Cannondale doesn’t usually market its full-suspension trail bikes toward women, sticking instead to inexpensive hardtails or flashy XC race rigs. The new 120-millimeter-travel Habit trail/XC platform, however, brings two mid-range models for the ladies–one carbon with an alloy rear triangle and one built around a full aluminum frame. Cannondale gave these a different paint job, narrower, 740-millimeter bars and, in the case of the Habit 1, a crankset with climbing-friendly 22/36 chainrings instead of the 26/36 on the unisex equivalent. The women's Habits also come in an extra small frame with a revised shock position to get standover to an ultra-low 27.2 inches.
On the trail, testers found that the Habit displayed the quickness, stiffness and climbing capability of an XC bike, but also wanted to tussle with the more aggressive bikes, thanks to its wider bars and short 60-mil stem, 68-degree headtube angle and 2.25-inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic (front) and Rocket Ron tires. The bike felt truly in its element on the fast, swooping dirt ribbons of the Kingdom Trails–16.9-inch chainstays, a low 13.1-inch bottom bracket and 27.5-inch hoops made the Habit at home whipping through the woods. The trails aren't super-steep so the lack of a stock dropper post–though an oversight for any bike in the trail category–wasn't a deal-breaker.
The Lefty evoked mixed emotions–one tester reported feeling some deflection on techy descents as if the fork was too stiff. Its asymmetry preoccupied testers initially, but getting past the polarizing look is essential to realizing the benefits of one of the lightest, stiffest forks on the market. The flexing seatstays, which eliminate the need for rear pivots–creating a lighter, easier-to-maintain system–also contributed to the Habit's slim 28.3-pound weight.
Ultimately the Habit boils down to a stellar value for XC rippers who want to dabble in rougher terrain. The build is rounded out with a Monarch RL shock, Stan's Rapid 28 rims, Shimano Deore brakes (SLX would be a worthy upgrade) and an XT rear derailleur and Deore front derailleur. Cannondale also offers an astonishing eight unisex models, so if you fall for the Habit, give the entire range a look.
Q&A with Nina Baum
Before we even received our test bikes, 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 Women's Product Manager, Nina Baum. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: There aren't a ton of women's-specific bikes in the aggressive trail-riding/all-mountain category, but their number is growing. What sets this model apart from some similar bikes that consumers might be looking at in 2016?
Nina Baum: With Habit 1, we wanted to bring a ton of value and performance at an attainable price point. We feel that we're offering a much better frame and fork than any our competitors in this price range and it is rounded out with our new Si Crank and dialed parts kit. Plus it looks killer!!
VF: Is the Women's Habit frame different in any respect (materials or geometry) than the men's version?
NB: No, it is the same frame.
VF: What fundamentally sets the Women's habit models apart from the men's versions?
NB: We've tailored all of the touch points for Women. Saddles, handlebar widths, crank lengths, etc. We have a lot of studies that show that women do not need different geometry from men except they may need an extra small size (we're working on that). They definitely do need different component selection.
VF: How tall of a rider can fit the size Small Habit Womens 1?
NB: Down to about 5'1"…we are in development of an XS size.
VF: Component spec is always a tricky thing to nail–what were you guys aiming for with the spec on this bike and how did you achieve it?
NB: First and foremost, we wanted to deliver the best possible traction and control, we did that with Lefty 2.0 PBR front suspension, RockShox Monarch RT with DebonAir in the back, matched up with Schwalbe Rocket Ron, Nobby Nic tire combo. After that, a bike needs fantastic brakes and the Shimano 615's are no-brainers. A new story for us this year is our all-new Si crank which saves a bunch of weight over our competitors, and that combined with a super reliable 2×10 Shimano XT/Deore drivetrain makes for a pretty killer drivetrain.
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?
NB: 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 bb when the suspension is sagged.
The Habit's 68-degree head angle combined with Lefty's 50-millimeter 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.