Project Topstone: Updates – by Grannygear
I have been running some test pieces through the Topstone and will continue to do so as long as I have it in-house, but there are some parts that have landed on the bike that will likely remain for a while. I have been enjoying it very much as a light gravel and all-road bike, keeping the Lynskey as the burlier choice for dirtier days, but that is just my decision as the Topstone can be about whatever you want, within reason. I have been running tires under 40mms wide and a bit narrower handlebar and will likely keep it that way. Still, I have some go-to parts that I really like to use and running them on the Topstone is just a natural choice for me. For those that need catching up, here are links to my two previous posts on this bike; (Part 1 and Part 2) Here are the most recent changes.
Saddles…it’s what you sit on – I came to appreciate the WTB Silverado during the recent saddle round-up and have moved that saddle onto both my gravel bikes. I experimented with WTB’s new Fit Right System and let it determine my saddle choice. It directed me to a small selection of saddles, all in a 142mm width. Of the ones listed, I knew I favored the Silverado. The more neutral, flatter and longer shape works decently well for me.
I also like the idea of having the same saddle on both bikes just for the consistency of it. The Ti version is my choice and is $130.00, but the cro-mo steel railed version is $80.00 and only adds 60 odd grams of weight although it does use a different foam padding.
Sweet flex and rugged simplicity – I opted for a Lynskey Ti seat post when I bought my GR250 frame and have never regretted it. The soft ride and effective clamp mechanism, when combined with the natural ruggedness of Ti, is a killer combo. It’s a bit heavier than a feathery carbon post, but it’s still light enough to save weight over any stock post that would come on a bike at this level. The ride quality is just sublime and is especially so if there is a generous amount of seat post sticking out of the frame. Of course, it is not adjustable for rider weight, so a heavier rider will see more flex than a lighter one. At $225.00 it is not cheap and might seem extravagant for a budget build, but this seems to me to be a long term ‘keeper’ part that could go from bike to bike to bike nearly forever.
What we hold on to – Handlebars have been in swap mode for testing purposes and that is still the case. The Ritchey Butano bar is the latest to reside on the Topstone. I had shortened the stem from the originally equipped bar, which was 100mm, to a 90mm as I felt it steered better that way. The stock 42cm bar, although nicely shaped, was too narrow. That felt sketchy at speed on faster downhills. I run a 46cm flared bar on the Lynskey but I have been using a 44cm bar on the Topstone just to keep it a bit more roadie-like. That might change, however. We shall see. No matter what bar I have been running, I have found it hard to beat Lizard Skins 3.2 tape for all-round comfort and ease of use. The newer V.2 DSP tapes claim to be more durable as well. Right now I am using some of the new FSA Powertouch 3mm bar tape and I am finding it quite good: comfortable, very tacky, and easy to wrap, all for under $30.00.
Too good not to use – The Redshift ShockStop stem has to be the best way I know to add comfort and control to the front end of any drop bar bike. On the Lynskey, which is already a comfy bike, it has saved my bacon on big hits I did not see coming and as the day gets long and the miles pile up, rider fatigue is lessened by the ‘give’ in the stem. And that give does not come at the cost of vague handling or odd steering, etc. It is quite transparent in its operation. It is heavier than a ‘normal’ stem and is limited to 90mm and longer lengths, but at under $150.00, it is cheaper and more absorbent than any carbon bar could be.
Drivetrain – I have been very happy with the stock 46/30 crank and 11-34 cassette, seldom needing a taller or lower gear. I can easily swap to an 11-36 SRAM cassette and get into a pretty seriously low gear if I think the day calls for it. I have no interest in running 1x with this bike. It’s difficult to get the same versatility and range out of 1x and for a bike that sees lots of paved use, 2x is hard to top. FSA did send out a slightly nicer crankset, an Energy crank, to replace the original one with. I am not sure where I will run that, so it might end up on the Topstone, but I have a thought about a re-do on the 2x gearing on the Lynskey, so I am holding off on that decision.
The FSA Energy crankset I have in the box weighs 725g grams in a 46/30. The Original Equipment version on the GT grade (basically the same crank that’s on the stock Topstone) was 883g. It is not too hard to get a lighter crank than that. If you want to go even fancier, FSA’s carbon SLK crank is only 602 grams in a 46/30. Likewise, a Shimano GRX FC-RX810-2 crank at an estimated 710g in the 48/31 chain set is still a big savings over the OE crank and the lesser GRX crank in the 46/30 is 80g or so lighter than stock.
I could see going to a 48/32 on a bike like this, just to gain a bit taller gearing, but it’s not something I would likely do for where I live. I have been pretty happy with the 46/30 crank. I do stay in the big ring longer and cross over more, but it’s not a big thing. And that 30T ring is sure nice for keeping the cassette tight and still getting below 1:1 for a low gear. I am a fan.
Pedals – I tested the Look SPD compatible pedals a while ago and came to like the wider shoe contact area and smooth operation. The X-Track Race model is a sweet spot cost wise and weight wise at $90.00. I have been running them on the Lynskey ever since and having a set on the Topstone was a slam dunk for me.
Rubber meeting the road – I imagine that tires will be in flux for this bike as it is used for tire testing. But I think a 35-39mm tire (actual width) is what I will stay with. Right now it has a WTB Byway that is right at 38mms wide and that is about right, I think, for the way I will use it.
Hoops – At the moment the wheels are some FSA AGX aluminum wheels that are providing excellent service at a low entry price. I also have some old carbon Roval 29″er wheels that I need to rebuild and those would make a sweet wheel for big climbing days. My DT Swiss Spline 1 29″er wheels from the old days are a great choice as well. Who knows what might come along.
Misc – I have been running an old Jaand frame bag just because I had it around. This older bag was sewn when most frames were skinny tubes of steel, so it does not quite close over the top tube like I would prefer. New ones are supposed to be more accommodating to swollen frame tubes. Still, it works. I might swap that out some day. Jaand is a curious company with a terrible website, products that have not changed much since dawn first broke and the earth cooled, but the products I have used from them last and last and last and last. I also think the bar bags from Ornot rate a good looking into. Maybe less aero, but still quite handy. I have my tools/tubes stuffed into Lizard Skins saddle tool bag. It’s red and it’s well made.
So Far….. The Topstone has been very fun to ride and is easy to upgrade, not having any odd hub/wheel specs, unique bottom bracket configurations, or ‘cutting edge’ geometry It is also worth upgrading and makes a decent case for getting in on a lower floor model (but not the basement) and working your way up over time. It is not the most absorbent frame and fork but I mostly notice that on the roughest roads or when I contrast it to the Lynsey and that nice Ti ride.
The last ride I did before I wrote this post began with a dash out the door in between rainstorms. I also had to get out in some GORE winter clothing we had for review, so the light rain was a help for me and it was supposed to really rain later on. I ambled out unsure where I would go with no real agenda in mind. I pointed the front wheel at a 3 mile, 800’ climb on pavement as any real dirt near me would be a total clay mire. At the top I thought, “Huh. Maybe I will ride to the next road crossing.” Eight miles of rolling country road later, the Topstone had taken it all in stride, wearing some fast rolling WTB 700c Byways.
At the cross roads I thought, “Huh. I could go a bit farther and drop down this winding canyon connector road.” OK, why not? And this rambling continued, even when the road choices kept coming along and even when I knew the conditions would be much more than any road bike would be comfortable in. Rocks and puddles and muddy spots…sand wash crossings…I knew that this rambling course, a course where I was following my whims with no real destination in mind, taking options as they came, is right at the true core of the best kind of riding: Just follow your nose. A bicycle is an adventure enabler, and gravel bikes even more so.
I can’t wait for the next time I don’t know where I’m going and when I will get there. I just might be on this Cannondale Topstone.
NOTE: Cannondale sent over the Topstone 105, and other companies sent over components mentioned in this post, for testing and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We were not paid, nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.