Bikes can often vary greatly within a category. These initially take the form of little differences that complement each other to make a whole bike more suited for the style of riding or another. The Cannondale Trail 5 is one of these bikes. But it is no fence sitter, the geometry and the spec clearly paint a picture of a hardtail build for trails.
The Trail 5’s component spec is what you would expect for a solid entry level hardtail with only a few questionable choices.
|Rockshox XC30 TK 29” Coil||Ok|
|Shimano Deore 10s Shadow Plus||Excellent|
|FSA Alpha Drive, 3-piece, forged, 30t front ring||Good|
|Shimano M315 Hydro, 7” Front Rotor, 6” Rear Rotor||Good|
|WTB STX TCS i23m 32 hole, tubeless ready||Good|
|Formula DC1420 front|
Custom BOOST QR Formula rear
|WTB Ranger Comp 29×2.25″ DNA Compound||Good|
The suspension duties are handled by a RockShox XC30 TK with 100mm of travel. The coil spring is boat anchor but it delivers a ride that air forks at this price point can’t match.Coil forks have much fewer surfaces rubbing against each other inside making the ride much more sensitive and easy on the hands than an air fork.The tradeoff is weight and the added hassle of having to remove and replace the spring if it is too soft or too hard for your weight. A bike built for trail riding would have benefited greatly from 15mm thru-axle.
The pedals drive a mixed component drive train. The shifting duties are handled by a 10-speed Shimano Deore Shadow Plus derailleur and Deore shifter pair. Shadow Plus, translated from Shimano to English, means that the derailleur is tucked away behind the frame, meaning it’s much less likely to snag on trail obstacles, and it has a clutch feature.
The FSA Alpha Drive crank with a 30t front ring though. Single ring setups have the advantages of a much simpler cockpit, easier shifting and much more secure hold on the chain. It comes at the price of a narrower range of shifting.
The single ring up front combined with a clutch on the rear derailleur makes the whole system much less likely to drop a chain, even in rough situations.
Anyone who has ever mashed the pedals and gotten no engagement and subsequently had an aggressive engagement between their crotch and their top tube and a right calf studded with chainring teeth knows that trusting your chain to be there for you when you get on the pedal, at any time, is a huge plus to the experience of mountain biking.
The cog set is an 11-42 Sunrace cassette which supplies a decent gear ratio for climbing but the 30t front and 11t rear can leave you spinning when things get fast.
Braking is handled by MT200’s, Shimano’s basic hydraulic disk brake. They may not have bells and whistles or fancy finishes but they work, they’re easy to maintain and they last a long time.
The wheelset is built upon Formula sealed bearing hubs that are laced to WTB STX i23 rims. They are tubeless ready, but only in the sense that they’re designed to hold the bead of tire tighter than normal rims. You will still need a rim strip and sealant if you want to run a tubeless setup on these wheels. The bike comes with WTB Ranger Comp wheels mounted on the wheelset. The tires have a sensible treat pattern which gives good braking, cornering and rolling performance but at the cost of grip in deeper or loose soil and the fact that they will most definitely get caked up at the slightest sight of mud.
Frame Build Quality and Geometry
The Cannondale Trail 5 is deceivingly modern. On the surface, the bike layout and finish look very plain and the untrained eye would have a hard time differentiating it from hardtails from 10 or maybe even 20 years ago.
What the simple, utilitarian design hides are modern geometry numbers that are right up there with the trendsetters.
The 68° head angle, long reach numbers per size and steep seat tube angle means this bike fully takes advantage of the newer and objectively better geometry trends.
The up-to-date geometry is immediately apparent on this bike. It may take some getting used to at first, but it will only take a few laps of the parking lot before you get used to the length and more comfortable with bringing your weight forward.
The only negative side is that, as soon as you get on your old bike with dated geometry, you immediately notice how cramped and high up you are on the bike.
The new geometry trends allow bike manufacturers to get away with longer bikes and slacker head angles without heaving too much of a compromise on climbing performance.
The effect is immediately noticeable on the Trail 5, especially if you’re coming from a 26″ or 27.5″ hardtail with dated geometry. The new geometry stability complements the same strength of 29″ wheels.
The overall feeling is that you are on a much more forgiving and safer bike. On descents, I immediately feel like limits can be pushed harder because of the safe feeling you get of being “in the bike” rather than “on the bike.”
But, if you’re coming from a longer travel bike, downhill or Enduro, don’t expect too much – the bike still has a low front end with its 100mm fork.
The excitement over the great high-speed stability was a little bit tempered by the lack of high gear ratios. You’ll be lucky if you can pedal the 30t-11t combo to more than 20mph on flat ground.
Changing out the front chainring for a larger one is simple and cheap, but you’ll pay the price on the climbs. As is, you’re going to be depending a lot on gravity to get up to the speeds where the bike excels.
The strengths of the bike take nothing away from its ability to climb. Old geometry may be ideal for this but the new geometry does it just fine as well.
You may not be riding on your front wheel, but its easy enough to control and doesn’t tend to wander like slacker bikes of old.
The 11t-42t cogs and the 30t chainring also make technical climbs a breeze. I cannot stress enough how important the chain security a clutch derailleur is on a single ring setup brings.
Technical climbs and downhills that take you up to steep climbs are a lot less scary when you know you can get on the pedals and be confident that the chain will still be engaged on your cog.
The Trail 5 is one of the best candidates for a first bike, not only because it is so versatile, but also because the lowlights of the built are rather small details. The Trail 5 has a huge potential to become a very capable bike with a few upgrades aimed towards your specific riding style.
Put a 120mm or 130mm fork on there and it transforms the bike into an all mountain hardtail.
Like long rides and cross country?
Replace the single ring up front with a double ring setup and a front derailleur. The larger ring will let you maintain higher speeds on the fire roads.
Frame Build Quality and Geometry
Overall Value for Money
The Cannondale Trail 5’s Competition
Almost all major bike manufacturers have a hardtail in the $1000 niche. Cannondale’s offering is not a looker but it’s one of the stronger performers in the category. Its strengths identify it as more of a trail bike but it certainly doesn’t lack the versatility to be an aggressive cross-country bike.
Cannondale Trail 5 vs Giant Fathom 29 2
Another trail-oriented hardtail in this niche is the Fathom 29 2. It’s prettier and spec’d better, except for the brakes, but it also has a head angle that 1-degree steeper.
The Giant comes in lighter with better build quality but it is also almost $150 more expensive than the Cannondale. The Cannondale’s part spec can be upgraded down the line but that class leading 68° head angle isn’t something that can easily be added onto a different bike.
Cannondale Trail 5 vs Salsa Timberjack NX1 29
The Cannondale’s closest competitor is the Salsa Timberjack NX1 29.
The Timberjack’s geometry is almost identical as Trail 5’s, but its component spec is more focused on its purpose as a trail bike than a cross country bike. It even comes with a 120mm fork!
Although I would consider SRAM NX offering to be inferior the Shimano’s refined Deore drivetrain, the Timberjack looks unique and it comes with some nice features such as bike rack options and adjustable dropouts.
Head-to-head, I feel like you get more for your money with the Timberjack but it may not be as easy to find.
The Cannondale Trail 5 is one of the best hardtails in the $1000 bike niche. If you want to read more about other great options under $1000, click here.
Cannondale is one of the few manufacturers brands that have quickly trickled down new geometry to their lower end offerings.
The Trail 5 is so much more capable than previous generation hardtails. Then, it may have some weaknesses but the bike’s geometry more than makes up for it.
You can replace weaker components.
The Cannondale Trail 5 is an easy recommendation for a first mountain bike. It will take you a long way and it is able to adapt to the different kinds of riding styles. It will take you a long way and it has the versatility to adapt to the different kinds of riding styles that new riders may come to enjoy.
Pros vs Cons of the Cannondale Trail 5
If you are interested to buy the Cannondale Trail 5, you may visit the following link (non-affiliate link): Cannondale Trail 5 Official Site
Also, if you want to check the Cannondale 2019 collection, play this video:
Image Source: Bike Index