In the spirit of adventure, we took three bikes on three road trips to see how well they’d withstand weeks of roadside abuse. Our test victims come from backgrounds as diverse as the American road itself. The Cannondale Raven 700 SX has a frame revised for 2000 that’s even lighter than its predecessor, plus the much talked about one-sided Lefty fork all at a more “affordable” $2,300. Edge Cycles offers its Peach; a steel hard-tail from a small shop intended to be the weapon of choice for an epic singletrack adventure. Last but by no means least is the Kona Kula; a $1,599 aluminum hardtail intended to give maximum bang for the buck, while handling all the technical terrain of the Pacific Northwest and whatever else this vast nation can throw its way. Read on, and enjoy the ride.
- CANNONDALE REVEN 700 SX
Frame: Thermoplastic carbon fiber with aluminum swingarm/Fox Air Vanilla Float Fork. Cannondale HeadShok Lefty, 4 in travel
Wheels: Shimano XT hubs, Hutchinson Alligator 2.1 tires, and Mavic 517 rims
Drivetrain: Shimano LX shifters and front derailleur, XT rear derailleur
Brakes: Linear-pull (rear) and Hayes cable-actuated hydraulic disc (front)
Price as tested: $2,300
Sizes: S, M (tested),L, XL
Weight: 29 lb, 8 oz
Contact: Cannondale; 800-245-3872
- BIKE SEEKING RIDER
A NOSE JOB, a tummy tuck, and a whole new image has me tearing up the scene in a big way. I’m an all-purpose soul mate; the kind that can tackle the steepest climbs and tame the worst descents with ease. But if you’re looking for someone to change, I’m not your date to the prom.
- OUT OF THE BOX
Cannondale recently announced that the popular Raven would be undergoing a few tweaks. A few tweaks? Sure, like a new frame, a new swingarm, and the radically new Lefty one-sided fork. We were curious–really curious. Why did the lab coat guys at Cannondale mess with the Raven frame? And why, for goodness sake, a one-sided fork? Here’s why.
For starters, the Raven II frame is lighter than its predecessor. The Raven’s diet begins with the addition of thinner and lighter thermoplastic carbon fiber skins–earlier models used heavier and more expensive thermoset skins. The new thermoplastic skins also feature concave recesses that increase the bike’s stiffness and strength. Next, the 10-piece aluminum spine that once held those carbon fiber skins together has also been replaced with a lighter and more affordable five-piece magnesium spine. Finally (yep, you guessed it), a lighter aluminum swingarm has been added to the mix. All these advances, plus a score of changes to the frame hardware, combine to shave 1.5 pounds from the frame.
Perhaps the greatest change is the addition of Cannondale’s new one-sided fork. The Lefty is an air-sprung, hydraulically damped technological freak show of a fork. How else do you describe a one-sided fork that slides along 88 needle bearings, provides four inches of travel, and sports an on-the-fly rebound adjuster and lock-out knob? “Freaky” seems like a good word and “light.” At 3.7 pounds, the Lefty is two pounds lighter than, Cannondale’s previous freeride fork–the. Moto FR.
- ON THE TRAIL
Our test bike was as controlled descending tight East Coast singletrack as it was bombing down wide open West Coast fire roads. And while the Raven 700 SX is a freeride bike–more than four inches of travel, front and rear–it’s also a capable climber, eliciting almost no pedal feedback in the middle ring and only minor monkey motion in the small ring. A lower, rear pivot location makes scooting up the trail a bit easier than in years past. The 700 SX fits solidly into the freeride weight class at 29 pounds, eight ounces, but it still rides like a much lighter, bike.
What about the Lefty fork? It works. Better yet, it works damn well. The fork is amazingly stiff under hard cornering and the compression is smooth–surprisingly so–for an air-sprung fork. Small bumps, big wrist-slammers; it simply devours them all. The rebound adjuster does its job, noticeably speeding up or slowing down the fork’s action, and the lock-out knob is a useful feature on death-march climbs when a bobbing fork can be your worst enemy.
Downsides are few and far between on this base-level Lefty-equipped Raven. The off-brand linear pulls/Hayes cable-actuated hydraulic disc combo could definitely be improved, but the remaining LX/XT/CODA component spec is high quality. The real question is one of compatibility: Do you, swap front suspension components on a regular basis? If so; Cannondale’s oversize head tube complicates retrofitting. On the other hand, if you’re not driven to replace suspension forks every season, there’s little to dislike about this bike.