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Cannondale Trail SE 4 review

Can the Cannondale Trail SE 4’s ride feel match its killer looks on the trail?

Our rating 
3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5
GBP £950.00 RRP | USD $1,175.00 | EUR €1,099.00
Cannondale Trail SE4

Our review

Contemporary angles, a forgiving frame and decent spec mean the Trail SE 4 has a lot of promise, but the short reach and top tube limit trail potential when things get more technical
Pros: Good-quality Shimano drivetrain; upgrade potential; comfortable when cruising and climbing
Cons: Brakes lack power and urgency; coil-sprung fork is too hard for light riders; long stem affects responsiveness of steering; heavy compared to competition
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Claimed to be a mountain bike that will “raise your game and ignite passion for the trail”, the Trail SE 4 shares attributes of Cannondale’s more expensive carbon hardtail models for a fraction of the price.

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The Trail SE 4 model sits bang in the middle of the Trail SE range and comes with some decent kit for the money.

The spec list includes Shimano Deore 10-speed 1x transmission, WTB tyres and a coil-sprung Suntour fork, complete with a stiff thru-axle to clamp the front wheel in place.

While some of the Trail SE 4’s geometry angles are very contemporary, however, other measurements aren’t as up-to-date.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 frame and specifications

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Seatstays are dropped for a smoother ride and striking appearance.
Ian Linton / Our Media

Like the carbon Scalpel models, the Trail SE 4 features dropped seatstays that are intended to give the frame compliance for a smoother, less fatiguing ride, along with a distinctive aesthetic.

The frame is built using SmartForm C2 alloy and Cannondale has thought ahead by giving the Trail SE 4 a tapered head tube, spare internal port for a dropper post and boost thru-axles (15x115mm at the front and 12x148mm at the rear). All of this means the Trail SE 4 is ready for upgrades when you are.

Cables are routed internally with neat ports at the head tube and exit through the ‘StraightShot’ window at the bottom bracket.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Cables are routed internally through the front triangle, exiting through a window on the underside of the down tube by the bottom bracket junction.
Ian Linton / Our Media

There’s plenty of grip at your disposal thanks to the 29in WTB tyres (a 2.3in Breakout at the front and a 2.25in Trail Boss on the rear). These wrap tubeless-ready WTB STX i25 TCS rims.

The front derailleur mount on the seat tube detracts from the otherwise sleek, clean-lined design.

It is an arguably unnecessary addition for many riders, considering the wide-range 11-46t, 10-speed cassette, paired with a 32T chainring, should provide enough options to get you up most climbs.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
The 2.3in WTB Breakout tyre at the front offers a decent amount of grip. At the rear, the WTB Trail Boss balances traction with rolling speed well.
Ian Linton / Our Media

A coil-sprung Suntour XCR fork pumps out 120mm of travel at the front.

The smaller-size frames only get one set of bottle mount bosses (on the down tube), while larger sizes have a second set on the seat tube.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 geometry

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
While some of the Trail SE 4’s geometry numbers are up to date, the short reach and effective top tube make for a slightly cramped ride feel.
Ian Linton / Our Media
Seat angle (degrees)72.772.572.672.672.7
Head angle (degrees)66.566.566.566.566.5
Chainstay (mm)435435435435435
Seat tube (mm)360390440470520
Top tube (mm)541566598626653
Head tube (mm)9090100110120
Fork offset (mm)5151515151
Trail (mm)107108108108107
Bottom bracket drop (mm)5756565656
Bottom bracket height (mm)317318318318318
Wheelbase (mm)1,0831,1111,1441,1731,202
Standover (mm)729754788809843
Stack (mm)593603619629638
Reach (mm)367385415440465

Cannondale Trail SE 4 ride impressions

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
The Cannondale Trail SE 4 proved to be one of the best climbers in our Budget MTB Bike of the Year test.
Ian Linton / Our Media

The Cannondale is one of the heavier hardtail mountain bikes in our 2023 Bike of the Year test at 14.3kg (size small on my scales). However, you soon forget the weight when you hit the trail and start climbing.

I found the Trail SE 4 one of the more comfortable hardtails to climb on.

The 74-degree seat angle with the saddle pushed forwards on the rails made for a reasonably efficient seated pedalling position.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Tektro M275 brakes take care of stopping duties on the Trail SE 4.
Ian Linton / Our Media

There’s just about enough space left on the fork steerer (and enough spacers) to ensure you can set the bars at a good height for a comfortable position when in the saddle.

It still feels lower than some, though, and may be something not everyone adapts to.

The Cannondale doesn’t feel particularly stretched out, however, due largely to the short effective top tube (566mm).

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Cannondale uses a larger 180mm disc rotor at the front to help boost stopping power, while there’s a 160mm rotor at the rear.
Ian Linton / Our Media

The longer 60mm stem helps offset this cramped feeling, but makes steering feel less reactive and a little sluggish at times. This is especially noticeable when tackling climbs with tight turns.

Standing up out of the saddle, the reach (the horizontal distance measured from the centre of the bottom bracket axle to the centre of the top of the head tube) continues this theme. At 385mm, it’s more than 20mm shorter than the Scott Aspect 920.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
There’s room on the fork steerer tube to move the stem up or down and alter handlebar height.
Ian Linton / Our Media

This knocks stability at speed when descending, limits space to move around the bike without upsetting things too much and means a delicate touch is required when manoeuvring the Trail SE 4 in more technical terrain.

It doesn’t help that you can’t drop the seatpost fully in the frame, which stifles overall confidence somewhat (in the case of the smaller frame sizes, this is due to the front derailleur mount).

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Cannondale uses a larger 180mm disc rotor at the front to help boost stopping power.
Ian Linton / Our Media

The lack of chainstay protector meant that despite the internal cables remaining rattle-free, there was still quite a bit of chain slap, though this can be silenced quickly for a small cost.

Get onto some mellower flowy singletrack, though, and the smooth-rolling 29in wheels help to maintain speed with plenty of grip at your disposal, thanks to the WTB rubber.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
Gearing comes courtesy of Shimano’s Deore 10-speed range, though Cannondale has included an FSA Alpha Drive crankset, likely to save some cash.
Ian Linton / Our Media

This is where the Trail SE 4 really comes to life and puts a grin on your face.

Rolling hills and even punchier climbs are catered for thanks to the 1x Shimano transmission, which offers a decent enough range to see you clear just about every hill, as well as a high enough gear for fast road or fire-road sections.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
An SR Suntour XCR fork boasts 120mm of travel.
Ian Linton / Our Media

The Suntour fork’s coil spring felt too firm for me, but steering was precise and there was more than enough support when pushing on.

Cannondale has done a good job with the frame feel, though, and it felt suitably forgiving just about everywhere.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 bottom line

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
In more technical terrain, the short reach limits high-speed stability.
Ian Linton / Our Media

As an entry-level hardtail for trail riding, the Trail SE 4 will certainly give you a better start than many at this price point.

While the spec is decent on the whole, I felt I needed a lighter spring to make the most of the Suntour fork and its 120mm of travel.

That said, the Shimano drivetrain, and WTB wheel and tyre combo are highlights that do their intended jobs well.

Cannondale Trail SE 4 hardtail mountain bike
The forgiving frame feel, slack head angle and grippy tyres really help you to push the Trail SE 4 to its limits.
Ian Linton / Our Media

Despite the relatively relaxed head angle, the short reach impacts confidence on the downhills, while the compact top tube makes for a slightly cramped seated position. Extending these would only benefit the Trail SE 4 in every aspect.

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On smoother, less technical trails, where the Trail SE 4 was designed to thrive, it’s a lot of fun to ride and ensures you’ll just about always have a smile plastered on your face.

Budget Mountain Bike of the Year | How we tested

More affordable mountain bikes are the best they’ve ever been.

In an ideal world, the frames will enable you to upgrade to even more capable parts when you inevitably get hooked on the sport.

With that in mind, we selected a wide variety of trails in Scotland’s Glentress Forest, where we could put the bikes through their paces, before reporting back to you on the wisest purchase when it comes to quality, performance and value for money.

Our Budget Bike of the Year contenders

With thanks to…

Product Specifications


Price EUR €1099.00GBP £950.00USD $1175.00
Weight 14.3kg (L) – without pedals
Brand Cannondale


Available sizes XS, S, M, L, XL
Bottom bracket Sealed cartridge bearing, square taper
Brakes Tektro M275 hydraulic disc, 180/160mm rotors
Cassette Shimano Deore M4100, 11-46
Chain KMC X10
Cranks FSA Alpha Drive
Fork SR Suntour XCR, 120mm travel
Frame All-New, Smartform C2 Alloy, SAVE dropped seatstays
Grips/Tape Cannondale Dual-Density
Handlebar FSA Alloy Riser, 760mm Cannondale 3
Rear derailleur Shimano Deore M4100
Saddle Cannondale Ergo XC
Seatpost Cannondale C3
Shifter Shimano Deore M4100
Stem Cannondale C3 Alloy, 60mm
Tyres (F) WTB Breakout, 29 x 2.3in / (R) WTB Trail Boss, 29 x 2.25in
Wheels WTB STX i25 TCS, 32h, Shimano MT400 hubs