Testing bikes for the Bible is like going on a series of internet dates. They tell you about themselves online, but the facts are often exaggerated. And it's best to form your own opinions before you go asking your friends for their input.
There's a lot more to the Cannondale Habit than just its Tinder profile. The Lefty fork, feathery weight and flexing rear linkage members make it seem rather conservative for a trail bike. But the Habit features high-speed-friendly SRAM Guide R brakes, 16.9-inch chainstays and 27.5-inch wheels. The large-volume Rockshox Monarch Debonair rear shock and 150-millimeter dropper post (on large and XL sizes) round out the evidence that this bike might want to party.
When the testers bellied up to the roundtable, the Habit proved to be this year's most divisive bike. We heard one claim that the Habit rode a bit like a 29er. Not as nimble as other 27.5-inch bikes in its class, but planted and stable. In response, a slightly taller rider argued that he found the bike begged to be thrown around at his will, if only because of its light weight and small wheels. One tester jeered at the suspension's reliance on flexing stays, while another countered that removing a pivot at the dropout offered its own advantages and noted that, laterally, the rear chassis was plenty stiff. Perhaps the most divisive was the Lefty fork. Lefties feel much more torsionally stiff than they appear, but a Fox 34 or RockShox Pike would feel stiffer. While none of the testers owns a Lefty, one went to bat for the 14-year-old southpaw. Its unique roller-bearing setup offers better bump sensitivity while under twisting and braking force than do traditional forks. And ultimately, the importance of extreme torsional stiffness varies widely depending on the trail and on the rider's weight and riding style.
There's no question that the Habit is a capable climber. The suspension rests in a comfortable spot before its ramp-up, and the short chainstays and 27.5-inch wheels offer ample get-up-and-go. We agreed it took a lot of force to use all the rear travel, a reason the bike felt more XC than trail. Aggressive pedaling and pumping forces are met with a firm platform, but the rest of the travel is there when you really need it.
Q&A with Cannondale
Before we even received our test rigs, we had questions about the new bikes—some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. Here's the feedback we received from Cannondale.
—Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
VERNON FELTON: When you guys were designing this bike, who was the ideal rider you had in mind for it?
CANNONDALE: Habit is for the non-racer. Sure, you could stick a number plate on it and do an XC race or even have fun in an Enduro, but it's not really for either of those things. It's for the mountain biker looking to have fun on the widest range of terrain possible. Habit SE is for the Habit rider who wants to get a bit more aggressive on descents and its 130mm travel fork, meatier tires, KS LEV Integra dropper post and sweet SRAM Guide R brakes will let them do exactly that.
VF: Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excels and, if so, what specific design attributes of the bike make that so?
CDALE: The most consistent feedback we get is how it thrives on steep, technical climbs and also how, when pointed down, it feels like it has a lot more travel than it does. Habit's climbing ability originates from its steep-ish, 74-degree seat angle, putting the rider in the optimal pedaling position over the bottom bracket when the suspension is sagged.
The Habit's 68-degree head angle combined with Lefty's 50-mm offset give it great slow speed agility for picking your way up nasty, techy climbs. The comments on Habit's rear travel are due its very linear and slightly rising leverage curve from sag, which give it that "bottomless" feeling we all want. The SE version of Habit ups its descending ability even more. We've seen a lot of riders put down their 140-millimeter travel Triggers in favor of the Habit SE.
VF: Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of? If so, what are they and why?
CDALE: For us, it's not a matter of if you're going to crash, but when. As a result, frame durability and impact resistance were a big priority. We put a lot of work into our MTB carbon layups to be light and stiff, of course, but also so that they stand up to constant real-world mountain bike abuse.
We pioneered flex stays with our carbon Scalpels many years ago and the technology has proven to save weight and increase stiffness. Since then, we've seen a lot of flattery with flex stays from our competitors. With Habit, we have brought our flex stay expertise to alloy rear ends, delivering that same stiffness and weight benefit. The carbon link is also super cool. It saves almost 100 grams over the aluminum link.
VF: What were you guys aiming for with the spec on this bike and how did you achieve it?
CDALE: As with all the carbon Habits, traction and total control are paramount. The Lefty 2.0 PBR provides industry-leading steering precision throughout the entire range of travel, while the RockShox Monarch RT with DebonAir spring adds to the "bottomless" feel of the rear end. After that you can't go wrong with a SRAM 1x X1 drivetrain our new Si Crank and SpideRing. We love the new SRAM Guide R brakes too. They've got tons of power and modulation.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that you think are particularly critical to its performance that might be easily overlooked by consumers at first glance?
CDALE: The Lefty. You need to ride that fork to understand how it helps you own your line. Its stiffness and smoothness throughout its travel, even under super hard braking and cornering gives the rider control unlike any other suspension fork.
VF: There are a lot of great fork options out there. Why stick with Lefty?
CDALE: We agree that there are a lot of great fork options out there, but none that provide the same steering and precision control benefits of Lefty. It seems counter intuitive that a single-sided fork could be the stiffest fork in its class, providing unparalleled cornering precision, while having the lowest loaded friction numbers in the game, but one spin on a Cannondale with Lefty will have you convinced.
VF: If someone is considering the Habit, they are probably also looking at the Trigger—which rider/riding conditions are better suited by the Habit?
CDALE: Truthfully, Habit is eating a bit of Trigger's lunch right now. With a similar front-end geometry to Trigger, you get less weight and some pretty killer spec value with Habit. Trigger is for those riders who are consistently riding more burly terrain and really need the stiffness that both the Trigger frame and SuperMax fork deliver