Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
For our first ride on the new Cannondale Topstone in Aspen, Colorado our hosts have a short and easy shakeout ride planned.
We pedal out of town on the East of Aspen trail, a dirt multi-use trail that parallels Highway 82 — also known as Independence Pass. After a few miles the trail ends, and riders can continue their climb up to the top of the pass at 12,000 feet. This isn’t our objective for the day, so we flip around and head back to town.
However, Aspen is the first place I ever lived in Colorado, and I am overcome with nostalgia, stoke, and an insatiable reserve of energy every time I’m here, so I can’t help myself. I subvert the shakeout ride:
“Let’s ride to the Bells!”
Turns out it’s not that hard to convince a group of cycling journalists and bike industry folks to pivot from a six-mile shakeout ride to a 20-mile roundtrip climb up to a turquoise lake perched below two iconic Colorado fourteeners.
And although we are on Topstone Carbon gravel bikes — full suspension, some with Lefty Oliver forks and some rigid — a change of plans doesn’t faze the bikes or the riders. Like summer itself, the possibilities on this bike are endless.
Topstone Carbon 2.0
The new Topstone, actually released in April, is the latest in an interesting evolution of suspension gravel bikes from Cannondale.
In 2016, the Connecticut-based brand released the Slate, a bike that lead engineer Darius Shekari called “ahead of its time.”
“I was really excited about that bike,” he said. “It hit the market and people didn’t really understand it, but it spoke to the market as well because it was first drop bar suspension bike. Now, seven or eight years later, suspension is making its way into gravel scene.”
In 2019, Cannondale released the first Topstone, which slotted in above the Slate as a more refined gravel bike: it was available in carbon, featured a new integrated rear suspension design called the Kingpin, could accommodate wider tires, and also replaced the old dual crown Lefty fork with a single crown version.
The latest iteration of the Topstone is even more refreshed. Kingpin suspension is back but weighs 100g less. The system is built around a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube that allows the entire posterior of the frame to flex for both comfort and traction, without a penalty on the road.
Bikes specc’ed with the Lefty Oliver, Cannondale’s gravel suspension fork, fit either 700 x 45mm tires or 650b x 2.1″.
And, to make the bikes even more customizable to the rider, the new Topstone has a traditional wheel dish and threaded BSA bottom bracket, making it simple to swap for a different wheelset or cranks.
Adventure seekers will find plenty of mounts on the Topstone for bags and bottles (including on the fork of the non-Lefty bikes), as well as a StrapRack tool carrier on the downtube.
For riders concerned with visibility on the road, the SmartSense system of a handlebar and rear light, as well as radar, uses a single battery, tucked underneath the StrapRack.
Cannondale offers nine different stock Topstone versions; seven are set for 700c wheels, while two are configured for 650b wheels.
I tested the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty with mechanical Shimano GRX 800 shifting and a dropper post. My bike did not have the SmartSense system.
At this point in the evolution of the gravel bike category, we don’t have to sacrifice pedaling efficiency on the road for maximum fun on the dirt and trails. Bikes are just that good.
So, while Cannondale has a lighter/faster/racier gravel option in the SuperSix EVO, I still found the Topstone to slice through road miles efficiently, even with the Lefty Oliver fork adding an additional kilogram of weight. And then of course, the descents were that much more fun.
Halfway up our climb up Maroon Creek Road to visit the Maroon Bells, I lock out the fork, although I haven’t really noticed it, either. It’s super stable under me. Earlier, Shekari had told us that the lack of suspension bob is due to the high compression damping.
“The circuit opens immediately on hits,” he said.
Similarly, the integrated Kingpin suspension is subtle enough that you don’t notice any sag or squish when on the road, but it immediately gets to work if you hit a bump or uneven ground.
The Topstone’s Kingpin suspension works around a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube that allows the entire back of the frame to flex. Furthermore, the chainstays are pretty broad and flat, also contributing to the vertical flex.
We all make it up to the Bells in good time, surprised with how lively the bikes feel on a paved climb. Even with the locked-out Lefty, I don’t feel like I’m bouncing around on pseudo-suspension. The pedaling platform is smooth and efficient, and best of all, out-of-the-saddle climbing doesn’t have the rear end of the bike feeling swimmy or like I have a flat tire.
After ooh’ing and ahh’ing the triangle-shaped peaks, we all rip the eight-mile descent back to town. A buff-colored fox trying to decide whether or not to cross the road has me slam on the brakes at one point making me realize just how fast I am going.
The day after we ride the road up to the Bells, we take the Topstones on a proper gravel and singletrack tour near Woody Creek (of Hunter S. Thompson fame) where we can really test all of its features.
This is my fourth long ride on the Topstone, and I can attest to how effortlessly it transitions between the pavement and the dirt. Even on 44c Vittoria Mezcal tires, I am riding at a steady clip.
Somehow this bike doesn’t feel sluggish going uphill despite its mountain bikey features — the tires, the fork, the rear suspension.
We climb up to the tiny town of Lenado on a freshly graded iron-red dirt road. My test bike has mechanical shifting — Shimano GRX 800 — which actually feels like a novelty in an age of constant charging. It works flawlessly.
We top out after a few miles of mellow climbing and have snacks by the river. Then, it’s up and over Tinpot, a trail I’ve only ever ridden on a mountain bike. The Topstones take to the singletrack like fish to water. Tinpot is a 2.4 mile climb of about 1,200 feet. There are a few moves up and over little rock gardens, it’s a steady climb and narrow at times, so I give it an underbiking factor of about 7/10.
Nevertheless, there’s fun underbiking and there’s grit-your-teeth the whole time underbiking. This qualifies as the former.
The descent off the top of Tinpot is a rough doubletrack road, and here I finally get to let the Lefty loose. The front and rear suspension soak up the baby head bumps and allow me to let off the brakes a little less than if I were on a rigid rigid bike.
I’m nowhere near as loose as Alex Howes who quickly becomes a tiny pink blip on the horizon as he descends, but I’m definitely not gripped.
Although my bike has a dropper, I try it but don’t like it. It just doesn’t feel like it adds anything to the experience. Suspension on gravel bikes = yes. Droppers = meh.
After dropping back into Aspen, we take the Rio Grande bike path back to the Woody Creek Tavern to complete the loop and have a late lunch. We have effectively linked paved bike path, dirt bike path, paved road, dirt road, AND singletrack on this ride, and the Topstone felt at home on every surface.
In a way, this type of riding epitomizes the best parts about summer — endless opportunity. The roads are open, the trails are open, the gravel is there, too. If you’re lucky enough, you can link them all up for an all-terrain adventure. The Topstone will comply.
Topstone Carbon pricing
Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty: $7,800 (SRAM Force AXS XPLR, Hollowgram 22 wheels)
Topstone Carbon 1 RLE*: $7,800
Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty: $4,200 (Shimano GRX 800, dropper post option)
Topstone Carbon 2L**: $4,200 (Shimano GRX 800)
Topstone Carbon 3L: $3,300
Topstone Carbon 3L: $3,300 (650b)
Topstone Carbon 3: $3,300
Topstone Carbon 3: $3,300 (650b)
Topstone Carbon 4: $2,800 (Shimano GRX 400)
*RLE designates SmartSense system equipped with both radar and lights
**L designates that the model has SmartSense lights ONLY but no radar, which can be added later
The Topstone Carbon is available in XS-XL.
Full specs, details, color options, and more are available on the Cannondale website.