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I must like harebrained ideas

Recently, PB&J posted about the new Trek 69er singlespeed with a 26” rear wheel and a 29” front wheel. Obviously not a fan of the bike, he said that Trek should “leave the hair-brained ideas” to Cannondale. He also stated that Cannondale is “world renowned for solving non-existent problems.” I don’t agree, but I can certainly see where he is coming from. Sure, Cannondale has come up with some strange ideas in the 35 years that they have been around. The first example that comes to my mind is the carbon fiber concept bike pictured here which they created in the mid nineties. Does any one else remember it? Concept bikes are designed to serve as attention getters, but I am just not sure about this one. I don’t know if the prototype was actually ridable, but it looks like a header in the making to me. Of course, this was just a blue sky concept so why criticize it, right? In production though, Cannondale also has a history of designing proprietary parts that disregard the accepted norms used in the bicycle industry. Throw the failed motorcycle line into the mix and it is pretty easy to take jabs at Cannondale. Maybe they have designed a few strange products, but I have always really liked Cannondale. I own two of their bikes (3 if you count my wife’s) and have long considered them to be an innovative company.

First, I don’t think that deviating from accepted norms is always a bad thing? That is how products evolve. I have heard some people criticize the new System Six road bike for its oversized head tube, which features a fork that tapers from 1.5 inches to 1.125 inches. They say that the size is more appropriate for a downhiller than a road bike. Keep in mind that Cannondale was one of the first companies in the mid 90s to experiment with oversized head tubes on road bikes. Most other companies hung onto the one-inch standard for road bike headsets long after Cannondale went to oversized. Some people probably criticized them at the time, but I don’t think too many people now consider the 1.125” headset standard to be a harebrained idea. The original Slice project bike was another design from Cannondale that was a bit ahead of its time. I thought that the monocoque carbon frame design, which eliminated the seatstays, looked great when I saw a prototype frame in 1995. Today, they still use the Slice name, but the bike that I remember looked more like one of the Mike Burrows designed Giants than anything that Cannondale currently makes. Alex Pong’s CNC-machined full suspension Magic Mountain bike was another prototype that I just loved when I first saw it around 1994. You may or may not have liked the bike, but you have to admit that it pushed the boundaries of design. Much like the Pong designed Magic cranks which became the CODA hollow clamshell cranks, Hollowtech (edit: I meant to say Hollowgram. Hollowtech is Shimano’s name for their hollow forged cranks) cranks, which first came out around 2001, were another innovative Cannondale product. Though they were not the first company to do so, the idea of using an oversized aluminum spindle was not yet commonplace. Lefty forks are yet another product from the design team at Cannondale that I think make a lot of sense. For many years, racing motorcycles and even airplanes have used monoblades successfully, so adapting the idea to bicycles was not a far fetched idea (Cannondale was not the first; you can see monoblade bicycles in Archibald Sharp’s book from 1896). I could go on and on about innovative products from Cannondale that I believe were ahead of their time, but you get the idea.

I admire Cannondale for their willingness to take a few risks with their product line. Sure it is easy to point to some of the company’s past failures, but it is just as easy to point to examples of them leading the industry. From a design standpoint, it would be great to create a product that is loved by everyone, but that is not always realistic. Personally, I would much rather design a product that is despised by a majority of people and absolutely loved by a passionate minority, than one that is greeted with a luke warm reception by everyone. To be a truly innovative company, you can’t cater to everyone. Instead, you have to focus on your most passionate core users. I think Cannondale does just that, so I can forgive them for the occasional “harebrained” idea.


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12 Responses

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  1. robodobo says

    You actually sound like you know what you are talking about on this one and have obviously researched this post a bit. I remember the concept bike, which used inline skate wheels in front to virtually eliminate the aerodynamic drag of the front wheel. It appeared in Mountain Bike Action, if I recall correctly. Incidently, Hollowtech is Shimano’s name, Hollowgram is Cannondale’s. Pong’s design also used oversized external bottom bracket bearings, an idea widely used today. Also, Cannondale’s first stab at oversized headsets on road bikes used 1.25″, not 1.125″ headsets. The Sub One fork as it was called was one of the first to use an aluminum steerer tube. It was not until the fairly recent CAAD 5 that the understandably gunshy Cannondale returned to oversize headsets, this time in the form of the more familiar 1 1/8 ” and integrated.
    I’l certainly give Cannondale credit for bringing some wild looking designs to market. Even if all their designs aren’t great, who wouldn’t admit that that the Super V and Raven looked straight out of the future at the time of their intoduction?

    • owen_mshengu_sharif says

      re: Pong’s Concept Bike with Inline Skates (circa: mid to late 1990′s)
      I actually spent several years perfecting (I repeat) perfecting a similarly designed bike before 1993. Where the Cannondale version proved to be unrideable – mine would have worked. Strange – but most of my drawings of that potential Concept Bike disappeared. So when the Pong/Cannondale bike showed up – with many uncorrectable flaws – I had to laugh …
      I used to be a Champion Track Cyclist (circa: 1960′s) so I knew the potential of my design.

  2. James says

    Ooops! I can’t believe that I typed Hollowtech instead of Hollowgram. Thanks for pointing that out; I’d better correct it in the post. Also, thanks for the backhanded compliment. It is good to know that, occasionally, someone thinks that I know what I am talking about. If researching a post means digging though the box of old magazines in my garage, then you are right, I did research this one. Unbelievably, I had saved that 1994 issue of Bicycling with the inline bike and other concept bikes on the cover. I couldn’t find the one with a big layout on the Pong bike. I hope I didn’t throw it away. While I was searching, I also found some other cool old bike stuff like my mid nineties Sweet Parts catalog (On the subject of cool old hollow cranks, Sweet Wings were way ahead of their time. I’ll have to post about them separately). While I was into the “old bike catalogs” box, I spent an hour or so looking at my late 80s, early 90s Bridgestone catalogs. Those were hands down the best bike catalogs ever printed.

    I just mentioned oversized in the post to keep it simple, but you are right about the old C’dale 1.25” standard. I still have a Cannondale mountain bike, currently set up as a single speed, that has an 1.25” headset with the oversized pepperoni fork. Remember those? You are right, Super V’s and Ravens were cool looking too. There are probably many others that I forgot to mention.

  3. :)ensen says

    There are very few people who even know about Sharpe’s book. They are also some of the best bike designers.

  4. bigz says

    YeopnI remember seeing this one. Definately not a bike for kerb hopping or potholes.

    Good or bad, any design that prevokes a bit of thought has to be good for the sport. Its a pity the UCI wont relax the rules. Perhaps if they did, some more radical bike design/ideas may help to bring new blood into the sport here in the UK.

    After seeing reports of Moser beating his hour record using the Obree posistion. I had a moment of madness and designed a bike with a forward rake on the seat tube. I had the framebuilder lined up plus funds but fortunately couldn’t find someone to build the handlebars(the position was eventually banned here).

    One good thing about the UK we are still allowed to race are streamlined monocoques in time trials.

  5. 54 says

    Do anyone knows what happened to Alex Pong’s creation?

    I remember being in awe of that CNC monster(anyone got pictures of the thing?)… That must of been the height of the CNC craze….would love to hear more about the guy, know if there is a interview of him somewhere in old magazine or something?

    I am a big fan of all the innovation Canondale had always pulled out in the years.

  6. Nathaniel Currier says

    http://www3.mtb-news.de/fotos/data/3399/medium/9652Pong-Bericht-Nachtrag.JPG

    Pong’s Magic Motorcycle Concept

    I think the company he ran was called Dragon Machining. Not sure what happened to the guy though

  7. Robson Corrêa de Araújo says

    belfore ,price???

  8. Anonymous says

    I have to say that I do appreciate innovation but I think it should be well planned out and tested before coming to market. The lefty fork is a prime example of cannondale not planning and or testing. Don’t get me wrong, I think that lefty forks are really tough forks but they didn’t consider the force of precession that would be created. The tendency for lefty forks to pull left isn’t so much the weight of that side of the fork but the precession of the wheel because of an unbalanced force at the axle.Precession is often poorly attributed to parts of the bike like the left hand threads on a left crank which is actually a safety check leftover from when toeclips were more common than reliable bearings. But precession in this case, with a fairly light wheel and a moderate tire like a 1.95″ folder, would make it feel like your left hand weighed 3-7 pounds heavier (depending on where you grip your bars. Anyway, somebody has to innovate, i just wish they didn’t rush everything that seems like a good idea to full production.

  9. Anonymous says

    Actually Lefty forks don’t pull left. And precession is created when you apply a force to a spinning gyro that’s off-axis. Not by an “unbalanced force at the axle”.

    That means you have to actually turn the wheel to get precession.

  10. G.S.GUCCILIFE says

    Cannondale for rollerbladers….

  11. royalfuzziness says

    It looks like a giant roller blade!



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