Cannondale Topstone 105: At The Finish

Cannondale Topstone 105: At The Finish – by MG

Hot on the heels of Cannondale’s recent announcement of the 2020 Topstone Carbon, it’s time to wrap up the review of the 2019 Topstone 105 we’ve been testing since early-May.

Cannondale Topstone 105
While MG upgraded a few components, the Topstone 105 works very well in stock trim. Either way, it’s a great ride.

Get caught up with our earlier installments of this review: Getting Rolling; Checkpoint.

A Solid Foundation

Cannondale took a different approach with the Topstone than it does with many of its new models. Instead of launching a top-end “halo” bike, Cannondale instead chose to lead with value and performance for the dollar when it launched the 2019 alloy-framed Topstone. Now, it’s expanding the product line upward with the introduction of its carbon fiber 2020 Topstone Carbon.

The new models start at $2,750 for the Topstone Carbon 105, which has a very similar component mix to our test bike. That means the carbon bikes are roughly $1,000 more expensive than the equivalent alloy models, parts being equal.

Easy to Love

There’s a lot to like about the Cannondale Topstone 105. The good looking alloy frame, understated graphics and full carbon fork make it easy to mistake the bike for a much more expensive rig. On rides, I was often asked if it was a carbon frame, though at rest it was easier to see the alloy weld beads at the tube junctures.

MG and MW
MW to MG: “Man, that thing looks better than a lot of $6,000-plus bikes I’ve seen.” That’s a strong compliment from a guy on a custom Soulcraft. (Photo: Scott Redd)

At $1,750, the Topstone 105 is one of the most affordable Shimano 105-equipped gravel bikes on the market. Cannondale undoubtedly saves a few dollars with the FSA Omega crankset and KMC chain, neither of which is a deal breaker from a performance standpoint. That said, I’d have preferred to see a Shimano 105 crank, even if it bumped the price of the complete bike up a bit.

The ride quality of the Topstone alloy frame and carbon fork is impressive, especially considering the bike’s price. Handling is stable enough to encourage beginners, but engaging enough to confidently rail corners under an experienced rider.

Part of the great ride and handling is attributable to the WTB Nano tires, which measure a full 4mm larger (with my calipers) than their claimed 40c size*. As a result, I only needed 25-30psi to get a great combination of traction, bump absorption and easy rolling. The conversion to tubeless was a snap with the WTB rims and tires as well, and the setup has been 100% reliable over more than 600 miles to date.

Cannondale Topstone and Synapse
It’s easy to see the dimensional similarities between Cannondale’s Topstone (left) and alloy Synapse (right).

Cannondale used its popular Synapse endurance road model as the template for the Topstone’s fit, and it worked well for me with minor adjustments. With the stock 100mm stem, the fit was a bit on the racy side, but swapping to a 90mm stem was all it took to get me into my preferred position on the bike.

Room to Grow

Overall, Cannondale did a great job with the Topstone 105 parts spec, but in reality, there’s always potential for upgrades in any sub-$2,000 bike. Fortunately, the quality of the Topstone frame and fork are worthy of upgrades down the road.

Shimano 105 drivetrain
The 2×11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes performed reliably and consistently throughout our testing.

Aside from fit items (saddle, bar tape, crank length), the most significant upgrade we made to our test Topstone 105 was to the wheels. While the stock WTB wheels are strong and durable, there’s no escaping their 2,000+ gram weight.

We saved more than a pound by swapping the wheels out with Cantu’s 1,560g Rova wheelset. While the $1,595 wheels nearly double the price of the bike, the increased responsiveness is easy to feel on the road.

Bottom Line

Cannondale’s Topstone 105 is a great example of the value and performance that’s available in a sub-$2,000 gravel bike. It gives new gravel riders a compelling introduction to the sport, and experienced riders on a budget an appealing option that won’t hold them back. Overall, we’re stoked with the bike’s performance and can recommend it without reservation. It’s definitely worth a look.

Learn more about the Topstone 105 or find a local dealer for a test ride of your own at Cannondale.com.

*Editor’s NOTE: Both MG and I are pretty sure WTB put a Nano 40 tread on a Resolute casing for the skin wall version of the Nano 40. The black wall version is no where near this wide or voluminous. While this is purely conjecture on our part, it is easy to see the difference between the skin wall and black wall Nanos if you try.

Please note: Cannondale sent the Topstone 105 for test and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We are not being paid or bribed for these posts and will give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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16 Responses to Cannondale Topstone 105: At The Finish

  1. James July 8, 2019 at 6:19 pm #

    Good review..
    Is this bike too danty for a Clydesdale

    • Nick July 24, 2019 at 11:54 pm #

      I was about 300 lb when i started riding this bike. Only complaint is the saddle – I swapped it for a Selle SMP TRK Gel and have no problems at all.

      My LBS said a couple of the spokes got loose, but nothing you can’t handle with weekly maintenance.

      I think in the Cannondale manual it says it’s rated for 300 lb with 30 lb extra cargo.

    • Phil August 1, 2019 at 7:45 am #

      James, I ride my 105 Topstone at 235 lbs on all kinds of surfaces. Recently did some singletrack and it handled the beating just fine, or so my LBS said when I took it in for a cleaning and inspection.

  2. drosser July 9, 2019 at 7:43 am #

    James, I started training on my Topstone 105 about nine months ago at 210 pounds. My only concern is the wheelset, at 28 spokes front and rear will require replacement in a couple years with some nice, handbuilt 32-spoke hoops.

  3. MG July 9, 2019 at 11:55 am #

    While I’m not fully qualified to answer this through personal experience, I do know several larger-frame riders who love their Topstones. The wheels are good enough to run until you get your sweet hand built 32 spoke wheels done. 😉

    I always recommend a test ride to confirm, but if it fits, I think the Topstone would be a solid choice for a Clydesdale.

  4. Joe July 10, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    Why did you review your own upgrades?

    Shouldn’t you give the bike to someone else to do that?

  5. Fishman July 10, 2019 at 8:51 am #

    I recently purchased a Topstone. I have run into a problem trying to remove the WTB Nano tires from the stock rims. The bead almost seems to be bonded to the rim. Its very difficult to separate the two and getting in a tire lever is impossible. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

  6. drosser July 10, 2019 at 10:57 am #

    Fishman: Yes, getting those Nanos off was a real pain. They are not glued on, they just seal really, really well. My advice, leave just a little air in the tube/tire so you can bend the tire to one-side really hard. Don’t use your fingers, use the base of your palms for better leverage. Once you get just a bit of bead to break, the rest will come fairly quickly and easily.

    • Guitar Ted July 10, 2019 at 12:18 pm #

      @Fishman @drosser- I can second this advice. Letting ALL the air out makes removal of this model, (and the Resolute, by the way) very difficult, although I have done it when the tire is completely flat. (WTB rims, by the way)

  7. RCK July 10, 2019 at 8:29 pm #

    GT and MG,

    Thanks for reviewing the Topstone 105. It’s a bike on my radar, wheels/crank aside. The number one concern I have is how an ALU bike rides. My current steed is a Salsa El Mar – good ol’ steel is real – and while one does not get from point A to point B quick on the El Mar, it’s not about speed. It’s about the ride.

    Of course, comparing the El Mar to Topstone is definitely not apples-to-apples, I did once have a 2013 Salsa Fargo and that bike left me unimpressed. Maybe I was trying to make it more a quick gravel bike than what Salsa envisioned. However, I’m still a bit leery about dropping coin on a drop bar bike for those times when I want to pavement faster than the El Mar can do (it’s 28/38 upfront and 11-46 in back).

    How would you compare the Topstone 105 to a Jamis Renegade Escapade? The Jamis frameset is definitely on my short list – I just know a built up bike (105/WTB with White Industries CLD hubs and Praxis 46/32 crank) would be heavier than the Topstone.

    The Jamis Renegade Expert looks cool except for the PF BB. Definitely a turn-off. Threaded BB is the only way to go.

    Just looking for a lighter weight drop bar gravel/pavement ride that’s TA front/back and threaded BB.

    Thanks!

  8. Tom in MN July 10, 2019 at 10:18 pm #

    FSA crank gets you 46/30, while 105 is 50/34, so the FSA cranks are a win in my book. The new Shimano gravel cranks would be the best of both.

  9. grannygear July 11, 2019 at 9:43 am #

    @RCK…as someone who is now riding an aluminum Topstone which will be a bit of a project bike for the summer, I am very pleased with the compliance in the frame/fork. Aluminum is my least favorite material from which to make a rigid bike frame. For instance the Breezer Inversion Team I reviewed was smoother riding, but then that bike benefits from Joe Breeze breathing on the tubing spec and the fork was surprisingly supple (for carbon).

    But I have ridden budget steel that was no better than the Topstone and was heavier. When I was running the bike with a lighter wheelset and 40mm IRC Bokens at 35psi….the Topstone was anything but harsh and in that guise it was snappy and fast.

    Cannondale knows how to do aluminum well, even if this is not the top level of manipulation in tubing like a CCAD 12 or even the Slate has.

    My plans are to use it more as a longer distance, multi surface bike and keep the Ti Lynskey for heavier dirt use. For that, I think it is very acceptable.

    gg

  10. MG July 11, 2019 at 10:30 am #

    @RCK _ Thanks for your comments. I too am a lover of the El Mariachi ride quality. The original green El Mariachi was one of my favorite bikes ever.

    The Topstone is a little more firm than an El Mariachi in terms of ride quality, but it’s not as much of a difference as you might think. For me, this manifested itself in a bit more sensitivity to air pressure. Dial it in for the conditions and you’ll have no complaints about ride quality.

    I agree that staying away from press-fit BBs is a good thing. While I own several bikes with PFBBs, I vastly prefer the ease of maintenance and creak-free reliability of a threaded BB.

    I haven’t ridden the Jamis however, so I can’t speak to how it compares to the Topstone from a ride quality standpoint. Sorry…

    @Tom in MN – The FSA cranks would be awesome if they weren’t packing 1/2 pound of dead weight. I can deal with the gearing difference, but have to admit, I’ll be stoked with the new GRX double crank.

    @Joe – I don’t need to ask anyone else to ride my bike and tell me how my upgrades work. I’m qualified to make that call. If you don’t agree, you’re more than welcome to skip my reviews.

  11. William B July 25, 2019 at 9:13 pm #

    Don’t take this as a negative comment to your review, but if I have to put $1600 worth of new wheels on an $1800 bike to make it feel responsive…well, no thanks, I’ll spend that $3400 on a bike that has all the features of the Topstone 105 and more. “Hey honey, “I need $1800 for a new bike and oh by the way, I need another $1600 to make it feel responsive.” Sorry, she’s smarter than that.

  12. grannygear July 30, 2019 at 9:27 am #

    @WIlliam B…here is the drag though…even for $3400.00 you are not getting great wheels. Maybe better than these, but not much. A set of $600.00 to $800.00 aftermarket wheels is all you need to improve the hoops on the 105 Topstone. Heck, at $600.00, they would be better than wheels on a $3400.00 bike too.

    Better pony up for a $5000.00+ bike before wheels start to perk up and even then…just so so.

    Of course if you spend more up front you are likely getting a lighter carbon frame and lighter drivetrain too, as you noted.

    And since $1800.00 and $1600.00 equals $3400.00, it sounds the same to me in the end and I bet your smart wife would figure that out too.

    But $1800.00 and $600.00 is not so crazy. Stay tuned as I am writing an article on how to budget buy some great wheels for your gravel bike from the depths of other’s garages. Even your wife will like the math on that one!

    gg

  13. Quentin October 30, 2019 at 8:00 am #

    @grannygear, Thinking about getting into gravel and considering this bike. Would be interested in what $600 wheels you’d recommend.

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by Riding Gravel 2014