An Expert Guide to Cannondale's Mountain Bikes

Published on 05/12/2023 · 10 min readLearn more about Cannondale mountain bikes and their specific features, and dive into recommendations for some of their most popular models.
By Cycling Expert Adam L.

Photo by Cannondale

Tl;dr: Cannondale makes mountain bikes for every rider, from beginners just starting out on green trails to World Cup racers. Despite its size and lineup—a variety of models for different styles of mountain biking at various price points—the American brand maintains a spirit of innovation and forward-thinking.

I’ve been riding bikes for as long as I can remember. While I’m happy to ride just about anything, it’s hard to beat the joy of mountain biking. Especially on modern bikes and new-school flow trails, the joy of riding your bike in the woods is second to none. As a Cycling Expert at Curated for the past three years, I’ve connected hundreds of riders with the perfect bike and accessories. One of my favorite brands to work with and recommend is the American manufacturer Cannondale.

Cannondale isn’t a small company, but it occupies a nice sweet spot where the brand is more fun and lighter-hearted than some larger American manufacturers. It doesn’t have the most extensive mountain bike lineup but makes fun, race, and innovative bikes.

Who Is Cannondale?

If you’ve seen my guide to Cannondale Road Bikes, this might be old news, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick background on Cannondale. The brand is based in Connecticut, where it was founded in 1971. Despite being one of the larger American bike brands today, Cannondale maintains the irreverence and ingenuity that’s been a brand staple since its inception. The company manufactures a full suite of road, mountain, gravel, and fitness bikes that are distributed worldwide.

Plenty of mountain biking innovations—from the strange-looking Headshok to today’s Lefty fork—have come from the mad scientists at Cannondale. Today, its mountain bikes are proven at the highest level by professional mountain bikers like Austrian sensation Moana Mitterwalter and, just as importantly, by the many happy amateur riders on Cannondale frames. Other innovations include FlexPivot suspension and the RideCannondale sensor which is used to record rides in conjunction with a smartphone and schedule maintenance.

This guide will walk you through some basics of Cannondale mountain bikes, dive a little deeper into some Cannondale-specific features, and provide examples of customers choosing their own Cannondale mountain bikes. Ready? Let’s go!

What to Consider When Buying a Cannondale Mountain Bike

The Scalpel XC bike is raced at the highest international level. Photo by Cannondale

  • Where will I be riding?
  • What’s my riding style?
  • What features do I know I need?
  • How much do I want to spend?

Where Will I Be Riding?

Finding the ideal mountain bike starts with considering your local terrain. Next, you’ll want to think about the characteristics of the trails you ride most frequently or want to ride. If you’re already riding, you probably have a good sense of the trails, but if you’re new to the sport, you might ask for local knowledge. You can also consider any frequent riding trips or other trail systems you know you’ll ride often.

A few common considerations include the following:

  • Climbing: Are your trails flat, or is there significant elevation gain/loss on each ride?
  • Tech: How “techy” (technical) are the local trails? Are there lots of roots and rocks?
  • Flow: Are the trails well-built and the dirt buffed out? These trails require less suspension travel than rougher trails.
  • Trail features: Do you have serious jumps/drops nearby? Are you going to be taking the bike on serious features or to the bike park?

What’s My Riding Style?

Different riders have different preferences. Take a second to think about your favorite parts of each ride, as what you enjoy most will also steer your new bike purchase. For example, a shorter-travel bike is a good choice if you love riding fast uphill and on fire roads but prefer to take it slow on downhills. On the contrary, if you’re in no rush to climb but live for technical descents, a heavier longer-travel bike is the way to go!

What Features Do I Know I Want or Need?

If you’re a current owner or have been researching, there might be certain features you’re already certain you want your new bike to have.

Some common features to consider in Cannondale mountain bikes include:

  • Aluminum or carbon frame: Aluminum alloy frames are more durable, heavier, and cheaper. Carbon frames are lighter, reduce trail vibrations, and are more expensive and fragile.
  • Hardtail or full suspension: Hardtail bikes do not have rear suspension. They’re lighter and cheaper but less capable in rough and rowdy terrain.
  • Amount of suspension travel: Cannondale offers bikes with suspension travel ranging from 100mm to 175mm. Knowing how much travel you want can simplify choosing a new ride.
  • Components: Do you have a preference between suspension manufacturers Fox and RockShox? How about between drivetrain behemoths Sram and Shimano? Most Cannondale models are available with various components. Or choose a frame-up build for total customization.

How Much Should a Cannondale Mountain Bike Cost?

The Cannondale Habit thrives in all trail conditions and looks good doing it! Photo by Cannondale

Cannondale mountain bikes are available at a price point for every rider. Here’s an overview of how much you can expect to pay:

  • Entry-level ($700-$2,000): These bikes are great for beginning or price-conscious riders. They’ll mostly be hardtail suspension with aluminum frames. You can expect 2x and 1x shifters on these bikes.
  • Mid-level ($2,500-$4,500): In this price range, you’ll get into quality full-suspension bikes and race-level hardtails. Bikes in the upper end will have carbon fiber framesets. These bikes are a good choice for intermediate to advanced riders who want high quality at a reasonable price.
  • Top-end ($5,000+): You’re getting top-end components in this range. You can expect carbon frames and possibly electronic shifting and carbon wheelsets.

What Are the Different Types of Cannondale Mountain Bikes?


These are the basic or entry-level models in the lineup. They’re good for a first mountain bike or for a bike for riding mixed terrain—think dirt, grass, bike paths, trails, and some pavement. Benefits:

  • A great way to get out onto milder trails.
  • Hardtail design is simple to maintain and use.

Be Aware:

  • Not as capable off-road as more expensive bikes.
  • Components will not be the most robust; they are designed more for light use.


Cross-country or “XC” bikes were originally designed for cross-country racing, incorporating steep climbs, technical descents, and high-speed riding. However, as bikes have become more capable, their use has widened to include some trail-style riding. Benefits:

  • Lightweight, responsive, and fast on flats and climbs.
  • Dropper posts allow for more control and capability on descents.

Be Aware:

  • Not as capable on super technical trails.
  • Geometry can be a bit more aggressive than trail bikes.


Trail is the broadest bike category that most riders fit into. It covers almost anything you’ll find on a typical trail ride, with bikes that balance speed, efficiency, and technical capability. Benefits:

  • Super versatile for different types of terrain and locations.
  • More comfortable than race XC bikes without losing much of the climbing prowess.

Be Aware:

  • Not as all-out fast as an XC bike.
  • Not ideal for extreme downhill riding either.

Features to Look Out for in a Cannondale Mountain Bike

Cannondale, despite its size, continues to innovate and push unconventional designs. Some of these only last one model cycle or two, but I will highlight two design innovations that have proven themselves on the trails: the Lefty fork, first introduced over 20 years ago, and the FlexPivot suspension, only a few seasons old but has already been copied by several other manufacturers.

Lefty Fork

First released in 2000 and still going strong, the Lefty fork has one stanchion instead of the typical two. Cannondale states this design is lighter, stiffer, and easier to swap wheels on than a traditional fork. You can find Lefty forks on Cannondale’s XC race bikes and some gravel bikes.


FlexPivot carbon fiber suspension—the flex zone is the flat portion of the chainstay. Photo by Cannondale

FlexPivot was introduced to Cannondale’s mountain bike lineup with the most recent generation of the Scalpel XC bike. It replaces much of the traditional rear-suspension hardware with carbon fiber chainstays with “flex zones” tuned to work in concert with the rear shock to provide rear travel. This system is much lighter and has lower maintenance than traditional suspension designs, resulting in a fun and fast XC bike.

How to Choose the Right Cannondale Mountain Bike for You

Thanks for tagging along as we learned more about Cannondale’s mountain bike lineup. Let’s put our knowledge to use as we help out three real-life customers who are on the hunt for a new mountain bike. We’ll take a bit to get to know each rider and their needs before recommending the perfect Cannondale mountain bike for their situation.

Jason: Fitness Fan Looking to Ride Dirt

Jaxon hasn’t ridden bikes very much since he was in school but is looking for a new way to add cardio into his exercise routine. He lives in Montana and knows there are plenty of trails nearby. So far, his only experience with mountain biking is watching YouTube videos, but he’s really excited about trying out the sport. He wants a solid bike that he won’t need to upgrade immediately, can handle intermediate terrain, and would prefer to spend under $4,000. Features Jason should look for:

  • A full-suspension trail bike will be versatile and capable of beginner to intermediate riding.
  • An aluminum frame will be the budget choice, but a carbon frame would be a bit lighter.
  • Suspension travel in the 130mm to 150mm range will balance climbing and descending and not hold him back as he develops.

Bike examples: Cannondale Habit 4, Cannondale Habit Carbon 2

Linda: More Than Just a Speed Freak

Linda is a competitive road and mountain bike racer finishing grad school in Northwest Arkansas. She’s moving to New England and, as a graduation present to herself, has an eye on a new bike. She wants something fast in XC racing and fun for long rides with her friends. These longer rides include tons of climbing and can last all day. Finally, as a new grad, she’s firm on budget and needs to spend $5,000 or less. Features Linda should look for:

  • She needs a full suspension carbon frame to minimize weight for fast racing.
  • She could choose a short-travel XC bike or slightly more suspension travel for a more capable and versatile trail bike.
  • A mechanical drivetrain will provide adequate shifting performance.

Bike examples: Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE2, Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 3

Pierre: Needs a Multi-Functional Mountain Bike

Pierre has never gone mountain biking but is interested in trying out the sport. He wants to ride double and singletrack trails near his house in Central Oregon but also needs a bike for commuting. Since Pierre lives in an apartment and only has room for one bike. Given that he’ll be leaving it out all day at work and it’s his first bike, he doesn’t want to spend more than $1,000 on this bike. Features Pierre should look for:

  • An “enthusiast” category bike is a great choice for his combination of trail/commuting needs.
  • A lightweight aluminum frame will be durable and reduce the bike’s cost. Rack mounts on enthusiast frames can also be used to carry gear or groceries.
  • Front suspension will soak up off-road bumps and can be locked for paved riding.
  • Hydraulic disc brakes will provide stopping power in all conditions.

Bike examples: Cannondale Trail 5, Cannondale Trail 6

The Cannondale Trail 6 aluminum hardtail

Final Thoughts

Cannondale continues to deliver some of the fastest and most fun mountain bikes on the market today. With innovative features like Lefty forks, FlexPivot suspension, and a unique attitude among large manufacturers, Cannondale sets itself apart in the mountain bike space. Thanks for tagging along as we learned more about the brand and Cannondale’s mountain bike options. If you’d like to learn more, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Cycling content.

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Written by:
Adam L., Cycling Expert
Adam L.
Cycling Expert
My background is in road and offroad racing, but I'm also into bike packing and bike commuting year-round. I love helping riders of all levels find the perfect bike at the best price!.Let's talk bikes and find your next ride!
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