First Ride: Cannondale Jekyll - Bike Magic

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First Ride: Cannondale Jekyll

Last week Cannondale flew a bunch of journalists from around the world to Park City, near Salt Lake City in Utah to sample its latest products. And Cannondale had up its sleeve (or parked in the huge garage underneath the hotel should we say) two brand new bikes; the Jekyll you see here and an updated Scalpel, of which you can read about a bit later.

But for now, let’s focus on the Jekyll. This was a model first introduced to the Cannondale range in 2001, but disappeared from the range some years ago. Now it’s back, but takes a radical departure into new territory for the company. The new 150mm bike is intended for all-mountain riding, the kind of stuff most of us do, but that’s not enough for Cannondale, who clearly put their heads together and came up with ‘OverMountain’. Yes, really. But what they’re getting at isn’t that far off from the kind of riding many of us do and what we look for in a bike, that is one that it is a capable and efficient climber but isn’t compromised when it comes to having a hoot on the descents, with the solidity and confidence of a bigger bike.

That’s what the Jekyll sets out to achieve. Key to reaching this aim is an all-new Fox Dyad RT2 pull-shock that has been specially developed by the suspension experts in conjunction with the Cannondale designers. They’ve worked together to create a bike, enabled by the new shock, that has two opposing personalities in one bike, called ‘Elevate’ and ‘Flow’ – the first for climbing and the second for descending.

The shock works by having two separate positive air chambers and separate damping circuits for both modes. When in Elevate the bike offers just 90mm of pert travel with its own rebound and compression adjustment, and sag reduced by 40%. In the 150mm Flow setting both air chambers are utilised with a more linear spring rate that closely resembles that of a coil shock. A spool valve is activated by a handlebar lever, and switches between the two modes by closing one of the air chambers when in Elevate mode.

As well as being able to independently tailor the different modes for the different requirements of climbing and descending, the geometry is altered as well. In Elevate the head angle is 67.8° and the seat angle 73.6°, bottom bracket height is 13.8in, bit flick the lever into Flow mode and the sag is increased, with the effect of lowering the bottom bracket by 1cm, and slackening the angles by 1° – a small change on paper but one that has huge consequences on the trail, as we’ll go into later.

The suspension is based around a single pivot with the linkage controlling the shock rate, which Cannondale have tailored to be linear through the first two thirds before becoming more progressive in the final stage.

The two-bikes-in-one has been made possible with this new shock, but other benefits include the lower centre of gravity it enables. The shock has been placed as low in the frame as possible, and with a full length seat tube it is well protected from the elements. There’s only four major seals too, each of which is in permanent contact with the oil bath for continuous lubrication.

Around this shock Cannondale has designed an impressive looking frame that’s very aesthetically pleasing. ‘BallisTec’ carbon fibre has been used which is claimed to be super tough: Cannondale reckon the carbon is tough enough that if you wanted, you could whack it with a hammer and there would be no structural damage. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to test this so we’ll just take their word for it.

High-modulus fibres are then placed strategically to ensure the frame delivers the right level of stiffness, and co-moulding is used for the various aluminium parts, such as the bottom bracket shell and shock mounts. Stiffness has been ensured through the use of some serious oversizing. The downtube, for example, is one of the largest we’ve ever come across, and it supports a 1.5in headtube at one end and a BB30 bottom bracket at the other.

The split top tube and uninterrupted seat tube continue the quest for outright stiffness, along with huge chainstay and seat stays. The rocker linkage is similar massive, but a cut-out allows easy access to the shocks top-mounted adjustment dials. To allow the designers more freedom with the frame design around the bottom bracket/seat tube junction, an E-Type front derailleur mount has been used.

A benefit of the wide downtube is the rocker linkage bearings can be placed wide apart; there’s two double-clamped 15mm pivot thru-axles at either end of the linkage and a collet shim system is used at the clamps. Bearings at the dropout are double stacked and a Syntace X-12 thru-axle system is used along with a sandwich-style derailleur hanger, and the pivot is double-clamped and oversized for good measure.

As well as being light – just 2.62kg  (5.78lb) – the frame has been designed to be tough and strong enough to withstand knocks and crashes (something which I would personally test during a test ride on the bike) while ensuring it’s stiff.

While the carbon models will undoubtedly carry a hefty premium, there are three aluminium bikes to choose from. They’ve been made using SmartFormed alloy, a septuple-butted and heat-treated 6000 series tubeset – the downtube alone has seven different wall thicknesses, created by butting the tube along its length, then mechanically shaping the tube, then hydroforming it into the final shape.

For the women reading this, there will be the Scarlet, a women’s specific version which will only be available in aluminium. And for those hankering after more travel, all the development that went into the Jekyll has been used to create the Claymore, a 180mm downhill bike. It’ll be available in aluminium only and travel will adjust down to 110mm, and with two shock mount positions there’ll be more geometry adjustment available to hit that perfect setup.

First ride

The model we rode was the second rung bike, the Jekyll Hi-Mod 1. It was shod with a Fox 32 Talas RLC Fit 150mm fork, including a 15mm QR, and a mix of Shimano XT and FSA components. Bringing the bike to a speedy halt was the job of the able Avid Elixir CR Carbon brakes with 185mm rotors bolted to a Crank  Brothers wheelset (this may change on production models). Tyres were the grippy Schwalbe Nobby Nics.

Other models available include the range-topping Ultimate, for which you get SRAM XX throughout Cannondale SI Hollowgram SL cranks, RockShox Reverb seatpost, Syntace finishing parts and Avid Elixir XO brakes. The Hi-Mod 2 gets SRAM X7, Cannondale finishing parts, SunRingle wheels and an FSA Afterburner chainset.

The lightness of the bike and the clever gubbins inside the shock was immediately noticeable from the first climb, which due to the mountainous region we were staying in, went on for a good while. This offered us plenty of time to get familiar with the bike, and its dual personalities. In Elevate mode, with the geometry and suspension tightened up, climbing was a breeze, aside from the lack of oxygen to my lungs at over 2000m altitude.

Compared to other all-mountain 150mm bikes the Jekyll really does climb with the ease one would expect of a lightweight short travel XC bike. Granted, there’s no getting away from the fact you’re on a ‘big bike’, but it never felt sluggish or wandery on the steeper inclines, the front wheel never got away on the really steep trails and on the flatter stuff I could shove the bike along at a decent speed with little wasted energy.

Reach the top of the hill (or mountain, in this case) and flipping the lever sets the bike up perfectly for the ride back down. In Flow mode the bikes character changes dramatically, from that of an eager climber to one ready to get you down the hill with the biggest smile planted across your face. The suspension is impressively composed and felt bottomless, the geometry was spot on with accurate turn in and confidence inspiring steering, it made for an impressive transformation.

It really was a lot of fun. So much so that the UK journos and our host Mike Cotty just had to make use of one of the working Gondolas and repeat one section of Black graded singletrack descent, ‘Holly’s Trail’ several times. We might have been late for dinner, but it was worth it, for the fun we were having on the Jekyll.


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