As a trail bike, Cannondale’s new Habit 4 perfectly straddles the divide between XC speed and all-day capability
Bikes like the Prophet and the Rush ensured Cannondale always had a big presence on the UK trail-riding scene, but since the recent flux in wheel size, the brand has definitely lost some ground.
That could be all set to change, though, with the new Habit. Cannondale is certainly confident about the 27.5in Habit, something that’s reflected in the whopping eight models on offer. And with prices starting at £1,299 along with a couple of ‘Bad Habit’ versions, sporting Plus-size tyres, Cannondale has got all the bases covered.
Key to the new frame design is its aluminium flex-stays. Instead of having pivots at the dropouts, the seatstays are tuned to bend vertically, which allows the 120mm-travel suspension to cycle without binding.
This ‘Zero Pivot’ design also adds rigidity and saves weight. Up front, the Habit frame uses a straight oversized head tube to accommodate the 1.5in steerer of the one-legged Lefty fork.
Cannondale is well known for impressive aluminium frame detailing, and an ultra-tidy flat brake mount and rotating mech hanger (that makes removing the rear wheel a doddle) help the Habit stand out in this regard.
The expanding collet-style pivot hardware is clever too, since the suspension thru-axles essentially fix structurally to the frame to better resist twisting, improving both stiffness and bearing life.
Subtle frame details are easy to overlook, but you can’t ignore the bold Lefty 2.0 fork. Internally, the latest generation has updated Trail+ damping (tuned in-house by the man that brought us the RockShox Pike) and revised controls, including a lock-out button for climbing.
This Lefty uses a single 44mm upper leg and 32mm slider, and requires a dedicated hub. Don’t be fooled by its unique design and its leftfield appearance though; it simply floats over chatter and is by far the stiffest and most precise-steering fork in this test.
With just a rebound dial and lock-out lever, RockShox’s Monarch rear shock is nothing like as complex as the fork. Yet it’s just as well tuned to the bike, with a broad, usable, range of damping adjustment as well as being easy to set up.
A trail bike is only as fast as its wheels, and with Stan’s Rapid 28 hoops, shod with Schwalbe’s harder Pacestar compound tyres, the Habit rolls effortlessly and feels snappy. If the terrain is greasy, however, the entry-level rubber makes controlling speed and direction pretty sketchy.
Adding our Maxxis control tyres allowed us to push the Habit so much harder. We also weighed all of the wheels, while swapping the tyres, and the Habit’s were the lightest.
Cannondale has decked out the Habit with sensible kit, even if it’s not as swanky as some rivals. The 760mm bar is a great shape for a trail bike, and paired with a relatively short 60mm stem, the fit on the Habit felt spot-on.
Powering around trail-centre singletrack, the Habit rewards with a tightness and pace that punches well above its price-point. Climbing or accelerating, the stiff alloy chassis converts pedal power ruthlessly, and there’s none of the un-damped twang exhibited by some flex-stay bikes. Suspension grip and rider balance is great too.
The Habit is one of the first 27.5in bikes we’ve tested against 29ers that felt just as fast overall. It also has the extra manoeuvrability and acceleration of the smaller wheels. In fact, on some sections of red-graded trail it’s so quick and accurate you could easily mistake it for a carbon superbike costing twice the price.
Sure, if you fixate on the single fork leg it becomes obvious that all of its weight is lopsided. Open up the throttle, however, and the steering response and precision is amazing thanks to the increased stiffness of the design, while the Lefty’s damping control blows the other forks here clean out of the water.
As a trail bike, Cannondale’s new Habit 4 perfectly straddles the divide between XC speed and all-day capability. It’s got everything you need from a sorted 120mm bike; it carves singletrack beautifully and even the most experienced riders will find it solid enough to hammer on. The icing on the cake is the superb Lefty 2.0 fork. Not only does it bring precision and control that the others here can’t match, the damping is superior too. In fact, the only criticism we can levy at the Habit 4 is that the drivetrain quality has taken a hit to make way for the superior fork. As compromises go, however, it’s a good one.