Let’s start the blog with some honesty. The last 6 months have been an absolute BLUR.
I accepted the position of Store Manager for Wheel and Sprocket at the end of September and it’s been like riding on a train with no conductor, barrelling down the tracks at full steam ahead. It’s been many weeks of putting in overtime, not having enough staffing for the volume of customers coming into the store, and frankly I barely have enough energy to make myself dinner when I get home most nights- let alone create content for pleasure.
Believe me, if I could get paid doing this full-time and not have to deal with lines of customers out the door impatiently waiting to be told the bike they want is out of stock, well I’d chose doing this all day long!
Within the absolute insanity that has been the bike industry, there have been a few awesome additions to my bike life. This is where the Salsa Fargo comes in! I had not been in the market for a touring bike. In all honesty I need a mountain bike much more badly than I needed to buy the Fargo, but she just called to me. The bike had come in for one of our store customers and he ultimately found a screaming deal on a tricked out Ti version of the bike on eBay.
Out of curiosity I decided to throw a leg over the bike and take it for a short spin around the shop. It was the perfect fit! I knew I wanted it right then and there. The thing I like most about the bike is that it blends the elements of two bikes (Surly Krampus and Soma Doublecross) I already own into one beautiful piece of machinery. It has the 29″ wheels with the ability to run plus sized tires, it has all the mounts you could ever need for bike packing, it has lightweight triple butted frame tubing, it has a lightweight carbon fork, the wheels are tubeless ready, and the cockpit is super comfortable!
Not to mention Salsa wisely spec’d the bike with mechanical TRP disc brakes which allow for much greater adjustment and field serviceability. Oh and did I mention it’s set up with 1x Apex with a super wide rear gearing? The bike hits all the sweet spots with a really nice mesh of great value for the price, design and component wise. The sparkly deep red colorway also reminded me of why I loved the OG Krampus so much. You just can’t beat a beautiful paint job and fun graphics.
I’ve had goals to do more off road bike packing. The Tour de Chequamegon and a few other routes that have cropped up care of bikepacking.com have piqued my interest. I could have easily ridden the Krampus for such endeavors, but it’s honestly just kind of a heavy and slow bike when it comes down to loading it up with gear.
The Krampus can get rowdy on trails and is fun on flowy stuff, but it does not climb well even with the updated gearing and I have come to really loathe the ever present horizontal dropout design that Surly insisted on using (we get it, you want everyone to ride single speed).
The Krampus also lacked some of the updated gear zits that most modern frames now sport, regardless of whether or not people plan on using their bikes for loading up. I know the modern iteration of the bike has them, but Salsa has been a brand of bike I’ve not owned up to this point and wanted to take advantage of the fact that I now worked at a stocking dealer.
A few changes I’ve made to the bike mostly had to do with aesthetics. I converted the tires to tubeless and used some fun Muc Off anodized red tubeless valves that matched the paint color of the bike. The jury is still out on the included Terravail Sparwood tires. I’m sure they kick ass off road, but I’ve been using this bike for commuting and I could see myself putting on something from Rene Herse or Panaracer with a more supple design and smooth tread. I’ll likely just ride these until I wear them out though as I don’t want to throw a whole bunch of money at a perfectly functional bike.
The other updates were some of the bike bling that I pulled off the Krampus including the Easton carbon seat post, Salsa lip lock seat binder, and the Wolftooth headset spacers. I still get annoyed that the orange from the Salsa binder is so much more bright and vibrant than the spacers from Wolftooth. Matching anodized parts can be a pain in the ass sometimes if they aren’t coming from the same company or batch even.
I really like the flared handlebars that are on the bike. In years past I’ve not liked some of the options that have come stock on bikes like the Surly Crosscheck or similar “cross” or “gravel” bikes. The Salsa Woodchippers seem to fit just right. The 44cm width on the size small bike feel great in the hoods, tops, and drop position. I did drop the stem down and may do so a little more as I’ve gotten a bit more used to a more aero position on my road/gravel bike while riding the trainer this Winter. I’m finding that I enjoy engaging my hamstrings and glute muscles to put out more power than sitting more upright and having quad dominant pedaling.
I’ve been riding the bike with flat pedals, which is also new for me as I really enjoy the feeling of being clipped in with the exception of mountain biking. I’ve been pairing the pedals to some new 5.10 shoes I picked up. I’ve had a pair before, but the new ones fit a little better and feel a bit more comfortable.
Ultimately I may toss my Crank Brothers Candy pedals on or invest in the Mallet pedals from them as they have a larger, more off road friendly platform. I have yet to stray from Crank Brothers pedals as they’ve just been my go to for so long and it’s difficult to want to go to anything else when I have three sets of their pedals and multiple cleats for said pedals.
I’ve transferred all of my bike packing bags and cages over to the Fargo and have even picked up an additional feed back from Revelate Designs (not pictured) as well as their Mag Tank (not pictured) as I’d like to leave my Topeak top tube bag for my Topstone. I can just barely fit the Blackburn Elite handlebar bag on the front without interfering with my hands on the bars. I may just use a more basic dry bag that has loops for running the straps through that’s a little more compact as the one that comes with their mounting system is cavernous. Great for hauling a lot of sh*t, but annoying when you ride small bikes and need narrower bars! To be fair, this wasn’t an issue when I was running Jones bars on the Krampus as the bars give you so much space that you can fit just about anything on there as long as there is tire clearance.
A small, but fun detail I added to the Fargo was the stem cap. It’s a design by Bryn Merrell with some orange colored poppies. I’ve decided to name the bike Poppy as it seemed appropriate. It goes with the other little orange flourishes on the bike I have added and brings me joy when I look down at it while riding. I love the small details that make a bike feel more personalized. It makes me sad to see so many stock bikes go home with folx that lack personality.
For anyone who has been keeping up with my gear via this blog or on my Instagram, you may have noticed I’m no longer rocking the Giant GPS on my bar anymore. As much as I wanted to like that computer, it just wasn’t functioning well. The app was super glitchy, so uploading was kind of an issue and sometimes the unit just straight up didn’t work as it should. If I tried starting an uploaded GPX route, the computer would often times think that immediately from the starting point was also the stopping point and end the ride. This happened a lot if I had programmed a loop with the same stop and start point. It was time for an upgrade and I’ve never owned a Garmin unit as I had always worked for places where I got demo products to use at no charge. I had used Saris’s Joule GPS for many years prior to getting the demo unit of the Giant Neostrack. I’m almost certain Giant discontinued the product. Likely because it wasn’t great. For the price you can get an entry level Garmin or similar product that has better instructions, function, and apps to work with.
The unit I picked up was a Garmin 530. I had debated about getting the 830 as it has a touch screen and there have been a couple of times I had wished I had purchased that one, but I realize for winter or cold weather situations the touch screen is useless as no one has cracked the perfect design for a glove that can work well with a touch screen. It was also less expensive and I just needed a computer that could sync to my phone and I could upload routes to that I could trust to work.
At this point I feel I should list the cons of the bike which honestly the only con is that the gearing is just a tad too low for what I’ve been doing with it. The rear cassette is an 11-42 which is excellent for climbing, but with the 32t chain ring up front it makes it difficult to get speed on the flats or pedal downhill to use gravity to climb rollers. I’m not faulting Salsa for this what so ever. This bike is intended to be an off road touring machine that will need to be geared low to get up tough climbs while loaded down.
I have picked up an Absolute Black chain ring to try. I bought a 34t oval ring which they claim feels like a 36t. I’ve never ridden a bike with an oval ring before other than test riding a customer bike with an old Shimano Biopace on it. It should give me better city gearing for commuting without giving up the wide range for when I get to a hill. I have not installed the new ring yet as I haven’t had time or energy, but will hopefully get to it in the next week or so when the weather starts looking nice.
Overall I’m very happy with the bike and the purchase. I’ve had a couple of folx ask why I went with a Fargo over a Cutthroat and my first response simply there are no Cutthroats to be found anywhere due to the bike shortage. In truth though, it comes down to the fact that I like steel frames. A high quality steel frame with triple butting is light and strong. It’s often able to be repaired and is made for the long haul. I love my Soma frame as it’s light and fun to ride. I enjoy a steel fame paired with a carbon fork. It makes for a really nice ride feel and for a bike that I’m going to be loading up with gear for traveling, it gives me a little more peace of mind. I can always replace the fork down the road with another carbon one or even a steel option, which is also nice.
I also already have the Topstone, which some people may think is redundant to have. I have sold my dedicated road bike though that was full carbon because I was using the Topstone so much. I fell in love with how it eats up road chatter and I can do road or gravel rides on it and it’s still fast even with the lower gearing. It’s a great bike for the area I live in which is shitty pavement and lots of hills going out to the Driftless region. I just wanted to be able to keep the Topstone unloaded for that type of riding and have the Fargo for the loaded touring and overnight camping trips.
I had planned on selling my Double Cross, but realized I’ve really enjoyed the flexibility of having a bike on my trainer to get rides in even if it’s cold and sh*tty outside. I’m going to be swapping the crank back to a road double on that bike and putting a front derailleur on it and keeping it as my trainer bike. Another project I’ve had neither time nor energy to take on, but soon! I’ll be sure to post when I get around to that.
The Krampus is currently in limbo. I need to finish putting new pads and rotors on it as the salt ate away at them pretty good the last couple of years. I also pulled the Jones bar off of the bike in the off chance that I may want to put it on the Fargo down the road. I could see the Fargo being a really kick ass bike with a Jones bar on it. Who knows, I’m always changing my gear up. The Krampus will likely stick around at least for the Summer as I don’t see being able to snag a new MTB anytime soon. I want to get another full suspension bike, but something different than what I’ve had in the past. I hate to admit that I like the Fuel EX from Trek as I have mixed opinions about them as a company. They make some really nice bikes, but there’s a lot they’ve done behind the scenes and socially that I don’t identify with and have a hard time riding basically an advertisement for them.
If anyone has any recommendations for a good Fuel EX alternative, please reach out! I also had been looking at options from Salsa as their carbon full sus bikes look wicked. Then again, it’s probably going to be at least a year before they become available again.
That’s all for now as I have much to do on my day off and not much time. Thanks for continuing to read along and please give a follow to @spokehaven over on Instagram for more up to date content, etc.
Eat well and bike often!
I’ve had a few days off between my old job ending and my new job starting. I decided to do a ride that I’ve started several times, but never completed because honestly it was a pretty boring route to ride solo. Thankfully my old co-worker Simone had reached out to see if I was riding yesterday and she joined me for the 40 mile loop to a local outdoor hot spot, Indian Lake County Park.
The route goes up the Highway 12 bike path which goes North of Madison up towards Sauk City. The trail itself terminates before you actually reach Sauk City, which is a bit sad. I’m hoping more land easements will come to connect the entire route to make it more direct. The nice thing about the trail is it is a great way to access some beautiful state natural areas and parks such as Devil’s Lake State Park, Indian Lake, Pafrey’s Glen, and the Merrimac Ferry with its quaint views.
We took the Highway 12 trail up to its end on Raul road, which we found was named something different than what was on our map. Raul took us across Highway 12 and around to Matz road, which spit us out right on Highway 19 across from Indian Lake County Park!
The park was absolutely packed when we arrived, no surprise there as it seems people are finally rediscovering the outdoors thanks to the Covid 19 pandemic. A bit frustrating as someone who enjoyed these places prior to the pandemic, but happy that it will hopefully encourage the state to invest in more natural areas and do some upgrades to some places that need a serious face lift.
The restrooms were open thankfully, so we took a snack/bathroom break, filled our water bottles, and rolled back home. On the way home we stopped into my new home shop Wheel and Sprocket. I needed some more nutrition and ended up picking up some Floyd’s of Leadville CBD recovery gummies as well as some new flavors of Stroopwafels from GU. It also gave me an opportunity to look around the shop and get familiar with some of the products we carry and see how busy the shop was still on the weekends.
I ended my ride in a local park where I shot a good portion of a sort of chat to the camera style vlog. I do a little taste test of the snacks I picked up, talk a bit about life, and a little bit about some of the new gear I’ve been trying out. I’m looking to experiment more with this style of video to add a bit more of my personality versus just talking about a product. We’ll see if I can keep up a regular schedule. It may be tough with starting the new job and I start a new Marketing course through my school this week as well.
Next weekend I am planning on doing a sub 24 hour overnight as a part of the annual Swift Industries Campout event. Almost all of the state parks are booked up, but know from past excursions that if you bike or hike into a state park, you can’t really be turned away. The other option would be to just stealth camp somewhere in the area, which shouldn’t be too difficult as it gets darker early and I’m planning on testing out my bivy set up and bringing my hammock as a back up.
Assuming the weather cooperates, I’ll try to capture that adventure on camera as well!
As always thank you for reading, watching, and supporting the site. Stay safe and sane and of course…EAT WELL, BIKE OFTEN!
Learning to work on your own bike is a rewarding and empowering experience. It can be intimidating at first, but as you tackle basic repairs it gets easier and practice makes perfect!
I wanted to share some of my favorite tools as a part of the series of repair resources I’ve been posting as of late. These are tools that every mechanic should acquire over the years. That’s the beauty of bike maintenance, you can slowly acquire what you need as things come up or parts need replacing.
The first item on my list is the official Park Tool Bike Blue Book of Repairs. I’ve mentioned it before I’ll continue to plug it as it gets updated regularly as new technology emerges within the cycling world. Pair this up with Park Tool’s YouTube channel and you’ve got a great baseline of introductory knowledge on how to repair your bike. Next up I’ll go over some of my picks for favorite tools for the home bike mechanic. Some are professional level tools, but they are worth their money investing in as they have stood up to daily work in the bike shop. These are some of the most basic tools to clean and repair your bike to keep it running well and to do some basic adjustments.
The most expensive, but worth it tool is a repair stand. A portable repair stand will last years and make it much easier to work on a number of areas on the bike. Many people will usually start learning bike repairs on a bike while flipped over upside down on the ground. I can say from experience it’s worth the investment in getting a proper stand. I own a couple of different work stands, but my two favorites are the the Park PCS-4-2 and the Feedback Sports Ultralight stands.
The next item(s) I could absolutely not live without and that’s a high quality set of hex wrenches. Metric of course as that’s the system the bike industry is based off of measurement wise.
My personal favorite hex wrenches are from Pedro’s, the L Hex Wrench Set to be exact. The reason being is they have never rounded off, slipped during an adjustment, or failed in any way. The length is long enough to get purchase when loosening even the most over-torqued bolts and the L is short enough to get into tough to reach spots. Kudos to the folx at Pedro’s for designing a truly stellar set of wrenches.
No mechanic can work without a proper screwdriver. In the bike world the #2 cross head screwdriver is a very common tool needed for derailleur adjustments on entry level and older model bikes. More modern bikes use hex wrenches, but there’s always a need for a high quality screw drivers even around the home. The Park Tool DSD-2 is a professional mechanic level option, but it’s never failed me and the handle is well balanced. Lesser expensive options can be found. I’ve just found the tips haven’t worn out or broken like they have on inexpensive options.
The next three items all have to do with bike cleaning. I always teach in my maintenance classes that cleaning your bike regularly is the best maintenance you can do. Cleaning helps prevent premature drive-train wear and tear, saves money on needing to replace parts or have to go in for service at your local bike shop, and allow you to inspect your bike to make sure there’s no damage to your frame or components.
Citrus degreaser is an inexpensive and safe way to clean just about anything on a bike, disc brakes excluded. You’ll want to stick to iso-alcohol for that. A good source of degreaser is buying a gallon jug and a spray bottle that you can dilute with water to make a spray on solution. My galon of degreaser has lasted me 6 years and I still have plenty to last me another probably 6 more. You can of course purchase bike specific cleaners at your local bike shop, but if you are looking to save a few bucks this is a great option. My personal favorite is Zep as it can be found at just about any local hardware store.
The humble toothbrush is a great cleaning tool. It’s worth keeping an old disposable one around to make it a cleaning brush for chains, cogs, and hard to reach areas on a bike. A natural bristle brush works best, but any type will do. Another cheap hack to keep your bike running smoothly.
Lemon pledge is every bike shop’s secret weapon. It’s used often for cleaning up frames and making components shiny. Since it has a waxy finish, it will also help prevent dirt and muck from sticking to your frame. Another well known secret in the bike shop world is it is the easiest way to get a stubborn tubeless tire to seat. My shop sprays a bit around the entire edge of the bead on both sides of the tire where it meets the rim and 99% of the time the tire will seat right up on the rim. You’ll want to be careful where you use pledge as it should not be used on rims with caliper/canti/v brakes, disc brakes, disc brake pads, rotors, on the chain, or drivetrain. It should be used on items like the frame or just on the superficial areas of components to give them a good clean and shine.
A pedal wrench is something most home mechanics find they will eventually need. Swapping out pedals is something most mechanics don’t even have to think about, but there is a definite right vs. wrong way to do it. Pedals have left/right specific threading depending on the side of the crank it’s being installed on. The non-drive side or “left” hand side of the bike’s pedal will have threading that curves up and to the left direction, so you thread the pedal on tightening it counter clockwise. The drive side or “right” hand pedal has threads that go up and to the right, so you tighten the right pedal clockwise. The easiest way for me to remember is that no matter what side of the bike you are standing on, the pedal will always thread in towards the front of the bike and always be removed by turning it towards the back of the bike.
Most pedals will have a 9/16″ or 15mm flat edge to them for installation and removal. Kid’s bikes have a 1/2″ sized diameter and will need a pedal wrench with that specific sizing on it to install and remove them.
Not all pedals will have a flat edge to them, some will have a hex on the backside of the axle for installation and removal. Usually these are 6mm or 8mm depending on the manufacturer. I recommend having both a pedal wrench like the one above which is the Park Tool PW-4 and also one or even two larger hex wrenches like the Pedro’s example below as they make for easier removal as the long arm of leverage will help get enough purchase on the pedal.
A cassette tool and chain whip are usually the next tools procured by a home mechanic. I’ve seen sales of each increase over the past few years with the popularity of direct drive trainers. Most folks want to be able to remove their own cassette from their rear wheel and be able to install it onto their trainers rather than purchasing a second cassette. If you compare the cost, it does come out to be pretty close in price to buying the two necessary tools vs. a new cassette depending on the level of components you will be using.
Shimano’s FR-5.2G is the most popular option for installing and removing a cassette lockring. Most Shimano, Sram, and Sunrace cassettes use this tool for removal and installation. It is recommended that you speak with your local bike shop or your bike’s manufacturer to see which type of drive train system or cassette your bike has to ensure you purchase the correct tool. There are MANY different types of cassette lockring and freehwheel tools on the market. There are even different versions of the tool for bikes that have thru axles vs. skewers. Do some research before purchasing to make sure you pick up the right one!
On that same note, there are lots of different types of chain whip tools available on the market. Some fancier than others, but they all pretty much accomplish the same thing. Most mechanics prefer to use whichever they learned on. The chain whip above is what myself and many mechanics in my shop have used and are comfortable with. Park, Pedro’s, Abbey Tools, and Shimano all make their own version of chain whips. It all just depends on how much you want to spend and what type of ergonomics you like then using the tool.
A proper cable and housing cutting tool is an absolute must if you plan on replacing any old, frayed, or broken brake or shift cables. One of the things I see the most that people do wrong on the D.I.Y. or home mechanic front is using side cutters instead of a proper cable cutting tool for trimming cables. DO NOT DO THIS! It does not make for a clean or precise cut and will leave you with frayed ends. It also just damages your side cutters as they are not designed for cutting braided metal cables like those used on bikes. They are also usually not sharp or strong enough to cut brake housing, which has wound metal that makes up the structure of the housing.
Do yourself a favor and buy a nice cable and housing specific tool. It will make your life so much easier and it will last you ages. Park Tool, Pedro’s, and Shimano all make great options for cable cutters.
Since we’re talking cables, I’m also going to say get yourself a nice needle nose pliers. The photo above is the type I prefer to use. They are from Channellock and have a full length plier portion with a very small side cutter built in. I use pliers for a number of uses including pulling things out of tires, pulling a cable extra taught if need be, fishing out a rusted or broken cable out of a shifter. My all time favorite use is crimping cable ends with them. I for some reason have always hated the built in crimping feature on most cable cutters, so I use the side cutter section of my pliers to make my favored double crimp on my cable ends.
You can tell that a mechanic is super nerdy or particular if they have a signature crimp that they like to do. It’s sort of our calling card to show who worked on a bike or who built a bike. Most people likely don’t even pay attention, but it’s a small detail that mechanics love to put into their work.
I’m going to wrap up our fine list hear with the humble tri-allen tool. Yes, I already listed a set of allen keys on here, but a tri-allen comes in handy in different situations. I use mine a ton when building up new bikes, installing or adjusting brakes, making a saddle adjustment, replacing stems, tightening a headset, and the list goes on. The industry standard is the Park Tool AWS-1. I personally have one of their now discontinued aluminum bodied versions of it with my name inscribed on it. It’s one of my favorite tools and it stays in my apron at all times as it’s just that handy.
These tools are by no means the end all, be all of what bike mechanics use. It is a very good start though and you can make just about any basic adjustment on a bike with these tools. Some honorable mentions to add would be a chain breaker tool, a chain quick link tool, a good set of metric sockets in sizes starting as small as 8mm and going up to 30mm. A good, sharp pair of scissors for installing and cutting bar tape is a good addition as well.
Many brands sell some good starter kits, but I prefer going the route of buying things as needed as you can choose a higher quality option from the start vs. getting a basic beginner’s kit with some less than high quality tools in the kit.
The nice thing about tools that any mechanic will tell you is that you can slowly buy things as you need them over the years and you’ll eventually have a really nice home setup to not only work on your own bikes, but work on a friend or neighbor’s bike in a pinch. I chose to leave out a lot of the things such as tire levers or a floor pump/compressor as I’ve touched on those items before, but you can look back at past posts for some ideas on inflation and what types of tools to bring with on a ride.
Thanks for reading as always and I hope everyone is staying safe!
Eat Well, Bike Often!
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As 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:
Wheel SensorCannondale Wheel Sensor
Bottom BracketCannondale Alloy BB30
ChainShimano HG601 11-speed
CrankHollowGram, BB30a w/ OPI SpideRing, 46/30
Front DerailleurShimano Ultegra, braze-on
Rear CogsShimano Ultegra, 11-34, 11-speed
Rear DerailleurShimano Ultegra RX
ShiftersShimano Ultegra hydro disc, 2×11
ForkAll-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
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
HeadsetIntegrated, 1.5″ lower to 1-1/8″ upper w/ reducer, 25mm Alloy top cap
Front HubHollowGram Sealed Bearing, straight pull, 12×100
Rear HubHollowGram 142×12
RimsHollowGram 22, 22mm deep, 25mm ID, tubeless ready
SpokesStainless steel, 14g
TiresWTB Riddler TCS Light, 700 x 37c, tubeless ready
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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