Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cannondale Flash Long(ish) term review

I thought that I would throw up a long term review of the Cannondale Flash that I got back in January this year.

After spending a good 6 months, training and racing on the Cannondale Flash, I feel as though I now have a good feel for how this machine goes in a variety of cycling disciplines.

I have raced it in Short track (~10 events), Olympic Cross country (~5 events), 100km (1 event) and a Super D (gravity XC). Each of these are almost specialist material, but I think that they pretty much capture what I am into. I do admit that the shorter races appeal to me a lot, but the 100km races are "where it is at" for this era of mountain biking. It is a good thing that I also really enjoy this format, as it is just about a standard Sunday ride (sans race number and 1000 other people).

I must admit that I love the geometry of this bike. Coming off the Scott Scale, I was welcomed by the 70 degree head angle, 4 inches of Lefty travel, and a slightly longer wheelbase. Coupled with the really low bottom bracket height, this bike handles like a dream. I have never, ever lost it on a corner on this machine. No lie! It is so close to perfect with its ability at speed and ability to corner with the lower centre of gravity. What this means is that you are using less energy to 'pilot' the bike, which you can put into pedalling energy.

And it is that pedalling energy that is not wasted. The bottom bracket region is so stiff, it is amazing. There is no lost energy at all. Add in the BB30 cranks and BB bearings and it is an up-sized version of stiff. Very effective in transforming your effort into straight line 'go'.

The back end comprising of seatpost, chainstays and seatstays is also playing a part in the quality of the ride. There is a visible and sensational (ie you can feel it) amount of give in the form of 'vertical compliance'. This is the carbon catch-cry, that is fondly bestowed upon road bikes. However, the flash probably has a good 2 inches of movement. You can see 1 inch in the amount that the saddle goes down when you push on it thanks to the ellipsoidal seatpost shape. You can see the chainstays flex upwards when you grab a handful of rear brake and rock back and forth on the seat.

The Lefty fork is nothing much short of perfect. You can fully lock it out, therefore creating an awesomely stiff overall bike that feels as efficient as a road bike. This works extremely well for Short track, XCO and 100km races where there are just either hammer sessions or long fireroads where you don't want the suspension movement to suck your energy, thus robbing you of forward motion. It works extremely well for times when you want to hammer out of the saddle, such as on an open fireroad during a short track race, or even when hammering up that last minute worth of climb, with ubandance of hero grip.

When the Lefty is opened up and is soft, it is amazingly superb and just tracks over terrain like water flowing slowly over undulating ground. The front wheel does not leave the ground (unless you want it to). This in turn means sensational control. The stiffness that the Lefty also provides is just awesome. It is stated that it is identical to a 7" dual clamp fork in stiffness. Having ridden and raced the venerable RockShox Boxxer fork in the early part of this millenium, I can definitely vouch for the stiffness.
As a package I have this bike set up at 8 kilograms. I could quite easily go lighter, and may choose to do so if the new 2011 XTR is something to go for. It doesn't worry me too much as I am running a decent lightweight wheelset, and am probably more inclined to run a featherweight set of hoops instead of shaving grams that aren't rotating.
The mud clearance on the frame and fork (strut) is sensational. There is so much room it is not funny. I could probably run 2.5 inch wide tyres and still have no issues. Good for those 5 days of the year where mud is an issue!
Issues or weaknesses: not too many, due to the higher front end with the lefty attached, I have had to modify my riding position a little compared to what I used to run on the Scott. This however, has turned out to be a benefit as it has me slightly more upright, which in turn allows me to essentially laugh at drops or steep stuff.
Lefty brake caliper attachment - I have stripped an XTR caliper thread where the caliper bolts onto the Lefty. A simple fix with new Ti bolts (slightly longer) and 2 nylock nuts has me sorted.
As the rear brake caliper bolts onto a threaded portion on the rear mount, I will have to be careful not to go too hard with the allen key. Not a huge issue, just something to be aware of.
I thought that the brake cable going underneath the BB would be a pain. I am happy to report that it has not even been a blip on the radar.
Fork lockout: I am a huge fan of utilising the fork lockout. Cycling is all about the 1% gains, and the fork lockout helps achieve those. It is a slight pain to take the hand off the bars and turn the lever 15 degrees to lock or unlock it, but that is about it. Cannondale are releasing a remote lockout based on the Avid hydraulic setup that the XX SID forks has. If this is available as a retrofit, I will seriously consider investing.
So I guess that the bottom line is that I am absolutely stoked with the bike. It is fortunate that the results are also aligned with how highly I regard this bike. It wouldn't be ideal to take a proven peformer in the Scott Scale and replace it with something that made me slower.
The only issue comes down to the cost. It is pretty expensive in its retail form. However, when you pretty much devote your entire life to an activity that consumes your whole day either with training, racing, thinking, researching, appreciating or anything else regarding two wheels, the money becomes less of an issue, and the thoughts are replaced with the absolute pure quality of life whilst on the bike. Life is too short in all reality.
If you do get a chance to take one for a spin, I would highly recommend it. It may not be for everyone, but it does a lot of positive things and ticks a lot of boxes with regard to ride quality. For me, it's a definite keeper.

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