To confuse the matter somewhat, Cannondale has three different Prophet platforms, all sharing the same frame with different shocks and suspension forks. The Prophet MX is longer travel with a bolt-through swingarm, the Prophet 140mm is the original and still the best, and the Prophet SL has 120mm of travel and a very low bottom bracket height. The higher end Prophets all come with 140mm travel forks so the geometry on our entry-level Prophet 4 with its 130mm travel RockShox Tora is a little bit steeper than claimed. That’s no bad thing really, as the slacker of the two geometry settings now gives a stable 68-degree head angle. Our test bike and a batch of early production bikes didn’t have the necessary head tube spacer to allow the fork dials to clear the frame, so if your bike is like this, take it back to the dealer and get it corrected free of charge. Obviously you can still ride the bike without the spacer, but if you have a major crash the bars will spin violently and the top caps of the fork could shatter or, worse still, the fork could dent the frame.
Suspension Up front the Prophet gets the same Tora fork as the Norco, but it fared a lot better as it didn’t develop any metal-on-metal clunking. The Tora has stiff lower legs, so steering precision is good but damping performance is nothing like as good as the forks on the GT, Spesh or Trek. At the rear the Manitou Radium RL rear shock complements Cannondale’s single-pivot configuration and the lockout has a blow-off, so if you forget to flick it back to the open position while cresting a climb it won’t damage the shock or frame. On several occasions the shock locked out accidentally, so we suggest trimming the lever down a touch so that it’s less likely to catch on your shorts or get knocked when pushing the bike.

All of the shifting hardware on the Prophet 4 worked a treat, even if it’s not the highest spec on test. But the weakest link, and the one that is hardest to spot on the shop floor, is the square taper bottom bracket and associated crank. This is dated technology and after a couple of rides and a few small jumps the inevitable happened — the left-hand crank arm worked loose and needed replacing. If this happens to you, you’re better off upgrading the entire crank and bottom bracket assembly to a two-piece unit, because if you just replace the left-hand crank arm it’s going to happen all over again.

Even with the budget Tora fork — which is more fitting on a £500 hardtail — the Cannondale Prophet 4 is great riding bike. The relaxed head angle makes the Prophet 4 surefooted and is a welcome confidence boost to newcomers and experienced riders alike. Best of all, if you get a bit cocky and it all goes horribly wrong, the 140mm of rear wheel travel is a great safety net. Out-of-the-saddle sprinting in the big ring causes very little rider-induced suspension movement, but for middle and granny ring riding the ’Dale pedals best with the rider seated. With the steep seat angle the rider’s weight is automatically shifted forward for climbing, but if the majority of your riding is on very flat terrain you can also move the shock into the forward position on the swingarm for sharper handling. If it is pure descending speed you crave we recommend swapping the 90mm stem for a 70mm.

If you fancy a Prophet don’t be tempted by the SL — it takes a very skilled rider to ride round the low bottom bracket height. With that cleared up we can wholeheartedly recommend the Prophet 4. It’s a confidence-inspiring bike and, with the correct headset spacer to cure the fork/frame interference problem, as your riding ability progresses the ’Dale definitely won’t hold you back. Upgrading the fork and crank at a later date will leave you with a very capable trail bike, and Cannondale’s lifetime guarantee means that you don’t need to worry about the frame giving up the ghost.