So by now it’s probably safe to say that most of you have heard about Cannondale’s unique take on the modern road bike – the Slate. This is a bike that throws conventional interpretations of what a road bike should look like and how it should ride right out the window. Rolling on fat and slick 650B tires with a 30mm travel Lefty suspension fork, the Slate is an amalgam of varied end use design.
SALT AIR & SLICK TIRES
Back in December Cannondale hosted a Slate launch on the beach in Malibu that included a tech breakdown plus an entertaining 40+ mile ride that included plenty of both paved and gravel surfaces. Because the 650b wheel with 42mm tire is equal in diameter to a 700c wheel with a 23mm tire, the Slate is able to maintain a similar geometry to Cannondale’s race bikes while still achieving adequate clearance for the fat tires. Most bikes in the adventure-road category end up longer and higher than typical road bikes, but the Slate features a stack height only 1.5cm higher than the EVO race bike (size Medium/54cm), along with the same 405mm chainstay length. Overall wheelbase is stretched out 1.6cm longer due to a relaxed the front end.
The frame itself is SmartFormed aluminum with highly manipulated seatstays and chainstays designed to add compliance. Cannondale calls the design Save Plus Micro Suspension, and is a similar design used on Cannondale’s EVO and Synapse models. Wisely, Cannondale included rear eyelets for rack and fender use…up front, no such luck!
Three Slate models are available that range from $2980 for a Shimano 105 build, $3520 for Ultegra, and $4260 for a SRAM Force 1x-equipped version. All the models are disc brake-only, and share the same frame, fork, wheels and tires. We rode the SRAM-equipped model that features a HollowGram Si crank with a single chainring and a slew of purple anodized parts that gave us flashbacks to mountain bikes of the early ’90s.
THE GROUP RIDE
After we dropped the tire pressure from a road friendly 50 psi to a dirt friendly 40 psi, rolling over small rocks and completely smoothing the singletrack was indeed the Slate’s cup of tea. It felt so smooth in fact that I took that speed and confidence into the corners, and that’s where it quickly became clear that even a minimal file tread on a gravel/cyclocross tire does wonders for traction.
The Slate’s slick, albeit wide, tires offered little in the way of traction, and cornering at speed in loose dirt on the Slate would have to be an acquired skill. By the next dirt section that skill was quickly being learned, and I began understanding just how much I could push before the tires would let go. Again, rolling down the trail was a blast having the tires and suspension fork eat up the bumps, but you better be ready to search for the correct line when coming into the next corner, and maybe have your inside foot unclipped as well.
After just three hours of riding the Slate we had a decent idea of what it’s about. As a road bike alternative that opens the door to an entire world of route options, it’s solid. The Slate’s ability to extinguish the bumps and hits that come with off-road riding is remarkable, it just has to be remembered that even with such a wide tire there is little to keep your tires under you in soft corners. Because 650b is a popular mountain bike wheel size, knobby tires are available that would fit on the Slate and help with traction.
We do think that the Slate is an appealing setup for someone getting into the sport that is looking for a single bike that will allow any and every type of riding they decide to try. One thing we would like to see is a fourth model that comes in below the $2000 range, even if that means losing the Lefty Oliver fork. Since Cannondale says that sales have dramatically exceeded expectations, our guess is that more models are in the works.
Here are two videos that capture both the bike’s details (shot by RBA’s own Travis “Big Air” Fant and Cannondale’s own promotional video. Look for the complete Slate breakdown in the May issue of Road Bike Action Magazine.