By Joe Parkin

Cannondale Jekyll Ultimate
$8,000 /

Maybe it's just me, but Cannondale's new Jekyll is one powerful finalist in the Most Anxiously Awaited New Bike category for 2011. Perhaps it's the unique and complex Fox Racing Shox DYAD RT2 rear shock that can change the Jekyll's rear-travel characteristics at the flip of a lever. Maybe it's the sleek, sculpted carbon-fiber frame and wide linkage that promises an incredible amount of what Cannondale calls "center stiffness." Or maybe it's simply because I, er, had followed Chris Van Dine for a bit in Deer Valley, Utah, while he was testing a Jekyll prototype. Hey, it had to be the bike making him that fast, right? Whatever it is, this bike warrants a test ride.

The beating heart of the Jekyll is definitely the DYAD rear shock. This dual-chamber, air-sprung pull shock has been one of the main focal points for the engineers at Fox Racing Shox for the past couple of years. The shock is so complex in fact that the bike we tested for our Bible of Bike Tests—just a few short months before the Jekyll's official launch date—was equipped with a DYAD that was still considered pre-production. Normally, this should raise a bright red flag. In this case, however, complexity comes with a nice performance bonus.

Setting up the DYAD takes a bit of patience, because each travel setting (90-millimeter "Elevate Mode" and 150-millimeter "Flow Mode") is done separately. And if you can stick it out, the effort pays off in spades, because the ride quality can be tuned to be cross-country stout and almost downhill-bike plush. And plush it is, too. In its long-travel setting, the DYAD almost feels as linear as a coil-sprung shock.

With a heart this stout, the bike's skeleton should exude equal burliness, right? It absolutely, positively does. The Jekyll’s lateral and torsional stiffness is immediately noticable. Credit for that trait goes to the widely spaced, through axle style linkage pivots, paired seatstay pivot bearings and exacting carbon fiber layup. End result? The front and rear wheels track so perfectly inline with each other that you're able to toss the thing into corners or send it off drops without having to compensate for wallowing. In other words, the Jekyll's frame was designed to allow its suspension to work as perfectly as it can.

Ride quality is absolutely superb. I've tested the Jekyll in a number of different conditions and on varying terrain, and have enjoyed every minute of it. The bike feels ridiculously light while being ridden, and pedaling efficiency is indeed impressive. Ironically, the bike's only weakness may be that the long-travel mode pedals so efficiently that you might just forget about the handlebar-mounted travel-adjust lever, opting instead just to enjoy the 150-millimeters of linear travel. Note: The final version of the Ultimate is only available in a flat black-and-white color scheme and includes a RockShox Reverb seatpost.

Final Take: Like the name suggests, this no-expense-spared cannondale might just be the ultimate mountain bike.