Follow the hip Instagrammers of the cycling world — Michael Tabtabai, Ryan Wilson, John Watson, Kevin Scott Batchelor, etc. — and you’ll see a sneaky trend going on: these boys don’t tend to keep their road bikes on the road. They throw 28c tires on their road bikes, run tubulars at lower pressure and ride with hydraulic disc brakes for better stoppage, then rip up and around mountains and canyons devoid of any motorized activity.
It’s zeitgeisty. It’s cool. And doing it means riders get all the benefits of road bikes (fast climbing prowess, agile handling, the ability to cruise at high speeds on pavement to trail) with the perks of getting off road (no risk of getting doored, clipped or clobbered by a car, no exhaust fumes, no people around you beyond the other dorks who have this in mind when they think about fun).
As zeitgeists go, it’s also not just a few dudes on social media who’ve considered this a good idea. The engineers at Cannondale are up on the fun being had. Instead of banking on people grabbing cyclocross bikes and taking those apt grinders of gravel (and not-so-apt riders of road) to the hills, they decided to make a bicycle exactly for this kind of riding.
The Slate is road and off-road proficient, made to handle high speeds on the pavement and also wild times out on the dirt. According to cyclocross demon Tim Johnson and Murray Washburn, Cannondale’s global director of product marketing, Cannondale created this category-crosser for one rather straightforward reason: they wanted to ride a bike just like this.
According to cyclocross demon Tim Johnson and Murray Washburn, Cannondale’s global director of product marketing, Cannondale created this category-crosser for one rather straightforward reason: they wanted to ride a bike just like this.
Two eye-catchers on the Slate are obvious — big tires and a Lefty fork. The 650bx42c tires work like so: they sit on smaller rims (650b) to allow for the larger tires (42c), which amounts to a nearly identical outer diameter of a 700x23c road tire. So you get close to the roll-out of a road bike, with the larger contact area of a bigger wheel for added stability on- and off-road.
The Slate’s Lefty Oliver fork is designed specifically for this bike, taking what was learned in the mountain bike and commuter sector and adapting it to an “all-roads” bike. Cannondale looked to the Lefty because it wanted a reasonable front travel — the bike achieves 30mm — to accommodate the off-road riding bits. Integrating the Lefty added only 10mm more to the head tube, and Cannondale shortened the Lefty fork to maintain the more aggressive seat-to-stem positioning of a road bike (the entire stack height is only 2.2mm taller than the Evo).
On the rear triangle of the bike, Cannondale kept the chainstays short at 405mm, matching the length of the super-climber Evo. The rear seatstays also offer road absorption, so riders get, essentially, the perks of a hardtail mountain bike in a road bike. (Washburn claims you can ride this bike on any trail you can ride a hardtail.) Hydraulic discs allow for easily dialed-in stopping power (no white-knuckled grips on descents), and, on the top-of-the-line model, the Force CX1 system gives riders the perks of 1X chain stability while still offering a full range of hill and high-speed gearing.
So what’s it feel like to ride? In the hills of Malibu, (with an L.A.-appropriate star-studded group of cyclists, including former pros Ted King and Dave Zabriskie) the hum of the big 42c tires was distinctly different from that of a 23c tire, but they cooked along on the flats just the same. With a 30+ mph tailwind down PCH, our mini-peloton reached and maintained skinny wheel speeds. On hills, the Slate, at around 19 pounds, was no featherweight, but it also wasn’t heavy enough to bog me down. As demonstrated by the more spritely riders (Johnson, mostly), when an extra boost is needed, you can just hop the curb, take off on a dirt turn out and skid your way into some adrenaline.
By Santa Monica Mountain-top, the Slate had argued a strong case. It climbs, it handles, and it’s fun.
When pavement met dirt, we made a small adjustment to tire pressure (tires ran between 37-45 PSI, depending on conditions and rider weight), hit one button to release the lock on the fork, and continued the ride. On a dusty, marbled trail with plenty of climbing, the Slate didn’t hesitate (or slip). Despite not having knobby tires, the large contact patch of the tire allowed for vertical proficiency, and with the small bit of travel, obstacles of the trail were non-issues. Skids, hops and small jumps were all the more fun when done safely away from the dangers of auto-clogged roads. After cresting a peak, we hit a downhill and tested the braking — easily managed with a single finger and keeping the elbows wide. Drops and jumps are beyond the bike’s purview, but the Slate took banked corners and plenty of flow without having the big rubber slip.
By Santa Monica Mountain-top, the Slate had argued a strong case. It climbed, it handled, and it was fun. The final act was descending the fast, poorly paved Yerba Buena Road. Cannondale-Garmin guy Ted King made quick work of the 4.7-mile descent, in a casual effort landing just 35 seconds off the Strava KOM. With hydraulic brakes and the wide tires, the bike excelled at heading fast into corners and maintaining a high peak velocity through the apexes. It was also reassuring to be running on those wide platforms over bumpy pavement, and the stiffness of the locked-out Lefty fork kept things in line.
The Slate enters the shop at a premium price point ($2,980 for 105; $3,520 for Ultegra; $4,260 for Force CX1) but both the frame and the fork are identical at all three levels. It’s essentially component swapping that alters the price. And for a bike that’s truly two bikes, the cost is justifiable. Sell your hardtail, sell your road bike and quickly offset the cost of the Slate. And, once locked in on this all-roads machine, there are few rides you’ll miss out on; this double-duty fun machine promises to introduce riders to entirely new roads.