Cannondale has never been shy of taking a step forward, even if that often takes it very near the edge. Its expertise and experience in thin-wall oversized tubes is second to none, and it has been pushing carbon fibre limits for a long time. No surprise then that the Taurine is both a unique and outstanding ride.
Each tube is subtly shaped to match the loads it has to handle, ranging from the massive round down tube for power transfer to skinny seat stays for compliance.
Cannondale's unique oversized BB30 bottom bracket mounts the SI crank on a 30mm diameter hollow axle, while the oversized 1.5in 'HeadShok' head tube can take either the more traditional 'Fatty' fork or the offset single leg 'Lefty' that we've used here.
Even weaving impatiently through the MTB traffic at the Dirt Demo entrance, the natural speed of the Taurine was obvious. As soon as we found the slightest gap between the 29ers or fat lads on freeride bikes, it unleashed its full potential. We can't remember having to punch through gears as fast to keep up with a bike's acceleration, and within seconds other riders were blurring and hurtling towards us like we'd pressed a hyperspace button.
While a 20lb bike is always likely to go up like a firework, the 'oooh' and the 'aaah' of the Taurine is that it doesn't just explode into a shower of sparks at the top. Cannondale's years of adding smoothness into the back end of stiff frames is obvious in the lack of clatter, buzz and general abuse under your butt. Even bigger impacts and drops are muted by the carefully arranged material, so there's far less of the panic ricochet or startled skittering that seems to characterise most of its peers.
A degree off the head angle compared with most race hardtails keeps it more settled on descents and loose surfaces, too. The tight rear end and steep seat angle (especially with the in-line seat post) means there's no shortage of cornering grip on the front or flick around agility on tighter trails.
Although the Lefty weighs well under 3lb, the 110mm stroke is significantly more capable of tackling big hits and drops than the 80mm forks of competing bikes. Despite its solo leg skeleton, it's far more accurate at tracking and steering, too. European bikes will get the extra external adjustment of the slightly heavier DLR2 model, although we had no problems with the factory tune of our fork.
The 30mm axle and broad carbon arms of the SI crank create an outstandingly stiff power connection underfoot, boosting the astonishing acceleration even further. The mix of SRAM X.0 and Shimano XTR gears is equally instant in reaction, but note that Euro models will come with lighter 'Grip' shifters.
You could probably find a lighter bike and undoubtedly find a cheaper one, but we really doubt you'll find a better hardtail than the Taurine Team. It's effortless on the climbs, but still superb on singletrack and smooth enough to skim over serious trails all day. Affording it will be a definite problem, but justifying the cost will take just one ride.
© BikeRadar 2008