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Cannondale Topstone Ultegra RX Review

P1040787As a bike shop manager it would be sacrilegious if I didn’t adhere to the N+1 methodology of bike ownership. That’s why when I saw the release of the Topstone Carbon line up, I knew I had to get one.

My shop already had been selling the Topstone Alloy models like hotcakes, so it didn’t surprise me to see Cannondale’s take on an all carbon gravel/any road machine. When the bike first dropped it was hotly debated on a lot of the bike blogs and YouTube channels I follow. I wanted to give the bike a fair chance before writing any sort of review on it. Read on knowing I’ve hit the 500mile mark on the bike just a couple of days ago.

It’s easy to play keyboard warrior about a product without having actually spent real miles on the bike. Snap judgements on the suspension, geometry, tire size, and some of proprietary components seemed to get people all worked up. I’m not sure why, because all of those are fairly minimal issues. This is my first ever Cannondale I’ve owned and was excited to try something new!

Originally I was settled on the “women’s” (I put women’s in air quotes because Cannondale actually uses a unisex style of geometry between the men’s and women’s bikes with the women’s bikes starting at smaller sizes. They also have a wider saddle, shorter stems, and narrower handlebars.) Topstone RX 2 model, but our rep had told me how happy he was with the upgrades of the Ultegra RX model, so I took his advice. It doesn’t hurt that the colour scheme of the RX model also reminded me of the British Racing Green Jaguars I always loved.

The bike has a classic, clean line aesthetic with a modern twist. Adding the skin wall tires with some of my added accessories I think it looks rather smart as the Brits say.

Here are the specs from Cannondale’s website:

International Connectivity

  • Wheel Sensor

    Cannondale Wheel Sensor

Drivetrain

  • Bottom Bracket

    Cannondale Alloy BB30
  • Chain

    Shimano HG601 11-speed
  • Crank

    HollowGram, BB30a w/ OPI SpideRing, 46/30
  • Front Derailleur

    Shimano Ultegra, braze-on
  • Rear Cogs

    Shimano Ultegra, 11-34, 11-speed
  • Rear Derailleur

    Shimano Ultegra RX
  • Shifters

    Shimano Ultegra hydro disc, 2×11

Frameset

  • Fork

    All-New, BallisTec Carbon, 55mm OutFront offset, SAVE, 1-1/8″ to 1.5″ steerer, integrated crown race, Directline internal routing, 12x100mm Speed Release thru-axle, flat mount disc, gear/rack/fender mounts
  • Frame

    All-New, BallisTec Carbon, Kingpin suspension system, Proportional Response size-specific construction, Directline internal cable routing, BB30-83 Ai, 142×12 Speed Release thru-axle, flat-mount disc, removable fender bridge, multiple gear/bottle mounts, dropper post compatible

    • 142×12 thru-axle
    • Tapered headtube
    • Flat mount disc
    • StraightShot internal cable routing
    • Multiple gear/bottle mounts
  • Headset

    Integrated, 1.5″ lower to 1-1/8″ upper w/ reducer, 25mm Alloy top cap

Wheels

  • Front Hub

    HollowGram Sealed Bearing, straight pull, 12×100
  • Rear Hub

    HollowGram 142×12
  • Rims

    HollowGram 22, 22mm deep, 25mm ID, tubeless ready
  • Spokes

    Stainless steel, 14g
  • Tire Size

    37
  • Tires

    WTB Riddler TCS Light, 700 x 37c, tubeless ready

Wheel Size

700c

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Changes I’ve made:

Stem- swapped to a lighter and shorter Cannondale take off we had at the shop. I went from a 100 down to an 80 (I think, haven’t confirmed that- going off memory.)
PRO TIP! If you are looking at the women’s models, note they come with a shorter stem than the men’s/unisex models and Cannondale has not put what stem lengths they use on their spec sheet for some reason. (It could be buried somewhere and I just haven’t found it yet?)

Handlebar- Took off the flared 40 drops and put on a 40 Giant Contact SL road bar with a shorter reach and drop with no flare. Flared bars just aren’t my jam really. I like this particular bar as it came stock on my Liv Avail Advanced Pro 1 and I love the fit and feel of that bike. I’ve been happy with my decision thus far and would consider upgrading to carbon down the line just to dampen the front end of the bike a bit.

Bar tape- Stock bar tape is usually pretty crap, not always, but often times it’s cheapo and I end up swapping it with something more cushy as I’m not a fan of wearing gloves when I ride all that much. I went with the Brooks Cambium Rubber Bar Tape in the tan colour that matches the skin wall tires.

Saddle- I have to have a cutout in my saddles and I found a Specialized Ruby on eBay for a good price. That’s historically been my favorite road saddle although Ergon and the new 2021 Liv & Giant saddles are also pretty damn awesome. I’ll keep this on for now, but may experiment if I can get my hands on something else to try.

Pedals- I took the Crank Brothers Candy’s off my Krampus and swapped them on. They still remain my favorite walkable cleat/2 bolt style pedals. They are just easy to use and maintain. Shed mud like champs and look good as well.

Bottle Cages- Blackburn Chicane Stainless for the frame cages and a carbon side pull cage for the underside to fit a third bottle.

Bags- I transferred my Blackburn Outpost Elite seat pack to this bike and use the Topeak Fuel Tank Large on my top tube, although I am testing the Blackburn bolt on top tube bag, stay tuned for that review in my production bag review series!

Cycling computer- Giant Neostrack as a back up if/when Strava may fail. I haven’t paired the Cannondale made by Garmin sensor as of yet. TBH it’s not really a feature I care too much about. Maybe if I didn’t already have a bunch of sensors and computers and stuff, it could be a cool option. I just haven’t seen the need to use it.

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The changes I made to the bike helped me dial in the fit to just about perfect for me. I’ve used the bike for everything from commuting to work, riding easy single track, bike packing, gravel grinding, and medium distanced road rides (30-40 miles).

I’ll admit that the bike did take some getting used to. At first the addition of a rear suspension element with the Kingpin design felt odd. Now it almost feels strange to ride a bike without it as I’ve come accustom to it smoothing road noise and chatter out for me.

I can say with confidence that if you are looking for an absolutely stiff carbon racing machine, this isn’t that bike. That’s ok though. It’s still impressively responsive and I’ve hit multiple Strava PR’s on this bike. It climbs well, it has amazing traction on just about any surface you throw at it, especially going down hill on sketchy gravel, grass, or dirt trails.

That’s really what I feel the Kingpin excels at, keeping your rear wheel under control. You can’t really tell that you are getting activation of the Kinpin until you realize on other bikes that riding that same line would feel sketchy without it. It’s greatly confidence inspiring and I feel that if someone were looking for a bike that could pull double duty as a cyclocross race machine, this bike would be a great option.

For someone who is newer to off road or multi-surface riding this bike would be a great option as the components are so well spec’d on it that you wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade to something nicer/lighter down the road.

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Shimano’s new Ultegra GRX is stellar. The shifting is crisp, reliable, and responsive as always and the new clutch on the derailleur keeps the chain from popping off even on the roughest patches of gravel or dirt.I’ve really enjoyed the Hallowgram carbon wheels set up with the WTB Riddler tires tubeless. I’ve run a myriad of tire pressures and have yet to have any issues. I have been considering putting a 40c smooth tread tire on to replace the Riddlers, but they’ve been performing well and I loved the Riddler on my full suspension MTB, so it makes sense that I’d like the gravel version as well.Smooth enough to ride roads and just enough tread to rock some loose dirt and gravel. Cornering on pavement has felt great with them as well. I’ll likely continue to beat the heck out of them until they’ve given up the ghost and then likely swap to a smooth tread to gain a little more speed on pavement.50127491823_855766e46f_o
The Hallowgram crankset feels great as well. Shifting has been flawless and the gear ratio feels great. Obviously on flats or downhills I could stand to go a little bigger on the larger chain ring, but then I realize I’m able to climb more with the existing ratios and in the Driftless region of Wisconsin we all know how important climbing gears are to get up steep rollers.

Going back to some things I mentioned at the top of this post in regards to the internet trolls bashing some of the design features of this bike, I really haven’t had any issues with the proprietary designs.

When building the bike I did have to pull the crank and re-assemble it (following the guidelines of washer patterns and such) and had to torque things down a little past recommended spec to get everything to tighten up with no play, but so far it’s not been an issue. Loctite is also your friend when it comes to pressfit bb’s, just saying.

I made sure to double check the torque spec on the Kingpin as it is a bearing system and it did need a little more oomph than how it came out of the factory. So far I have 500 miles on it with no noise.

The thing I think upset most people was the asymmetrical drop out design. The rear wheel is not hot swappable with other wheels because it is dished 6mm to allow the drive side to be pushed over. This means that technically you have a stronger wheel as each spoke is evenly tensioned in the center of the rim.

Heed the warnings and just make sure if you want to use a different wheel set or say a 650b wheel that you get it custom laced and built so it has that proper 6mm dish. Generally a factory built or pre-built wheel isn’t going to have enough threads on the spokes to just be able to simply take a pre-existing wheel and make it work. That’s not to say that it absolutely can’t be done, but it likely won’t work, so just work with your local bike shop or professional wheel builder to talk about your options.

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In relation to the wheel issue, many people complained that 700x40c wasn’t wide enough for a gravel bike. This bit kind of blew my mind because it wasn’t that long ago that everyone was riding 700x23c on their road bikes and 32c was considered a wide tire!Oh how things have changed. I suppose if you want to go monster cross/ultimate back road adventure machine, sure. A wider tire would be nice, but you can put 650b wheels on the Topstone Ultegra RX and run up to a 48c width, which is damn near close to what people are riding on the Great Divide Race these days.Personally I’m fine with 40c being the max width. If you really want that much clearance there are plenty of other bikes on the marketplace or just buy a 29er hard tail and call it a day.Much of what people have been complaining about or judging on this bike is just rubbish. Many people who probably have never even swung a leg over one and just want to complain because Cannondale uses a proprietary bb. So what, you can always order a spare as a back up if you are that worried about it.

Yes, it would be nice if all bikes came with threaded bottom brackets, but standards are ever changing and that’s because bike design is ever evolving and pushing the limits of geometry and fitting wide tires on without the bike riding like crap.

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I find myself grabbing my Topstone Carbon Ultegra RX the most often out of my fleet because it’s just so fun to ride. It’s the bike that if I’m not sure where I want to go, I take it because there’s a good chance I’ll end up on some gravel or crappy rural roads that need repaving. I know the bike will provide a smooth and comfortable ride no matter where I go with it.The fact that the bike has three bottle mounts, fork mounts, and plenty of room for gear storage is also wonderful. It makes setting up things for a bike overnight a breeze.

If you were to pick one bike to have in your garage, it should be this one or something damn near like it. With smooth treaded tires you can easily keep up with a road group ride, you can do a gravel or rail trail ride, you can do some singletrack or urban cross on it, you could race a ‘cross season on it, you can adventure with it, and be comfortable while doing all of that.

My one sort of note on single track is that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to invest in a dropper post if you are planning on trying to do more of that style of riding on the bike. Rocks, roots, etc. as I found that I get caught on my saddle a lot on this bike on single track and generally have had to slam the seatpost down to make it easier to clear that sketchy stuff.

Obviously there’s a weight penalty with a dropper, but it would make this bike legendary. I am also excited to see about trying the 2021 model with the lefty front suspension. I’m sure it’s an absolute blast to ride.

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Personally I think the Cannondale Topstone Carbon line has been seriously underrated and I think it’s because people seem to hold a grudge against Cannondale for pushing the limits of bike design and technology. They aren’t doing what other big brands do where they are copying designs, they are focusing on doing what they do best in pushing the limits of what we expect a bike to be or what a bike should look like.

I fully acknowledge that Cannondale wasn’t the first nor will they be the last brand to adopt a rear suspension design on a bike, but I like their take on it more than say T*** as it’s not just an elastomer that ends up changing the actual reach on the bike.

Now I’m going to sound like a hater, but I’ve not been impressed with how some of their gravel/any road type bikes have ridden. Granted I’ve only ridden the alloy versions, but it’s still a valid opinion.

That’s one thing I’ve always appreciated about a brand like Cannondale. They aren’t afraid to be a little different, but still hold mass appeal and well known lineage with their brand.

At $4200 retail the Cannondale Topstone Carbon Ultegra RX holds a wealth of value. Full carbon frame, carbon wheels, Hallogram crank, tons of mounting options, a carbon seat post, built in rear suspension, tubeless ready, dropper capable, and great aesthetics to top it off. The price point is a little higher than some of the other competitors in the market, but the ride quality and weight of the bike really sets it apart.

I fully think the purchase price is worth it when you look at comparable bikes on the marketplace. The level of technology and design that went into this bike is impressive and am happy to say as a first time Cannondale owner, I’m happy with my decision to buy.

As always I was not in any way, shape, or form asked to write a review about this bike from Cannondale or anyone else. I do not benefit from the writing reviews other than hopefully helping other folks make informed decisions.

I plan on doing a follow up review once I’ve had the bike for a full year and some additional mileage on it to update on any issues that may arise. Hopefully there won’t be any as so far, so good.

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