We’d be remiss if we didn’t take a few moments to eulogize the Cannondale Slate. Introduced half a decade back to a world still skeptical of gravel bikes, it featured—in increasing order of strangeness for a drop-bar bike at the time—a 1x drivetrain; 650b wheels when finding replacement tires for the size was an undertaking unto itself; and, of course, that signature Cannondale Lefty fork.

Today, you can find all these things in the world of gravel bikes (maybe not a Lefty fork anywhere else, but definitely gravel suspension). And that is in no small part thanks to this trailblazing bike that quietly disappeared from the Cannondale catalog in 2019.

THE DETAILS

In its wake, the Slate left the groundwork for a successor: the Topstone Carbon Lefty, a bike that, on paper, is remarkably similar—but definitely not the same. This latest model essentially takes the frame of a Cannondale Topstone gravel bike, with its proven Kingpin rear-suspension system offering a claimed 30mm of suspension, and swaps in a 1x Shimano GRX drivetrain, 650b WTB wheels and, most importantly, a new gravel-specific Cannondale Lefty Oliver fork.

This new fork takes the spotlight; it’s the reason why this new bike exists. Based around the same needle-bearing internals as the cross-country Lefty Ocho fork, it offers a tamer 30mm of progressive travel tuned for gravel riding. That means it doesn’t engage at all while riding along smooth roads or slight bumps. It takes hitting things like potholes, rocks or tree roots for this fork to noticeably engage. If you need it, there’s an easy-to-reach-and-operate lockout switch atop the fork (but there’s also a blow-off circuit, meaning it can still absorb unexpected hits while locked out).

The Topstone Carbon Lefty has all the gear and bottle mounts you would expect from a modern gravel bike, including a rear-fender mount. We tried the Lefty 3, the entry-level option of two versions, which comes in at $3,750. The new fork adds would buck any rigid fork off its line, or have you slowing and swerving. The front wheel simply stays glued to the ground when the trail gets rough, allowing you to go faster when other bikes might have to ease off to navigate obstacles. Despite the added weight, in mixed terrain conditions this bike is very often faster—and more fun. This bad boy is definitely best enjoyed off-road. As with many products Cannondale has released over the years, the Topstone Carbon Lefty definitely stands apart from the crowd; but bringing the Lefty fork back to gravel doesn’t feel like a gimmick. It works well and often excels. Pm some heft to the front end, bringing the whole package weight up to 23.37 pounds (10.6 kilograms) for a medium without pedals or cages (note: Cannondale’s sizing runs a bit large). That’s a significant weight addition of a couple pounds over the standard Topstone. Is it worth the suspension?

In short, yes and no—it depends on what you like to ride.

THE RIDE

The Lefty Oliver fork is superb, accomplishing exactly what Cannondale set out to do. Gravel means different things to different riders. Not everyone lives where there are endless roads of true gravel like you would find at Dirty Kanza. For many, the discipline means riding mixtures of terrain, from fire roads to light single track to beat-up trails to tarmac and back again. And for this type of riding, the Topstone excels.

When things really get bumpy, the Lefty Oliver fork comes to life, letting you glide right over holes, rocks and roots that would buck any rigid fork off its line, or have you slowing and swerving. The front wheel simply stays glued to the ground when the trail gets rough, allowing you to go faster when other bikes might have to ease off to navigate obstacles. Despite the added weight, in mixed terrain conditions this bike is very often faster—and more fun. This bad boy is definitely best enjoyed off-road.

As with many products Cannondale has released over the years, the Topstone Carbon Lefty definitely stands apart from the crowd; but bringing the Lefty fork back to gravel doesn’t feel like a gimmick. It works well and often excels.