The Cannondale Topstone Lefty is the enduro bike of gravel.
This one is a little different for us. Hell, it’s a bit different for the entire bike industry. What is it? A gravel bike? Drop bar mountain bike? Is it a road bike? It’s not really any of those things. The Cannondale Topstone Lefty is a tough one to categorize. It doesn’t fit into a tidy, neat little box. We are all in new territory here. So let’s work through it together.
Gravel bike criteria
For me, a gravel bike has to be the most versatile bike out there. It handles a wider variety of terrain than a full-blown MTB, and it certainly allows you to cover more ground than a true road bike. The gravel bike is that go anywhere, do anything type of bike. The Topstone Lefty takes that attitude and turns it up to 11.
Keep in mind, I’m coming from an MTB background. I ride road bikes mostly to stay fit in the offseason and to recover from injuries — which is precisely what I’m doing on the Topstone as I nurse a broken neck back to health. I think a lot of people looking at the Topstone Lefty will be in the same boat. Not the broken neck part, but the MTB background — they’re road-curious mountain bikers. There’s a certain sort of appeal to the freedom a gravel bike provides. The thought of hitting the open roads and exploring the great outdoors is the sentiment that attracts most of us. There’s the odd CX sadistic kook here and there, but for the most part, we just want some fresh air and the opportunity to log some scenic miles.
This is how I judge a gravel bike. It needs to do three things to get a pass in my book. It needs to handle pavement efficiently, eat up miles on dirt and gravel roads, and finally, navigate mellower singletrack without killing me. Let’s talk about those things.
Pavement on the CANNONDALE TOPSTONE LEFTY
One thing I love about gravel bikes is being able to suit up and start a ride from my driveway. I can bike to a trailhead or just cruise some easy road miles. There’s no need to load everything up into the truck and drive to the trails. If you’re anything like me, you want your gravel bike to be your road bike too. With that in mind, I want my gravel bike to be fast on the road. It doesn’t have to be the lightest or most aero, but I don’t want to get passed by a four-year-old on a Strider.
I hate to break it to you, but the Topstone isn’t all that fast on the road. It’s probably faster than my mountain bike, but nowhere near as fast as a road bike or even my Giant Revolt with 700c wheels. It’s not that the suspension or weight holds it back too much — it’s the tires. They’re slow enough you can hear them dragging you down. If you planned to spend a lot of time on pavement, I’d suggest finding a narrower and less knobby tire. That alone would make it far more suited for logging road miles. A bigger chainring would help too. Even with the massive range cassette, you’re likely to spin out and flat to downhill sections of pavement with the stock 40-tooth chainring. These subtle changes would really help the road performance. But, I’m guessing you’re not here because you want to spend your days on the pavement. Read on, my friend.
Gravel on the CANNONDALE TOPSTONE LEFTY
Obviously, I want my gravel bike to be really good at this one. For a passing grade in the gravel test, a bike needs to provide traction, resist flat tires, smooth out bumpy roads and be stable enough for high speeds on sketchy descents. The Topstone Lefty 1 does all of those things — better than most gravel bikes I’ve ridden.
The first thing you’ll notice on the Topstone is how smooth it is. The combo of suspension and big tires does a great job minimizing bumps from rough and washboard roads. Not only is more comfortable, it helps you keep a solid cadence and actually makes you faster. The less your bike bounces up and down, the more forward momentum and eventually speed it conserves. It would take some math that’s above my pay grade, but I’d wager the smoother ride counteracts the added weight when it comes to speed and efficiency.
The best thing about the Topstone Lefty doesn’t make itself apparent until you’re most of the way through your ride — hear me out. Typically, on rough and bumpy gravel rides, my hands start to hurt and cramp up. Call me a wimp, I guess. While the Lefty Oliver fork doesn’t afford a lot of travel, it provides just enough to keep your hands happy. The movement and vibration at the handlebar are minimized. You don’t have to white knuckle the bars to keep them under control. I finished my ride without once having any hand pain issues — a first for me and gravel.
The last thing I really like about the Topstone Lefty 1 is the Sram Force drivetrain with the 12-speed Eagle MTB cassette. I’ve always struggled to find the right gearing on gravel bikes. They’re too easy to run out of high gears on the road, but there isn’t a gear low enough for really steep dirt climbs in the mountains. I’m not overly concerned about jumps between gears, so the wider range is better for me. The X01 Eagle cassette fixes that problem. With a 10-50 tooth cassette, I have the gears to just about ride anything. Some of the grades on my dirt road climb hit near the 30% grade range. I’m not making it up that on typical gravel gearing — there’s just not a gear low enough. In my experience, the second you stand up for more power, your back tire instantly slips out.
I had zero issues with flat tires on the Topstone Lefty. I did most of my riding around 30-35 psi. Just in case you were wondering.
singletrack on the CANNONDALE TOPSTONE LEFTY
I really had high hopes here. I was hoping the Topstone would ride like a mountain bike on singletrack downhills. Unfortunately, I can’t quite call this a drop bar mountain bike. It still descends like a gravel bike. But, it’s the most capable descending gravel bike I’ve ever ridden. The tires hook up surprisingly well, the suspension provides control and the body position is reasonably upright for a gravel bike. I think you’d be able to go even faster on the DH with a dropper post. It would make it easier to get into the drops while still keeping your weight a little more rearward. Luckily, the Topstone has routing for a stealth dropper post. However, it uses a 27.2mm seat tube diameter, so your options are a little limited. We are seeing more and more posts in 27.2mm, though. One of our favorites is the PNW Components Rainier IR post. It comes in 90 and 110mm lengths. Throw that Bad Larry on your Topstone, and you’ll be cruising on the DH.
I hit a fair bit of rocky and loose terrain on my test descent. I was able to go a lot faster than usual through that kind of stuff. With a little speed, the bike actually felt rather controlled and composed. I liked the hoods on the Force brake levers. They’re pretty big and tall — they provide a good handhold for descending. Normally, I want to be in the drops for better leverage on the brakes and a better grip on the bars, but when things get really steep, that can pull my weight too far forward. With the big hoods, I could have a good enough grip on the bars for bumpy descents. That may seem like a small thing, but it made a big difference on the trail.
Alright. So what is this bike?
Obviously, it’s a drop bar, mountain, gravel, adventure, exploration, and road bike. Got it?
Even after spending some good time on it, I can’t quite define what it is. Here’s my best one-liner — it’s the enduro bike of the gravel world. It’s the most rugged, off-road focused gravel bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s also the most comfortable gravel bike I’ve spent time on. You could also describe it as the mountain biker’s road bike. It excels on bumpy roads and steep climbs.
Think about it this way. A 700c gravel bike with no suspension will be faster on flat ground. A mountain bike will be faster on rough singletrack. A road bike is faster on the road— duh. For steep mountain roads with lots of bumps and rocks, the Topstone is the fastest machine out there. It provides more traction than a rigid gravel bike and is lighter and more efficient than a mountain bike.
So, if you like climbing stupid mountain roads with lots of bumps, the Topstone Lefty should be your weapon of choice.