ZThere is a certain discrepancy between the mouse-grey frame color and the obvious technical delicacies of the Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3. At first glance, the eye darts over the wheel. What do you expect from a finish that calls itself stealth-grey? But then something catches your attention: an upside-down suspension fork. At least on the left side. Because where the right fork leg should be, there is – nothing.
What has delighted and horrified Cannondale fans and mountain bike industry connoisseurs alike since the early noughties is now successfully raising dust in the gravel segment. Countless comments from chance encounters along the way make it clear how strange the one-armed front wheel guide looks to outsiders. Yes, the single-armed carbon Topstone isn’t just another gravel bike. It is exotic with clear unique selling points and does not fail to have an effect.
The Lefty Gravelbike fork offers a gentle 30 millimeters of travel. A joke from a mountain biker’s perspective and a potential plus in comfort for the inclined gravel rider. The fork gets the right set-up via an air pump. A table of weight-based PSI values serves as a guide, which is taped to the back of the fork along with a recommendation for rebound damping. The front looks tight and sporty, and there is almost no negative spring travel.
The rear of the Topstone is also subtly sprung
You won’t find a damper, because Cannondale’s carbon frame construction has flattened areas in the saddle and top tube, which, in combination with filigree chainstays and saddle stays, are supposed to ensure a certain flexibility. The most striking feature of the system, known as the Kingpin, is the axle, which connects the seat tube and seat stays and is said to allow up to 30 millimeters of spring travel in combination.
All this is not really noticeable in the first few meters. But the almost perfect ergonomics. Rarely does one feel so quickly on a drop bar bike. With a length of 173 centimetres, the tester sits sportily and compactly on an S frame and feels up to any gravel terrain. The wheel looks handy and downright playful. A branch in the way? No problem, with a light-footed bunnyhop the obstacle is casually jumped over. Small heel, steep bump?
With the Topstone every jump is used. Even narrow trails – actually not a strength of the racing handlebar squad – lift the spirits in the saddle. The WTB Byway rear tire in 650 × 47c, which has a treadless tread, sets the limits here. The off-road competence, which is already unusual for this type of bike, could be further increased with more heavily profiled tires, although we don’t want to lose sight of road use despite the smooth transition to mountain bikes.
The constructive comfort plus is noticeable
On the other hand, the tire dimensions are noticeable on asphalt stages. Narrow 28-inchers usually accelerate better. However, since the road morphology is mostly characterized by distortions, the relatively voluminous tires still feel good. Especially tubeless, the tire pressure can be lowered in favor of higher traction and increased comfort. But even drivers with a tendency to high tire pressure do not have to suffer, because the constructive comfort plus becomes noticeable with increasing daily odometer. The Lefty fork shows its strengths on bumpy stretches and is easy on the wrists and nerves. If you don’t believe it, use the lock function on the fork crown as a reference – the difference is clearly noticeable.
The flexing rear is more latently perceptible, but compared to unsprung gravel bikes it provides more gravel traction and generally less tiring riding on day-long stages. This is exactly what the Topstone is designed for, which is underlined by various eyelets for bottle and equipment holders. For bikepacking adventures and self-sustaining races, the handlebars could have a little more flare. But that is a matter of taste and can easily be customized.
For the components, Cannondale relies on their own material from the handlebars to the seat post. The drive, gears and brakes come from Shimano, with a wild mix of all GRX groups being used here: 800 rear derailleur, 600 lever, 400 brakes and an SLX cassette. Nevertheless, the interaction works perfectly. As is typical for its class, the Topstone is equipped with a 1×11 gear system and 160 millimeter brake discs. At 10.3 kilograms, however, the sporty gravel sedan is no lightweight – a concession to the fork. As extras, the US manufacturer installs a wheel sensor that can communicate driving data with the Cannondale app, and a removable mudguard holder for the rear wheel. The former is a gimmick, the latter a practical concession to the dirty everyday life of a biker. The excellently finished Topstone Carbon Lefty 3 is currently leaving the dealers’ halls for 4399 euros.
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