The brand new Judge range is made up of two freeride bikes and an all-out DH rig, and we're just back from Barjac in France where we've been among the first in Europe to test them out.
The bikes will be ridden by Cannondale's The Cut team which includes top freeriders like Aaron Chase and Carlo Dieckman.
Each model in the line-up uses the same frame and just the spec changes to suit. The Judge FR1 is the top dog for huckers and slopestylers. The influence of the previous Gemini platform is obvious but Cannondale have taken the next step in their freeride evolution.
The burly frame is made from 6061 T6 TIG-welded aluminium and features Cannondale's Shock Link linkage system, which is a simple single-pivot suspension set-up with a rocker that pushes a Fox DHX 5.0 coil shock. The location of the pivot, the use of the rocker and the way in which the shock has been set up all work together to mean you get 220mm of staged travel. Basically, the first stage offers around 75mm of supple travel from the off to take care of the smaller stuff. The second stage offers a stable pedalling platform, and finally, the third stage ramps up to take care of the big hits and offers an almost bottomless feeling on large drops.
The massive single pivot combined with the manipulating link provides a super-stiff rear end. Connecting the shock and swingarm at the linkage also helps to stiffen the rear end. The pivot itself runs on oversized bearings and the 83mm bottom bracket (BB) provides a stable ride feel. Both the BB and pivot are machined from one piece of aluminium to keep things stiff. The rear dropouts are also machined and replaceable.
With a price not far off four grand, the FR1 comes with some quality components. A 200mm travel Fox 40RC fork takes care of big drop eating duties while remaining light and stiff for front end luxury. The Judge rolls on Mavic's EX729 rims laced to Sun Ringlé hubs with a 20mm through-axle up front and a 12mm unit at the rear. They're not light wheels but they are strong.
A SRAM X.9 rear mech and X.9 shifters together with a Shimano XT front mech make for easy shifting and power is delivered through a tough Truvativ Holzfeller crankset with sensibly-specced 24/36-tooth rings and a bashguard.
We found FSA's FR-270 BOS 40mm riser bar a little wide but it offers ample room for moving the levers and plenty of scope to chop it down. Stopping this beast is a cinch with Hayes' superb El Camino hydraulic disc brakes. Finally, the WTB Laser V Pro might not be the comfiest seat but it's small, tough and more than up to the job.
It's what you don't notice when riding the Judge that makes it a pleasure - there are no quirks or problems. Although it's a medium weight bike, it pedals surprisingly well and rides lighter than you'd expect. The suspension platform really does work and you feel the power is going where you want it to. The suspension works fine at both ends on both small and big hits. Large drops are a doddle and this bike will allow you to ride beyond your usual limits.
The slack geometry means the Judge comes into its own on steep descents and never gets too twitchy, even at speed. The only problem is on tighter stuff, but you find that with most big-hitters. Truvativ's double ring makes pedalling relatively painless but you won't want to ride uphill for long.
The Judge has the looks, kit and feel you want on a bike that costs this much. All that remains to be seen is how a big name brand will fare in a freeride world dominated by smaller Canadian companies.