Quick on technical terrain, fun and has the most progressive geometry
The Habit Carbon also features Cannondale’s latest Proportional Response architecture, which is custom tuned suspension for different size riders.
Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 review
As the names suggests, the Habit Carbon 3 gets a composite frame but it’s only the front triangle that’s carbon, the seat stays, chain stays and shock link are all aluminium. The frame is sleek and well-made but oddly the carbon doesn’t do much for the overall bike weight – the Habit Carbon 3 is over a kilo and half (3lbs) more than the lightest bike in test; the aluminium Giant Trance.
It makes complete sense to optimise different frame sizes for different rider weights and heights and that’s what Cannondale has done with Proportional Response. Essentially what you have is different leverage rates, travel and damping settings across the various sizes and also different suspension kinematics. Taller riders get slightly more support while pedalling and climbing, and the shorter/lighter riders have more supple suspension. On the extra small size, Cannondale has also lowered the BB height and fitted 27.5in wheels, although you can still fit 27.5in Plus tyres to all the sizes, which you accommodate by flipping a chip on the seat stays.
With all of the analysis, it should come as no surprise that Cannondale has nailed the geometry on the Habit Carbon 3. The BB is pretty low and our test bike also had a relatively slack 66-degree head angle, it also has the longest wheelbase of any bike on test and the longest reach, so we were surprised that Cannondale messed up the seat tube angle. It’s simply too slack, which means you sit a bit too far back when climbing, so on really steep switchback turns, we had to hunker right down to keep the front wheel from lifting.
Traditionally the Habit had a single pivot suspension design, but the new Habit Carbon 3 uses Cannondale’s new four-bar design with a Horst link pivot on the chainstay. The 130mm rear end has good support but it felt a little sluggish. As such, we were able to run the Fox Float DPS shock wide open when climbing, only needing a click or two of rebound for descents. Which suggest that the Habit 3 could benefit from a lighter shock tune.
Cannondale has made the right call on the tyres, fitting a Maxxis Minion/High Roller combo with the softer 3C MaxxTerra compound. These are fitted to NoTubes Arch S1 rims, where the rear wheel has a custom dish to accommodate the asymmetrical rear end of the frame and improve wheel strength by balancing spoke tension. Cannondale calls this approach Asymmetric Integration or Ai for short, and the offset rear end means the chain ring has to mover further out, but since the cassette sprockets move too, the chain line is still really good. The rear hub is now 148x12mm but due to the custom dishing, you can’t just swap in a regular rear wheel.
If the Merida One-Twenty is at the XC end of the short-travel spectrum then the Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 is definitely at the opposite end. In fact, it feels a lot like the trail bikes we tested last month and actually has more rear travel than some. With progressive geometry and handling it could have easily kept pace with our Trail Bikes of the Year, and when we rode some of the same test tracks it was every but as quick. And with a longer travel fork it may even have been faster.
The Habit carbon frame has good compliance and as such the bike is agile and responsive. The out of the saddle riding position is also a really good, so you feel centred on the bike. Combined with the low BB, you can really get the Habit cranked over in corners without it running wide or doing anything unexpected. Yes, things would get a bit rowdy on the real rough stuff but the wide bar and stable suspension meant you never got bucked off line.
The Cannondale Habit Carbon 3 doesn’t feel like a short-travel bike in the same way as the Giant Trance. It’s not as efficient and doesn’t cover ground as quickly, but it feels more capable when the going gets rough. You can still do big rides on the Habit; you’ll just have more of a laugh along the way. It’s £300 cheaper than the Giant too, so the Habit Carbon 3 is great value given that you also get a carbon front end. The specification isn't as good as the Giant though, so it’s the weight and cheaper parts that splits the difference between these two great bikes.