Bike Review:
2020 Cannondale Topstone 105
A Pragmatic Gravel Grinder

Author Scott Alexander

June 20, 2020

Bike Specs
  • MSRP $1,750
  • Weight 21.8 lbs / 9.9 kg
  • Fork Carbon
  • Frame Aluminum
  • Wheels 700c
  • Clearance 700c x 42mm
  • Drivetrain 2 × 11
  • Groupset 105
  • Brakes Hydraulic Disc
  • View More

Highs Well balanced, descends well, good power transfer

Lows No mount points on the fork, cheap bottom bracket

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the bike industry really needs yet another category — gravel. I think they’re looking at it wrong. Gravel is a simplification. A gravel bike can serve as an adventure bike, road bike, commuter, and even take abuse on the CX course. Gravel bikes make the other categories feel niche. Now that we’ve established you need a gravel bike…

The Cannondale Topstone 105 is a solid, high-value, no-frills gravel bike. At $1,750 it’s right in the high-value sweet spot. Spend much less and you’ll really feel the quality drop in components; spend more and you quickly get into the curve of diminishing returns. No-frills doesn’t mean this is an ordinary gravel bike, though. Cannondale’s attention to detail on the Topstone is excellent, and they’ve made some really interesting design choices to stand out in an increasingly-crowded category. Apparently they’ve succeeded — the Topstone 105 has been the third most popular bike on all of 99 Spokes this year.

Geometry

I’ve found the Topstone to be a very well balanced bike. Compared to other popular gravel bikes this one is fairly long, clocking in a 1,060mm wheelbase for the size Large. This extra length can be attributed to Cannondale’s “OutFront Steering Geometry”— a slack 71° head tube combined with 55mm of fork rake, positioning the front wheel pretty far in front of you. The result is extremely stable steering and cornering that provides a ton of confidence on steep and rough descents.

But if it descends so well it must compromise on climbing abilities, right? Nope. The geometry at the front of the bike also serves to keep your center of mass just slightly farther back, keeping weight over the rear wheel on climbs. It’s awesome to be able to get out of the saddle on a steep gravel road and not lose traction. This bike climbs logging roads like a rocket! 🚀

In terms of rider position the Topstone has fairly relaxed frame geometry, seating you in a more comfortable upright position. This is fairly standard in the gravel category — no surprise, as these bikes are heavily used for long rides over rough terrain. While more aggressive and race-oriented gravel bikes can be found (such as the Cervélo Áspero or the Canyon Grail), the Topstone is closer to the other end of the spectrum. Sitting on the Topstone will feel pretty similar to the fit of an endurance road bike.

Comparing the geometry of the Topstone to a handful of other popular gravel bikes, you can see there’s nothing too outlandish going on. The exaggerated fork rake and long wheelbase on the Topstone really stand out. These little geometry differences combine in practice into a really competent and fun bike.

Topstone Geometry, compared to Checkpoint, Diverge, Revolt, and Grail. View Comparison

Sizing

I’m 6′1″ (185cm) and typically fit squarely in the “Large” size offered by most manufacturers. Cannondale’s Topstone size Large is on the larger side of this range. I recommend using our geometry comparison view to get a sense for how Cannondale’s sizing compares to your current bike.

Components

With the exception of the crankset, the Topstone’s components are all Shimano 105. At this price point, it’s common for manufacturers to spec a nice rear derailleur and then sprinkle in cheaper alternatives for everything else. This can result in some unexpected incompatibilities — issues you wouldn’t see in a groupset designed to work together. It’s great to see the (mostly) homogenous set of components on the Topstone. This is a nice groupset that shifts buttery smooth and will last for many miles.

Despite the solid 105 build, I’ll admit I’m not thrilled with the FSA Omega crankset — the bottom bracket has a reputation for failing early and being difficult to remove.

Gearing

The Topstone comes with a Shimano 105 2x drivetrain. The 1x vs 2x debate rages among gravel enthusiasts, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference. The two chainrings support a wider gear range with smaller steps in between gears, providing 22 speeds vs the 11 you get on a 1x. In my opinion if you’re going to be spending a decent amount of time on the road the 2x drivetrain will really be appreciated.

Here’s a visual of the Topstone’s gearing range compared to similar 1x gravel bikes. In short it’s easier to pedal up steep hills, you can gain more speed pedaling downhill, and you’ll have more gearing options in between.

Cannondale Topstone 105
33 mph
Specialized Diverge
29 mph
Devinci Hatchet
30 mph
Felt BREED
30 mph
Jamis RENEGADE
29 mph
Brakes

The Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes feel great, even in wet conditions. I felt confident in rough terrain riding on top of the hoods with one or two fingers feathering the lever. The brakes are powerful, but they’re also quiet. Howling disc brakes have been a common and difficult to remedy pain point on many road bikes, and I’m happy to report that the Topstone is not affected.

Wheels

The Topstone comes with a no-frills aluminum wheelset – WTB rims and Formula hubs with front and rear thru-axles.

The 37mm WTB Riddler tires are a nice middle-of-the-road option for a gravel bike. The center tread pattern rolls nicely on asphalt and the side knobs provide some bite when corning off road. 37mm is a good width option for someone splitting the difference between on-road and off-road. If off-road is your jam I’d probably drop down to a 650b wheelset with wider tires to increase traction and suspension. More on this later.

Cannondale claims the frame will handle up to a 42mm tire at the 700c wheel size. I suspect you might be able to go a bit larger but you’d run into issues with fenders. Assuming you stick to the recommended tire sizes, there is plenty of clearance for fenders. They make it easy for you with lots of mount points, too.

Tubeless is a must-have for a gravel bike as it allows you to run a lower tire pressure, improving traction and impact absorption on rough terrain. The WTB rims and tires are tubeless ready so I went ahead and performed the conversion. As tubeless setups go it was as easy as they come. I was able to seat the bead without even using an air compressor, just a low volume floor pump. If only my mountain bike was this easy!

Upgrade Opportunities

The Topstone 105 has everything you need and nothing you don’t. But upgrading your bike is part of the fun! There are two main upgrades I would really consider for this bike.

650b Wheelset — Ideally I’d have a 650b wheelset with 47mm tires for more intense off-road riding and keep the stock 700c wheelset for mixed terrain or pure road rides. I did try the Topstone out with a 650b x 47c wheelset and it performed beautifully.

Dropper Post — A dropper post is going to give you a lot more control on technical descents. Not a huge issue for most gravel rides but still nice to have. Even if you’re not riding super technical terrain I’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of dropping the saddle when stopping, making it easier to mount and dismount. This is especially useful when the bike is loaded down with bags and panniers. The Topstone frame is designed to handle a dropper post with internal cable routing.

Nitpicks

As mentioned above, the FSA Omega crankset is no crowd pleaser. A gritty, creaking bottom bracket is a real bummer when you’re busy trying to get lost down a logging road. I’ll probably be swapping the crankset out early on and going full Shimano 105, since this component is the only outlier in the groupset.

No mount points on the fork. It’s a bit odd for an adventure bike with mounts for a bento box, 3rd bottle cage under down tube, rear racks, etc, to have no mounting options on the fork. If used for bike packing or touring you will have to retro fit a fork mount in order to balance the weight.

Where to Buy

This is a sponsored review done in partnership with REI.com.

REI.com

Cannondale Topstone AL 105

$1,750
Women's Topstone 105

The only difference between the unisex and women’s specific model is frame color and a women’s specific version of the Fabric saddle.

REI.com

Cannondale Women's Topstone AL 105

$1,750
Topstone Carbon

Cannondale also makes a carbon version of the Topstone with Kingpin Suspension — up to 30mm of rear suspension from frame flex around a thru-axle pivot in the seat tube.

REI.com

Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 Bike

$2,750$2,336

15% off

Gallery

The bars are flared out to provide geater leverage and stability when navigating particularly rough terrain in the drops

The bars are flared out to provide geater leverage and stability when navigating particularly rough terrain in the drops