Two-wheeled travel has always been a lightning rod for innovation. Steel tubing, ball bearings and pneumatic tires can all trace their origins to bicycle applications. By the late 19th century a full one-third of all U.S. patent applications were for bicycle-related designs, according to the Franklin Institute. Some interesting ones we found include a sail-powered bike (Patent No. 6932368), a double bicycle for “looping the loop” in circus performances (No. 790063) and a wild one-wheel bicycle with the rider sitting inside the wheel (No. 325548).
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Of course the bicycle builds on inventions that came before it. The wheel is seen as perhaps the greatest invention of all time, and its creation is a far more complex tale than the bicycle’s. In this issue we excerpt a portion of Richard W. Bulliet’s book, “The Wheel,” that documents how there are actually three distinct types of wheels, each with its own origin story.
Since the “ordinary” design with two wheels of the same diameter was introduced in the 1870s, the bicycle has largely rolled along an evolutionary path. But now with the introduction of so many new technologies so quickly, will the bicycle be radically transformed from the simple, mechanical form we know it as today? And how will our experience interacting with it change? See some of the interesting examples that could represent the future—or failure—in this issue.
And what about the bikes themselves? How are they changing? We got our hands of one of the most distinct bicycles in years, the new Cannondale Slate, for our lead product review. Its unorthodox and distinctive suspension fork is derived from mountain bikes, and it might take you places on a road bike you could never go before.
The best thing about technology is that it is always expanding. Old technologies are rarely lost. Bicycles are still being ridden that are generations old, but still bring a smile to our faces and wind across our cheeks. Whether your interest in technology celebrates the new or the old, the bicycle has something for everyone.
In this issue
Inventing the wheel
The history of wheeled travel is diverse, opinionated and often circumspect. In this excerpt from “The Wheel,” by Richard W. Bulliet, we learn how something as ubiquitous as the wheel isn’t as simple as you might think.
Wear with care
Proper cycling apparel is an investment, and if you want it to stay functional and comfortable for the long haul, you need to take care of it. We discuss textiles and apparel care with the experts.
Bikes in paradise
On the tiny Marshall Islands there are no private vehicles, so bicycles are the only way to roll. And just as Darwin would have predicted, there they have evolved some distinguishing characteristics all their own. By Jordan Vinson.
Bike to the future
The cycling industry has always drawn entrepreneurs and innovators. Take a look at some of the ideas that could change the way you ride. By Adam Newman.
How LED Lights Work
Learn how these tiny diodes can emit such powerful light. By Karl Rosengarth.
Catching up with Charlie Kelly
- Cannondale Slate
- Felt V55
- Scott Sub EVO 20
- Faraday Porteur
- GT Traffic 1.0
- Bike lights
- Commuting gear
- Shoes and pedals
Photos by Jesse Carmondy and the author
It was a pretty difficult prototype to disguise. When former professional racer Tim Johnson started ripping around on a modified Cannondale affixed with a Lefty suspension fork a few years ago it attracted quite a bit of attention. Would he race cyclocross on it? Was it even allowed? Was it just an experiment?
The concept isn’t new, of course. In the mid-1990s, RockShox debuted the Paris-Roubaix fork for road bikes and it carried its riders to the top step in the eponymous race three years in a row. While it seemed like a wave of the future, its popularity faded as quickly as it raced over the cobbles. In the early 2000s, Cannondale had a series of cyclocross bikes built with the brand’s distinctive HeadShok. The 2003 lineup saw both a HeadShok version and a disc-brake model—models that would then roll right into the history books. Lightweight carbon fiber dominated bicycle development for the next decade instead of suspension and braking technologies.
But the wheel keeps spinning and earlier this year Cannondale elicited a collective “what the…?” with the introduction of the Slate, a 650b road bike with an all-new version of the Lefty fork. While it may seem outrageous, if any brand was going to build such a bike it would be Cannondale, as the company has never shied away from some creative ideas in the course of its 35-year history.
As riders have continued to push the envelope of what is considered rideable on a “road” bike, Cannondale embraced the opportunity to create a bike that was overwhelmingly specific in its design purpose. It’s also likely to appeal to the rider who wants one bike that can do a little bit of everything and look like nothing else.
Everything about the Slate’s design began with the fork, in this case a completely new version of the Lefty chassis designed specifically for this model. Dubbed the Oliver, it has 30 mm of travel and a carbon case that keeps the weight at a reasonable 1,100 grams.
Attached to the Oliver is a 6069-alloy aluminum frame with several design cues from other Cannondale models. The seatstays and chainstays are radically shaped to allow for vertical flex, similar to the SAVE design used on other Cannondale models. There are fender eyelets at the rear dropouts, and two eyelets near where a seatstay bridge would normally be. Cannondale said it is working on a fender set designed specifically for the bike that will mount there.
While some Cannondale models use a smaller 25.4 mm seatpost for even more comfort, the Slate has a 27.2 mm post and can be outfitted with one of the few dropper posts on the market with internal cable routing available in that size.
There are three models of the Slate for 2016, and each of them ships with the Oliver fork, hydraulic brakes, Panaracer/Cannondale tires and Cannondale SI cranks. The frame is also identical on all three, with a 142×12 thru-axle and BB30 crankset. Cannondale is sticking with that design despite its less-than-stellar reputation, and mine creaked throughout my test ride.
2016 Slate lineup
Slate Force CX1, SRAM 1×11 drivetrain, SRAM Force CX1 brakes, $4,260
Slate Ultegra, Shimano 2×11 drivetrain, Shimano R685 brakes, $3,520
Slate 105, Shimano 2×11 drivetrain, Shimano R505 brakes, $2,980
While the frame and fork are designed to take the edge of the ride, Cannondale didn’t want to sacrifice performance, so its geometry falls in between that of its EVO race bikes and Synapse endurance road bikes. Because the outside circumference of the 650x42c tires is the same as a 700x23c tire, the chainstays can remain road-bike short at 405 mm. The front-center, however, is pushed out a bit compared to many road bikes for stability when traction is limited. A long reach, short chainstays, suspension fork and dropper post? Are you sure you aren’t reading Dirt Rag magazine right now?
Alright, so enough of the Powerpoint presentation, how does it ride? Well… it rides like a bike. Cannondale tuned quite a bit of low-speed compression damping into the Oliver so it operates with virtually no sag and doesn’t start bouncing around when you ride out of the saddle. If you do want to firm things up, a simple button at the top of the Oliver engages a virtual lock-out that will still open up into the travel if you hit a bump hard enough. Pressing the outer portion of the dial, which also controls rebound damping, will release the button. For idiots like me, they’ve labeled them “Press to climb” and “Press to descend.”
I was looking for the button marked “Press for larger lungs” as I joined a group of journalists and Tim Johnson for a test ride out into the Santa Monica mountains above Malibu, California. On the smooth shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway and into the hills, the Slate feels likes just another road bike, albeit an especially comfortable one thanks to the fat tires. Made by Panaracer for Cannondale, they weigh just 300 grams each and are extremely supple at 40 to 45 psi.
From road to off-road
The SRAM Force 1x drivetrain offered more than enough gearing to get up and down the mountains, and if you spend much time on mountain bikes you’ll feel right at home with just one shifter. The hydraulic brakes are more than powerful enough to slow things down and while the hoods look a bit crazy, they are quite comfortable in your hands.
The singletrack is where I was really looking forward to pushing the Slate. If you’ve ridden a CX bike a bit off-road you know the most difficult part is holding onto the handlebars. The Oliver fork makes a huge difference in keeping the sharp shuddering to a minimum and greatly lessens the hand strength needed to keep steering. Make no mistake: this is no mountain bike, but over the long haul I know it will be much more comfortable with the suspension fork.
It felt great when moving forward but things got a bit hairy under braking or hard turning on the trail. For a bike with such an “all-purpose” attitude, the slick tires had a few of us scratching our heads. A file tread or cyclocross-type tread would be a great upgrade if you plan on riding dirty.
Someone I overheard described the Slate as an “N+3” bike for riders who want a very, very specific tool for a very specific job. On the other hand, it does seem to be an excellent choice as an all-rounder. Either way, it’s a creative venture to think so far outside the box, something Cannondale has never shied away from.
Watch for a long-term review of the Slate in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss it.
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By Carole Trottere
Who knew that buying a new bicycle after 20 years could be so emotional? But it is. I feel like a married person who just told her spouse that I’m trading him in for a newer, younger model. I’m torn, yet I know it’s time. My original Cannondale R300, also known as The Green Hornet, is a part of me and a part of my history. As I effortlessly lifted my new Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 5 onto the roof rack the other day, I imagined what my old bike might be thinking:
Who’s the Wicked City Woman on the roof? I need my Oakleys because she sure is new and shiny. What color is that? Looks like gloss jet black and berserker green. She certainly takes your breath away, doesn’t she? That bitch; I hate her.
Sure, my color was probably discontinued years ago and I’ve got some rust here and there. Who doesn’t get old after 20 years of use? You think you look the same as you did in 1994? Ha! You forget the view I have of your butt. Believe me, it ain’t the same. But okay, I understand that you felt the need for a new bike. Heck, I can honestly say you deserve it. But it hurts. I hope you’re not intending to put that new Cannondale right next to me in the garage, with her Shimano 105 5800 gear set. How would you feel standing next to a 30-year-old woman in a bikini? Exactly. Don’t rub it in my face. I’m aluminum. She’s carbon.
Boy, we sure did have some wonderful times together though, didn’t we? It would be hard to pick just one to reminisce about. Remember when we first rode together, and you clipped into the pedals for the first time and fell over at stop sign? You were such an idiot. But you learned. Then you did your first century with me in 1999. I got a flat in the last 10 miles, but I was just testing you to see if you had what it takes and you finished.
And who can forget that fateful Easter Sunday morning when that new guy in the pace line went down in front of us? You went flying over my handlebars and fell hard on your shoulder.
I’ll never forget the time in 2001 when you shipped me from South Carolina to New Hampshire for that three-day tour. The second day we went 120 miles together and when we climbed the Middlebury mountain pass in Vermont, you and your friend Lynn sang songs from every TV show that you could remember. I should have given you another flat that day because the singing was unbearable. You got dehydrated at the end and had terrible stomach cramps! That was the farthest we ever rode in one day. You won’t have memories like that with your new Cannondale, because don’t forget, you’re 20 years older now!
Remember the ride across North Carolina you did with your three friends? I broke down one day and some bike mechanic held me together with chicken wire until you got back to camp. I was repaired and ready to go the next morning. If only you had picked boyfriends as reliable and resilient as me.
I know sometimes when you did those supported rides and saw all the other cool bikes that you felt a little inferior. You wished for a lighter bike; a more colorful frame; better gears, didn’t you? You were like Cinderella waiting for your pumpkin to turn into a coach, but it didn’t. I was always just a reliable, aluminum frame Cannondale that never let you down. I’m the indomitable Green Hornet! I’ve braved the wind and rain on your car roof, crossed the Long Island Sound on the ferry dozens of times and taken you along Old Montauk Highway and the North Fork of Long Island, passed wineries and lavender farms and up and down those killer hills in New Hampshire. I spent two years in South Carolina Low Country with you too, when you finally learned to actually RIDE me properly, thanks to your biking buddies who taught you how to shift gears and ride in a pace line. We pedaled past swamps and road kill, bob cats and hostile red necks who hit you in the head with Coke cans, but eeeh ha! What a time we had!
And who can forget that fateful Easter Sunday morning when that new guy in the pace line went down in front of us? You went flying over my handlebars and fell hard on your shoulder. I broke one of my wheels and scrapped my handlebars and brakes (which you never fixed and I had to be scarred for the rest of my life), and then you replaced the wheel with one that didn’t even match! Did I complain? No. In fact, we were more bonded together than ever after that spill. You still have the scar on your elbow and let’s face it, you were never really right in the head after that fall. Most of your friends are too kind to say anything about that. But I mention it in passing.
But now, in 2015, we have so much in common. I’m rusted in places, you’re rusted in places. Not all my parts are the ones I came with, and let’s face it: your parts aren’t looking pristine either. You’ve gained some weight since 1994. My aluminum frame, which you claimed was ‘so heavy’, hasn’t changed since then. Who’s so heavy now, hmmmm?
So I guess what I’m saying is, go ahead and have your fling with your sexy new Cannondale (high-priced hussy if you ask me). I’ll be here in the garage for those rainy days when you don’t want to get “The Princess” wet or dirty. I’m a workhorse. She can be the show horse. But I will always love you more because I know I was the reason that you fell in love with cycling.
Your original Cannondale
P.S. Did you know that the saddle bag still has some Tylenol in it from 1998? Please don’t take it or it will be your last headache.
Dear Cannondale R300,
I love you more than words can say. If there was a Bike Hall of Fame I would put you in it. I know how you feel, because every time Billy Joel gets a new girlfriend who is 30 years younger than him I say, “Hey. You should be dating someone my age!” but of course he doesn’t listen. The heart wants what the hearts wants, but please know that you’ll always be my number one.
P.S. Has my butt really gotten bigger?
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #34 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss an issue, order a subscription.