The Up Side
This new Cannondale will get you to the top of climbs very efficiently. Seated pedaling performance is near the top of its class, surpassed only by the Yeti- and Dave Weagle-designed platforms. Its seat tube angle is steep enough because the Habit doesn't sag deep into its travel, and its overall geometry and suspension makes it an adept technical ascender.
You're best off riding in a fairly static way, taking the trail as it comes and letting the bike's predictable stability roll through the rough spots. Riders with steep backyards should avoid the Habit because of how its rear suspension extends under braking.
Dollar for Dollar
Both builds are respectable values, but the suspension seems to come alive with a more sophisticated and tunable shock like the DPX2. Also, plan on replacing the stock Low Down dropper post. Ours were difficult to operate, binding and refusing to drop unless the rider shifted weight onto the nose.
Like many other brands, Cannondale took advantage of the now-expired Horst Link patent while designing its latest linkage. But this is Cannondale we're talking about: "Like many other brands" isn't common parlance for the makers of Lefty. So, novelty might be part of the motivation behind Cannondale's Proportional Response design philosophy, which seeks to keep suspension performance consistent for riders of all heights by adjusting the Habit's linkage for each frame size.
Whether or not that pans out is hard to say without a tester who can transition in stature from Uma Thurman to Tom Cruise. So we'll just have to talk about how the bike performs in the same way that we do every other bike.
A common thread in testers' notes was the Cannondale's apparent indifference to rider input. One tester likened it to the feeling of driving a manual versus an automatic, with the Habit being more like the latter. You can still have fun with the bike, but your control of and connection to the vehicle feels less direct.
This was the case both uphill and down. The 130-millimeter-travel, 29-inch-wheeled Habit is highly efficient when pedaled from a seated position, but didn't have the energizing pep of its smaller-wheeled predecessor, or of bikes like the Yeti SB130, Ibis Ripmo or Giant Trance 29 when the gun went off for the hundred-yard dash. To be fair, the $4,000 Habit our male testers rode is less expensive—and thus heavier—than most of this year's short-travel group, but the Cannondale's emotionless feel seemed to stem from its suspension, which lacked the mid-stroke support we wanted when the opportunity arose to pop and play. A shock with a wider range of low-speed compression adjustment is likely the remedy to this ailment, as the tester who rode the $5,250 Habit 2—which comes with a Fox DPX2 shock—felt more support and sprite than the two on the $4,000 Habit 3.
One tester noticed what felt like brake jack when descending steppy rocks, with the linkage seeming to extend and shift his weight forward instead of conserving a more centered riding posture. Cannondale's white paper on the merits of Proportional Response details the brand's experimentation and performance monitoring during the development of the Habit's four-bar linkage. Using telemetry, Cannondale arrived at the conclusion that the ideal anti-rise rate is 50-to-60 percent. Compared to a single pivot, Cannondale found that the lower anti-rise of the four-bar linkage provided more traction and stronger braking performance, which makes sense considering that a low-rise rate means that the rear wheel is being pushed into the ground as the suspension extends under braking. An unfortunate consequence of the suspension's extending movement is that the rider's weight is pitched forward, which is what our tester noticed and described as "brake jack." This isn't much of an issue on low-angle trails, but could be problematic on steep ones.
It might look normal for a Cannondale, but the Habit still has some unique features besides Proportional Response. Chief among them is its Ai rear end. With Asymmetric Integration, the drivetrain is shifted out 3 millimeters. The frame uses 148-millimeter spacing but the wheel is dished 3-millimeters toward the drive side. On paper, the benefits are even spoke length, tension and bracing angle, plus room for big tires (including 27.5 plus) in a short rear end. Any wheel can get dished over to fit Ai. So, why not, we suppose, but the Habit's rear end isn't notably short or stiff, and plenty of 148-spaced 29ers can accept 27.5-plus wheels.
Testers agreed that the Habit is best suited to a somewhat-conservative rider—one who isn't concerned with playing and popping around on every trail feature, or at least doesn't need their bike to root them on. "Stable," "predictable" and "forgiving" were other keywords in our notes, which seem about right given the Habit's numbers—especially its 66-degree headtube angle and 1,210-millimeter wheelbase. Because of these traits, testers imagined the Habit as a worthy partner for backcountry adventures and technical stage races.
Q&A with Joe Mackey, North America PR manager for Cannondale
Why did Cannondale choose to develop a new platform rather than rework the existing Trigger or Habit around 29-inch wheels?
The original Habit used a single-pivot design that has benefits, but for what we wanted to accomplish with the newest Habit, a Horst Link design accommodated our braking and descending demands perfectly. Based on our testing, the Horst Link also amplifies the characteristics of Proportional Response most, characteristics that just aren't possible with the Trigger. With the introduction of the Jekyll 29, we felt that the Habit fit best in our line up as a 29er. We didn't feel that the Trigger would be best suited going up in wheel size and should stay a true 27.5-inch trail bike.
One of our testers felt brake jack when braking on ledgy descents. Isn't a suspension that pitches the rider's weight forward under braking a liability on steep terrain?
The braking characteristics on the Habit do not allow the bike to pitch freely. With the anti-rise values built into the suspension, we can control the amount of pitching to keep the bike in a comfortable and safe range. We have noticed that riders who tend to run rebound damping slower will experience the suspension pack down over repeated bumps. This sensation can feel similar to brake jack.
The Habit uses an uncommon drivetrain offset and rear-wheel dish. We aren't experiencing frame flex or wheel stiffness shortfalls on frames with 148 spacing, and there are 148-spaced 29ers than can run plus with the same length chainstays as the Habit. So why not use the more common 148 standard?
You can definitely achieve a fair amount of tire clearance with standard Boost 148 spacing but there are compromises such as chainring clearance and chainstay thickness that come into play. With Boost Ai, we are able to maintain a certain level of thickness with the chainstays for increased durability and have the tire clearance that we know is acceptable for the everyday rider. Boost Ai achieves all of this without having to move to an entirely new standard like Super Boost.
What changes frame-to-frame in order to achieve the consistent ride characteristics you were aiming for with Proportional Response? The length of linkage members? The shock tune? The shock orientation? Something else?
Proportional Response takes a few major factors into consideration: the arrangement of the four bars, the location of the instant center and the shock angle. Many brands simply keep these locations the same for each size, but with our research we found that with each size, riders required a specific arrangement. The shock tune is the same across the board as well as the chainstays, seatstays and upper link members.
We’ve seen other brands scale chainstay length with rider size. What’s Cannondale’s take on this?
We felt that improving the braking performance across the full size range was the area we were going to get the most gains. The length change that we see Norco applying is a great step forward, however it doesn't take into account the resulting changes in anti-squat and anti-rise that the chainstay lengths can impact. It solves the weight distribution but it doesn't maintain the same ride quality because it doesn't take into account the resulting changes in anti-squat and anti-rise.