A lightning-fast bike and a blast to ride
The Beast of the East is almost as old as mountain biking itself. Hailing from America’s east coast, the original was very much a product of its environment; a higher bottom bracket evolved for clambering over rocks and extra tyre clearance was needed for its damp, muddy habitat.
Last year, Cannondale reintroduced the Beast of the East, boasting the ample tyre clearance, even with Plus size tyres, but completely revising the sizing and geometry. It’s now a thoroughly modern trail hardtail, the frame retaining some of Cannondale’s signature features, like the double-pass smooth welds and oversized 1.5in head tube.
Getting Plus size tyres to fit while still leaving ample clearance between the stays, and room for a front derailleur, isn’t an easy task, especially if you want to maintain relatively short chainstays. Boost 148mm hub spacing gives frame designers more wiggle room, but Cannondale has taken a different approach with its Asymmetric Integration, or Ai for short.
By offsetting the entire drivetrain by 6mm to the right, including the rear hub, Cannondale creates the space it needs with the current 142x12mm dropout spacing. Obviously, the rear wheel has to be dished back 6mm to the left, so it lines up with the front end, an added bonus being that it produces a stronger rear wheel.
At first glance, the SR Suntour Raidon fork on the Cannondale looks just like the one on the Specialized. They both have 120mm travel, both are air sprung, and both have Suntour’s clever 15mm Q-Loc quick-release axle. In fact, the only obvious difference is that Cannondale has opted for a handlebar mounted remote lockout. There’s a world of difference in the ride quality though.
The fork on the Cannondale does a much better job of isolating the rider from impacts, improving both comfort and control. A quick sweep through the full range of rebound adjustment indicates that there are indeed different internals, as the Cannondale’s fork has a much greater range of adjustment, which also means it will accommodate a wider range of rider weights.
The Cannondale gets a 10-speed drivetrain with an 11-40t cassette and 30t chainring to provide a comprehensive spread of gears. It’s pretty much the same set-up as the Specialized, and while it’s not quite as good as the 11-speed SLX drivetrain on the Marin, it’s somewhat academic, as you don’t notice any difference out on the trail.
What you do notice, however, is how noisy the Cannondale is; the chain whipping the chainstay on all but the smoothest trails, with deep scars in the aluminium to prove it. Some sort of rubberised defender is needed to protect the frame and your ears.
Another key component that’s missing is a seatpost quick-release. This sounds trivial but it’s a total pain in the ass getting a multi-tool out of your hydration pack every time you want to raise or lower the saddle. It also assumes that you actually have a pack and multi-tool to hand.
Plus size tyres have come on in leaps and bounds in the last 12 months, so while the 2.8in Trail Blazers were a good stepping-stone to higher volume rubber, we’d prefer Cannondale to fit something more aggressive, like the WTB Ranger.
With a generous cockpit and ample reach we instantly hit it off with the Beast of the East 3. It’s not quite as slack or as poised as the Scott Scale on the steep stuff, but get on the gas and Cannondale responds with keen acceleration. Sure, it offers a slightly harsher ride than the Scott, but the superior adjustability and performance of the air sprung Suntour Raidon fork goes a long way to compensate for any loss in comfort in the frame. The 1x drivetrain is a bonus too.
Could the ride quality of the Cannondale be improved further? Yes, we’d like a slacker head angle for improved steering stability, and with the 1.5in head tube, that’s relatively easy to achieve by fitting an angled headset.
The Beast of the East 3 is a lightning-fast bike and a blast to ride. This beast won’t be sneaking up on anyone in the woods though, as the chain sounds like it’s tapping out a distress signal in Morse code on the chainstay. Annoying as that is, it’s not enough to detract from an otherwise great bike. With an air-sprung fork, 1x10 drivetrain and comprehensive size range, Cannondale has put together an amazing package for a penny shy of £1,200. All that’s really missing is a chainstay protector and a seatpost quick-release.