Long-term test: Warren's Cannondale Slate Ultegra

Cycling Plus' senior tech editor has been spending quality time with his Cannondale Slate

I’m now deep into testing for Cycling Plus’s 2017 Bike of the Year so I fear that the Cannondale Slate is going to have to take a back seat when it comes to my riding time. However, I am going to do my best to find some time to get out on the Slate and get a bit dirty with it.

Cannondale Slate Ultegra spec overview

  • Weight: 10.4kg, including XT M8020 pedals (original weight 9.8kg, XL)
  • Frame: Smartform 6069 Alloy
  • Fork: Carbon Lefty Oliver with 30mm travel, 45mm offset
  • Gears: Shimano Ultegra (52/36, 11-28)
  • Wheels: Slate 650b disc with lefty front hub
  • Brakes: Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc
  • Finishing kit: Surly Knard 650b 41c tyres, FiZik Aliante VSX Kium saddle, Cannondale C2 seatpost, Cannondale C2 compact bar, Cannondale C1 stem, Cannondale Si chainset with 52/36 Spidering, Raceone bottle cage, Hide my Bell mount/bell

Cannondale Slate Ultegra upgrades

  • Surly Knard 41c tyres x 2 — £26.85 each / $35 each / AU$46.90
  • Fizik Aliante VSX Kium — £129.99 / $170 / AU$TBC
  • Race one bottle cage — £12.99 / $19.95 / AU$TBC
  • Hide my bell Garmin mount — €34.99 / approx £30 / approx $37 / approx AU$50

I have to admit that a bike like the Slate is something of a luxury for many — at £2,799 / $3,520 / AU$4,999 it's a hell of an investment for an 'n+1' — but let's be honest, sometimes you want something a little bit more than just asphalt. Nothing staves off any feelings of monotony more than something that you can go almost anywhere on and, best of all, have a load of fun with!

The Slate has been my companion while exploring bridleways, byways and unpaved roads throughout the time I’ve had it. If you've ever been riding out in the countryside and seen a track and wondered where it goes, then the Slate really is your ideal ride. See something that looks vaguely rideable? Then give it a go on the Slate! Chances are it'll cope just fine.

Tough, off-road grip

After a tyre upgrade this bike can go pretty far off-road
After a tyre upgrade this bike can go pretty far off-road

I'm seriously impressed with just how far off-road this bike can go, especially now I’ve ditched the original 42c slicks for the small-block aggressive treaded Surly Knards, which are slightly slimmer at 41c. I've lost a little out-and-out speed on the road, but the increased toughness and increased grip off road makes it all worth it.

I’ve also switched the minimal Shimano XT M8000 pedals for their wider platformed cousin the XT M8020

The distinctive carbon Lefty Oliver fork looks amazing — and makes for a significant part of the bike's overall price. It only offers 30mm travel, but it's plenty enough to cope with rocks, roots, step downs and drop offs. And to avoid any irritating bobbing issues when you're on the flat you can push the button on the top of the fork leg to lock it out.

The Shimano Ultegra gearing is very much road biased with its 52/36 Cannondale Si chainset (with the cool SpideRing) and an 11-28 cassette, though I haven’t found myself struggling off-road. Ideally, I think a wider cassette at the back or a 50/34 up front would help on super-steep dirt climbs just to counter the occasional rear wheel spin when you lose traction, but that’s a minor thing. It has struggled occasionally to stay in trim especially when things get really muddy, though it's quickly cured by a quick twirl of the in-line barrel adjusters.The braking from the BR-RS805 units has been consistent and controlled though.

Room for a few extras

I’ve tweaked the contact points from standard by switching the drop bar out for a Ritchey WCS Venturemax bar — this super shallow, super flared drop bar measures up at 44cm wide at the hoods, but stretches to 54cm at the drop (which itself is pretty shallow at 102mm). It adds another level to control when riding off road, with the added width giving a much more confident feel. I’ve also switched the minimal Shimano XT M8000 pedals for their wider platformed cousin the XT M8020, which gives a bit more contact and the ability to balance well without being clipped in.

Woz likes a bit of width
Woz likes a bit of width

The Slate also serves as a test bed for a few bits and the latest is the FiZik Aliante VSX Kium saddle (£99.99). I’m a big fan of the Fabric Scoop, which the Slate comes equipped with, but while I also favour FiZik’s Aliante I’ve never been a fan of the VS versions with their pressure relief channel. However I've been pleasantly surprised with the VSX — it's like the VS but with much deeper padding and offers a great level of cushioning comfort. So much so, in fact, that the VSX has stayed on the bike well beyond its test period.

The Slate reminds me of the reasons why I ride a bike in the first place — it's fun remember!

I’ve added a clever ‘Hide My Bell’ mount which combines an out-front Garmin mount with a bell under the twist lock. I figure if you are going to venture off the black stuff and onto lanes, byways and paths that will be shared with walkers with little room to move, then a bell is the most polite way of letting people know you're coming.

Memorable mileage

When it comes to a bike like the Slate, then seriousness doesn’t have to come into it. (Though if you're serious about gravel racing you could do a lot worse, just ask recently retired pro Ted King who won the 200-mile Dirty Kanza gravel race in the USA on board one.) 

The Slate reminds me of the reasons why I (all of us?) ride a bike in the first place — it's fun remember! This is a bike that majors on fun, it allows people like us, who should know better, to get out and muck about on a bike — no thoughts of training, peak power, KOMs. My overall mileage on the Slate is far less than on my other bikes, just 700 or so miles in the time I’ve had it, but every one of those has been much more memorable than flat or rolling training miles on unmemorable roads!

Where next for the Slate? Well it's still running conventional tyres and tubes, so I may try a switch to tubeless, tech writer Robin is trying out Schwalbe's G-Ones in tubeless trim on a Slate he’s got on test and rates them highly, so I may have to give them a go myself. In the meantime however, I’ll keep trying to find a spare hour or two to put a smile — and plenty of mud — on my face.

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This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine – the manual for the modern road cyclist. Try your first five issues for £5 when you subscribe today.
  • Discipline: Road
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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