Words and Photography courtesy of Molly Ritterbeck
Mountain biking is hard, but it’s not necessarily hard-core.
60 percent of females surveyed feel that most women view mountain biking as too hard-core, which is holding them back from getting involved, according to the Sacred Rides’ Women of Mountain Biking survey. But despite what some women think, mountain biking doesn’t have to be intense. It can be chill, adventurous, social, or therapeutic. It can be whatever you want it to be, and on the right bike, it’s guaranteed to be a good time.
Enter: the Cannondale Habit.
The Habit is a 120-millimeter trail bike built to maximize fun. The brand’s goal was to create a bike that would fall into that sweet spot, the union area of lightweight cross-country bikes and capable all-mountain rigs.
I spent a few days testing this lively trail machine on a variety of terrain in Deer Valley, Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. I can easily and enthusiastically tell you how much fun it was to ride, but I tapped the expert, Scott Vogelmann, Senior Product Manager of Mountain Bikes at Cannondale, to help me explain why.
You know that feeling you get when you slip on a pair of jeans that seems made for your body, and you instantly think you can take over the world? That confidence-inducing, made-for-me comfort is exactly how the Habit feels.
“This is a combination of two things: the geometry and proper spec,” Volgemann says. “Anyone can put together a spec on a bike but we do proper spec—shorter stems, wider bars, more powerful brakes. Those are all things that translate really easily into tangible benefits like that comfortable feeling you felt.”
NIMBLE YET STABLE
This bike climbs well and descends well—no sacrifices in sight. Whether I was sending it down the side of a mountain, pushing it up a steep slope, or blasting through a berm, it offered low-speed agility plus high-speed stability and grips the trails, so all that’s left for you to do is play.
“To keep the stability, the short chain stays [the distance from the bottom bracket to the rear wheel] helps with the nimbleness and climbing traction,” he says. “We run a little bit longer top tube and shorter stem, combined with the relaxed head tube angle builds a lot of stability into the bike, but at the same time, not being so stable as driving a truck down the road that you can’t steer.”
I’ve tested bikes in which the front end made me feel like I was wrestling a feral jackhammer through the trails. On the Habit, I always felt in control, especially of the front end. The unique-looking, high-performance fork known as Lefty allows Cannondale to custom tune everything on the bike, including the offset. (Cannondale is the only company making their own suspension fork, which gives them precise control over the function.)
“We have a slacker head tube angle and short chain stays,” explains Vogelmann. “And with Lefty, the fork is stiffer, and we have a different offset. A typical fork has a 47-millimeter offset, but Lefty has a 50-millimeter offset. A little bit of additional offset allows us to give the rider more control while at the same time, gives you that nimbleness.”
The Habit is the kind of mountain bike that makes a beginner feel like they know what the heck they’re doing, an experienced rider feel like a pro, and a pro—well, it helps pros win championships. For proof, check out Jason Moeschler win the 2015 Downieville Classic on the Habit. It feels stiff in the right places, not sketchy, which results in an ultra confident ride.
“If you look at the front half of bike and the back half of bike, it’s a balancing act for the decisions we make on the front half and the back half,” says Vogelmann. “You’ll feel [the stability benefits] standing up going downhill. In the seated, attack position, the seat tube angle is pretty steep. That keeps you in that forward aggressive position. Designing the bike with that balance between front and back will give more confidence.”
Plus, the 27.5” wheels provide agility and traction, which gives you more incentive to simply trust the bike to do what it was made to do.
It was hard to quit the Habit (seriously, I almost didn’t give it back), but the experience of riding a $7,000 bike helped me realize why it’s truly worth investing in the best bike for you. I spent the past few months testing a bunch of bikes, but not one imprinted a lasting impression on my mind like the Habit. I find myself daydreaming about riding it again, like an addiction, and I can’t wait to take another hit.
Just because mountain biking is a challenge doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Don’t make it harder on yourself by riding the wrong bike. Jumping on a hand-me-down might seem easy, but being on the right bike is like getting on a magic carpet that opens your eyes to a whole new world of riding. Your experience will be day and night, and you’ll see that it’s okay to invest in a bike because the gains aren’t merely marginal; the benefits help create those magic moments that keep you coming back for more.
The Habit is available in 10 models (eight for men and two for women with the same geometry but different touch points). Prices range from $1,950 to $12,250. The best way to decide for yourself: Get on a few different bikes and ride them. Check in with your local Cannondale dealer for a demo in your area.