Project Topstone: Getting Rolling – Part 1 – by Grannygear
It is a fact that we cyclists are often drawn to the new, the shiny, the carbon. Basically the light and costly stuff. Reviewers are not immune to this. “Would you like to review the new Q Works gravel bike with helium filled tires, 3D printed wheels, and the new Shimano ‘Mind-Link’ 14 speed shifting with the optional cranial implant?” Well, yes…yes I would. Implant away.
But, in reality that is not where we live and ride, well not many of us anyway. No, the majority of us are juggling mortgages, kids in college, retirement, and priorities that do not really allow for tippy top of the line bikes. Lucky you, if you can write the check. And even when you are hitting the middle of the marketplace price wise, it is still easy to spend 5 grand on a new carbon gravel bike with Ultegra Di2.
So, when I saw the Cannondale Topstone line, the aluminum ones, not the just released carbon one with all the trickery to it, I saw what to my eyes represented a very important bike: Good price, good parts, good frame, good value. With a Shimano 105 hydro group (less the crank set), smart gearing, a Level 2 aluminum frame, excellent geometry for all around use and a non-controversial, grown-up look, all for well under under 2 grand ($1750.00 on the middle model of the three), well, I was intrigued.
There are other bikes on the market that hit around or just above the Topstone’s price. The Giant Revolt Advanced 2 is one of them at $2100.00. It is 105 as well, however it is a carbon frame. It gives you a Praxis crank in a 24mm spindle version but with a limitation of a 48/32 chain ring set (Praxis does not offer a 46/30). It does have that odd, warty, brake adapter on the front of the bars that, at least in my book, makes this bike a ‘pass on this one’ moment for me. I would suspect it is a very compliant ride though, overall. Giant is good at that. Breezer has the Inversion Pro with 105 at a $1799.00 cost. It has that lovely steel ride that I found in the Inversion Team, but will be heavier and does not have full hydro brakes. It also has a tire size limit compared to the Topstone. GT just relaunched the Grade, including a $2500.00 carbon 105 bike, and Canyon has the Grail 7.0 aluminum for $1799.00. Good looking bike, that. Undoubtedly there are others. It is an important segment of the market.
I had been thinking about building a second gravel bike. The Lynskey GR250 I have is a super adventure/gravel bike. It takes big tires in either 700c or 650b, has lots of braze-ons, stable geometry, and a lovely ride. It has a suspension stem and wide 46cm bars with quite a bit of flare. I am looking to take it to the higher end of things tire wise and maybe even to 1x gearing. That makes it less appealing for long, multi surface loops. So I was looking for a bike that I could use with a smaller tire…38mm to 40mm…that would have a more road bike feel to it but still be very dirt capable. That kind of bike opens up possibilities. It is a compelling category that I think is the magic potion for a lot of riders. For instance I could take it on vacation when I did not know the road or conditions I would encounter. I am planning on a week long ramble in the wine country of California; riding, wine tasting, eating, then ending in Levi’s Gran Fondo (60-ish mile route). In our group, to my knowledge, no one is bringing full on road bikes. All are gravel bikes with semi big tires. Yep.
So, I arranged for a Topstone review bike, not knowing that MG was also getting one. Then when he did such a great job in his write up, I was wondering how I would compliment that without duplicating or trying to one-up his work. Then it came to me. The aluminum Topstone is just the kind of bike that is within the financial reach of most serious gravel or all-road riders. It has components solid enough to use and enjoy as is, yet those parts are hung on a frame/fork with geometry and a feature set that are worthy of incremental upgrades as the budget allows. So, when Cannondale offered to let me have the bike through the summer, I made a plan.
Here I quote from MG’s midterm report on the Topstone Aluminum 105 model he has been on: “Say you have an overall budget of $3,500 to $4,000 for a new gravel bike. Do you go for a more expensive carbon framed bike with a lower level drive train, components and wheels? Or, is it better to go for a less expensive alloy bike that gives you more budget to make selective upgrades, particularly to the wheels and touch points?”
That resonated with me as a very good discussion to have and echoed my thinking as well. Great minds, etc.
So I will be living with a Johnny Cash black Cannondale Topstone for a few months. I will be using it to play with upgrades on a budget to see where we can improve performance, drop weight, and add comfort. But first, I want to begin with my thoughts on how the bike is spec’d and how it is to ride stock at the risk of duplicating some of MG’s findings.
NOTE: Cannondale sent over the Topstone 105 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.