Vital Rides the All-New Cannondale Habit 27

With more travel, bigger wheels, and a different approach to suspension design, the all-new 2019 Habit becomes a much more versatile trail weapon.

Vital Rides the All-New Cannondale Habit

What is a trail bike? As you might infer from the name, it’s a bike made for riding trails, but that doesn’t exactly narrow it down much. To put it as simply as possible, a trail bike fits in somewhere between a cross country bike and a full-fledged enduro bike, and is made to be equally effective at going up, down, or across. Cannondale’s previous Habit sort of fit into that category, but it was certainly closer to the XC side of the geometry spectrum and as such, definitely too dated to keep up with what trail bikes have become today. Time for a bottom-up redesign, and one that marks a turning point for Cannondale in several aspects. The trail category is a very important category in mountain biking, and as such, this is an important bike for Cannondale. We went to Freiburg in Germany to ride the new Habit and see if they got it right.

2019 Cannondale Habit Carbon 2 Highlights

  • 130mm travel front and rear
  • 29/27.5+ compatible
  • BallisTec Carbon front triangle
  • SmartForm C1 Alloy swingarm
  • Proportional Response Tuned
  • Size optimized design
  • Ai offset drivetrain
  • ISCG05
  • PF30 BB
  • Internally guided cable routing
  • Postmount brake mount
  • Tapered headtube, integrated headset
  • Weight: 13.5 kg/29.6 lbs (Habit Carbon 2, size M, without pedals)
  • MSRP: $5250 USD 
  • Availability: October 2018

 

When Cannondale looked at what the typical “trail” rider needs, they ended up settling on 130mm of travel and 29-inch (or 27.5+) wheels. The modern trail rider also needs a confidence inspiring ride, which meant that a wholesale departure from the geo of the current Habit was required in order to keep up with the Joneses. With a 66-degree head angle and a comfortable but not extreme amount of reach, the new Habit ended up pretty close to the numbers of the Trigger 27.5 that was introduced last year, just with bigger wheels and less travel. Like with the Trigger (and Jekyll), Cannondale has also opted out of using its Lefty forks on the new Habit.

Beers and bikes go well together.

When it came to the suspension design, the recent expiration of most key patents on the market meant that it was time to put all the cards back on the table. Cannondale tested everything that is out there, and they came to the conclusion that the Horst link layout would provide them with the level of tunability and performance they were looking for. However, in testing so many platforms with a large number of test riders, they also noticed something: the way different riders experienced different suspension platforms depends to a large degree on the rider’s size. 

Cannondale's own crew provided a good selection of test specimens of different sizes and weights.

The general suspension layout remains the same across the size range, but the suspension response is tuned specifically for each size, taking into account the way the center of mass influences the system for riders of different physical proportions.

What Cannondale discovered when digging deeper into this issue is that the relative position of the rider’s center of mass has a significant effect on suspension characteristics like anti-rise and anti-squat. Most companies settle on a suspension layout and then simply replicate it across their size range, which Cannondale says leads to compromised performance for people on either side of the weight/size spectrum. As a generalization, they found that shorter and lighter riders typically experience worse performance under braking, while taller, heavier riders would report worse pedaling performance. Cannondale’s solution is called “Proportional Response”, which basically translates to size-optimized pivot placement. The general suspension layout remains the same across the size range, but the suspension response is tuned specifically for each size, taking into account the way the center of mass influences the system for riders of different physical proportions.

Cannondale's first Horst link. By moving the pivot locations around, each frame size is given its own suspension curves - "Proportional Response".

Cannondale sought to make the Habit a bike that pedals well, but that also offers a smooth and confidence inspiring ride on the way back down the hill. For that reason, they settled on a moderate anti-squat number of around 70-90%, which is meant to reduce pedal bob but not introduce too much chain growth and pedal kickback into the system. Furthermore, they wanted to make the new Habit progressive enough to deal with rougher terrain, but not to the point of becoming harsh, which led the designers to settle on ~16% progression of the leverage ratio across travel, with ~10% progression occurring between sag and 90% of travel. The larger frame sizes were also given more end-stroke progression. Finally, a fairly low anti-rise number was chosen (~40-65%), favoring a supple suspension feel during braking as opposed to a bike that sits into travel when you drop the anchors. A choice consistent with the intended use case of the bike. As you have probably understood by now, there are no travel-reducing features on the Habit as found on the longer travel Trigger and Jekyll models. There is a flip chip on the seat stay which mainly serves to adjust the geo for those who would chose to run 27.5+ wheels.

The range-topping Habit Carbon 1.

In addition to “Proportional Response”, Cannondale also brought over its “Size Optimized Design” principles from other bikes in its range. Here, the thickness and other characteristics of the frame tubing is optimized across the size range to make sure riders of different physical proportions enjoy the same “feel” and performance from the frame. A 435mm chainstay length was chosen to provide a good mix of stability and liveliness, and since the bike is compatible with both 29-inch and 27.5+ tires, there is plenty of tire clearance out back. Cannondale’s “Asymmetric Integration” or “Ai” layout uses a standard 148mm rear hub which is offset to one side to provide for a dishless wheel build and enough room around the BB area to fit in the short stays.

Room for Plus-size tires.
Ai = offset hub helps make room for the drivetrain.
The cable routing aims to reduce the amount of cable bend as the suspension cycles.

Looking over the frame, we find fully integrated cable routing with internal guides to simplify working on the bike. The top-end model gets a full carbon frame, while the next two tiers down get carbon front ends with alloy swingarms. At the lower end of the range, there are three full aluminum models. Pressfit yes, but at least Cannondale went with the more durable PF30 standard which allows for a larger outer bearing diameter. There is space for a full size water bottle, with no proprietary parts or standards used anywhere on the bike. Ease of maintenance and a simple ownership experience were the stated design goals here. 

The lines have translated well to the alloy models.

On The Trail

To put the new bike to the test, Cannondale invited us to their European technical center located in Freiburg in the Black Forest region of Southern Germany. With a fully equipped workshop and a great trail network accessible literally within two minutes of riding out of the office, the location was to provide the perfect proving ground for the new Habit. The fact that it is co-located with a beer brewery was just a happy coincidence, while the proximity to the Schauinslandbahn gondola promised effortless elevation gain for when our legs would get tired.

From Cedric Gracia's Rampage bike...
...to the famous Lefty forks...
...Cannondale has a long and rich history in the sport.
Bikes for breakfast!
Enduro World Champion Jerome Clementz took time out from his duties as a new dad to ride with us for the launch.

Before any gondola rides would be considered however, we had to put away about 600-700 meters of climbing to complete the morning loop, which provided ample opportunity to evaluate the uphill prowess of the new Habit. It offers a relatively snappy pedaling response and moves out with good efficiency under power, the somewhat low anti-squat numbers helped in this regard by the short amount of travel. We noted that the bike would bob a bit less when closing down the shock, but we also often opted to leave it open, especially for the more technical parts of the way up. The suspension response is supple, but never to the point of feeling wallowy, and the bike remains dynamic at all times. The only gripe we had at this point was the seat tube angle, at 74.5 degrees effective it is just a bit on the slack side for our taste. We were able to make up for almost all of it by sliding the saddle forward as much as possible, but we still would have liked to see Cannondale go at least one degree steeper here, especially since we are talking about a trail bike.

The Habit really shone where carrying speed was of the essence, pumping over natural trail undulations and popping out of berms and turns.

When things got a bit more animated, a few key points stood out. The suspension response remains both active and supportive when you ask more of it. We found it perfectly balanced with a very smooth and controlled feel to it. Of course, 130mm is less than we are used to on our big enduro bikes, but the Habit feels essentially bottomless on most hits you’d consider with this kind of bike. In terms of the geo, the Habit is stable enough on most terrain, but we did find that it had us feeling a bit tall and a bit too much forward when things got steep. We were able to remedy this partially by increasing our rear shock sag beyond the recommendation, which left us feeling a bit more “in” the bike, a modification which did not cause the suspension to bottom out more frequently (we dropped from about 250 to 230 psi in our case). Part of this forward-bias feeling comes from the short, 130mm fork, but we also think the low anti-rise numbers are to “blame” as well. In opting for a low anti-rise tune, the suspension tends to stay high in its travel even under braking, which means that you benefit from a more supple suspension action under braking but also that the bike rides higher when you’re on the anchors. All in all, we think the design choice is a sound one, because a bike like this would be expected to really perform well on flatter trails as well as on technical climbs. If it’s that mini-enduro feeling you’re after however, this may not be the one you want.

After the morning’s exertions was over, we rode the gondola back to the top of the hill for more. This time, we sampled a very fun, MTB-specific trail that combines natural segments with flow trail style berms and rollers. Once again, the Habit really shone where carrying speed was of the essence, pumping over natural trail undulations and popping out of berms and turns. Towards the bottom of the hill, things got progressively steeper and rougher at which point the Habit once again found itself closer to its limits. Looking around the riding group, the main designer’s own Habit sported a 10mm longer fork and a couple of extra spacers under the stem, a modification that we believe opens up the geo of the bike a bit more when things get hairy. Don’t be looking to turn the Habit into something that it is not however, any more fork travel than that would probably throw the geo off and cause the bike to become unbalanced. More to the point: this bike was designed the way it was for a reason, if it’s not what you are looking for, there is always the Jekyll, which is now available in both wheelsizes. The 145mm travel, 27.5-inch Trigger also remains in the line-up, should you find yourself wanting something in between the in between, although it seems pretty certain that the new Habit is set to eat up a large chunk of Trigger sales going forward, particularly since many trail riders are indeed looking for bigger wheels these days. Having ridden both of these bikes albeit only for a couple of days, we feel like the Trigger still holds a slight edge when it comes to the more rowdy stuff, while the Habit provides ultimate versatility across a broader spectrum of trails.

They call it the Black Forest for a reason...

2019 Cannondale Habit Geometry

2019 Cannondale Habit Carbon 2 Build Kit

We rode the second model from the top of the range, the Habit Carbon 2. It features a homogeneous build that offers pretty good value for money, with a carbon front end and an alloy swingarm. Here are a few observations on the kit list:

  • FOX’s Performance Elite series suspension offers all the internals of the Factory series minus the Kashima coating. It provides excellent performance with a lot of adjustability.
  • SRAM’s X01 Eagle drivetrain provides all the range you need to get up a hill, especially paired with a relatively small 30T chain ring (a choice consistent with the stated design goals of this bike).
  • SRAM’s Guide RS brakes feel good and offer great performance on the trail. We know they can be prone to developing sticky lever pistons after a while, but SRAM has been good with taking care of their customers under warranty.
  • Cannondale provides their own parts for the cockpit, the carbon handlebar specced here was comfortable on the trail and we were happy to see a 780mm wide handlebar mated to a short stem as standard right across the range.
  • Cannondale also makes its own dropper post, the DownLow. It’s a cable-activated, cartridge-based design that is easy to operate and performed well out on the trail.
  • Stan’s Arch MK3 rims with a Maxxis DHF/High Roller 2 combo is a solid choice for the rolling stock – only the pedestrian engagement of the Hollowgram hubs was a bit of a letdown (they feature DT Swiss internals, so a star ratchet upgrade is an easy fix here).

2019 Cannondale Habit Range and Pricing

The full Habit range is comprised of nine models: three carbon models for men, three alloy models for men, one women's specific carbon model and two women's specific alloy models. The women's range offers sizes from XS to M, with the XS running on 27.5-inch wheels. Only the range-topping Habit Carbon 1 gets a full carbon frame, all the other carbon models get alloy swingarms. Every bike in the range features wide bars, short stems, single-ring drivetrains and Maxxis tires. Only the Habit 6 and Habit Women's 3 lack a dropper post.

US pricing (USD):

29 M Habit Crb 1: $7,900.00
29 M Habit Crb 2: $5,250.00
29 M Habit Crb 3: $4,000.00
29 M Habit Al 4: $4,000.00
29 M Habit Al 5: $3,150.00
29 M Habit Al 6: $2,625.00
27.5/29 F Habit Crb 1: $4,000.00
27.5/29 F Habit Al 2: $2,625.00
27.5/29 F Habit Al 3: $2,100.00

All models are available in retail now, except the Habit Carbon 1 which will drop in early 2019. Head to www.cannondale.com for more.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 45 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Weight: 190-pounds (86kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 190-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Ale di Lullo/Cannondale and Johan Hjord

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