Eric Layland & Santo Criscuolo
Thursday, April 01, 1999
I gave up my hard tail and opted for a softer ride years ago. At some point I came to the painful realization that I couldn't keep beating the crap out of my body day after day. My Y-bike allowed me to ride harder for longer periods. The debate over suspension and hard tails was a no-brainer for me. I swore I would never go back to a hard tail. If anyone ever asked my opinion, "Suspension is the only way to go," was my standard answer.
So when Cannondale asked us to review their new CAAD4 F1000 hard tail I was reluctant at best. At worst I wanted no part of it. I tied to pawn the assignment off on two other Dirt Testers. For one reason or another they didn't come through. I had no choice to but to test the bike myself. After two back surgeries and various problems with my knee, the last thing I needed was for a bruising day of cold wet riding. I was not looking forward to this at all. In fact, I was so determined not to test the bike myself that I conned Eric into going with me by offering to clean his basement. I really didn't want to ride a hard tail.
We took the CAAD4 out to Victor Falls and hit the trail. Mind you it was mid winter in the Northwest. Around mid February we begin to forget what sunshine is and we go through life as soggy moody individuals. At first I took pictures and notes as Eric buzzed around a short loop. Quickly I spotted a grin creeping across his chiseled features. "Sweet," he crooned. "Super light and quick. I like it" Ah hell I thought to myself as my curiosity got the best of me. "Let me try that thing."
Eric climbed off and I climbed on. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I like this bike enough to soften my hard core view on hard tails.
The F1000's focal point is the new CAAD4 (Cannondale Advanced Aluminum Design) frame. Nearly a quarter pound lighter than the CAAD3, the new frame retains all the strength & rigidity of it's predecessors. It features a thinner-walled downtube, chainstays, and strut (joins the wishbone-styled seatstays to the seat tube) but it still has burly-I-can-handle-anything-you-can-dish-out-Cannondale look.
Cannondale engineers claim the wishbone stays place the brake studs closer to the center of the tubes for better braking performance. Sounded good to us. Even better it felt good as well. Additionally the tube's hourglass shape (on the inside) translates into added comfort without increased side-to-side flex. Other highlights include a milled bottom bracket with strength where it's needed, at the junction of the bottom bracket cups. The disk mounts are also new to the CAAD4 and are efficiently integrated into the frame's design. A replaceable derailleur hanger makes the aftermath of an endo less costly. Just replace the hanger, not the whole frame! The bottom line is that the new CAAD4 is lighter yet stronger in all the right places. Moreover, for a hard tail it gives you a sweet ride. While rougher than a soft tail, the CAAD4 is nimble and quick.
I have to be honest; the Headshock has yet to win us over. The Headshock looks beefy as if it can take a pounding. On the trails the fork responded well to small hits. On smooth singletrack the suspension stuck well and encouraged pushing your internal speed limits. The Fatty ate up the small hits but the rebound on big bangs was slow and unresponsive. This past summer we had the chance to preview an F4000. I do''t know why, but the Fatty SL on that ride seemed so much sweeter, more plush and responsive. We spoke with Cannondale about this and they are sure it is a bad cartridge that may have been damaged when they shipped the bike to us. Bill Rudell, from the Cannondale Marketing Department swears that they have had zero air loss problems in over a year. Bill's a good guy. He's never steered us wrong so we trust him.
Bill thought it might be as simple as low air pressure. The key here is to use a special high-pressure pump to increase air pressure. Using a regular pump with a flip lever does not create enough of a seal to force air into the cartridge. Cannondale put a pump and a new cartridge in the mail for us.
Once we got the new cartridge installed, the fork perfromed much better. The original guts were leaking oil and unable to hold air pressure for any length of time. The new and improved ride was much better.
One popular feature of the Fatty SL is its five way adjustable dampening knob. While it will not lock out completely you can adjust the rebound to the terrain you are riding on. With the knob totally turned one way, it is a very plush ride. With the knob turned completely the other way, it at "near lockout" meaning it ignores the small hits and only kicks in for the big smacks. The knob is so handy at the base of the stem that we enjoyed swiching this back and forth as needed on the fly. Way cool.
Wheels and Components
Honestly we haven't had much experience with Coda components. We're sorry we waited so long. The new Coda 500 pedals really grabbed our attention first. They are comparable in performance to just about any clipless pedal on the market, regardless of price. Easy in, easy out and enough float to keep the knees from aching. The CF2 cranks were stiff and translated pedal strokes into power. Shimano's XT 9-speed package is standard. We are still not sure if we really need another gear but the Mega Nine system does work.
The wheelset is a definite highlight based on Mavic's X-221 rims, Coda's Expert hubs, DT spokes and IRC Mythos XC tires. Super sticky, low low fat light and Hercules strong. What else do you need? Saddles rarely get mentioned in a bike review but the Coda Expert saddle stood out. Actually I should say the saddle didn't standout, therefore it's good! Let's face it, those thin-as-a-banana, hard-as-a-rock saddles just don't fit a regular guy.
The Avid ArchRival 50 brakes worked - theyre V-brakes, side-pulls, whatever you want to call them. They are a bit flexy under heavy braking, but still did an excellent job stopping the bike. They worked well in the Northwest muck and that makes them worthy as far as we're concerned. The seat post, handle bar, bar ends, etc. are standard issue. If they stood out, it probably would have been for the wrong reasons. Overall the F1000 component package is solid and dependable. The only piece missing on this bike from the rest of the line is the Coda disc brake.
The CAAD4 frame is available on the following bikes and color schemes: F4000 (Super black/mercury fade), F3000 (Team blue), F2000 (Team yellow/charger orange fade) & F1000 (Chromalusion Purpleen or Reptilian green fade). While the F1000 is at the bottom the line of Cannondales with the CAAD4 frame, it is by no means a low-end bike.
This is an excellent entry-level race quality bike. It's also a superb bike for those who don't want to race but want a responsive, nimble, stiff cross-country bike to jam on your local trails. Suggested retail is in the $1650 range so it's not cheap but after all you're buying a Cannondale. You can't go wrong if the bike fits you.
Overall the F1000 is an extremely solid performer that screams to be hammered. While the bike we had was a bit small for Eric he loved it. In fact, he wouldn't mind racing on it.
Me? The CAAD4 changed my mind about hard tails. Now when someone asks me about suspension bikes verses hard tails, I'll tell them, "Suspension is the only way to go. Unless it's a Cannondale CAAD4."