Cannondale’s latest entry to the gravel party follows the lead of its Synapse, Slate, SuperX and CAADX SE models, each built with larger volume tyres and more appropriate gearing for riders looking to find their way beyond tarmac.
- The Cannondale Topstone Apex is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2019. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub page.
The new Topstone range consists of three aluminium-framed bikes, ranging from £899.99 to this £1,800 Apex 1 model, which looks to offer workhorse sensibilities and good value.
Cannondale Topstone Apex frame and kit
The Smartform C2 alloy frame has smooth welds and hydroformed tubes. The flattened top tube expands to a large square shape at the head tube, and the down tube is curved with a flat upper face.
The stays incorporate Cannondale’s SAVE shaping with the seatstays flatter at each end and round in the middle with a bridge just below the rack mounts, while the chainstays morph from vertically ovalised at the threaded bottom bracket shell to horizontally flattened in the middle then round by the dropouts.
There are neat individual cable and hose insertion points at the top of the down tube and they all exit before the bottom bracket to continue externally.
A third bottle cage mount beneath the down tube and two possible positions for the cage above it allow for a frame bag and extra spares to be carried. Plus there are mounts for a rear rack, full mudguards and a top tube storage pouch.
This model gets SRAM’s Apex 1 drivetrain, with no substitutions, running a 40-tooth chain ring and 11-42 cassette, and hydraulic discs of course.
It rolls on WTB ST i23 Light wheels with 40mm WTB Nano tyres, and the shallow rim’s generous width expands the tyres to 42mm, which still leaves decent frame clearance — although there’s not room for much more.
The fork is all carbon fibre and topped with Cannondale’s own alloy stem and a flared handlebar measuring 42cm centre-to-centre at the hoods, but 50cm at the bar ends.
I found my large-framed Topstone gave me a tall, relaxed position, largely due to the 25mm headset top cap raising the stem height. The TranzX dropper seatpost has a conventional diameter post to fit the seat tube, topped with a collar, and a slimmer centre. This telescopes in by 50mm with the push of a remote thumb lever that’s mounted on the bar beneath the left-hand brake lever.
The idea is that you drop the post and saddle when faced with the sort of steep descents that are safer without a saddle limiting how far off the back of the bike you can hang, and with a press of the lever the saddle returns to your preferred height.
As I discovered, the dropper post does create a minimum saddle height and, on reflection, I’d have opted for a medium frame to lower the front end, and possibly lengthen the stem if necessary. A dealer would be able to help you find your ideal fit.
Cannondale Topstone Apex ride impressions
Even with more aggressive tyres than most, the Topstone makes good progress on tarmac, with some buzzing to remind you where this bike wants to go. The combination of more than 10kg overall mass and 35psi in those grippy tyres makes long climbs a bit of a grind, but I always had gears in reserve. And, although not rapid, climbing isn’t a drag.
Hitting gravel is a different story. Climbing is no faster, but on the Topstone’s favoured terrain the speed means little because it’s much more fun.
The ride quality over uneven, rough surfaces is very good. The fork, SAVE rear end and plush tyres soak up a considerable amount of vibration and ride big hits with great composure.
The handling was reminiscent of Cannondale’s SuperX ’cross bike, and both share the same 71-degree head angle, similar rake, trail and seat angle, but the Topstone has a longer wheelbase and chainstays, and a lower bottom bracket height.
An overriding feature of the Topstone’s ride is the huge level of confidence it gives when the surface is testing. Switching lines to avoid holes, hopping obstacles, nailing cambers and precise line choice become second nature, and climbing is always worth it to enjoy the descents.
Tucked in to the wide, flared drops, the Topstone descends with the security of a rollercoaster car, making the sketchiest drops far more relaxing. Venturing over sodden grassland and into rooty, slick mud woods, the bike found grip where it was limited and picked its way accurately through the mire — it didn’t collect much mud from its efforts either.
As with most current gravel bikes, there’s scope to customise your Topstone to suit your needs, whether that be full mudguards, multiple bottle cages, a rack or slimmer tyres. But, as supplied, it’s a great adventure machine.
It’s relatively inexpensive and specced in a way that doesn’t need upgrading. It’s not especially fast on the road, but comes alive when the tarmac ends.
Cannondale Topstone Apex specification
- Sizes (*tested): S, M, L*, XL
- Weight: 10.26kg
- Frame: Topstone SmartForm C2 alloy
- Fork: Topstone Disc full carbon
- Chainset: SRAM Apex with 40t X-Sync ring
- Bottom bracket: SRAM GXP
- Cassette: SRAM PG-1130 Apex 11-42
- Chain: SRAM PC 1110
- Derailleur: SRAM Apex 1
- Gear lever: SRAM Apex 1
- Wheels: WTB ST i23 Light TCS
- Tyres: WTB Nano TCS 40mm
- Stem: Cannondale C3 alloy
- Handlebar: Cannondale C3 butted 6061 alloy, 16-degree flare
- Headset: Topstone Si 1 1/8in–1 1/4in
- Saddle: Fabric Scoop Radius Sport
- Seatpost: TranzX Dropper Seatpost, alloy, 50mm travel, drop bar remote
- Brakes: SRAM Apex 1 hydraulic disc, 160mm Centreline rotors
Cannondale Topstone Apex geometry
- Seat angle: 73.1 degrees
- Head angle: 71 degrees
- Chainstay: 43cm
- Seat tube: 55.3cm
- Top tube: 57.9cm
- Head tube: 18.2cm
- Fork offset: 5.5cm
- Trail: 6.5cm
- Bottom bracket drop: 7.5cm
- Bottom bracket height: 28.4cm
- Wheelbase: 1,060mm
- Stack: 61cm
- Reach: 39.4cm
|Available Sizes||S M L XL|
|Seatpost||TranzX Dropper Seatpost, alloy, 50mm travel, drop bar remote|
|All measurements for frame size tested||L|
|Head Tube (cm)||18.2|
|Frame size tested||L|
|Top Tube (cm)||57.9|
|Seat Tube (cm)||55.3|
|Wheelset||WTB ST i23 Light TCS|
|Stem||Cannondale C3 alloy|
|Shifters||SRAM Apex 1|
|Bottom Bracket||SRAM GXP|
|Saddle||Fabric Scoop Radius Sport|
|Rear Tyre||WTB Nano TCS 40mm|
|Rear Derailleur||SRAM Apex 1|
|Headset Type||Topstone Si 1 1/8in–1 1/4in|
|Handlebar||Cannondale C3 butted 6061 alloy, 16-degree flare|
|Front Tyre||WTB Nano TCS 40mm|
|Frame Material||Topstone SmartForm C2 alloy|
|Fork||Topstone Disc full carbon|
|Cranks||SRAM Apex with 40t X-Sync ring|
|Chain||SRAM PC 1110|
|Cassette||SRAM PG-1130 Apex 11-42|
|Brakes||SRAM Apex 1 hydraulic disc, 160mm Centreline rotors|
|Bottom-bracket drop (cm)||7.5|