Review: Cannondale Trigger 29er – A Fast Adjustable Travel All Mountain Bruiser
Unveiled last August, the Trigger 29er ushered in the era of long travel Lefty forks and DYAD dual travel rear shock for big wheels. Despite several trips with the Cannondale crew in the ensuing year, it wasn’t until late this summer that we actually got some time on the bike, though. And, travel schedules being what they were, our visits were mostly limited to local XC trails. But we made the most of it to get some time on the bike, and despite it’s “Over Mountain” billing, it does just fine on smoother, pedally trails while holding enough travel in reserve to make a trip to the mountains a joyous occasion.
With 130mm max travel and 80mm when set to in short travel mode, the bike does indeed have two personalities. Thanks to clever design, the geometry changes slightly to fit the travel setting, so it feels right regardless of how you’re riding it. Even though it’s a big bike (especially the XL we tested!), it’s plenty fast and plenty nimble, and quite honestly we liked it around our local trails more than we thought we would. Once we got it set up right, that is…
TECH DETAILS & ACTUAL WEIGHT
We’ve covered the suspension technology in depth when it launched on the 26″ Trigger in June 2012, check that post for the real nitty gritty.
The gist of it is a twin chamber pull shock that uses separate compression and rebound damping circuits for both short and long travel settings. This lets them tune the bike for each setting and maximize performance all around rather than just limit travel or firm things up too much in a “climb” mode.
The big wheels and closely spaced chain and seat stays make the bike look loooooong. Big thru axles at all of the main pivots keep things stiff, though I could sense a bit of squirm at the rear end under hard cornering. Not too bad, but faintly present. Some of that could have been the tires, which were absolute overkill for our groomed trails. It didn’t really detract from the ride.
If the shock looks bulky, that’s because it is. But it works. Really, really well. The rebound knobs make a noticeable difference. I mainly played with the short travel (right) knob since we didn’t get this thing on any really gnarly descents, but even a couple clicks made a difference in how the bike felt. I ended up about two clicks faster from the middle setting and it kept the bike lively without being bouncy. Cannondale provides a recommendation chart listing air pressures for positive and negative based on body weight and initial rebound settings. The chart seemed spot on for air pressure, and pretty close for rebound. As with anything, tune it to suit your tastes.
It’d be nice if they printed the air settings on the shock.
The rear shock is controlled by a thumb lever. Push it forward like this and it’s in short travel mode. Nudge the silver button on the end of the lever to release it into long travel mode. It’s a good design because it’s easy to just rock your hand over and hit the button if you get into some rough stuff a little too quickly and don’t wanna compromise your grip.
The Lefty SuperMax stays at 130mm travel, and that’s fine. It never felt too soft or too firm. It was just right, and for anyone that’s not ridden a Lefty yet, yes, it is laterally and rotationally stiff. And the new version, which is detailed here (updated tech) and here (Super Max particulars), rides phenomenally well. This one’s my second ride on the latest fork, the other was on a Scalpel 29er, and the suspension action is smooth and well damped.
The red button is your rebound control and doubles as a lockout button. Push it down to lock the fork, and hit the blue button to release it. Air is pumped in from the bottom.
The lower stanchion is now round, one of the major changes to the Lefty from last year, and is protected by a leg shield. Tire and flat changes can be done without front wheel removal. For more serious repairs, the brake mount bolts can be loosened to release the entire mount assembly, keeping your calipers set up properly.
While almost everything about the bike seems overbuilt, the leg shield is the anomaly. The plastic is a bit flimsy, which is fine, but the cable guide mount is secured from the inside with two tiny screws. As in, only a hair bigger than those holding the cover on the bottom of my Macbook Pro. They thread into metal inserts on the back of the clip, and both of them broke as I was boxing up the bike to return it. So, they didn’t break on the trail, but it took virtually no effort for them to snap when I was inspecting the shield. The bolts closing it down around the cable are larger, so it seems like they could simply combine the two and mold the inner half of the guide onto the shield. As is, this clamp is trashed because half of the tiny bolts are stuck inside the threads. (Sorry, Billy!)
Actual weight for the complete bike, size XL with alloy frame was 30.8lbs (13.97kg). This is with tubes in the tires, so you could drop half a pound of rotating mass pretty quickly and easily since it’s spec’d with Stan’s Crest wheels. But for those looking to build something lighter, that’s one of the few options without breaking the bank or compromising the functionality of the bike. A carbon handlebar could be subbed in, and a 1×11 group upgrade would be fun, but beyond that there aren’t many ways to make this bike lighter. The rest of the build is XT shifters, brakes and rear derailleur, SRAM 2×10 crankset and front derailleur, FSA handlebar, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires, and X-Fusion dropper post w/ remote.
Fortunately, it’s not that bad. It didn’t feel like an almost-31-pound bike on the trail. And there’s always the new carbon Trigger 29ers for those that want the lightest. They drop a bit more than a pound in frame weight, and for 2014 will be your only options to get the Lefty SuperMax. The alloy Trigger 29ers will only be offered with standard forks next year.
The first thing to mention is that proper suspension set up is key. My first ride was simply a pull it out of the box, eyeball the sag and hit the trail. That ride kinda sucked. The bike just didn’t feel right.
After consulting the air pressure chart and getting it dialed, it was pretty stellar. Much like the Scalpel 29er, this bike will hustle when driven, standing or seated, and the damping settings do a pretty darn good job of balancing the varied hits they’re meant to take. Yes, the fork will bob a bit when you’re standing and cranking it, but under most riding conditions it’s very well mannered. So, also much like the Scalpel, there’s really no need for the lockout.
Fortunately we have a few technical trail features to play on, and a number of jumps and high speed berms. The exit of this log (above image) is a slanted, two-foot drop that starts when the log erodes beyond rideable. Good fun, and the entry is a rounded rock that drops you onto a sharp bump. It’s easy to get jostled coming onto and off of it, but the Trigger made it a cake walk. It also displayed excellent stability and balance.
When it was time to drop off this or any other obstacle, take a hard landing or just pummel into carpet of roots, the long travel suspension soaked it right up.
When things were flatter or faster, or if I had to climb or hammer, the short travel mode firmed things up and made it feel just like a 100mm race bike. A full suspension race bike. And the low top tube makes it look fast, too, so lycra doesn’t seem totally out of place while piloting this 130mm travel crusher.
I was pretty bummed not to be able to get to some bigger trails while we had the bike. It’s like having a Jeep and not really getting to go off road…sure, it does pretty good on the easy stuff, but you just know it’s capable of so much more. Personally, I’m a 29er kinda guy. I’ve ridden the Jekyll (26″) quite a bit, including some fast and nasty enduro sections in Italy. It shares the dual travel suspension design, and it’s plenty capable of bombing downhill, but the climbing performance and overall hammering felt much better on the Trigger 29er. I suspect the big wheels would more than make up for the slight decrease in travel…my money would be on the Trigger 29 to post better enduro times than the current Jekyll.
So, summary time: The Trigger 29er is a fast bike that’s extremely capable and rock solid. The dual travel suspension works as advertised, feels great and essentially delivers two bikes for the price of one. Definitely worth a test ride.