Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Review (2019)

A versatile trail rig that excels in light snow, sloppy mud, and fine sand.

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Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Bike
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Crankset
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Front Fork
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Front Wheel
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Gears
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Grips
Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 Handlebars
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REI

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 Summary

  • The Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 is a versatile trail slaying machine that’s fully prepared to take on light snow, sloppy mud, and fine sand.
  • The fork is a highlight of the bike, both in performance and distinguishability. Its quirky appearance takes nothing away from the fact that it’s a very capable fork.
  • The fork, tires, and cog set all contribute greatly to the greatest weakness of the Fat CAAD 1 — weight.
  • While heavy, the components are well-suited for aggressive riding. This doesn’t translate to a strength on its own due to a conflict with the XC-purposed geometry of the bike.

 Reviews by our Readers


Introduction

MAKE:
Cannondale
MODEL:
Fat CAAD 1
TYPE:
MTB, Fat Bike
MSRP PRICE:
$3,360
WARRANTY:
Frame & Fork: Lifetime, Components: 1-year
MODEL YEAR:
2019
WHERE TO BUY IT:
REI

Bike Details

FRAMESET:
Fat CAAD, SmartForm C1 Alloy, BB30XL, SAVE, 1.5 Si head tube
DRIVETRAIN:
SRAM Eagle
WHEELS:
Sun Ringle Mulefü​​t 80 SL
TIRES:
Maxxis Minion
COMPONENTS:
Cannondale C3 Riser, Cannondale C3 stem, SRAM Guide T hydro disc brakes, Fabric Scoop Shallow Elite saddle
AVAILABLE COLORS:
Black Pearl
SIZES:
XS, S, M, L, XL

Written Review

Peculiar is probably the best way to describe the impression that most get from fat bikes. It’s also the impression that Cannondale has left with all its signature bikes equipped with lefty forks. A fat bike with a lefty fork is something that is downright unique, and we think that’s something that is definitely worth looking at.

Despite roads being the place where you probably see the most fat tire bikes, it’s probably the furthest place from where they should be. Fat bikes are designed to allow you to ride in conditions that would have otherwise kept you off the trails. They’re great in snow, sand, mud and other looser surfaces where conventional tires would sink. If you live near dunes or can’t ride during half of the year due to snow or mud, then a fat bike might be exactly what you need.

That Fat CAAD 1 is Cannondale’s top of the line fat bike. Rather than equip it with a rigid fork or make it compatible with the few fat bike compatible suspension forks out there, Cannondale developed a special lefty fork that’s been designed for wide tires. It just goes to show how much commitment Cannondale has when it comes to this interesting niche.

Frame and Geometry

The Fat CAAD 1 frame is a quality built, well-finished hardtail frame but, like many other Cannondale bikes, it’s not flashiness that exudes the cool factor. Cannondale has never been one to put form over function, and this bike stays true to their history.

The Fat CAAD 1’s geometry doesn’t have any glaring issues and it looks like they’ve taken the time to tune the numbers. The up-to-date sizing is something that is especially good to see since many non-updated fat bikes are too small relative to what is the norm these days. More proof of good engineering can be found in the relatively narrow Q-factor — the distance between the two pedals. Wide Q-factors have been a bit of an issue with fat bikes because they put your knees and ankles in an awkwardly wide stance when pedaling. Cannondale’s design team making one of the narrowest Q-factors among fat bikes is a huge plus in favor of the Fat CAAD 1.

Component Spec

The crown jewel of the Fat CAAD 1’s spec is Cannondale’s proprietary Lefty Olaf fork with 100mm of travel. It’s quirky to ride and you get a lot of looks but it’s certainly a quality piece of gear that performs on par with competing suspension forks. The Lefty nature of the fork is especially relevant to fat bikes since they’re designed to be ridden in harsh, sloppy conditions. Lefty forks have no fork arch and infinite mud clearance as a result. You’re not going to bringing half the trail with you when the going gets sloppy.

Drivetrain duties are handled by an SRAM NX Eagle group set which has had its rear derailleur upgraded to a GX Eagle. The group set’s performance is top-notch but the largest drawback is the boat anchor of a rear cog set. The NX cogs are all steel and likely contribute a fair bit to the Fat CAAD 1’s equally porky 32 pound stock weight.

The Guide T budget 4-piston brakes also come from SRAM. These are a solid choice for the fat bike — they use DOT brake fluid over the mineral oil used by other brands. This can make a significant difference at lower temperatures, especially since fat bikes excel when it comes to riding in snowy conditions.

The wheelset is built from Sun Ringle Mulefüt 80 SL rims onto hubs from the same brand. It’s nice to see them using DT Swiss Competition spokes where many other brands sometimes sneak in cheaper generic steel spokes with lower price points. The bike comes with beefy Maxxis Minion FBR/FBR 26″ x 4.0″ tires. This is one of the grippiest tires you can get for fat bikes which can be both a good and a bad thing. Grip isn’t exactly hard to come by on fat tires and the more of it you have, the more you fight when accelerating. Maxxis Minions are also a downhill tire originally, and the design is optimized for high speed “shoveling” of dirt out of the tread and cornering. If you’re shredding your fat bike on snow or sand at high speed, then these are exactly what you need. If not, consider the possibly of getting a more versatile tire with a lower profile tread, such as the Maxxis Mammoth. One thing you should definitely do is convert them to tubeless. They’re superior in every way to tubed tires when it comes to fat bike applications and it would help cut down significantly on the Fat CAAD 1’s weight problem.

Ride Quality

The thing that immediately jumps out at you when riding the Fat CAAD 1 is the Lefty fork. If you’re not already used to one, there’s an adjustment period. Once past that, it will immediately become apparent that the Lefty Olaf is a performer. Any fork can be supple with fat tires but the Olaf delivers decent mid-stroke support and predictability on bumps and braking descents. We didn’t notice any problematic flex but that would be expected in the kind of riding conditions fat bikes are subjected to. You’ll also be more likely to feel the squirm from your tires before the fork.

Poor and sloppy surfaces are made smooth under the fat tires. The bike excels on rolling, flowy trails and keeps its composure even on the jankiest climbs — a place on the trail where these tires can really start working for you. The geometry is spot on for cross country riding and the cushion in the tires gives the bike an extremely forgiving ride. The large minion tires aren’t quite used to their full trail potential on trails where the bike Fat CAAD 1’s geometry shines. If anything, their weight and rolling resistance are a liability on longer rides.

The bike’s porky weight is also to blame for sluggishness. You’ll be able to get a much nimbler and less tiring ride after converting the tires to tubeless, swapping out the cog set for a lighter one, and slapping on some lower profile tires. It may still be heavier than you’re used to, but that’ll be due to the Lefty fork which we aren’t willing to let go of. Many other bikes in this category make due with a rigid fork, which is as good as cheating when it comes to counting grams. The results of our mods to the bike indicate that this is a fat bike with XC geometry but components built for more aggressive riding.

The Fat CAAD 1 still delivers a great ride. The things outlined above are better mentioned as places where the bike could be improved rather than actual negative aspects. The weight was the only significant characteristic keeping the fun factor on this bike from reaching its true potential.

 Warranty

Cannondale offers a lifetime warranty for the frame and the fork chassis but the Cannondale-branded components, including the fork internals, only have a warranty of 1-year. This covers factory defects but not damage resulting from normal wear and tear. Also, REI throws in a free warranty tune-up — just bring the bike down to your local REI store within 20 hours of use or 6 months from your purchase date, whichever comes first.

Pros:

  • Top shelf frame construction and geometry
  • Cannondale’s Lefty Olaf fork is a winner
  • GX Rear Derailleur upgrade on the NX build kit

Cons:

  • It’s heavy
  • Components are ideal for aggressive riding but the geometry is firmly XC territory

 Final Thoughts

The Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 is one of the best performing, most distinct, and unfortunately, heaviest fat bikes out there. It rides very well at what it’s built for but is a bit desynchronized with its components. Complementing a frame’s strengths with the right components is a challenge that frame manufacturers have to deal with when selling complete bikes. It’s in this department, where the frame and the components (which would have otherwise been fine on their own) don’t quite jive. To make the most out of the Fat CAAD 1’s geometry, we’d love to see Cannondale spec the bike out with components that are lighter and have strengths which would complement the bikes intended use. If you really like the frame or that Lefty Olaf fork, there’s always the option of replacing the heavier components with lighter ones.

Click Here to Buy the Cannondale Fat CAAD 1

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