So, my much-anticipated first few rides aboard Cannondale’s latest creation are under my belt, but what to make of a bike that has no clear identity? It’s the question I was asked most of all: what is it? Mostly followed by: is it a cyclo-cross bike? Or is that one of those ‘gravel bikes’? Cannondale’s answer to both would be, no. So what exactly is the Slate then?
First off, don’t be fooled by those tiny looking wheels shod with bulbous tyres. The 27.5inch wheel size (termed 650b) with the additional circumference added by the 42mm treads you’re losing nothing at all in terms of overall wheel size compared to a 700x23c. So once you’re up to speed you’ll feel like your zipping along just the same, although that said expect to expend a little more effort to get there and to maintain the speeds your used to as it’s no lightweight (our size large weighed in at 9.6kg).
I found to my further surprise that I was able to ride for the vast majority of the time with the front suspension setting ‘active’ as the Lefty fork did not wallow badly, even riding out of the saddle, and didn’t dive under braking either. When you do go off the beaten track or strike an unexpected pothole it comes into its own and you can really sense it working.
A bigger concern for me was that on more than one occasion whilst standing to tackle a steep gradient I clipped my knee on the back of the top mount of the Lefty, with enough force to nudge the steering and swerve a little. Worthy of mention, but hardly a deal breaker.
So the Slate is capable as a road machine, and although I have not yet ventured beyond just gravel paths and some of the rougher rural lanes that deepest Dorset has to offer, I’m keen to test its mettle in a more severe off road setting. The initial indications suggest it’s going to cope just fine. We don’t have the huge expanses of gravel roads to enjoy that they have in the US but nonetheless the Slate has got heaps of potential to be a great deal of fun. Which kind of brings us back full circle to that question over ‘what’s it for’ again?
I would say if you’re of the mindset to pigeonhole bikes into specific sectors then it’s hard to do that with the Slate. Better to forget all that and just think about the reasons why we love to ride bikes in the first instance – that very visceral enjoyment of being out into the great outdoors and riding a bike anywhere, just because you can. Like riding down stairs.