Gravel grinder bikes have been gaining popularity in recent years and have been credited with making biking fun again for many who had lost interest. These bikes are essentially beefed up road bikes with sturdy, shock mitigating frames and wider, knobby tires.
Hybrid or “all road” bikes like the Cannondale Topstone 105 are great for riding on dirt roads, smooth single track and a surprising variety of non-paved surfaces. They are also popular as touring bikes because they create efficiency mountain bikes don’t have, but bring toughness road bikes don’t have, as well as plenty of mounting options for hauling gear.
At Ruin Your Knees, we’ve wanted to spend more time on two wheels and reviewing some of the best mountain, road, and hybrid bikes on the market. So we were delighted to pick up the Topstone 105 for some testing.
Where We Tested The Cannondale Topstone
We tested the Topstones for hundreds of miles across a full spectrum of surfaces and conditions. Hanna and I have enjoyed leisurely city tours on paved and gravel trails with stops for lunch mid-ride (highly recommend). I’ve also taken the bike on more intense rides up to 50 miles, gaining thousands of feet and encountering rough surfaces, mud, and even snow.
Cannondale Topstone 105 Features
Ruin Your Knees grabbed two late 2019 Topstone 105 models: a size small frame women’s Cannondale Topstone Disc SE 105 Bike for Hanna (5’4″) as well as a men’s XL frame for me (6’7″). Let’s look at some of the features.
A Mid-Range Price Point
Gravel grinder bikes vary wildly in price. Entry level gravel bikes tend to be under $1,000 (USD) and there are a bunch of premium bikes above $3,500 ranging up towards an astronomical $10K with a sort of no man’s land in-between (generalizing).
The general consensus I found when researching indicated the Topstone model allows premium-like specs for a price around $1500. All bikes seem expensive to a person like myself whose equipment typically consists of a pair of trail-running shoes, but the Topstone is regarded as great value for the price.
Topstone 105 Frame
Gravel grinder bike frames seem to come in steel on the low-end and carbon on the high-end. While many people swear by steel for it’s dampening effects for vibrations and general feel, it’s typically heavy with carbon bikes being incredibly light and expensive.
The Topstone 105 strikes a great balance: providing a carbon fork alongside an aluminum frame they refer to as C2 SmartFormed Alloy. Aluminum is lighter than steel, but cheaper than carbon, allowing Cannondale to pack better components on for the pricepoint versus an all carbon bike.
In testing, we’ve found nothing to complain about on the Topstone 105 frame: it rocks! The frame feels light, sturdy and smooth on paved as well as gravel surfaces.
Another nice feature on the frame is internal cable routing and the ability to add a dropper post if desired.
Topstone 105 Gearing and Shifting
When I was a kid, having a 21-speed bike was the holy grail. The Topstone has a whopping 22 gears, with 2 up front and 11 in the back.
For most conditions, the gearing setup does great. Here in Colorado, our uphills and downhills tend to be monstrous. On steep climbs I’ve found myself wishing for a bit more of a granny gear and on steep descents I’ve found myself “spinning out” and wanting another gear or two.
This is probably splitting hairs, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you are planning on long, steep climbs or all out descents.
Overall, the gearing has been up to every challenge and the real weakness is probably my weak legs. I have seen others online purchase the Topstone and then swap out some components such as the gearing.
Having more experience on mountain bikes with rapid fire shifters, the shifting on the Topstone was a new experience. The shifting system operates right next to the brakes. Pushing the brake in one direction will shift, and clicking a lever aligned next to each brake will shift in the opposite direction.
Brakes and Tires
The Topstone comes with hydraulic disc brakes and 40mm wide, tubeless-ready tires. Hydraulic brakes have great stopping power, I’ve enjoyed their trustworthy performance.
The WTB Nano TCS, 700 x 40c tires have a great look with the gum sidewall and have performed flawlessly on all surfaces we tested on. The width and knobby tread strike a good balance between road and trail riding. I’ve felt much more confident on high speed road descents than I would on a real road bike with narrow tires. The tires do a nice job of keeping traction on fast gravel descents and turns.
My personal interest in gravel bikes was twofold. First, I wanted to find an outdoor activity Hanna and I could do together. Second, I was looking for a bike capable of endurance style riding across a wide range of surfaces including mounts for bikepacking.
Topstone 105 Pros
- Light, sturdy frame
- Relatively affordable pricepoint compared to comparable bikes
- Good versatility
- Ability to mount gear for long or multi-day adventures
- The gearing feels like it could use a little more range
- For truly rough surfaces, having no shock absorption seems like a con, but the bike performs wonderfully on normal gravel so I may just be riding unintended surfaces. But this suspicion is confirmed on 2020 models which add an ingenious rear suspension.
The Topstone is a good balance of quality components versus cost considerations. For long days of touring, or fun cruises around town we can recommend the bike.