Cannondale Slate Review [incl: what makes gravel bikes unique]

April 17, 2018

Cannondale Slate Review [incl: what makes gravel bikes unique]

In this article we review the 2018 Cannondale Slate dirt/gravel bike and provide an overview of how the gravel sector differentiates itself from other popular segments, such as road and cyclocross. We will provide detail on the unique characters of the Cannondale Slate, and conclude with our opinion as to why this bike could be your next best friend on two wheels. 

But before we get into the detail:

Ever wondered where the bridle paths, farm tracks, and canal towpaths lead to while passing by them on a ‘regular’ road bike?

If your bike has been keeping you from heading off the tarmac, a ‘gravel’ or ‘adventure bike’ is something worth considering. Gravel bikes offer the perfect balance between a comfortable on-road biking experience and off-road capabilities.

If you want to get away from the city traffic, explore the wilderness, or just want to try something adventurous,  gravel bikes can certainly be a great travel companion.

See the video here:

Why a Gravel Bike?

A regular road bike is not designed to handle all kinds of roads and can make riding rough terrains and climbing/downhill a dangerous and slippery endeavor.

You also risk ruining the wheels (& potentially yourself), and damaging the headset during off-road adventures. A gravel bike performs admirably on both tarmac and slippery rough conditions, making it suitable for farm roads, single tracks, gravel roads and other off-road adventures.

A Multi-terrain Gravel Road Bike

The 2018 Cannondale Slate is essentially a gravel road bike designed from the ground up for multi-terrain adventures.

Gravel road (aka dirt road bikes) are more nimble on different terrains than cyclocross bikes and can tackle rough surfaces better than endurance road bikes.

A compliant frame, bigger tyre clearance, and better traction are some of the key characteristics that differentiate a gravel bike from cyclocross and endurance road bikes.

But are gravel bikes (in general) and the Cannondale Slate (in particular) really worth the extra cash? Let’s find out.

Gravel Bike Verus Road & Cyclocross Bikes

The first question that pops up in many minds is probably why buy a dirt bike when a cyclocross bike is also able to perform well on dirt roads?

The answer is fairly simple: Cyclocross bikes have a limited tyre clearance and mostly use specific gear ratios.

Gravel bikes, on the other hand, can handle a variety of rough terrains, provide better tyre clearance and are designed to be more comfortable for long rides.

Cyclists new to rough roads often find riding through the loose gravel at speed a daunting task. A gravel bike helps them relax by maintaining traction on loose climbs and descents, which feels less like the bike is floating beneath them. There are also some other areas that make gravel bikes a much better option than road bikes, including:

  • Suitable for a variety of rough terrains
  • More gears for steep climbs
  • Better clearance for wider tyres
  • Heavier and more stable feel
  • Faster than mountain bikes and more durable than road bikes
  • The tyres are more puncture-resistant
  • Can lower tyre pressure and generate better traction

Cannondale Slate: Road Bike with Full Off-Road Chops

Cannondale’scSlate on-road feel is quite similar to road bikes, but the difference becomes noticeable on rough terrains and gravel roads. That’s mainly because of the massive 42c tires on 650b wheels, which means almost the same diameter as a 23c/700b wheel.

This results in a much better cornering grip, more traction, and comfort at higher speeds. Cannondale Slate weighs just around a kilo more than most road bikes, which means not much extra bulk is added to a bike that offers the best of both the worlds.

Let’s have a look at some key components of the Slate and how they stack up against the competition.

The Lefty Fork (Oliver)

The 30mm-travel ‘Left’y fork helps differentiate the Slate from most other gravel bikes. It’s probably the lightest Lefty (around 110g) and absorbs hits like a champ.

Compared to a mountain bike, Slate’s suspension does not compress into travel when sitting on the bike. The only times you’d want to lock the fork is during steep climbing or full-on sprinting. The fork can easily be locked by pressing the knurled top-cap. You’d rarely feel the suspension when seated, nor does the Lefty fork pull to one side when you are riding the bike (as some question!).

The Oliver is placed at the top of the head tube and is very accessible, allowing you to quickly lock it out for a better on-road experience. It’s also not a complete-lockout as you can press the fork slightly, which works great in situations like suddenly hitting a bump.

  • The ‘Lefty’ is certainly a unique characteristic of the 2018 Cannondale Slate
Cannondale Slate Wheels and Tyres

You get the same roll-out diameter of a 23c/700b wheel with the 42C tyres on a 650b wheel, which ensures ‘proper’ speed while offering great cornering grip, comfort, and better traction. However, you might want to consider other tyres after the purchase as the availability of 650x42c tyres had been rather limited.

Gearing and Brakes

Shimano Ultegra 11-speed gearing requires a very light action in shifting directions, while grippy and compact hoods make shifting gears an easy experience. The gear range of 33-123 inches might not be ideal for situations like climbing super steep hills, but they work great on flatter roads. Shimano R685 hydraulic brakes offer great performance in all weather conditions and remain a standard to beat.

Riding Experience and Conclusion

The combination of Lefty Oliver, top-of-the line brakes, and wider tyres clearance makes the 2018 Cannondale Slate a great option for off-road explorers. This bike has a lot to offer if you spend a fair portion of your time riding dirt/gravel roads and rough terrains. The bike is designed to inspire confidence in rough conditions by ensuring a smooth ride.

All-in-all the Cannondale Slate is a well-blended machine that can handle almost any off-road tracks. If your inquisitively has been getting the better of you during your tarmac endeavors, the Slate could be the doorway to a new cycling heaven.

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