Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cannondale Flash Carbon 29er Ultimate Review

You have the website picture....

That awkward moment when you pull it out of the box and you realise that you can't ride it for another half hour.

Bike lust shot. The bike always looks great when it is brand new and never ridden. If you can't look #PRO on this bike then nothing is going to help you.

ENVE wheelset. Bling.

Inches. Stated. Excellent use of white accents.

Canberra arboretum - great views of Lake Burley Griffin and a Flash 29er Ultimate.

Mad balance point for a 29er. Allows you do do monos and breathe through your nose. Fully #PRO.

I just did a 3 hour MTB ride and I am not even tired. Thankyou Flash Carbon Ultimate 29er.

Ultimate. The best. Really awesome. Top Quality. 
Big words. A big call also. There are a lot of really good bikes out there, so it takes a lot to lay claim to being 'ultimate'.

The Cannondale Flash Carbon 29er ultimate lays claim to that tag with its solid parts build and amazing ride quality. Keep reading if you have full control of your hand to wallet functions. Keep reading if you are a bit of a tech head. Keep reading if you need convincing that your bike is inadequate and you need something better. Keep reading if..... well you get the drift.

I picked up the box from Lonsdale Street Cyclery on friday. Al from Cannondale had expedited this for me from the last shipment. I have had my eye on this bike for quite a while. Most importantly from the get go, it looks bling. So your confidence whilst riding is going to be sky high. I had the bike put together that same night and took it for the obligatory driveway, gutter, and street test. All good.

Out of the box, we have a 8.5kg 29er. That is not too bad. Subtle understatement. That is with tubes still installed. You also get Sram XX, Enve 29er carbon XC wheelset and bars, Cannondale Hollowgram cranks, one piece integration stem, Cannondale Save seatpost, Fizik Tundra 2 carbon saddle. Superb parts spec that arguably, can not be beaten.

But, that counts for not a lot as what I am after is speed off road. The clock is the only metric that I am really interested in. The flash 29er ultimate does not disappoint. I like a bike to be light, agile, flickable and stable at speed. A few of these are often opposites in what is able to be engineered into a bike.In order to achieve these attributes there are a few key items that are required: Light weight components. Frame - light, fork - light, wheels - light, parts  - light. Absolutely dialled geometry. Ok we are fully sorted there.

What counts very importantly is the ride quality and stiffness. Stiffness is what I will discuss first. The wheels are amazingly stiff. You have the bulletproof ENVE rims. 380grams of carbon configured for strength. So much so that the Santa Cruz DH team use these rims. That's ultimate peace of mind right there. There is a high likelihood that these rims could be passed down through your family over time. They also have DT Swiss Aerolite spokes. You essentially have a spoke that has been cold forged to a wicked wind slicer. More importantly though, for a 29er it makes the wheels super stiff. The 3x lacing pattern allows for a little bit of give, plus ultimate strength with 32 spokes. The spokes are white also, which is pretty #PRO. The DT240 rear hub has legendary status employing the optimal Hugi ratchet mechanism.

If you have not had the opportunity to take a lefty for a spin, then do yourself a favour and try one out. They are as stiff as a 7 inch dual clamp downhill fork. I can attest to that. Point and shoot. They are also about 2-300 grams (at least) lighter than a standard fork. Light and stiff, why would you not want that? In a 29er it is even more apparent when these attributes are lacking. The fork also has the amazing rockshox hydraulic lockout. I rely on the lockout feature constantly on a ride or a race. Smooth fireroad, out of the saddle smashfests, efficient climbing. The remote lockout allows me to get at it a lot easier and quicker. It is small things like this that can save you vital energy. You can also set the 'floodgate' to temper the amount of force required to push through the lockout. This allows you to really fine tune the suspension feeling of the ride depending on the course requiremens. Sometimes it's the small things that enhance the experience.

The junction between the seat tube and the bottom bracket is fully optimised for stiffness. This is ovalized at the junction to create a huge amout of lateral rigidity. I do believe that this junction is more ovalised on the 29er than the 26er. With the standard BB30 bottom bracket that Cannondale pioneered, you have amazing power transfer. If that wasn't enough you have the ultimate lightweight stiff Hollowgram cranks. You get absolutely no loss of energy in your pedalling due to the entire package working in harmony. When you pedal this setup for the frist time, you realise how much flex is apparent in other systems.

Stiffness is all well and good but trails aren't smooth as freshly laid hotmix. Vertical compliance. Such an easy term to say, just rolls off the tongue! So how much VC do we have. In conjunction with the SAVE seatpost, and wickedly tuned seatstays and chainstays you get up to 3cm of vertical movement on a hardtail. When you push down on the seat with your hands, you can see the amount of flex that the seatpost offers. The chainstays and seatstays do the same sort of thing which assists to smooth out the trail. It is not a dual suspension bike, but for a hardtail it makes a 100km race bearable and allows you to continue putting out the power in the 4th hour.

I have been riding Cannondales exclusively for the last 2 years. The Flash Carbon 26er MTB and SuperSix road bike have been my tools of the trail and road. The geometry of the Cannondales is perfect, it is like the bike is an extension of the body. You do not have to think much in order to pilot the bike, again, this saves energy. I can take my hands off the bars on the road bike descending at 80km/hr down Mt Ainslie. No speed wobbles. The Flash MTB has dialled every A-line on any course that I have raced on - big call, but skills aside, I do believe that the bike has made a huge positive difference in my ability to ride tricky terrain. The geometry engineered by Cannondale inspires confidence. But why and how?

With the 29er you have the following numbers.
  • Head Angle - 71 degrees, 
  • Seat angle - 73.5 degrees,
  • Top Tube - 23.3 inches (medium)
  • Wheelbase 43.2 inches
  • BB height - 11.9 inches
  • Front Centre (BB to front hub) - 26.1 inches
  • Bottom Bracket drop - 2.6 inches
Ultimately, these are the numbers where the magic happens. A nice steeper head angle (ie higher number) allows you to actually use rider input to 'steer' the larger wheels more easily. This is evident in tight switchbacks. Steeper numbers allow for easier turning of the bars. This sort of number on a 26 would be considered 'twitchy', however, on a 29er, it offsets the larger wheels' inertia and resistance to turn easily and it feels sublime. You just don't think about it and that is the point.

The seat angle at 73.5 positions you nicely over the cranks and BB. A steeper number assists with climbing as it positions your weight more forward over the bike to weight the front wheel whilst climbing. Importantly for a 29er, it also places you 'in' the bike which is the sweet spot zone for this sort of bike.

The wheelbase is a product of the extra chainstay length required by the larger wheels as well as the longer top tube (23.3 vs 23 -- 29 to 26). What you get here is supreme stability on descents. The longer the bike, the more stable it is. The shorter the bike, the more twitchy it is (but easier to do tight radius turns). Normally you would expect a bike this long to steer like a tank. But this is where cannondale have it dialled. The BB height. I have ridden 26er hardtail frames with a higher BB drop than this! 11.9 is wickedly low for a 29er, and coupled with the BB drop of 2.6 inches, it means that the bike sits really low. Why is this good? Well, the lower you are the easy it is to 'lean' the bike over.Your centre of gravity is lower and if you lean a bike through turns you can go faster. Simple!

If you truly 'ride' the bike, you will be comfortable with leaning the bike and weighting the outside pedals to make the outer knobs of the tyres actually do what they are supposed to. The Cannondale Flash 29er facilitates this by placing the key points of the bottom bracket (ie, the bike's centre of gravity) as low as possible between the wheels. This translates into a riding feel where you can lean the bike from the hips down, keeping the upper body upright and in control of the bike in any corner or situation.

The front centre - distance from BB to front hub is the exact same measurement between 26er and 29er. If you stop and think about it, this is where you are making the bike 'do things'. All the rider input is pretty much happening in this zone. They say that cycling is a sport of numbers, and it all starts with the bike. You can have great unique numbers, but if you don't get the whole package right, then you're struggling with certain attributes of the ride. In addition, like with anything, geometry is a compromise. What is a great climbing bike is most likely pretty much a handful at descending and vice versa. Cannondale manages to combine sensational attributes that prioritise bike handling, but do not compromise other attributes such as climbing or descending.

OK, so words are great in theory, but how does it go in a 2 wheel drift? I can't answer that just yet, because, I have to admit, that I am back as the weakest link on this bike. I think also, that it will take a LOT to make this machine drift. I do pride myself on my technical ability and keen eye for a great line on the trail. The Cannondale Flash 26er is the most awesome bike with regard to bike handling, but the 29er ultimate version has just beaten it big time. I purposely went out on my first ride with the intent to ride it like I stole it with little regard for anything but the need for speed. (insert Goose and Maverick soundbite here!)

There is a bit of trail at Bruce Ridge that always puts a smile on my face. When you reach the corner of GDE and Barry Drive, (going anti-clockwise) there are just tonnes of switchbacks, of varying radii that are just a dream to ride. They get a bit of traffic and have some interesting grooves that change constantly. It is not a pure handful but pretty tricky to piece together a 'perfect' run where you just nail them all. So I went and nailed them all, first go on the bike. No way!! Back up round to the front. Yep, nailed it again. At this stage I was getting goosebumps - it wasn't cold and I wasn't dehydrated. I was just pretty excited as I started thinking ahead to all the trails that I could attack a lot faster now.

My next ride was out on the infamous World Cup course at Stromlo. Cardiac Climb, hammerhead, drops, rocks, turns. 7 minutes of verifying whether you can actually ride and pilot a bike over technical terrain. I was loving the bike climbing cardiac. This is a small brute of a climb. It is really hard to get traction. The racing ralph tyres worked with the 29er to get me up here. The next drop in was so easy. I reckon someone has fixed this runout. But maybe the bike made it a doddle. The switchbacks leading up to hammerhead are really tricky at the moment. To be fair, it has just rained, and the lines are just hard to get. I got through them, but need a couple more days to dial them in. They will get a bit of traffic over them in january and february in the lead up to the national round in february. 

Rolling over the boulders in the run in to hammerhead was probably as close to cheating as I could go on a bike. I thought this machine was a XC bike. It feels more like a DH bike. So stable,  I could nail my lines however I wanted to. This bit requires precision as you don't have much room to play with and rocks always like to throw you off line and bounce you into the bushes. When a bike is this stable over tech areas it inspires confidence. After rolling over the last rock lead in line, I trickled over and down hammerhead before rolling around to the triple drop. 1,2,3. drops in a row, way more easy than I have ever done these before, then up to the DH bridge for a gel. 

I haven't done this trail since early 2010 I think, so was a bit rusty technically, but I got through it all. When I get a few more runs through it, I will be attacking sections in a different way than I have done before. The bike inspires confidence and constantly assures you that you are in control and able to get it to go where you want it to. It does feel different through here than a 26er. You notice the extra length in the wheelbase through tight uphill rocky switchbacks, but you adjust the line to suit. It really comes into its own over the numerous rocks through this trail and helps you get over them a lot easier.

'Feel' is one thing, but what does the stopwatch think? I have a standard climb that I do from my front yard that climbs Mount Ainslie via a mixture of singletrack, steep fireroad and bitumen. I am happy if I get 25 minutes flat, with a tailwind the majority of the way. A 24:38 is my fastest time on the 26er. So when I get a 24:15, first go on the bike I've got to think that something is going well. So next day I get back on the 26er. Yep I am having a 'fast' week but still a good 20 seconds off. Why is this? The climb includes some open fast descents as well as tight singletrack climbing rough rocky trails. The fireroads are steep - you are down into the easiest gear in sections. The 29er just takes speed better through this particular track's entire attributes. Horses for courses. For reference, this track is what you would expect for a marathon type course. Tick that box if you are solely into these sorts of races.

Thinking back to the last 2 months of short track racing courses and I have come to the conclusion that this bike will also excel in these sorts of races. If you know how to take speed through corners (essential in short track) then you will be able to take advantage of the easy speed attainable and sustainable with the super stiff wheelset, frame, forks, and crank - essentially the Cannondale System Integration concept. 

For pure XC I still think that it will work. For XC you mainly need light weight. You are out of the saddle, pressing out of corners, up rises trying to eke out every second you can. The weight of the wheels will always be the limiter for a 29er. 1450grams for the ENVE 29er wheels is heavier than the 1250 grams of my stans 26er wheels. I could go for some Stans 29er wheels at 1350 grams, but I will lose stiffness there, no question. I will have to report back on this as it is just not known right now. I do think it will be swings and roundabouts and the good old compromise situation again.

So, can you buy legalised cheating? Drugs are bad mmkay, so your next option is to train hard, eat well and become a disciple of the sport. That is good and if you do that then I hope I am not racing against you. Do you crave for the best bike that will make you faster? Tick that box. I worked out that I spend up to 20 hours a week on the bike. That is more than I spend watching TV, driving a car, and just about anything else. So it makes sense to throw hard earned cash at a quality 'experience' that you spend so much time at. You have got to enjoy every minute of your 'activity' time. It is precious. Do you just wish you could get one bike that allowed you to stop craving after other bikes. Tick that box. I felt this way about my 26er when I first got it. I have had it now for 2 years. That is a world record for me. I have been racing since 1989 and have been through well over 30 bikes. You get the point. Cannondales have always been the ones that I have had the longest in my collection.

I have had the following Cannondales - SVDH4000 - wicked downhill bike that Myles Rockwell and Missy Giove piloted back in the mid 90s, Cannondale Six and Super Six road bikes, Flash Carbon 26er, Hardtail M1000 (1992). The ride qualities are always great and they push the boundaries with regard to engineering ability. You do pay more at the point of sale than other brands, however, you will not regret it once you are out on the trail or road. Bear in mind that this is where it really counts.
The Flash 29er ultimate is truly 'ultimate'. You will be the weakest link. But you will be faster! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cannondale for 2012 - Flash 29er Ultimate

Great news for 2012. Cannondale Australia are on board as title sponsor for all my racing. I am really honoured to be a part of this professional team. The bikes for 2012 are just the ultimate in desirability and ride extremely well. Flash Carbon MTB and EVO road bike will be the 2 wheeled weapons of choice.

On friday I picked up my 2012 Flash 29er Ultimate. This is a lot of bike. I personally can't remember when I never had to swap parts out on a new bike. I am going to keep this thing absolute stock and not change a thing.

Sram XX, ENVE wheels and bars, Cannondale Hollowgram cranks, Cannondale OPI stem, Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres - ultimate set up.

I will do up a review shortly as there is a lot happening with how this bike is put together and how it actually rides. I have been riding the Flash 26er for the last 2 years and have a lot of miles on it and a lot of understanding of how good that bike is.

First ride impressions. I purposely went out with the intent to hit my standard trails as hard and fast as I could. I then got that awkward feeling where I realiised that I was once again the weakest link and that the trails now have new benchmarks with regard to speed to be set.

Weight: 8.5kgs out of the box for a medium...... with tubes.

Obilgatory bike lust shot - brand new never ridden

Canberra Arboretum to take in the views of Lake Burley Griffin- between Black Mountain and Stromlo.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

perks of #PROness - McLaren SL4

This was at Lonsdale Street Cyclery yesterday.
Specialized SL4 McLaren. Not in production just yet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Full week of training, racing and bike testing leading up to a 3 hour MTB race

Days riding: 5
Total races: 3
Total hours riding/racing: 16
Total distance: 450km
Total podiums: 2
Beaten by a singlespeeder: 1
Ok, so that is the executive summary of this week. Road Criterium Wednesday. MTB criterium Thursday, 3 hour MTB Sunday, plus training on the other days.
Tuesday morning I did 6 Strength Endurance Stromlo Hills. I was nicely energised by a massive BBQ on Sunday with the most awesome food, I mainly remember the lasagne and the sticky date pudding. I'm still thinking about this food now, it was that good.
Wednesday morning I rolled around the flat parts of Canberra for an easy 70km before work.
Wednesday night I raced the Canberra Road criterium at Stromlo forest park. The Australian Track team had the same idea and so did 51 riders for A grade. The pace was super high and the racing was really interesting with a couple of the track boys going off the front and holding it for the 1-2. The sprint for 3rd was down to those left in the bunch. I finished somewhere just outside the top ten.
Thursday night I raced the MTB dirt crits at Majura. Dry conditions made for fast racing. The course included one of the most lumpy uninspiring bits of singletrack that exists out there. We all battled through this bit then ramped it up to 40km/hr on the fireroad before hitting some superfast singletrack that featured two wheel drift corners to keep you sharp. Dylan Cooper turned up on his singlespeed and worked on some leg speed to take the win. I got 2nd followed by Mark Tupalski and Brad Morton.
Saturday I did the bakery bunch then rolled Cotter Uriarra with the Solo boys for a nice round figure of 150km in about 4 hours.
Sunday was the CORC 3 hour race at Majura. This ended up being a really tough little course. The heavens opened up early in the morning and made everything pretty greasy as Majura is a nice clay based soil, and has many roots and rocks to slip up an unexpecting rider. However, after the first lap the sun came out and in the pine forest sauna the track dried out.
For this race I was on the Cannondale Flash Carbon 29er. This is a 9kg weapon that can roll and roll as well as accelerate when need be. The beauty of this bike is that it is the exact same geometry as my 26er. So all you have to do is jump on and pedal. I had done a bit of testing with the bike in the last couple of months but had never actually raced it. This is really the true test of a bike as it will show you where any limitations are at.

The Cannondales are well known for having superb geometry that enhances the ride experience. The lower bottom bracket allows you to rail corners so much more easily, which saves energy down the track. Majura has lots of corners: tight, twisty, flowy, non flowy and you are constantly moving the bike around getting lines dialled then redialled. With 3 hours of a 98% singletrack course you get to hit up the corners a lot. So it does pay to have a bike that assists you. 

I did put a set of superwide bars on the night before. I think they are about 67cm wide. This allows me to throw the bigger wheels around a little more like the 26er. 

So, back to the 3 hour. Ed MCDonald, Brad Morton and Matt Rizutto were the hard men who weren't made of sugar and joined me on the start line! By this stage, it wasn't raining, bt it was really humid. Ed had shown me where the start went, so this was good. Ed had also checked the full course out the day before. Ed's a strong nugget and he had raced the Jet black 24 hour race the weekend before for 21 hours stopping early with Jason English as they had got 4 hours up on 3rd place. I expect that he mentally wanted to finish the 24 hours of racing by tacking on another 3 hours. This was the 3rd time this week that I had lined up against Brad in a bike race! It was his 4th race of the week. Matt has been racing on and off this year. Mostly off, with not too many days of racing under the belt.

The gun of Kris's voice went off and we clipped in and smashed it up the climb. This pretty much went up the fall line from the start and hooked up into auto alley which is a really cool little bit of singeltrack with roots, rocks and switchbacks. Loving it.

Ed had donned the skinsuit and was taking advantage of its aerodynamic qualities which was probably offset by his facial grooming choices. He was also on a singlespeed. This means that they pin it up the hills. As Ed was in mega race XC mode, he was also actually pinning it on the descents also. We were cruising around the forest in a pod of 4. I think this lasted like this for about 4 laps. After this Matt started to dangle off the back. 

Ed had belted out a pretty decent tempo on the front for 5 laps and we were enjoying the racing on the hero grip trails. Ed had even asked me if I would ever ride a singlespeed, and told me about a dude he rides with who always gets hit by kangaroos. Brad mentioned that this enduro caper was quite easy and was almost considering hitting up a 24 solo - this was at about 45 minutes in. 

I was doing the mental calculations based on lap times and expected duration and figured out how many laps I had to do. On the 3rd last lap, I got in front and put in a few testers to see how things were gong for everyone. A small gap opened up back to Ed and Brad and allowed a nice advantage going through the start finish chute and up the climb. Ed came back as i expected up the climb and attacked past me grinding the single gear as hard as he could. I responded immediately and sprinted around him and hammered the next slightly downhill section before carefully negotiating  the rooty and rocky singletrack. 

I was able to put a minute into Ed over the course of the lap. A minute seems like a lot, but I could see Ed through the trees where the course snaked back on itself. You could never be sure how long it was at any time. Plus you can never be sure what might happen to you or the other rider. So it kept me honest. As I went through the start finish line I came through at 2:58ish. This allowed me to go and enjoy the course one last time. And it rained. So all the roots, rocks and wooden bridges were super slippery and super slick. Good practice for the future!

So all up, the lap times were consistent, the racing was strong and the conditions were excellent for wet weather racing. I was pretty happy with how things went for the week and how it culminated in having enough energy to race a strong fast paced 3 hour race with some excellent competition.

Lonsdale Street Cyclery came through with $3000 worth of prizes, there was a tonne of SIS gels and electrolyte drink for people to try out, Osprey gear and heaps of Specialized spot prizes also. I am still sore today as I type this. Did I mention that the course was rough? Even on a 29er? Thanks to Kris and the crew from CORC for giving up their Sunday morning and the rest that is involved in putting on a race for those who love the bike and would race sticks down a drain in stormwater!!