We haven’t tested many Cannondales over the years, but there’s always a level of anticipation among the test team when one arrives from the innovative American brand. The F29 was our first Cannondale 29er test.
Side-on the F29 has a typically aggressive XCO stance with a fairly standard geometry (71-degree headtube and 73.5-degree seattube). It requires close-up inspection and a frame tap with the fingernails to confirm that it’s not carbon, but aluminium – Cannondale’s F-Series Smart Formed aluminium. This initial deception is a testament to the workmanship and finishing on the frame. It’s immaculate. The frame is all white with some burgundy and blue accents. The metallic flakes in the Cannondale lettering are a nice touch too, geared more towards the owner than the onlooker. Cannondale’s Speed Save rear stays are designed to offer lateral stiffness but with vertical compliance for some form of bump damping, which is also integrated into Cannondale’s Save seatpost, which is claimed to deliver 20mm of movement for optimal comfort. The Lefty fork remains and talking point and while it doesn’t look much different, it’s the new edition, the PBR with 90mm of travel (with lockout), with Hybrid Needle Bearing Technology and a moto-inspired guard to protect the stanchion from dust and mud.
The wheelset comprises WTB Frequency Race rims with a SRAM X9 rear hub and a Formula Lefty front hub, wrapped in Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres.
The 700mm-wide Cannondale C2 aluminium handlebars and – 15-degree drop Cannondale stem combine to offer a race-ready grasp on the front end. Normal brakes that come on the bike are SRAM X7 hydraulic disc, but we tested Tektro’s Draco 2 model on this bike (see review). SRAM X9 shifters, rear derailleur and 2×10 crankset are given an X7 front derailleur to take care of the drivetrain duty.
The agility of the F29 is immediately noticeable. It doesn’t matter if you’re powering along a flat trail, out of a corner or up a climb, it is very responsive and feels lighter than it’s 11.34kg scale reading. We tried to notice the movement of the Save seatpost, but it wasn’t visually evident. But it didn’t feel quite as harsh as other aluminum hardtails so we can only assume that the seatpost movement and rear stay flex works like Cannondale claims it does. The F29 is not a bike you get on and cruise. It’s a bike you want to ride fast.
The steering was quite firm and direct, just the way you want it if performance is a priority. We’d prefer a lower handlebar position for racing, so would fit a –25-degree stem (Ritchey makes one that’s compatible). But even with the standard set-up, twisty singletrack was where the F29 excelled. Our Gauteng testers set a number of Strava PBs on the F29 on twisty singletrack segments. We raced it too and found it a superb option for XC racing, but fairly hard on the body during marathons over 50km, especially those with a lot of rough surfaces.
The 90mm-travel Lefty fork worked remarkably well on most trails. Even on very rocky, steep trails, it held its own on the treacherous descents despite the eternally flimsy look.
The push-button lock/unlock system is the most efficient fork-lock system we’ve used. We needed to true the rear wheel a couple of times and the rear shifter became very stiff. Neither of these were major concerns though and easily remedied. The Rapid Rob tyres are very similar to the Racing Ralph model in tread pattern and profile and hooked up well in most conditions, although the thinish sidewalls did make us a little more cautious with line choices on sharp rock sections.
To spend R25000 on an aluminium hardtail, you’ve got to be certain you’re getting value for money or you have to be a brand fan. Cannondale’s pricing is higher than most of its competitors, but having ridden the F29 for a eight weeks, we can vouch for the bike’s durability, agility and performance pedigree. The F29 is made for the discerning, ambitious rider that values performance. It’s an ideal bike for XC racing and short-to-medium duration trail rides and marathon-style races.
SIZES: S, M (tested), L, XL
TOP TUBE LENGTH: 593mm
SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 433mm
HEAD TUBE ANGLE: 71 degrees
SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 73.5 degrees
CHAINSTAY LENGTH: 440mm
*PRICE: R25 000
FRAME: Smart Formed Aluminium
COLOURS: White with red/blue accents
FORK: Lefty PBR with lockout and 90mm of travel
SHIFTERS: SRAM X9
FRONT DERAILLER: SRAM X7
REAR DERAILLER: SRAM X9, 10-speed
CRANKSET: SRAM X9 BB30 38/24
BRAKESET: Avid Elixir 7 160/180mm rotors
WHEELS: WTB Frequency Race rims, DT Swiss Competition spokes, SRAM X9 rear hub, Formula Lefty front hub
TYRES: Schwalbe Rapid Rob 29×2.25 front and rear
OTHERS: Cannondale stem, seatpost, saddle and handlebars.
CONTACT: www.omnico.co.za; 021 300 1500
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
Originally published in TREAD Issue 23, 2013 – All rights reserved