Have you heard? There’s a new gravel bike in town and this thing’s super-versatile! Our latest product feature takes a deep dive into the all-new Cannondale Topstone Carbon 2 L gravel bike. The new 2022 range of carbon Topstones launched at the beginning of March (see our launch feature here) and once we’d set our eyes on them we eagerly awaited the arrival of a test-bike to allow us to spend some quality time riding and getting to know this new-gen gravel bike. Cannondale sent us the all new Topstone Carbon 2 L spec’d with a Shimano GRX 800/810 mix groupset and their unique SmartSense lighting system; after spending a few weeks onboard this super-fun gravel bike we’d like to run through all of the key features and let you know what we think of the ride out on the demanding gravel tracks and trails of the south Lake District.
After the recent product launch we were eager to get a ride on the all-new Topstone Carbon.
Watch our Topstone Carbon 2 L bike check video.
Over the last few years it’s fair to say that the Cannondale Topstone has been a really popular gravel bike option for our Wheelbase customers. Cannondale’s large range of carbon and alloy Topstones have helped plenty of cyclists get into the ever-evolving world of gravel biking, but we think it’s fair to say that as time goes on the gravel bike genre continues to diversify somewhat into separate sub-genres – think super-lightweight aero race machines, tough utilitarian bike-packing machines, affordable alloy bikes with geometries that are closer to more traditional road bikes, playful burly options with 650b wheels & dropper posts and carbon gravel bikes with cleverly engineered technology designed to isolate you from rough terrain.
The new-generation Topstone Carbon 2 L came to life in the Kentmere valley in the South Lakes.
Some brands have produced gravel bikes that meet these demands separately – there’s a specific bike for Bikepacking, a specific bike for gravel racing and so on. Cannondale have rather brilliantly created a carbon gravel bike that is so versatile that it can excel in all the gravel riding scenarios we’ve highlighted above. With all bikes featuring their unique Kingpin rear suspension configuration the small range of 2022 Topstone Carbon gravel bikes cater to every style of riding; for example choose the Topstone Carbon 2 Lefty for rowdy riding on the trails thanks to their super-plush 30mm travel Lefty Oliver front fork, or the Topstone Carbon 3 650b for the option to run a fatter, more capable tyre. Alternatively if you’re focused on speedy efficiency and covering distance while carrying your Bikepacking luggage choose the Topstone Carbon 2 L that we’re looking at today and benefit from Cannondale’s SmartSense lighting system, allowing you to continue riding late into the night.
The Topstone Carbon 2 L benefits from Cannondale’s SmartSense integrated lighting system. (It can be removed if preferred).
There’s been a significant number of design improvements compared to the previous-generation Topstone Carbon. The all-new Topstone Carbon 2 L can boast a faster and more agile-looking silhouette to its predecessor and just looks more fun to ride from the get-go. There’s a dramatically increased slope to the top tube which now looks more in proportion to their unique rear triangle featuring the Kingpin pivot point; as well as looking better, the practical benefits of this is an increased stand over which will mean you’ll be able to move more freely when you’re riding technical terrain and if you have to get off in a hurry you’ll be less likely to get painfully tangled with the top tube. While the top tube has been tweaked we’re pleased to say that on the whole the bike’s geometry stays the same, including that relaxed head angle which makes the ride feel stable and confidence inspiring while the bike’s short chainstays still mean the bike is agile and easy to throw around on technical trails.
The new-generation Topstone Carbon gravel bike strikes a nice balance, feeling stable and confidence-inspiring while being playful and agile too.
Kingpin Suspension You’ll probably already be familiar with Cannondale’s iconic Kingpin suspension system from the original Topstone Carbon. For the new 2022 version the same rear suspension now features a low-friction bushing which is more durable than the previous model’s cartridge bearing setup. This simple system which relies on the engineered flex of the carbon fibre rear triangle gives 30mm of travel at the saddle and 10mm at the rear axle; it takes the sting out of rough terrain without adding any extra weight or complexity and is completely maintenance-free.
The Kingpin pivot works in unison with some clever carbon layup in the frame construction to give up to 30mm of travel at the saddle.
The new 2022 version of the Topstone’s Kingpin pivot features a low-friction bushing rather than the bearings seen in the previous version.
Kingpin takes the sting out of rough terrain without adding unwanted complexity or weight to the Topstone Carbon.
OutFront Steering The Topstone Carbon features Cannondale’s OutFront steering, providing confidence-inspiring handling for a stable ride in the chop when things get a little rowdy, while remaining light and nimble when you’re winding your way through tight singletrack or are pointing the bike uphill.
Cannondale’s OutFront steering is stable and confidence-inspiring.
SmartSense All bikes in the 2022 Topstone Carbon range are either equipped or are ready to upgrade to Cannondale’s SmartSense system which entails front & rear lights, rear radar and an integrated PowerPack. The Cannondale Topstone 2 L includes the ambient reactive front and rear lights but does not include Garmin’s rear radar. For those of you who prefer not to have the SmartSense system on your bike, it can be removed with the PowerPack recess acting as a cradle for Cannondale’s Topstone trail-side tool kit.
The SmartSense front light developed in partnership with Lezyne reacts to ambient light, increasing in brightness as darkness falls.
The SmartSense rear light is ambient-light-reactive too.
At the heart of Cannondale’s SmartSense system is the integrated PowerPack battery.
Superior Carrying Capability Cannondale have done everything possible to encourage you to spend longer on your gravel bike. Instead of doing your usual out and back ride in ‘a oner’ why not load up the Topstone Carbon 2 L with everything you’ll need for a multi-day adventure. There’s plentiful gear and water bottle mount bosses on the frame and fork for all of your Bikepacking luggage.
With multiple gear and water bottle mounts this bike’s got more bosses than corporate middle-management.
Proportional Response Cannondale have included their Proportional Response principle to the construction of each frame size in the Topstone Carbon range. Size-specific construction, with different carbon layups specific to the size of frame and fork means that every size of rider experiences exactly the same ride quality.
Proportional Response means each size of bike gives exactly the same ride quality.
Increased Tyre Clearance and Greater Wheel Compatibility The new 2022 Topstone Carbon 2 L includes a significant change to its wheel and frame configuration compared to the previous generation Topstone. Gone is their unique Ai wheel and frame system which meant that the wheels had to dished differently to conventional wheels and swapping out wheels from one bike to another was more complicated than it had to be. Now all wheels are standard dished for easy interchangeability; the other improvement is seen in the mud-shedding clearance capability of the new Topstone. Thanks to that new dropped drive-side chainstay you can now run up to 45mm wide tyres and still benefit from 6mm of clearance between tyre and frame.
The new Topstone Carbon can take 45mm tyres and still have 6mm of clearance between tyre and frame.
Clever use of a dropped chainstay on the new Topstone Carbon frame allows for wider tyres.
Threaded Bottom Bracket
Cannondale have returned to a conventional threaded bottom bracket for the new generation Topstone Carbon. This is a trend that we’re seeing across all of the top bike brands and the rational is twofold; the first reason is that it makes home bike maintenance easier and means quick bottom bracket changes are a more realistic option – a plus if you’re touring remote areas of the world on your Topstone! Secondly, by moving away from a press-fit to a threaded bottom bracket any potential for unwanted noise reverberating through the frame is removed. The people have spoken and Cannondale have listened.
The Cannondale Topstone Carbon 2 L comes spec’d with a great mix of components including Shimano’s gravel-specific GRX Groupset. With a mix of GRX 800 and GRX 810 components making up this 11-speed drivetrain you can be confident that your gears will continue to function flawlessly even when conditions get particularly wet and muddy.
Shimano’s gravel-specific GRX groupset more than meets the demands of off-road riding.
Shimano’s GRX gear shifter and brake lever units, designed specifically to meet the demands of gravel riding, give a secure hand-hold even when wet thanks to their embossed brake hoods. Every gear selection is light, crisp and precise, while braking feels powerful and controlled regardless of whether your hands are positioned on the hoods or on the drops. This is partly down to Shimano cleverly repositioning the pivot-point of the brake lever, compared to their road-going equivalents to help make braking leverage more effective when you’re predominantly riding with your hands on the hoods.
The GRX shifter and brake units feature clever ergonomic detailing to better suit off-road riding.
Little details like the embossed rubber brake hoods help to keep you in control even in wet weather.
Gear ratio choice on a gravel bike can make or break how much fun you’re having while riding on mixed terrain; if your gears are too low then you’ll be spinning out on the roads and faster gravel sections. Equally if your gears are too high you’ll be running out gears on steep and loose climbs and will struggle to keep momentum. Thankfully the Shimano GRX groupset has every eventuality covered with a double 48/31T chainset up front combined with a wide ratio 11-34T 11-speed cassette out back giving you almost every gear ratio you’ll need on any mixed terrain adventure. With the Topstone Carbon more than willing to carry a Bikepacking load too these low climbing gears will come in handy when you’re heading out fully-laden with luggage on multi-day riding adventures.
The GRX chainset featuring 48/31T chainrings provides versatile gear ratios to suit all riding scenarios.
The GRX 810 rear derailleur with clutch mechanism means every gear selection is precise and your chain stays securely located.
Scrubbing off speed quickly and effectively off-road is an absolute must; gravel bikes have a habit of pulling you into more and more technical terrain as you continue to discover new tracks and trails. The beauty of a light, fast carbon fibre gravel bike is that you’ll be able to all-but dance up smooth gravel climbs; however, pointed downhill on tight, technical singletrack descents you’ll very quickly find yourself riding at your limits. A good pair of brakes is going to help you make drastic changes to your speed and remain in control even when things get rowdy. Cannondale have spec’d a pair of 160mm disc rotors married up to a pair of powerful GRX 800 hydraulic disc brake callipers to help ensure you’re always in control.
Powerful Shimano GRX 800 hydraulic brakes scrub speed off quickly and keep you in control even you’re pushing the limits.
Cannondale have fitted the Topstone Carbon 2 L with a pair of light, fast-rolling but durable WTB KOM Light i23 TCS rims laced to smooth Formula hubs for a no-nonsense wheelset that will stand up to the increased rigours of riding off-road for the majority of the time. The rims are tubeless-ready and are already taped; Cannondale ship the Topstone with tubeless valves and the process of converting over to tubeless is quick and easy. We did this with the Vittoria Terreno Dry 38c tubeless-ready tyres before testing the bike and have found the set up to be 100% reliable. The Terreno tyres feature an almost slick central tread with a more pronounced profile on the outer edges of the tyre; we have been impressed with how these tyres performed both on road and off-road, but they may be challenged by the sort of wet and muddy riding conditions more commonly found here in the Lake District; as it was, with dry and dusty trails, they performed flawlessly.
The Vittoria Terreno Dry tubeless tyres have performed well and roll really fast and efficiently on smoother terrain.
Finishing off the Topstone Carbon 2 L spec is a collection of propriety parts from Cannondale; the carbon SAVE seatpost, which has been specially developed to accommodate their SmartSense rear light, is a lightweight carbon post which flexes a little in unison with the frame’s Kingpin configuration further adding to the bikes’ compliance and comfort in the saddle. All good gravel bikes need a nice wide handlebar with flared drops to really help both bike and rider descend off-road with confidence and control. The Topstone Carbon 2 L features a Cannondale 2 ShortDrop alloy bar with a 12 degree flare which really helps you hold that nice wide stance, helping distribute weight more evenly and increasing steering leverage on tight turns. The final contact point is taken care of with a Fizik Terra Argo x5 saddle with a nice stubby-nose profile and mid-with profile which will suit most riders and proved to be comfortable even on long all-day epics.
Nice wide Cannondale 2 ShortDrop alloy bars with a 12 degree flare really help with leverage and control on tight, loose turns.
We’ve had the Topstone Carbon 2 L for a good few weeks now here at Wheelbase and have had a really good opportunity to put the bike through its paces on a variety of terrain and in slightly different riding scenarios such as short, sharp blasts on technical terrain and longer, more endurance-based rides that take in a mix of road and high-elevation gravel roads, with multiple hours spent in the saddle.
We put the all-new Topstone Carbon through its paces on multiple terrains.
The Topstone Carbon has excelled within every cycling scenario; on the longer mixed terrain rides the bike performed really well, zipping along on the road at speeds not dissimilar to a typical road ride. In fact on the sort of weather-beaten broken-up back roads of Lancashire and the South Lakes the Topstone was a real asset, with those 38mm tyres and the wide handlebars giving us a greater sense of control than if we were on our road bikes; this had one tester wondering why they even owned a ‘proper’ road bike at all!
Super-efficient AND super-fun the Topstone really comes to life when you point it off-road.
Once the Topstone had swung off the tarmac and hit some long gravel climbs the clever Kingpin pivot and sophisticated carbon fibre construction of the rear of the bike really came into its own. Climbing for more than half an hour to the highest point of the ride the Topstone Carbon 2 L was super-comfortable in the saddle even when the terrain became particularly rough and it was easy to keep momentum and retain traction on loose gravel surfaces as the Kingpin did its thing. It’s subtle; the bike’s not bobbing up and down and there’s nothing gimmicky going on. You don’t feel any unwanted movement when you’re putting the power down on smoother terrain, you just notice after a while that you’re staying the saddle more than you thought you might have and that you’re not feeling beat up and uncomfortable.
Johnny rode the Topstone Carbon over Lancashire’s Salter Fell gravel road to get a feel for how it performed on long-distance off-road rides.
As we’ve mentioned already, the geometry of the all-new Topstone Carbon is almost identical to its predecessor which is great as Cannondale have nailed it when it comes to angles that keep you stable at speed while retaining a good amount of responsiveness and agility thanks to the short chainstays. At no point did the bike begin to feel skittish or nervous on the descents and when we took the bike onto tight, technical singletrack we didn’t loose control or feel like the bike was getting away from us.
Adam was ready and willing to push the Topstone Carbon 2 L to its limits off-road.
While the new 2022 frame’s top tube has been lowered for increased stand over, that trail-friendly geometry stays the same.
THE FINAL VERDICT
We keep coming back to this point but it’s worth reiterating; Cannondale have created a REALLY versatile gravel bike with the Topstone Carbon. It feels fast and spritely on the road and it’s fun and agile on those sort of short, local after-work blasts that are so much at this time of year. Heading out on longer rides it instantly becomes a reliable pack-horse and is more than ready to ferry you and your Bikepacking luggage over vast distances. It is probably the most comfortable drop handle bar bike I have ever ridden and it’s a bold statement, but if had to set off on an around-the-world Bikepacking trip tomorrow THIS is the bike I would reach for.
The all-new Topstone Carbon 2 L is clearly in-step with the evolution of gravel biking and is a super-versatile machine.
- Frame: Topstone Carbon, Kingpin suspension system, SmartSense equipped, 12x142mm thru-axle, 27.2 dropper post ready, BSA 68mm threaded BB, DirectLine internal cable routing, removable fender bridge, multiple gear/bottle mounts
- Fork: Topstone Carbon, 1-1/8″ to 1.5″ steerer, 55mm OutFront offset, flat mount disc, internal routing, 12×100 thruaxle, triple bottle/gear mounts, fender mounts
- Rims: WTB KOM Light i23 TCS, 700c, 28h, tubeless ready
- Hubs: (F) Formula cartridge bearing, 12x100mm, centerlock / (R) Formula cartridge bearing, 12x142mm, centerlock
- Spokes: Stainless Steel, 14g
- Tyres: Vittoria Terreno Dry 700x38c, tubeless ready
- Crank: Shimano GRX 800, 48/31T
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano BSA 68
- Chain: Shimano HG701, 11-speed
- Rear Cassette: Shimano HG800, 11-34, 11-speed
- Front Derailleur : Shimano GRX 800, braze-on
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano GRX 810, Shadow RD+
- Shifters: Shimano GRX 800, 11-speed
- Handlebar: Cannondale 2 ShortDrop, 7050 alloy, 12 deg flare drop
- Grips: Fizik Solocush Soft, 3mm
- Stem: Cannondale 2, 6061 Alloy, 31.8, 7°
- Headset: Integrated, Carbon, 1-1/8″ – 1-1/2″
- Brakes: Shimano GRX 800 hydraulic disc, 160/160mm MT800 rotors
- Brake Levers: Shimano GRX 800 hydraulic disc
- Saddle: Fizik Terra Argo X5, S-alloy rails
- Seatpost: SAVE Carbon SmartSense, 27.2, 350mm (XS-L), 400mm (XL)
- Connectivity: Cannondale Wheel Sensor
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
- Colour: 1 Chalk w/ Black (CHK)
- Colour: 2 Jade w/ Sage, Pine, and Jet Black (JDE)
- Extras: SmartSense with Lights
Written by Johnny Dodgin
Photos by James Vincent
Rider Adam Walton
Want to see more fast bikes? You can now see all of our featured bikes in one place over on Pinterest where you’ll find links to each of our Fast Bike Friday Blogs too!
Click the link below and search our archive…