Cannondale has slashed the price of the Habit 4 to £1,785, which means you can slash more turns without breaking the bank.
When looking for one of the best full-suspension trail bikes around two grand, the ride quality, geometry and suspension ought to be at a level where an advanced rider can ride relatively fast without ever feeling held back. What’s more, any bike at this price point should also offer balanced handling and plenty of grip to encourage an improving rider to build skills, fitness and confidence.
Cannondale’s Habit 4: Need to know
- Cannondale’s aluminium trail bike with 29in wheels and 130mm rear travel
- Updated geometry brings longer reach numbers and steeper seat tube angles
- RockShox Super Deluxe shock is perfectly tuned to the frame
- Three rear centre measurements for improved weight distribution
- RockShox Recon RL fork has 140mm travel
- Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain
- XS size rolls on smaller 27.5in wheels
Cannondale’s aluminium Habit 4 does both. The clean, smooth-lined frame design delivers 130mm travel and it is packaged with a 140mm fork. It’s RockShox suspension at both ends too, and air-sprung, so it can be tuned to any rider weight. The Habit 4 ticks other key boxes too, its non-nonsense specification includes powerful 4-piston brakes, an adjustable dropper post and Maxxis tyres. Taken together it’s easily one of the best proper mountain bikes for under £2K.
The Habit has been Cannondale’s go-to trail bike for multiple seasons, but also the choice for the 50:01 riders like ex-DH champion Josh Bryceland. Yes, that’s right, Bryceland was a pinner before switching to jibbing and jumping about on the socials. And this could be part of the reason why the Habit’s numbers have been refreshed for extra DH capability, the geometry and attitude leaning a bit more towards messing about in the woods than a ruthlessly efficient XC bike with more travel. The new Habit shape means it’s more versatile, but with 130mm travel, still perfectly happy crushing longer rides and bridleways. And, at 15.2kg (33.5lb), it’s not too heavy to limit its climbing potential.
If you want more travel, Cannondale also offers an LT version, which, yep, you guessed it, ups travel to 140mm rear and 150mm front, using the same frame and a longer stroke rear shock. All Habit frames (in carbon or alloy) now benefit from a much steeper seat tube angle that’s also shorter in length for more rider standover clearance while improving the seated riding position for climbing.
Frame and geometry
With the 50:01 boys and US shredder Mitch Ropelato ragging the Habit, Cannondale needed to deliver a robust frame that’s easy to live with. As such, the Habit 4’s alloy SmartWeld construction is very clean and tidy, with great lines and I reckon great looks too in this stealthy gloss black colourway. With a familiar shape to bikes like the Specialized Stumpy Evo, the in-line shock is held in an extender yoke that is driven by the upper suspension rocker and connected to a mount on the top of the downtube. The seat tube has a distinct kink above the threaded BB shell, so there’s still room for a full-size water bottle underneath.
In the past, Cannondale has used some quirky proprietary features and fixings, including offset rear ends that could cause maintenance headaches. That’s not the case here as this frame is straight up simple. There’s no geometry adjustment, but there are five frame sizes with three different shock tunes to ensure riders of all shapes get good performance, support and traction.
Continuing this size-specific theme, the two smaller and two larger frames have proportional chainstay lengths to ensure rider balance remains in the desired ballpark. With a 445mm chainstay length on the size L, the rear ends are slightly longer than many trail bikes of equivalent travel, but thanks to the reach growing by around 20mm in each size, the bikes still feel really well balanced.
The hydroformed frame used a classic four-bar suspension design to deliver its 130mm travel. The ‘main’ pivot is close to the top of the front chainring, the Horst link in front of the rear axle and then the two final pivots are at each end of the rocker link. Four bars, four pivots. This configuration affords the engineers more scope to tune the leverage rate acting on the damper, the arc of the rear wheel through the travel and forces associated with braking and acceleration.
How well this delicate balance is addressed has a big impact on ride quality, and Cannondale has done a great job here. In particular, the RockShox Super Deluxe damping tune is superb, with good initial sensitivity and then smooth continuous support. There’s no sense of any harsh ramp up or of different levels of resistance at different points of the travel, which can make a bike feel less predictable.
Unfortunately, the RockShox Recon RL fork doesn’t offer the same level of finesse and support. The skinny 32mm chassis twists a bit and seems to bind causing extra friction if you’re riding really hard. It feels less composed too, where rider weight is supported more by the air spring, rather than being controlled by the hydraulic damping. A further niggle is it’s harder to accurately tune rebound as the Recon’s lower leg adjuster is clunky and imprecise.
For this much cash, you can’t expect top-tier gear and are relying on the brand to make the best kit compromises for function and durability. With the exception of the RockShox Recon fork (some other bikes in this category get superior Fox Rhythm forks) Cannondale’s kit list is well optimised and essentials like grips, saddle and handlebar shape are all comfy and neutral.
One thing I noticed immediately is the Habit rolls really fast, likely down to a combo of Maxxis Rekon tyres using the most basic casing and construction. With a thin casing and no multi-compound rubber, they turnover rapidly and can still hold a line over roots and greasy rocks, but are less capable in slimy/thicker mud and lack edge grip in the wet. Still, tyres are always a relatively easy upgrade if you reckon you’re the kind of rider needing more bite.
Using skinny 25mm WTB rims might be a gamble if you often roll the dice to flat landings like the 50:01 lads, but a side benefit of the narrower rims is increased trail pace. This, combined with the cup and cone Shimano hubs, makes for a rapid ride, although you need to keep a keen eye on cone tightness and hub maintenance as you can’t simply drop in new cartridge bearings if you run them into the ground.
Check on Cannondale website and the Habit 4 is supposed to come with budget Shimano brakes, but it gets SRAM’s DB8s instead. I had zero complaints about a swap to these powerful new stoppers as they have a nice lever action and, in theory, should stay that way for longer as they use mineral oil instead of the DOT fluid found inside SRAM’s Code brakes.
The build kit isn’t perfect though. The cheap KMC chain running on the Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain, may save a few quid, but the chain is noticeably less smooth pedalling and it doesn’t help that it rattles a bit against the inside of the rear stays, even with the chunky chainstay protector.
From the off, Cannondale’s Habit 4 is easy to adapt to. You have to get the suspension sag in the ballpark though as this balances rider weight between the wheels in a sweet spot to steer and handle in such a way you’re ripping trails straight away. The rear suspension is really active, soaking up small bumps and roots for a really floaty feel, but without ever smashing through the travel or bottoming out hard. Also the bike is really stable, so it does not pitch your weight back and forward like some other (overly-active) cheaper bikes can. Sorted smoothness over the ground also seems to be accentuated by a nicely damped chassis feel that adds extra calmness and grip to the package.
Given that the (445mm) chainstays are marginally longer than many equivalent travel trail bikes I was worried that this might shift too much of my weight forward onto my hands and load the front tyre more than needed. This effect doesn’t really materialise though, and it’s actually a cinch to manual the Cannondale or lift the front tyre over smaller trail obstacles, carve and cut turns and jump and land safely on the back tyre. Pretty much the only time I noticed the slightly longer stays then was tipping off super-steep, near vertical drops on DH tracks where the Cannondale isn’t exactly supposed to target anyway.
A major gripe with the older Habit was the slack seat angle. This new model has been steepened up and puts the rider in a much better position for pedalling and climbing, with hips more over the bottom bracket. It is a big improvement. The bike climbs easier than its 15kg+ payload suggests, with power delivered relatively evenly. In fact, there’s not too much bob or shock movement pedalling uphill until you get right at the top of the cassette.
In the easiest gears, some rival bikes with even steeper seat angles perch you in a marginally more forward stance for the toughest climbs, and deliver power more smoothly when you’re really giving it loads of stomp. It makes sense though how the Habit’s seated position isn’t quite as vertical and therefore more optimised to undulating forest loops with lots of seated pedalling, rather than grinding up steep tracks in a winch-and-plumet enduro style.
Even the RockShox fork binding a bit, not being the supplest off-the-top, or holding you up enough when really charging can’t ruin the Habit’s basic sense of having your back when pointed downhill. Rear suspension tracking over rough terrain is excellent with minimal hang up on square edges and you always seem to instinctively know where you are on the bike to predict what it’s going to do at all lean angles and trail angles.
Sure, the 65.5º head angle isn’t crazy slack for a trail bike, but the handling never feels hectic, and there’s a sense of arcing through flat corners, rather than any overly reactive steering demanding micro-corrections mid-turn. The Habit is also really lively whenever you send it; it generates tons of boost off lips if you load the back end and it absorbs hard landings smoothly and quietly.
Another really fun attribute is how well it slinks down tighter descents, where you need frequent braking to control the bike. I found myself bouncing in and out of linked turns in miniature bobsleigh sections, just as fast as on the Specialized Stumpy Evo which is double the cash.
Cannondale has just slashed the price of the Habit 4 to under £1,800, which makes it incredible value. As a pure trail bike, it nails the fundamentals of geometry, suspension and efficiency and has an engaging, responsive ride quality that feels anything but budget. So if you’re looking to play in the woods and pretend you’re in a 50:01 shreddit, the Habit 4 can easily handle it. You can chuck it about and it calmly absorbs bumps and chatter even on the rougher trails. And while the Habit 4 is less efficient than some trail bikes when it comes to the very steepest climbs, it will still get you to the goods with minimal fuss. Sure, you’ll probably end up swapping a couple of bits of kit as your riding progresses, but out of the box the active suspension delivers tons of grip, and the Habit 4 is so well balanced in terms of handling that it will save your bacon if you overcook it on tougher downhill terrain.