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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14 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?

  5. Heather Spoonheim July 21, 2019 at 11:48 pm #

    Thanks for this review. I’m newly back into riding, started out on a hybrid and really putting on the KMs. I’m very interested in this bike less for the gravel capabilities but rather because I like bigger tires for comfort, fenders to fend of the excuse of not riding because it rained last night, and I want a rack on the back to carry more stuff! The length and pace of my rides is pushing me towards drop-bars both for getting a bit more aero and moving my hands around more to relieve stress. This bike seems to be exactly what I need at a great price. Your review confirms what I’ve been thinking.

  6. David Binks July 31, 2019 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ve just bought one of these, the last one Evans Cycles had.
    Pretty good,
    BUT
    A – screwing a steel axle for the wheel direct into an aluminium thread (and a fine one at that) isn’t good engineering. For an item such as this, where it will be fairly frequently taken out, how long before the aluminium thread wears to the point where it’s no longer sound?
    B – it has rack mounts at the bottom of the seat stays, BUT when the rack is mounted, the left hand rack leg fixing screw fouls on the axle locking lever. This is VERY POOR design. Only by filing some of the thickness off the rack leg, and using a very thin (pan head) screw could I get the lever to miss. The lever is not a quick release one, it has to be rotated a few times to unscrew the axle. Did nobody at Cannondale actually fit a rack to one of these bikes when testing it? If they had, they would have realised how stupid it was. I almost returned the bike to the shop for a refund over this very basic design flaw.

  7. Pat September 20, 2019 at 1:47 pm #

    I just rode my Topstone 105 along the GAP and C&O (Pittsburgh to DC). I am not a biker per se, longest I’d ridden prior to this trip was 50 miles and most days in a row was 4 days of about 20 miles. The trip was a blast. Averaged 40+ miles per day over an 8 day period (one 60+ mile day). The bike was awesome! Comfortable, responsive in the gravel when needed, and lightweight enough to carry up stairs when needed. So a good bike for the casual rider too! Planning to add road tires so I can get a little more speed on the paved surfaces when needed.

  8. Rob Freeman September 22, 2019 at 7:15 am #

    I did Paris2Nice on a Topstone 105 and had an amazing ride. They said you couldn’t do it on a gravel bike but they were wrong. Obviously I swapped in road bike tyres for this ride and it worked a dream

    Topstone 105 is a Top bike – definitely recommend

  9. MG September 22, 2019 at 1:46 pm #

    Good perspective from all. @David Blinks: The thru axle is alloy, as are the threads in the dropout. I have a similar setup on several bikes and have never had trouble (in many thousand miles). If it’s a problem on the Topstone, it’s going to be a problem on many other bikes as well. It’s not an issue.

    Regarding the rack fitment, that’s a bummer, but isn’t an unsolvable problem. I’d recommend either a bolt on axle (without a handle), or a DT axle, as the handle can pull out under spring tension to clear bolts (or in the case of my Trek 1120, the seatstay bulge around the brake).

    @Pat and @Rob Freeman: great to hear about your adventures! Thank you! It’s proof that you don’t need to spend a great deal to get a great bike.

    Currently, mine is fitted with some sweet black Planet Bike Cascadia ALX fenders and has been getting lots of miles, both in town and out. From my experience, the Rene Herse (formerly Compass) Snoqualmie Pass 44c tires fit very nicely on the Topstone 105, though fender clearance is a bit tighter than Planet Bike would probably recommend.

  10. Christopher Sanchez September 27, 2019 at 3:07 pm #

    Wish it had clearance for 45s! Then I’m in!

    • Oblaph October 26, 2019 at 9:22 am #

      Hi MG, can you please tell me more about your few parts changes. Specifically the seat post (no set-back Thompson Elite) vs the stick one and the seat changes you’ve done. I’m not finding the seat it comes with as comfy as other seats (fizik) I used to have on other bikes and a little stretched towards the handlebars.
      Any recos on options to upgrade from FSA crankset to the new 105 or other Shimano levels? Thanks

      • MG October 29, 2019 at 10:58 am #

        Hey @Oblaph – Thanks for your questions. The seatpost and stem changes were necessary for me to fit properly on the bike. I require a saddle position that was more forward than the stock post would allow, and the stem was a change to reduce my reach to the bars slightly.

        As for the crankset upgrades, I used a Shimano 105 for a couple reasons: 1) I had it in the parts bin, and 2) it was/is consistent with the other parts on the bike. I’d consider any Shimano crank that’s Tiagra or above to be an upgrade over the stock FSA, but you’ll need a new bottom bracket as well (the FSA uses a smaller spindle diameter than Shimano). I think the 105 crank strikes a nice balance between performance and price, so if pushed to recommend one, I’d go 105.

        Good luck!

  11. tor October 7, 2019 at 5:48 am #

    Hello!

    What brand/modell pump do you have attached to the top tube?

    BR
    Tor

  12. MG October 7, 2019 at 7:52 am #

    @tor: The pump is a Topeak Road Master Blaster. It’s not a current model in their line, but if you can find one, it’s a good pump.

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by Riding Gravel 2014