While Cannondale may be known for their mountain bike aluminium expertise, their heritage is also in travelling the open road – their very first bike was a tourer back in 1983. Weighing in at £1,200, the Touring Ultra ruffles tradition with the likes of hydraulic brakes and a Headshok front suspension fork.
Too much technology? With the ever-expanding internet and the likes of DHL to whisk parts out to the further reaches of the planet, this is now less of an issue than in the past – as long as you have time (and cash) to spare.
Converted mountain bikes are great for roughstuff riding
The Ultra Tour is based around Cannondale’s US-manufactured Furio MTB frame, and inherits its massive clearances. In fact, angles, bottom bracket height and chainstay lengths are the same, albeit with added mudguard and rack eyelets. The fact that it’s an aluminium frame will concern some, simply because that material is much harder to repair in more remote parts of the world. While rare, we have seen instances of aluminium frames cracking or denting.
However, Cannondale’s excellent reputation precedes it and they’re confident enough to guarantee their frame for life. Up front, there’s a Headshok suspension fork, with 80mm of travel and a lockout – note that production versions have low rider bosses too. All the parts are also replaceable, so an old fork can be serviced to its original working condition, but it does take more day-to-day maintenance, such as lifting the boot and applying grease on the bearing races after particularly wet conditions. Cannondale recommend regular servicing and because it’s an air system, you’ll need to carry a shock pump, too. If your destination demands simplicity, a rigid fork is also available.
While it’s always good to see a 36-hole wheelset, Mavic’s XM117s are out of place on the Ultra. Designed for cross-country mountain bike use, we’d have preferred thicker braking surfaces, especially as they’re paired with the powerful hydraulic Maguras. Hubs are benchmark Shimano XT, ideal for long-term touring. Schwalbe’s Marathons are a solid tyre choice too, and while they’re not grippy enough for roughstuff rides, they’re puncture resistant and roll well even if, at 800g, they’re a little portly.
With its oversized aluminium tubing, the Cannondale can be a harsh ride – larger-volume tyres are certainly a good idea for taming road blemishes. Under the weight of a couple of panniers, it’s not quite as stable and predictable at the front end as a purpose-built tourer.
However, hit the trails and the bike comes into its own. Converted mountain bikes are great for roughstuff riding, thanks to their stiff framesets, higher bottom brackets and responsive off-road handling and the Ultra is no exception. With an easy flick of the lever, the Headshok provides superb comfort over any terrain, precise steering and very little fore and aft flex even when braking under a heavy load. Its narrow, straight bars do tend to roll the shoulders forward over long rides. We’d recommend a gentle rise, helping to open out the chest and take pressure off the wrists, though the Ergon grips are excellent.
For £1,200, Cannondale’s Touring Ultra packs plenty of quality kit for the money. A LX/XT mix delivers gear shifting – no complaints there. Popular with Continental touring bikes and trials riders alike, Magura HS33 Hydraulic rim brakes provide absolutely superb braking power and are self adjusting – but you’re going to need a bleed kit if something goes wrong.
On an adventure touring bike, cranks with outboard bearings aren’t an obvious choice – although a stiffer system, they’re more exposed to invasive grime. Truvativ bearings don’t have the best reputation and replacing them in the field isn’t recommended, unless you have plenty of mechanical sympathy. Again, we’d prefer the reliability of square tapers. Worth mentioning is that while the stem is particular to the Headshok system, 80-130mm models can be fitted when you buy it, with 5- and 20-degree rises for the perfect ride position.
Tubus’ rugged Cargo handles carrying duties without complaint, while quality, well-fitted SKS mudguards keep the muck off. There are even a couple of cages and bottles thrown in, too. It’s another appearance for the Brooks B17, this time atop a basic suspension seatpost. Ergon’s comfortable grips with bar ends are a nice touch. Cass Gilbert