The first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race of the year is always ripe with new goodies for the season and Cannondale's Factory Racing team continued the trend in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa this weekend by unveiling an all-new Lefty fork design.
The most obvious trait on the new Cannondale Lefty fork is the round lower leg – well, at least the part you can see, anyway. Labeling elsewhere on the fork suggests there are still 88 steel needle bearings at work to keep the upper and lower legs from rotating relative to each other but we're guessing they've been moved further up inside the lower leg, out of sight and also further away from possible contamination.
Speaking of contamination, the round lower leg now finally allows for a conventional lip seal to be used in contrast to the current open – but covered – layout. A semi-rigid plastic guard is now bolted on to protect the front and side of the lower leg from impact. As an added bonus, the properly sealed layout should perform much better in wet weather than the current setup, which can occasionally suck in water.
Team mechanics wouldn't say a word about the internal layout of the new Lefty fork but badging reveals there are still 88 needle bearings at work inside
Moving the bearings further up inside the leg not only cleans up the appearance but should also improve the fork's already incredible chassis stiffness. Hidden behind the wiper seal is possibly a supplemental bushing. This is anathema to the Lefty tifosi but assuming we're correct, such a change coupled with the proposed bearing relocation would actually improve the new Lefty's chassis rigidity, especially as you move deeper into the travel when you want that stiffness most – not unlike old Manitou forks, in fact. If it's done right, adding a single bushing wouldn't necessarily add an offensive amount of friction, either.
Internally, it's much more difficult to tell what's going on with the spring and damper system, and team mechanics wouldn't say a word. In fact, they jokingly wouldn't even acknowledge hearing our questions. That being said, Cannondale look to still be using the single-valve, dual-chamber Solo Air system and XLoc hydraulic lockout system borrowed from RockShox, presumably again coupled to Cannondale own damper design.
Team mechanics wouldn't comment on the new fork's weight, either, but it's unlikely to be heavier than the current version. Team rider Jeremiah Bishop did offer some commentary on the ride quality when we caught up with him at the pit area in Pietermaritzburg. According to Bishop, the biggest difference from the previous design is a boost in lateral stiffness – something he especially notices with 29in wheels.
We surmise the bearings are now further up in the Lefty chassis and augmented by a bushing at the bottom, which allows for a round shape for the lower leg and a conventional lip seal