Cannondale Topstone 105: Getting Rolling

Cannondale Topstone 105: Getting Rolling – By MG

Cannondale is well known for forging its own path in the cycling world. Whether it was building bicycles from welded, heat treated aluminum alloy in the 1980s, when the ‘standard’ was lugged steel, or its unique strut-style “Lefty” front suspension today, the company has rarely been content settling for the industry’s status quo.

Cannondale Slate
Cannondale’s first gravel model: the unique 650b-wheeled, Lefty-equipped Slate. (Photo: Cannondale)

Cannondale’s first ‘gravel’ offering – the Slate – is a good example of this approach. With fat 650b tires, a chunky alloy frame and 30mm of suspension travel courtesy of a Lefty Oliver up front, the Slate is tuned more for adventure than for all around gravel riding and racing.

Enter Topstone

Named after a favorite gravel route near Cannondale’s headquarters, the Topstone is the company’s second gravel model. Unlike its stablemate, it cuts a more traditional ‘gravel bike’ profile, rolling on 700c wheels, with stated clearance for up to 42c tires. The rider position is based on the company’s well-regarded Synapse endurance road bike, so it’s a little more upright than a full race bike, without sacrificing the ability to go fast.

With 700c wheels, a rigid carbon fork, internal dropper post routing and mounts for all sorts of bottles, fenders, racks and accessories, the Topstone has the features you’d expect in a modern gravel bike.

Built from Cannondale’s SmartForm C2 aluminum alloy, the Topstone frame features butted and shaped tubing, with robust double-pass welds and a traditional threaded bottom bracket shell. Internal cable and hose routing in the main frame accommodates an internally-routed 27.2mm dropper post. The design and execution of the cable routing is among the best I’ve experienced to-date.

The slim seatstays and shaped chainstays are designed to reduce bumps and vibration that reaches the rider. The beautiful shaped stays terminate into tidy, elegant 12mm thru axle dropouts… Impressive.

Topstone models feature a full compliment of integrated bottle, rack, fender and accessory mounts to increase versatility. From fast gravel rides to sub-24 overnights or short bikepacking adventures, the Topstone is easy to adapt to your needs with the plentiful bags and accessories available in the aftermarket.

An elegant full-carbon tapered steerer fork with 12mm thru axle ends rounds out the Topstone’s thoroughly modern gravel chassis. The long 55mm fork offset works with a relatively slack 71 degree head angle to deliver handling that’s both stable and maneuverable. The long fork offset also helps minimize toe overlap on smaller frame sizes.

Topstone Models

For 2019, Cannondale offers three Topstone models, each sharing the same alloy frame and full carbon fork.

Shimano R7000-series 105 components
Shimano’s R7000 series 105 components offer crisp shifting, powerful, easy-to-modulate braking and excellent ergonomics. Lever throw is a bit longer than Ultegra or Dura Ace, but shift quality is on-par with the more expensive groups.

The $1,050 Topstone Sora features Shimano’s value-oriented 2×9-speed Sora drivetrain, with a FSA Tempo Adventure double crankset 30/46t, ProMax mechanical disc brakes and wire-bead 40c WTB Nano tires. Based on my research, the Topstone Sora is one of, if not the least expensive gravel bike on the market today with a full carbon fork.

We’re testing the mid-level Topstone 105, which retails for $1,750. It features Shimano’s impressive R7000-series 105 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, with an external-bearing FSA Omega ME 30/46t crankset. Additional upgrades include WTB i23 TCS tubeless-ready rims, folding-bead WTB Nano tires and a comfortable Fabric Scoop Radius saddle. The handlebar, stem and seatpost come from Cannondale’s in-house C3 component line.

1x loving gravel riders will be stoked with the $2,100 Topstone Apex 1, which as you may have guessed, features SRAM’s well-regarded Apex 1 drivetrain and HRD hydraulic disc brakes. As the premier Topstone model, it also comes equipped with a 50mm travel TransX dropper seatpost.

Early Ride Impressions

My early rides on the Topstone 105 were largely spent getting the fit dialed. My forward pedaling position requires a straight, no-setback seatpost on most bikes including the Topstone, so I swapped in a Thomson Elite post from my parts bin. I also went to a shorter 90mm stem, instead of the stock 100mm model. With those changes, my fit on the Topstone was dialed and I was able to begin getting to know the bike’s character better.

The Cannondale Topstone 105 is an excellent partner for gravel cyclists who like to throw a little singletrack into their gravel rides.

I’ll talk more about this in my Checkpoint post, but the geometry of the Topstone feels great. It’s stable, yet quick and easy to coax into turns. In many ways, the handling feels like a gravel interpretation of modern trail bike handling. As such, it’s great for riders who like to detour onto singletrack along the route.

Ride quality is another highlight of the Topstone. The alloy frame feels stiff and efficient under pedaling, but it doesn’t ride harsh over fresh or chunky gravel. That’s an impressive feat, particularly for a sub-$2,000 MSRP bike.

So far, the Cannondale Topstone 105 has exceeded my expectations for the performance a $1,750 gravel bike can deliver. Look for my Checkpoint post, where I’ll discuss the strengths of the bike in greater detail. I’ll also begin looking at selective upgrades that will help unlock the full potential of the Topstone chassis. Look for that post to come in June.

Note: Cannondale sent the Topstone 105 for test and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We are not being paid, nor bribed, for these posts and we will give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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4 Responses to Cannondale Topstone 105: Getting Rolling

  1. Eric Geiger May 20, 2019 at 10:33 pm #

    Great write up MG. I have put many together, will be interested in your upcoming reviews.

  2. fogd0r May 21, 2019 at 5:06 pm #

    Engineering is the art of compromises and I approve of most of them in my Topstone 105. I wish the fork had mounts for a rando-style rack and bag. I’ve heard other folks complain mightily that the frame could be lighter. But it’s the cheapest entree into hydraulic disc brakes from the Big Manufacturers and I for one will never go back. Also, C-Dale must be given a huge amount of credit for spec’ing the 46/30 crankset on the 105. Looking back through my 2000-ish miles, the fastest speed I’ve recorded on my Topstone is 38+ mph on a steep descent. I don’t remember “spinning out” on the top gear of 46×11. I do however, remember many, many hills where I **massively appreciated** the 30×34 low gear.

  3. MG May 21, 2019 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks @Eric Geiger!

    @fogd0r: That’s good perspective. While it’s probably true the frame could be lighter, Cannondale really nailed the bike’s ride quality. And you’re right about the value. Even when you look at mail-order brands, the Topstone 105 spec is very competitive, and I’ll take the service of a bike shop 10 times out of 10.

    Thanks again, guys. Cheers!

  4. kent June 8, 2019 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks for the great initial summary. Ive been looking at the 105 and the grail 7.0. any advice on one over the other?

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by Riding Gravel 2014