While full-suspension bikes have become popular in
cross-country racing, hardtails still have an important place in the world of mountain biking. They
are easy to maintain, incredibly efficient on fast and smooth
trails, cost less than their full-suspension counterparts, and
can teach valuable skills by forcing riders to choose their
lines carefully. Cannondale’s F29 may look like a simple and
straightforward hardtail, but there is more going on than
meets the eye.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The F29 is for the cross-country racer who wants a light-weight, efficient race bike that can dice it out on the weekends without draining the bank account. This bike would
also work for trail riders who contend with fast, flowy trails
or ones with extended climbs where a light weight bike can
make all the difference.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Despite Cannondale’s Lefty fork being introduced 13 years
ago, the distinct look still draws comments from inquisitive riders. For 2013, the Lefty has seen some significant updates.
While most of the improvements are internal, riders will notice
that the old-school rubber fork boot is absent. In its place is a
moto-inspired guard that protects a new, rounded fork stanchion.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Constructed of Cannondale’s proprietary BallisTec
Carbon, the F29 Carbon shares much of its DNA with
Cannondale’s high-end road offerings. This material uses
high-strength, impact-resistant fibers and resins along with
strands of stiffer, more brittle fibers that run continuously
from front to rear to fine-tune the ride quality. The F29 3
features Cannondale’s second-tier F-frame, which uses a
higher percentage of “intermediate-modulus” fibers, making
it slightly heavier but more cost-effective than the frame
found on the Ultimate and 1 models.
While the carbon material may be slightly different, the
mold remains the same. The F29 is built to be laterally stiff,
thanks to a 1.5-inch head tube, an oversized downtube and a
BB30 bottom bracket.
However, instead of simply building the stiffest bike possible, Cannondale worked to make the bike vertically compliant to take the edge off of stinging hits on the trail. The rear end uses Cannondale’s Speed SAVE design, created by oval-shaped sections of the round seat stays and chainstays that
allow them to flex slightly. This same technology is integrated
into the seat tube and is further aided by the small-diameter,
Cannondale’s OPI stem with a 15-degree drop and C2 alloy,
26.8-inch bars give the front end a low and wide stance that
The 2x10 drivetrain is a mix of SRAM and
Shimano components and is perfectly suited for the
lightweight race bike. The Shimano XT Shadow
Plus rear derailleur is a nice touch.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving out: The simplicity of dialing in a hard-
tail is always a nice change from the routine of getting a full-suspension bike set up perfectly. Thanks
to Cannondale’s new Lefty fork design, setting sag is
much easier than before. The stanchion is now
exposed, and a rubber O-ring lets you measure the sag
by yourself as with other forks on the market.
The position on the F29 is what you would expect from a
race-oriented bike. The top tube feels on the long side and is
designed to put the rider in an aggressive position for hammering the pedals.
Climbing: At 23.5 pounds and as laterally stiff as a road bike,
the F29 encourages putting the hammer down on climbs. The
chainstays are fairly short and help the bike feel snappy, especially out of the saddle. The longer top tube kept our knees
clear of the bars—a solid combination.
Where hardtails often lose the edge against their fully suspended counterparts is on rough climbs. Our local trails consist
of a few climbs that are downright painful to climb on a hardtail thanks to our saddle-wearing, four-legged friends. As much
as we shudder at the thought of riding those climbs, they
offered a great proving ground for Cannondale’s SAVE micro-suspension technology.
We were stoked with the results. The F29 is surprisingly
smooth for a hardtail. This is not to say that large, square-edge
bumps simply disappeared under our wheels. Nope, the old art
of hovering over the saddle still applies. The difference is that
the small chatter you encounter is damped significantly.
Cornering: With the F29, Cannondale wanted to create a
bike that rolled like a 29er but handled like a 26er. The steep,
71-degree head angle kept the handling sharp enough to whip
around switchbacks with ease, but never felt nervous descending at speed.
The Lefty fork is incredibly stiff. The front end tracks
predictably, and pushing hard into corners never produced
any noticeable lateral flex.
Descending: While the SAVE technology does great
things when you are climbing in the saddle, the F29
behaves like the hardtail it is when descending. Picking
smooth lines is key, and experienced riders will appreciate
how easy it is to dance around the trail to find them.
The redesigned Lefty fork seemed to be slightly less supple at the beginning of the stroke and rode a bit higher
than last year’s model. This is most likely due to the new
lower seal/bushing that may cause slightly more stiction
than before. The fork is still very smooth through the
stroke, and some riders may appreciate the feeling of the
fork riding higher in the travel.
Braking: The Avid Elixir 7 brakes have a very consistent
feel, but aren’t the most powerful stoppers on the block.
However, they performed quietly without any vibration or
squealing to speak of. Thankfully, the svelte stature of the
bike meant that the underpowered brakes were not much of
an issue. We simply adjusted our braking points accordingly.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Tire selection and setup have a strong influence on a
hardtail’s ride quality. Given that the WTB Frequency rims
and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires are both tubeless compatible, the first thing we would do is pull the tubes out and
put sealant in there. A tubeless setup will allow for lower
tire pressures, giving the bike a more supple ride with
increased traction and rider comfort.
Those looking to use the F29 Carbon for more than just
cross-country racing and shorter trail rides should consider
replacing the 2.1-inch Racing Ralphs with the larger-volume, 2.25-inch versions. The minimal weight penalty will
be worth the additional traction and rider comfort of the
larger-volume casing for long trail rides over rough terrain.
At $3100, the F29 is actually a lot of bang for the buck.
Whereas many entry-level carbon fiber bikes are downright
uncomfortable because the frames offer so little resilience,
Cannondale takes a different approach. They offer a technologically advanced frame with a more modest parts package to
control the price. The F29 is a bike that you can certainly race
or trail ride right out of the box, but also feel good about
upgrading to higher-quality components later.