One Fast Mountain Bike: Cannondale F29 Black Inc.

Stitch together dirt roads, pavement, and smooth singletrack for some #epicrides with the Cannondale F29 Black Inc.

I previously reviewed the Cannondale SuperX cyclocross bike and noted it was a potential category killer. Which is to say it excels at commuting, road riding, and dirt. In fact, the latter is its one weakness. Yes, it can handle dirt roads. But anything close to rocky or steep terrain has you longing for some mountain bike handlebars and suspension. Enter Cannondale's corresponding 29-inch hardtail, the F29.

Built primarily for racing, this bike is feather-light at 18 pounds. Yes, that's what high-end road bikes weighed only a few years ago. This is accomplished through a carbon fiber frame, Shimano's top-of-the-line drivetrain and brakes (XTR), and super-sexy carbon wheels from ENVE. The spare-no-expense Black Inc. retails for a post-IPO-like price tag of more than $11,000. But you can get in at more of a Series-A level with the F-SI Carbon 2 for less than $5,000 (still not cheap, of course). But, again, this is a potential category killer for those who index toward dirt.

When you're riding on 29-inch wheels, which are much more road-like than a traditional 26-inch mountain bike wheel, it opens up a lot of riding potential. Given a moderately treaded tire, you can stitch together some epic rides that combine long sections of both paved and dirt roads with some mellow singletrack woven in for good measure. I did one of these on the F29 in the Topanga Canyon area back in June, covering about 30 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing. All told, I logged close to 200 miles in testing the F29.

I made a few tweaks to the bike's spec to suit my style of riding. I added a quick-release for the seatpost, which gives the ability to drop the saddle slightly for descents. I also swapped out the stock tires for a more aggressive tread to handle the loose, fire-road conditions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Both of these added a lot of confidence on the descents. If I were to own this bike, I'd get a second set of wheels with slick tires for commuting, ripping around town, and the occasional road loop.

If I were pressed to complain about anything, it would be the front suspension. Cannondale's proprietary "Lefty" fork gives you 100mm of ultra-smooth travel with the ability to lock it out for climbs, and it's very light. But it's not cross-compatible with any other front-suspension design. The hub and, therefore, the front wheel only works on this fork. This limits your wheel, fork, and even car rack options. All-in-all, it's a minor tradeoff for a bike that will crush all of your climbing records while still feeling confident bombing dirt-road descents.

Note: I reviewed the 2014 F29. This has been updated for 2015 and is now the F-SI Carbon Black Inc. The major difference is Shimano's new electric XTR Di2 drivetrain.