The 5.5in (140mm) travel Prophet 2, aimed squarely at the burgeoning all-mountain market, bucks the trend for Cannondale's US-built bikes to look a little overpriced next to the competition. With a tempting spec sheet and a £2,000 price tag, it's an eye-watering £1,750 cheaper than its Prophet 1 stablemate...worth a look for anyone in the £2-2.5k full sus market.
Cannondale's long-established 'delta' front triangle design forms the basis of the Prophet 2's chassis, with a formed and butted down tube providing the backbone on to which everything else is attached. The top tube is similarly flared towards the front, while the characteristic 'delta' second top tube braces the top shock mount against the huge head tube. Spacers and shims reduce the head tube's internal diameter to make it fit third party forks, but there's room for a future upgrade to Cannondale's proprietary Lefty single-sided fork/headset system.
The swingarm is classic single pivot simplicity, hinging around a pivot point in the standard middle ring, just ahead of the bottom bracket position. Riders with a heels-inward pedalling style may find it a tad wide. A one-piece forging up front helps keep things rigid, and two clearly marked shock mount positions give the option of neutral or slightly slack head angles. We stuck with the more laidback freeride position but found it equally well suited to day-long rides.
RockShox's Pearl 3.3 shock holds the back end up and is the last line of defence between lumpy trails and the rider's fillings. It's a good performer, with plenty of adjustability to cater for all preferences between a firm-feeling rear end that only moves on bigger hits, to a soft compliance that sucks up everything in its path at the expense of a little pedal-induced bob. It's also a great match for the equally adjustable - and super-preciseRockShox Pike 454 fork up front. With its convenient-but-stiff quick-release through-axle to beef up front wheel rigidity, this fork is noticeably more accurate in the steering department than the (relatively) flexier Fox units fitted to the Scott, Orange and Kona.
A SRAM-based transmission and Avid's superb Juicy Seven brakes - with 185mm front and 160mm rear rotors - give the Prophet 2 a slick feeling stop-and-go performance. We're not quite so keen on the I-beam SDG saddle and seatpost. It shaves some weight but isn't as tough as a standard combo with metal rails. That's the only niggle on an otherwise well specced machine. Well built wheels, big tyres and wide bars with Lock-On grips give a confidence-inspiring feel.
Clichés often have the virtue of truth to them. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, it's hard to regard the Prophet - in aesthetic terms, at least - as anything other than ungainly-looking. But if there's one thing we've learned, it's that you can't judge a bike's character from how it looks. And so it proves to be with the Prophet.
Sling a leg over that dropped top tube, grab hold of the wide, wide bars and head off down the trail and thoughts of odd-looking frames are drowned out by a feeling of solidity and stability. From the tenacious grip of the wide Ignitor tyres, through the precise steering of the through-axle fork and just-so feel of the rider cockpit, this bike exudes an air of invulnerability.
While other manufacturers have abandoned single pivot's undoubted simplicity and reliability for finely-tuned linkage solutions, the Prophet - like its Orange competitor - proves that, done well, one pivot is all you need. RockShox's Pearl shock is easy to set up, does a good job of filtering out bob from all but the choppiest pedalling, and handles everything from tiny trail detritus to washed-out roots and square-edged boulders in its stride.
What makes the Prophet really shine, though, is its fork. The Pike matches the Fox Float forks of the Kona, Orange and Scott for plush controllability, but trumps them on steering precision. Yes, you really can feel it. Yes, it really does make a difference. This bike descends more confidently than any five-inch travel, all-day-rideable machine has any right to. The penalty is a tad extra weight, but if descending fast and hard is your reason for winching up the climbs, this is the bike for you.
A precise-steering fork, predictable rear end and superbly controllable brakes make for a descending demon.
Those looks may not appeal to everyone, and the fork and weight make this a reasonable rather than blistering climber.