Cannondale Topstone Apex 1 Review – Expect the Expected

We’ve heard for years that Cannondale was playing catchup in the gravel bike scene, all the way to the release of the 2019 Cannondale Topstone. The fact of the matter is that Cannondale has experimented for years with fat tires and road bikes without actually being in the genre. The Topstone is only their latest iteration of the gravel bike, and for many people, it might just be their best one yet.

2019 Cannondale Topstone Apex 1 - Contender Bicycles

The Cannondale Silk Road introduced suspension to road bikes. It fit a 25c tire, had aggressive road race geometry, but the unique Headshok aimed to improve road comfort and control over the bumpy cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix. But if anything, the Cannondale Slate was Cannondale’s first major foray into gravel bikes. It featured 650 x 42b wheels with the aim of having the same effective diameter as a 700x25c tire. Aggressive road geometry combined with a unique Lefty Oliver fork with 30mm suspension travel, though novel in practice, seemed out of place at a time when 25c tires were still gaining traction as the way to go on the road.

Cannondale Slate Adventure Road Bike

In comparison, the Topstone is hailed as Cannondale’s first serious entry because it’s so much more conventional: upright geo, wide tire clearance, and 700c wheels tend to fit in with the competition. But for a bike that starts at $1050, is fitting right in a bad thing?

2019 Cannondale Topstone Tire Clearance - Contender Bicycles

Cannondale is a brand known to experiment and try new things out, but like the new Habit, this is a pretty straightforward build. Topstone uses Cannondale’s C2 alloy frame. The same quality tubing found on the CAADX. There are three bottle cage mounts, a top tube bento box mount, as well as rack mounts for the for the frame and full fender mounts. Every model has capability for internal dropper post routing. Pretty standard, but well-thought out and executed nonetheless.

Up front you’ll find a full carbon fork, not typically found at this price point. This helps not just keep weight down, but ensure that steering is a bit more direct and precise. Nothing’s out of the ordinary; there’s a threaded bottom bracket, standard thru axles, and it’ll fit a 1 ⅛” stem and 27.2mm seatpost. The Topstone will unofficially fit a 650 x 47b tire, but Cannondale’s engineers designed it specifically for 700c.

Cannondale Topstone Bottle Cage & Rack Hardware

The straightforward design carries over to the bike’s handling. Geometry is based off of the Synapse endurance road bike, with a similar 55mm-offset fork, slack head angle, and similar reach and stack numbers. The chainstays are 2cm longer to accommodate wider tires, but the longer wheelbase also helps the bike’s stability, either on gravel roads or loaded down on a trip.

And stable it is. A majority of the time, the Topstone rides a lot like a burly Synapse. You feel the extra weight (our size Large Topstone Apex 1 model weighed in a 22.4 pounds) but that’s to be expected. It’s not particularly darty like some low-trail rando bikes. Even at lower speeds it tracks straight, even over rocks and ruts. At the time same, however, the steering is more responsive than what one would find on something like a Salsa Journeyman or Trek Checkpoint. Going with a smaller tire would make the bike feel a bit zippier both in acceleration and handling, but that’s not really the point of this bike is it?

2019 Cannondale Topstone Dropper Seatpost - Apex 1

The point of the Topstone is to be capable, comfortable, and fun both on and off-road, and for all the simplicity of its design, the Topstone is anything but boring. Our model on test features a dropper seatpost with internal routing, which makes a surprising difference on the trail, a wide-range SRAM Apex 1x drivetrain, and WTB tubeless-ready rims and tires. It’ll do everything the competition can do with few drawbacks, and plenty of positives. The only notable omission to the bike is a mid-fork mount for racks or bags, but it’s evident that Cannondale didn’t design this bike with heavy front-loaded bags in mind.

If you’re looking for something that’s typical Cannondale, the Slate is still a fun option that marches to the beat of its own drum. But if you’re looking for a reliable do-all drop bar bike, you’ll be very happy on the Topstone. Want something lighter? A simple swap to a different wheelset would cut some serious weight on the bike. Topstone is exactly what someone expects when they look for a do-all all-road or gravel bike, with neutral handling, low weight, and smart components. It fits the bill for a vast majority of cyclists, and starting at just $1050, we feel that it presents exceptional value.

2019 Cannondale Topstone Lineup

We have the Topstone at the shop! Come by, take one for a test ride, pick one to take home with you. For any questions, give us a call during business hours, or send us an email any time to info@contenderbicycles.com.

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