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A love letter to the Cannondale Slate, a lefty-forked, 650b-wheeled gravel trailblazer

Tonight's Bike At Bedtime remembers the Cannondale Slate, a bike that was perhaps a bit ahead of its time despite launching just eight years ago

Tonight, we're remembering one of the great Marmite bikes of the last few years, probably only rivalled by the GT Grade or that Canyon Grail with the double decker bars. At road.cc we’d say that to ride the (sadly discontinued) Slate is to love it. First appearing in late 2015, it was a 'proper' gravel bike before gravel was really even a thing. If you still own one you're know you can ride it almost anywhere and it really handles well. 

cannondale slate 2.jpg

Much anticipated - and heavily trailed - the Slate officially launched in 2016. It was the first 650b (that we can think of) road/road plus/adventure/gnarmac/gradventure/all-road (delete as applicable) bike from a major manufacturer.

By now the advantages of 650b have been well rehearsed, but the gist is you get a smaller, stronger wheel, that you can accelerate faster and fit fatter rubber on (42mm on the production version of the Slate). That rubber was tubeless, too.

Stopping was/is taken care of by flat mount Shimano hydraulic brakes, that are now ubiquitous on gravel bikes but were a welcome added bonus in 2016. 

Cannondale Slate  - 2.jpg

That’s not all. Up front the aluminium frame was hooked up to a Lefty Oliver fork - Cannondale’s one legged suspension fork - dishing out 30mm of travel which you could lock out on the fly for climbs. That wasn’t the only suspension up front, as the Slate also boasted one of Cannondale’s integrated Headshocks too. 

Cannondale Slate - 20

 

The ride position was somewhere between Cannondale’s Synapse endurance bike and its SuperSix Evo road racer - basically, the Slate wasn’t designed for hanging about on. It also shared a number of tube profiles with the Synapse and the CAAD12 alu race bike. 

What was/is it like to ride? You can read about one of our first rides on the Slate here, and as I also rode one on a road.cc rideout, you can take it from me that it was an absolute blast. My initial doubts that it would prove wallowy and heavy were instantly dispelled, as those 650b wheels really do help you get up to speed just that little bit faster.

It was also surprisingly quick going downhill too, and one of the Cannondale guys on the ride reckoned it was their fastest descending road bike. It was when things got rough that it really came in to it’s own, though, turning what would have been a sketchy descent down a rutted lane in places hub deep in mud into one of the most enjoyable 15 minutes I’ve had on a bike in years. The combination of the frame, fork and fat tyres giving a fast, agile, sure-footed ride. It was, dare I say it, like mountain biking on the road.

Cannondale Slate - 8

The Slate met its maker in 2019, and meant Cannondale were without a lefty-forked bike in its range until the full suspension Topstone Carbon Lefty appeared in 2020. It was one of our Bikes of the Year for 2020/2021, and has now been superseded by the Topstone Carbon Lefty 2, which is built around 700c wheels. 

The odd Cannondale Slate still pops up on eBay from time to time, and if you love the idea of the eccentric lefty fork but don't have £4,500 to spend on a Topstone, it might be best to snap one up sooner rather than later. Was the Slate too N+1 even for N+1 devotees, or was the world not ready for it back in 2015? Whatever you think, I still wish I'd bought one... 

Check out our other Bikes At Bedtime here

road.cc's founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

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Secret_squirrel | 5 months ago
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I loved the idea of the Slate and still want one.

I used to amuse myself of a lunchtime by wandering into Swift cycles near Liverpool street Station and making the Uber-Roadie salemen show me one.

You could see the horror and loathing in their eyes.

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