While Cannondale has had to make a lot of compromises to get its Habit frame down to £1,500 that doesn’t stop it being a really responsive and enjoyable speed bike on the trail.
Cannondale pioneered the use of oversize aluminium tubes for frames 30 years ago and it still likes a big pipe more than most. This includes a straight 1.5in head tube (not the usual 1.5-1.125in taper), an oversize bottom bracket axle and deep chainstays that lead to a 142x12mm axle.
Seatstay flex replaces a conventional rear pivot and the hanging linkage is carbon to shave some more weight. The offset, curved seat tube has routing for an internal dropper post upgrade, but the bolted seat collar is a pain if you want to change the saddle height with the stock rigid post. Brake and gear lines are clamped externally for easy servicing.
The BB30 bottom bracket is shimmed down to take the conventional axle and bearings of an FSA Comet crankset, but it’s ready to take an oversize 30mm crank axle for extra stiffness Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Cannondale Habit 6 kit
A quality frame inevitably means spec compromises. Wisely, Cannondale has fitted reasonable rims and tyres, and the Comet cranks are decent too.
The Habit also gets 2×10 gearing, but the SRAM X5 shifters feel plasticky and the GX rear mech hasn’t got a clutch. While the bar and stem are well shaped, you’ll need to add lock-on grips before the stock numbers twist off in the wet.
The QR axle of the RockShox Recon fork reduces overall control, and the numb, low-power Tektro brakes aren’t far behind the fork on the ‘needs upgrading’ list.
Cannondale Habit 6 ride
What the Habit lacks in kit, it makes up for in character. It’s the lightest bike on test by a small margin compared with the Giant Trance 4, Norco Fluid 7.1 FS and Polygon Siskiu D7 but from the way it rides, you’d think the difference was a kilo or more.
The big bottom bracket shell and deep stays mean there’s little power wasted between foot and floor. Add the lightest rear wheel on test, and the ’Dale accelerates with ego-boosting pace. The fast-rolling WTB tyres and supple movement from the X-Fusion shock (once it’s had a few hours’ riding) mean it carries that speed really well too.
Accurate tuning of the rebound damping is needed to keep the back wheel stuck down in hollows and scoops, but otherwise the flex-stay rear is impressively connected whether cornering or climbing. There’s a lockout for hammering up smoother climbs or mixing it up in a sprint, too.
In terms of straight-line back end response, there’s nothing slowing the Habit down on the descents either. It can occasionally dive deeper into its travel than you’d want but that stops it choking on fast ‘slap’ hits and, if you get the rebound right, it doesn’t ricochet around afterwards. Don’t expect the rear mech to stay as composed as the bike though — the lack of clutch means it likes to lash its chain about.
While the RockShox Recon Silver fork has a smooth stroke, its steel legs add weight and the QR axle is noticeably flexy Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Decent mainframe stiffness keeps communication through the frame and broad bar accurate. So, while the 68-degree head angle is fast rather than stable in feel, and the wheelbase is agile rather than solidly planted, you can push well on towards the limits of your skill.
Unfortunately, well before there’s any sign of the frame and rear suspension getting to their limit, the front end is already working at or beyond what it can manage.
There’s slightly more stiffness and obedience from the QR Recon, with its 32mm legs, than the 30mm-stanchion fork on the Polygon, but it’s noticeably less controlled than the 15mm axle version on the Norco.
The lack of side knobs on the tyres makes them likely to slide and spit traction if you clip a root diagonally.
Add wooden-feeling brakes with limited power and even less traction communication, and the front end needs careful nurturing when the trail gets nasty. You have to either tip-toe through or pop the front wheel up if trees are trying to trip you up.
It’s a sign of the vibrant and engaging overall ride of the Habit that I generally went for the gung-ho, not tip-toe, approach though, relying on the fast handling and sorted back end to stay on the right side of the near miss/complete mess line.