Cannondale Topstone Carbon Force AXS first ride review

Cannondale’s smooth gravel grinder goes carbon

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The minute you get on board Cannondale’s new Topstone you start to experience the smoothness of the leaf-sprung shockless rear end.

I have to admit, I was expecting a mild-amount of bobbing from the rear-end when pedalling seated, especially when climbing, but the Topstone’s back-end was remarkably free of bounce under normal conditions.

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Red black road bike
The Topstone Force AXS is the bike we got to test out on the roads, dirt, and even singletrack of Vermont
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

I even ran the 37c WTB Riddler tyres — which have already impressed me recently on GT’s excellent new Grade — at a slightly higher pressure than I’d ideally choose, to try and isolate tyre ‘squidging’ from rear-end movement.

When my test loop quickly switched from tarmac to dirt, and the ruts, holes and ridges grew in size, then the Topstone’s back-end started to become active with a brilliant ability to squash and smooth truly poor surfaces with ease.

Seatstay on red black road bike
The Kingpin rear-end pivots around this seatstay mounted bearing
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

While Cannondale quotes 30mm of travel at the rear it doesn’t feel ‘limited’. There’s no physical-limit to stop the back end’s compliance, so you can hit obstructions at real speed and the back-end swallows up the forces acting upon it.

I was also impressed with the way in which the Topstone handles. I’ve ridden the same Synapse model since it won Bike of the Year back in 2014, and the Topstone feels very, very similar, with the added bonus of its off-road ability.

Black red road bike
The beefy rear dropouts are now 12mm thru-axle, the previous gen Grade was quick release, and its good to see mounts for fenders/mudguards too
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

The steering response hits the sweet spot of balance between agility and stability, and a long, twisting dirt descent on the Topstone was one of the big highlights of my first ride out on the new bike, feeling confident to push the speed up as the bike feels wonderfully planted with the excellent tyres biting on loose surfaces.

It even impressed over a stretch of rooty, rocky singletrack with more than a few drops and steps along the way. I was riding the top-level model, with SRAM’s new Force AXS group and the new carbon wheelset, and the bike felt road-bike light and lively.

Red black road bike
The gearing combination of 46/33, 10-33 gives you a big range, which proved its worth on fast road descents
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

The gearing combination of 46/33, 10-33 gives you a big range, which proved its worth on fast road descents and a killer gravel climb that lasted a few miles and maxed out at a 20 percent gradient at its steepest.

Up front, the flat-design of the bar makes for a comfortable hold when riding the tops and combined with enough flex to keep things smooth. The deep, thick textured tape also added to the super-plush overall feel that the Topstone has.

Hollowgram stem and carbon bar on road bike
Up front on the Topstone is a new Hollowgram stem and carbon bar that takes its design cues from the aero setup found on the SystemSix
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

Although I’m impressed with the Topstone’s ride, I’d like to get much more time on the bike before committing to a full review.

My first impressions are very, very positive, and the way in which the Topstone impressed both on- and off-road, feeling Synapse-like on the road (which in my opinion is one of the best endurance bikes available) and up with the best of the current gravel machines around.

Male cyclist riding red black road bike
I was impressed with the Topstone’s handling
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

The Topstone could be a great choice for someone looking for a one-bike for everything machine, like a more gravel-biased option to our current road Bike of the Year the Rondo HVRT CF0. It’s quite a similar gravel/all-rounder approach to the recently debuted GT Grade too.

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On a personal note, I’d love to see a Topstone that combines the smooth suspension of its back-end with a lightweight suspension fork, like the new MTB Ocho Lefty, and maybe then we’ll have a true successor to the unique Slate.

Product Specifications

Product

Price GBP £4800.00USD $6500.00
Weight L
Brand Cannondale

Features

Features Connectivity Wheel Sensor
Brakes SRAM Force eTap AXS, 160/160mm Centerline, Centerlock rotors
Cassette 10-33
Cranks SRAM Force eTap AXS 46/33
Fork BallisTec Carbon, 12x100mm Speed Release thru-axle, flat mount disc, gear/rack/fender mounts
Frame BallisTec Carbon, Kingpin suspension system,142x12 Speed Release thru-axle, removable fender bridge
Handlebar HollowGram SAVE Carbon
Rear derailleur SRAM Force eTap AXS
Saddle Fabric Scoop Shallow Race, titanium rails
Seatpost SAVE Carbon
Shifter SRAM Force eTap AXS
Stem HollowGram SAVE, alloy, -6 degrees
Tyres WTB Riddler TCS Light, 700 x 37c, tubeless-ready
Wheels HollowGram HG22 Carbon, 22mm deep, tubeless-ready