Cannondale Topstone 105: Checkpoint

Cannondale Topstone 105: Checkpoint – by MG

Back in May, we introduced you to the Cannondale Topstone 105 we have in for testing (see that post here), and today it’s time to update you on our experience with the bike so far.

Topstone Seatstays
The Topstone’s svelte seatstays contribute to a smooth ride, particularly for an alloy frame.

To refresh your memory, the Topstone 105 is the middle offering in Cannondale’s three-bike 2019 Topstone line-up, all of which feature the same alloy frame and carbon fork. This makes the entry-level Topstone Sora ($1,050 MSRP) a particularly good deal, but in reality, each Topstone model packs a ton of value for the asking price.

At $1,750 MSRP, the Topstone 105 is one of the more affordable gravel bikes available with Shimano’s excellent R7000 series 105 2×11-speed drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes. Cannondale substitutes an FSA Omega crank/BB, with its wide-range 30/46t 2x chainrings. The increased gear range offers a lower “low” gear than traditional compact cranks, which typically use a 34t small ring.

Unfortunately, the 172.5mm length of the stock cranks is 2.5mm shorter than I typically ride, so I swapped the FSA crank and BB for an older 175mm Shimano 105 compact crankset (34/46t) I had in the parts bin. The swap dropped more than 200g from the weight of the bike, which quite frankly surprised me. I didn’t expect the FSA crank to weigh so much!

FSA Omega crank
The FSA Omega crank offers a wide gear range, but also weighs more than 200g more than an equivalent Shimano 105 crankset. Personally, I’d rather have seen Cannondale spec the Shimano crank, even if it meant paying a little more for the bike up-front.

That said, since crank length has more to do with personal preference than actual performance, I can’t complain too much. Plenty of cyclists my height (6’1″ tall, 33″ inseam) ride 172.5mm cranks, particularly those from a road background.

On the Road

The Topstone is a fun, capable bike that instills confidence in its rider. Cannondale’s OutFront geometry uses a relatively slack 71-degree head tube angle and long 55mm fork offset to achieve an impressive combination of stability and agility in a wide variety of gravel conditions. It’s a handling package that works equally well for beginning gravel riders as it does for experienced cyclists.

Cannondale used its popular Synapse endurance road frame as the template for Topstone’s rider position, and it works really well for me. While I did need to replace the stem, seatpost and crank to achieve a totally dialed fit, the stack and reach of my large/58cm sample is right in the ballpark, so getting it set was relatively easy.

Topstone at Tour of Dirt Roads
MG and the Topstone 105 take a rest in the mud during the 2019 PCL Tour of Dirt Roads. The bike’s excellent tire clearance made the conditions much more livable.

The Topstone’s alloy frame and carbon fork deliver a ride quality that’s very good, particularly considering the bike’s price. Tire clearance is good for tires up to about 44c (actual width). Cannondale says the Topstone is capable of running tires of up to 42c, but I’ve found their rating is pretty conservative.

The frameset is very responsive to upgrades, so it’s not a bike most riders will quickly grow out of as their skills and miles increase.

Upgrades We Made

Aside from the fit items (stem, seatpost and crank), my most urgent upgrade to the Topstone 105 was the wheels. It’s not that the stock wheels are bad – in fact it’s quite the opposite. They’re strong, reliable and easy to set up tubeless, but there’s no denying their weight, at more than 2,000 grams. The wheel weight seemed to put a damper on the acceleration and responsiveness hidden in the alloy Topstone frame.

Topstone Cantu
Equipped with the carbon-rim Cantu Rova wheelset, the Topstone 105 takes on the form of an elite race bike, both in appearance and performance.

Fortunately, I still have the excellent Cantu Rova wheelset we reviewed a while back, and they were super easy to set up for duty on the Topstone. Once installed, the Cantu wheels made an immediate improvement in the bike’s acceleration and overall feel on the road.

I noticed the wheels most on fast group rides, when quick accelerations were necessary to close a gap. I never felt like I was at a disadvantage to other riders on much more expensive bikes. Of course, the $1,595 wheelset almost doubles the overall cost of the bike, but for gravel riders and racers on a budget, it’s an option worth considering.

Here’s why: Say you have an overall budget of $3,500 to $4,000 for a new gravel bike. Do you go for a more expensive carbon framed bike with a lower level drivetrain, components and wheels? Or, is it better to go for a less expensive alloy bike that gives you more budget to make selective upgrades, particularly to the wheels and touch points?

The performance of the alloy Topstone 105 with the Cantu wheels makes a compelling argument for the latter option, particularly for folks who want a bike they won’t feel guilty riding hard and putting away dirty. The Topstone 105 thrives in that environment, and despite my best efforts, the Cantu wheels are still rolling smooth and true after more than a year of riding.

In Summary

Cannondale’s Topstone 105 is an impressive bike, particularly for one retailing for less than $2,000. It checks all the boxes, with solid handling, competitive spec and an understated, high-quality look and feel. Whether you’re a new gravel rider looking for adventure, or an experienced cyclist on a budget, the Topstone 105 is well worth a look.

Next week, we’ll wrap up our Topstone 105 review, and give you a sneak peek at Cannondale’s exciting new 2020 gravel line up. Be sure to check back for the scoop!

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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2 Responses to Cannondale Topstone 105: Checkpoint

  1. huhuguy June 17, 2019 at 2:28 pm #

    I ride Topstone 105 and thinking about new wheels. How you find the clearance on the front with those wider Cantu rims? There’s plenty of space in the back but I find the front fairly tight even with the stock tires and rims.

  2. MG June 28, 2019 at 2:48 pm #

    @huhuguy: Sorry I didn’t see your question earlier. The clearance is just fine with the Cantu wheels. The rims are only 1mm wider (internal), so it’s basically the same as with the stock wheels in that respect. I’d definitely recommend the upgrade though. It’s well worth the money, and it totally wakes the bike up.

    Have a great weekend!

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by Riding Gravel 2014