guest post! I’ve known Barry Cox since 2002 when I started racing mountain bikes. That year, Skiis and Biikes hosted a Tuesday Night Race Series at Kelso. As with any race series, there was a wide range of speed and skill levels. Young guns like Peter Glassford would race about 5 laps of a 4 to 6 km course, while weekend-warriors like Barry and I would do about 3. I can remember racing my Kona Mokomoko against Barry’s Klein (was it the Mantra?) while we both fought our way up the long gravel climb at Kelso in a cloud of dust created by the fast. Since then, we’ve crossed paths countless times at many events. Barry has moved on to epic races like Leadville, while I’ve stepped away from races and returned to my exploration and adventure rides. You can get in touch with Barry via Barry@lapdogs.ca

Anyway, here’s Barry’s review of the Cannondale Topstone Lefty!

Review by Barry Cox: The New Cannondale Topstone Lefty:   A Two-Wheeled iPad

Remember 10 years ago when Apple released the iPad?   I was reminded of this when I first saw Cannondale’s latest offering, the Topstone Lefty.   For those of you saying “Cox has really lost it this time….what the heck does Cannondale’s new gravel/all-road bike have to do with an oversize iPhone???” bear with me and I will explain.

When the iPad was released, it struck me as a really cool-looking device, but I had no idea what in the heck I was going to use it for.  I already had a laptop and an iPod, both of which would between them do pretty everything an iPad can.  But I didn’t care – I just knew that I wanted one because it was cool, new and interesting.   You can see where I am going with this now, can’t you? 

I already have a really nice cyclocross/gravel bike, a top of the line road bike and a mountain bike (well, four mountain bikes, but who’s counting), so looking at things rationally, I don’t need a carbon fibre 650b full-suspension drop handlebar bike.   But having ridden a Topstone Lefty earlier in the week…..maaaaaaaaaaaan is it awesome and do I ever want one of my own.  And you should too!

I should take a moment here and say thank you to Neil Gold, all around good guy and Cannondale Guru[1], and to my go-to bike shop, Gears Canary, arranging for me to get my hands on a demo Topstone Lefty to take out for a rip.   Indeed, full props to Gears Canary and its staff for getting me on the bike despite being completely slammed due to the recent resurgence in cycling while operating with a skeleton staff in the middle of a pandemic.  You guys rock.

So let’s look at the bike….and it’s different – that’s for sure!

What you get is a carbon fibre frame with a suspension linkage in the back and a Lefty fork on the front.   The rear suspension setup is something Cannondale call the Kingpin.   There is no rear shock, and only one pivot half-way up where the seat stays meet the top tube.  Look a little closer and you will see that the chain stays are flat in the middle.   This system allows the bike’s rear triangle to flex a little as it goes over bumps and surface undulation.  When you lean on the seat, you can’t really feel the suspension move, and when you are riding, you don’t really feel the squish in the same way as you would in a full-suspension mountain bike.   But what you do notice when you get off the bike after a couple of hours is that you are not as stiff and sore as you would be on a more traditional frame.   That is because while you are riding along, the Kingpin is quietly and inconspicuously doing its job and soaking up all the little bumps and dips on the road, rather than leaving it your arms and legs.  And when you stand up and pedal hard, the bike feels stiff and direct, like a hardtail.  The front end is the same story.  The boffins at Cannondale have designed an all-new front shock called the Lefty Oliver, with only 30 mm of travel, just for this bike.  Like the Kingpin, you don’t really notice it is there until you get off the bike after a couple of hours and realize that your arms don’t actually feel like overcooked pasta noodles for once. 

The bike rolls on 650b wheels with 47 mm wide WTB Venture tires.   There is space for 29” or 700c wheels if that is your bag, but having ridden the bike with the 650b wheels, I don’t know why you would every want the bigger wheels (keep reading to find out why).   On my demo, the mid-range Topstone Lefty 2, the parts spec is rounded out by Shimano’s new GRX gruppo, with a 1 x 11 drivetrain.   I had not ridden with GRX before, but am now officially a fan.  The brake hoods are big, chunky and comfy, with lots of space for different hand positions, and the shifting is positive and precise.   As a cyclocross and XC-MTB guy, I like 1x drivetrains.   Some folks may prefer a front derailleur for longer gravel rides, but I never felt under or over-geared on this bike, and this is a fairly easy upgrade in any event.   The frame has lots of mounts for fenders, panniers and frame backs, and a third set of water bottle cage bosses on the top tube, so those who want to go on really looooooonnnnnngggggggg rides are covered too.   The green and purple paint scheme on the Topstone Lefty 2 is not for everyone, but it does look way better in person than in the photographs, and in any event, I give Cannondale credit for doing something a little different from the red/black/white colour schemes of most manufacturers these days.   If you want to go nuts and have $10,000 to spare, you can get a fully blinged out Topstone Lefty 1 in stealth black, with carbon wheels, SRAM Etap shifting and all the bells and whistles.   However, the $5,000 Topstone Lefty 2 which I rode wasn’t lacking in terms of spec.

So enough about the spec….I know you want to know how the thing rides.  Keep reading.

The riding position is a little different than I am used to, coming from my regular gravel bike (a Specialized Crux named Harvester of Sorrow – after the Metallica song in case you were wondering).   The Topstone Lefty is a little shorter and more compact so I found myself a little more upright than I am on the Crux.  This is not a bad thing – it gives a nice comfy riding position.   I was only on the bike for 3 hours but did not have any aches, pains or hotspots.  It’s hard to explain without actually riding the bike but the position truly felt dialed, at least for me.   The tires rolled smoothly on the pavement on my way to phase 1 of my test ride, and the bike hummed along nicely.  The suspension did not interfere with my pedaling rhythm at all.   After 10 minutes felt like I had been riding the Topstone Lefty my entire life.

Phase 1 of my test was, of course, gravel, which is where I suspect most people will want to ride this bike.   If you want to ride gravel within reach of downtown Toronto, the easiest place to get to is Leslie Spit.   Again, once I left the pavement on the Spit, the bike rolled along easily and although the suspension did not completely smooth out the bigger potholes, it was easy to forget at times that I was not riding on asphalt.  The smaller wheels gave the bike a “zippy” feel which allowed me to accelerate quickly, and to corner with confidence.  I could see myself cranking out 200 km on this bike on gravel back roads with ease.   When I came to the climb up to the lighthouse at the end of the Spit, I punched it a bit and was rewarded with a Strava personal best for the climb segment.  On a bike that I had only been riding for 20 minutes – not too shabby.

So this took me to phase 2.   Singletrack.   Specifically, the Don.   Don’t get me wrong…I didn’t ride Catalyst or Roller Flowster.   That probably isn’t a good idea on a bike with drop handlebars, let alone a bike with drop handlebars that I don’t actually own.   But I did have a rip for an hour or so on some of the more flowy, twisty trails, and for me, this is where the Topstone Lefty really shone.   The 650b wheels and more compact frame made the bike incredibly tossable for a drop handlebar bike and the 47 mm wide tires allowed me to rail corners with confidence.   The smaller wheel size allowed me to get on the power out of the corners and accelerate back up to speed easily.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to trade my Scalpel Si in for a Topstone any time soon, but I will say that I was smiling from ear to ear the whole time in the Don, even in places where on the Harvester of Sorrow (which I am not above riding in there once in a while) I would have more likely been gritting my teeth and hanging on for dear life.  

Unfortunately, with the sun getting low in the sky, and no lights to put on the bike, it was time to call it a night once I was finished in the Don.   Phase 3 of the test had to wait for the following morning.   Phase 3 was…commuting.   I had to reluctantly return the Topstone Lefty to Gears Canary and pick up the Harvester of Sorrow to ride home on, which meant riding the bike to work downtown.   I was really surprised and happy about how well the Topstone Lefty worked as a commuter/around town bike.   The upright, comfy riding position is ideal for that sort of thing, the small wheels made it easy to zip in and out of traffic, and the fat tires combined with the front and rear suspension meant that I didn’t have to worry about potholes, streetcar tracks and the other obstacles I usually swerve around on my skinny-tired commuter.   Buying a $5000 full suspension carbon fibre gravel bike to use as a commuter bike is arguably overkill, but if you have one of these in your stable, you will find it a fun and willing companion in the daily grind to and from work.   And as you will see from the photo below, the paint scheme matches my office…

Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I loved the bike and I totally want one!   But this still leaves the question of what the Topstone Lefty is actually for.   Is it a gravel bike?  Is it a road bike?  An around town bike?   A drop-handlebar monstercross bike?   An adventure bike?   Well…the answer is YES!   It is, or can be all of these things.   You can spent all day on it getting lost off the beaten track.  You can take it for a rip on your local trails.  You can ride it around the corner to the coffee shop for a quick espresso.  If you only have space for one bike, this is the one bike you need.   Consider it a Swiss Army Knife.  Or a two-wheeled iPad.  Once you own one, you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

#ridecannondale   #ridetopstone #itsstillnotnofun #empoweredbygears #gravelbike #gravelgrinder #ridewithhart    #monstercross    #ridewiththepack

 


 

[1] Not his actual job title, although it should be

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