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.