Cannondale's Prophet comes in three flavours from XC SL (super light) to almost freeride MX versions, but this aggressive 'standard' all rounder is fantastic for those who want a simple, straightforward tool for seriously challenging terrain.
While other companies have turned to linkage suspension systems, Cannondale have been there, done that and come back to a simple, but super proven and effective chassis layout. It's not without 'Dale's trademark innovation though. While this Prophet 3 gets a conventional Pike fork not Cannondale's one legged Lefty, you still get an oversized One Point Five inch headtube that'll handle any fork. Big smooth welded joins - a trademark of Cannondale's proud 'Handmade in USA' quality - connect it to the well proven (by Cannondale as well as Marin) Killer V mainframe.
A single machined hollow section upright straddles the vertically - not horizontally as usual - ovalised down tube. Big curved rectangular chainstays and skinny 'seat stays' splice together ahead of chunky dropouts. Two rear shock positions give either a relaxed 69 degree head angle or super slack 67.5 setting.
In practical terms it's average in reach across the top tube for a 17in frame, and while the single bottle cage is underslung in a prime shit catching positioning under the down tube, the cable routing is really neat and there's masses of mudroom. It's super easy to wash too which always helps in the UK.
Very few test bikes we jump on feel immediately right in terms of handling, and working with a compromise of our own personal preferences is all part of the job. No worries about that with the Prophet. The super steep 75 degree seat angle pushes weight forward onto the 90mm stem, big bars and Bulldog stance Pike fork to absolutely nail traction however hard you're ripping the bars into turns. The short back end plus a naturally skippy swingarm action which jacks up when braking or accelerating pushes weight and control emphasis forward even more.
For straightline or straight off stuff just lean back into the easy rear suspension travel and the front end comes up smoothly despite the heavy fork and you'll drop in with flattering poise. The addition of a slacker angle packed in its resumé makes it a bike that we'd be happy to bag up and take to the real mountains in the Alps too, even if the 13in BB height in the slacker setting means it's of limited use on our more pedally home trails.
However, like most bikes that really grab you with their character it's got a few traits that some riders will see as crude flaws. The swingarm back end kicks you through your feet off big drops or over big impacts, and the 'dig down' power delivery needs care not to spit traction on slippery surfaces. The vertically ovalised down tube also lets more flex than we expected into the back end too. This means a really noticeable sideways twang and shimmy when you load the bike up on awkward landings, combining with the forward weighting to create an occasionally untamed, tail happy feel. It's not light for climbing either although we found its insatiable eagerness and bulldog ferocity downhill offsets a lot of the extra weight.
There's no better statement of intent for the Prophet's character than the RockShox Pike fork up front. Its Maxle thru axle and up to 140mm of super controlled, coil sprung travel means you can force the bike down the throat of any threatening trail situation before it has chance to bite. The coil version adds a lot of weight, but avoids the delay in waiting for it to smooth out that you get with the air versions, and it's cheaper too. The Manitou Radium rear shock works well on a simple swingarm, with enough stiction to keep it stable when pedalling, but still responding to small trail ripples and picking up big hits with decent control. Big broad Ditch Witch rims fatten out the tyres for better grip and float and they add a lot of stability and confidence when things get lairy. The seemingly ubiquitous Maxxis Ignitor tyres are easy to turn and trustworthy in terms of predictable grip/slip, with the 2.35in size giving useful extra cush and traction.
Considering it's a handbuilt US frame the trim kit is good: The SRAM transmission is accurate and crisp, and while the FSA crank isn't as stiff as external bearing units on the other bikes it's okay for as long as the ISIS bottom bracket lasts. FSA provide the oversized bars/stem kit as well, with perfect stem length and a particularly nice locked on Cannondale Grind grips completing a very direct and accurate cockpit feel. SDG Bel Air i-Beam saddle and post chop some weight and add adjustment, yet the whole bike still comes in fairly heavy at near 33lb.
Like most Prophets not everyone will be a believer but, singletrack fanatics may have found a new messiah. If you're prepared to use the intuitive swingarm feedback, masses of front end confidence and rear end skip to really grab the bike by the scruff of the neck then you'll love it whatever the weight and kit issues. If not there are plenty of more relaxing options in this test.