Bike Test: Cannondale F29 3

While full-suspension bikes have become popular in cross-country racing, hardtails still have an important place in the world of mountain biking. They are easy to maintain, incredibly efficient on fast and smooth trails, cost less than their full-suspension counterparts, and can teach valuable skills by forcing riders to choose their lines carefully. Cannondale’s F29 may look like a simple and straightforward hardtail, but there is more going on than meets the eye. 


The F29 is for the cross-country racer who wants a light-weight, efficient race bike that can dice it out on the weekends without draining the bank account. This bike would also work for trail riders who contend with fast, flowy trails or ones with extended climbs where a light weight bike can make all the difference. 


Constructed of Cannondale’s proprietary BallisTec Carbon, the F29 Carbon shares much of its DNA with Cannondale’s high-end road offerings. This material uses high-strength, impact-resistant fibers and resins along with strands of stiffer, more brittle fibers that run continuously from front to rear to fine-tune the ride quality. The F29 3 features Cannondale’s second-tier F-frame, which uses a higher percentage of “intermediate-modulus” fibers, making it slightly heavier but more cost-effective than the frame found on the Ultimate and 1 models.

While the carbon material may be slightly different, the mold remains the same. The F29 is built to be laterally stiff, thanks to a 1.5-inch head tube, an oversized downtube and a BB30 bottom bracket.

However, instead of simply building the stiffest bike possible, Cannondale worked to make the bike vertically compliant to take the edge off of stinging hits on the trail. The rear end uses Cannondale’s Speed SAVE design, created by oval-shaped sections of the round seat stays and chainstays that allow them to flex slightly. This same technology is integrated into the seat tube and is further aided by the small-diameter, 27.2-millimeter seatpost. 


Despite Cannondale’s Lefty fork being introduced 13 years ago, the distinct look still draws comments from inquisitive riders. For 2013, the Lefty has seen some significant updates. While most of the improvements are internal, riders will notice that the old-school rubber fork boot is absent. In its place is a moto-inspired guard that protects a new, rounded fork stanchion. 

Cannondale’s OPI stem with a 15-degree drop and C2 alloy, 26.8-inch bars give the front end a low and wide stance that is race-ready. The 2×10 drivetrain is a mix of SRAM and Shimano components and is perfectly suited for the lightweight race bike. The Shimano XT Shadow Plus rear derailleur is a nice touch. 


Moving out: The simplicity of dialing in a hard- tail is always a nice change from the routine of getting a full-suspension bike set up perfectly. Thanks to Cannondale’s new Lefty fork design, setting sag is much easier than before. The stanchion is now exposed, and a rubber O-ring lets you measure the sag by yourself as with other forks on the market. The position on the F29 is what you would expect from a race-oriented bike. The top tube feels on the long side and is designed to put the rider in an aggressive position for hammering the pedals. 

Climbing: At 23.5 pounds and as laterally stiff as a road bike, the F29 encourages putting the hammer down on climbs. The chainstays are fairly short and help the bike feel snappy, especially out of the saddle. The longer top tube kept our knees clear of the bars—a solid combination. 

Where hardtails often lose the edge against their fully suspended counterparts is on rough climbs. Our local trails consist of a few climbs that are downright painful to climb on a hardtail thanks to our saddle-wearing, four-legged friends. As much as we shudder at the thought of riding those climbs, they offered a great proving ground for Cannondale’s SAVE micro-suspension technology.

We were stoked with the results. The F29 is surprisingly smooth for a hardtail. This is not to say that large, square-edge bumps simply disappeared under our wheels. Nope, the old art of hovering over the saddle still applies. The difference is that the small chatter you encounter is damped significantly.

Cornering: With the F29, Cannondale wanted to create a bike that rolled like a 29er but handled like a 26er. The steep, 71-degree head angle kept the handling sharp enough to whip around switchbacks with ease, but never felt nervous descending at speed.  

The Lefty fork is incredibly stiff. The front end tracks predictably, and pushing hard into corners never produced any noticeable lateral flex.

Descending: While the SAVE technology does great things when you are climbing in the saddle, the F29 behaves like the hardtail it is when descending. Picking smooth lines is key, and experienced riders will appreciate how easy it is to dance around the trail to find them. 

The redesigned Lefty fork seemed to be slightly less supple at the beginning of the stroke and rode a bit higher than last year’s model. This is most likely due to the new lower seal/bushing that may cause slightly more stiction than before. The fork is still very smooth through the stroke, and some riders may appreciate the feeling of the fork riding higher in the travel.  

Braking: The Avid Elixir 7 brakes have a very consistent feel, but aren’t the most powerful stoppers on the block. However, they performed quietly without any vibration or squealing to speak of. Thankfully, the svelte stature of the bike meant that the underpowered brakes were not much of an issue. We simply adjusted our braking points accordingly. 

Tire selection and setup have a strong influence on a hardtail’s ride quality. Given that the WTB Frequency rims and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires are both tubeless compatible, the first thing we would do is pull the tubes out and put sealant in there. A tubeless setup will allow for lower tire pressures, giving the bike a more supple ride with increased traction and rider comfort. 

Those looking to use the F29 Carbon for more than just cross-country racing and shorter trail rides should consider replacing the 2.1-inch Racing Ralphs with the larger-volume, 2.25-inch versions. The minimal weight penalty will be worth the additional traction and rider comfort of the larger-volume casing for long trail rides over rough terrain.

At $3100, the F29 is actually a lot of bang for the buck. Whereas many entry-level carbon fiber bikes are downright uncomfortable because the frames offer so little resilience, Cannondale takes a different approach. They offer a technologically advanced frame with a more modest parts package to control the price. The F29 is a bike that you can certainly race or trail ride right out of the box, but also feel good about upgrading to higher-quality components later.  

You might also like